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Ubiquitous Culture of Death and Violence
By Jozef Hand-Boniakowski
I grew up in what most non-city folk would call a "big" city. After all, Jersey City, New Jersey, has a population that is one-half that of the entire state of Vermont. Growing up in "Joisey City" in the sixties meant living daily with violence in the streets. The street violence was supplanted and perhaps fostered by the racism, violence and killing seen daily on television. I remember my mother, a working class immigrant, complaining about the language children used while they played in the street. Often, that language was directed at the "green horns" of eastern European decent. Since my family is from Romania and Poland I am well familiar with the term. When my mother complained about the children's language she was not referring to their poor choice of vocabulary, the four-letter words we commonly hear today. She was referring to violent phrases, especially, "I will kill you!" Even in jest, when a child would disagree with another, they would often shake their fist and say, "I will kill you". This made my mother extremely uncomfortable. Her discomfort didn't register much with those of us dodging gangs in the neighborhood or coming home with their lips busted open, or heads bleeding with welts. This was the way of the streets in the New World and we adjusted. It was the way of the popular culture as reflected in television programs we watched and the magazines we saw on the candy store racks. I vividly recall the comic books in the racks on the walls of Herbie's candy store on Grove Street in downtown Jersey City. The one that sticks out in my mind is "Man Comics" which depicted barely clothed women tied up being "interrogated" by men in black Nazi uniforms and weapons. Torture and sex was a potent mix then as it is now. Few people besides my mother in the early sixties concerned themselves about the children's use of the phrase, "I will kill you". Ethnic slurs were rampant as well. Italians were called Wops. Poles were called Pollacks. Jews were called Kikes. Hispanics were called Spics. We all know what African Americans and women were called. The culture spoke for itself.
The popular television programs of the sixties included: Mission Impossible, Gunsmoke, the Rifleman, The Saint, Dragnet, Cheyenne, Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaii Five-O, The Fugitive, FBI, The Streets of San Francisco, Combat, I Spy, etc. Very young children laughed watching violent cartoons such as Looney Tunes where Elmer Fud shoots carrot eating Bugs Bunny over and over again. Saturday morning cartoons then, as now, were de rigueur for young children growing up in the United States. One would think that forty-years worth of "enlightenment" would have changed the violent culture. It has. The violence is more graphic and it has been supplanted with product placement that blurs the boundaries between entertainment and advertising.
Everything we see on television is more than the product of its creators. It is the product of the advertising industry and its commercial interests with little regard for the viewer. Biased producers of television programming have little interest in viewers aside from that necessitated by the profit motive. Sex and violence grabs the viewers' interest. Often, it is emotional violence and is directed either outwardly or inward. It is at the moment of mesmerization that advertisers seize the moment to sell the product. The product can be material, a viewpoint, or Big Brother's propaganda. Today, tens-of-millions of dollars are spent annually on selling the public the government's lies. Selling antiperspirant or a bag of potato chips is done in much the same manner as selling the war on Iraq is. Military recruiting is another example of selling the lie. Glorified canon fodder is presented in exciting ways to appeal to young people's fantasies of excitement and adventure. Never mind that military recruiters lie and espouse patriotism as the bottom line in meeting their monthly enlistment quotas. The culture of violence and death will do whatever it takes to enlist new adherents. Through the media we are acculturated to hating an enemy as easily as hating ourselves. We must never forget that commercial television is a business where something is always being sold. Since our culture is capitalist, it is one of continuous and ubiquitous selling.
Our culture portrays violence as being glamorous. It teaches us that violence is the way to resolve conflict. Where else did the children of my youth learn to say "I will kill you" after all? Today, that message is more prevalent and graphic than ever. Video games, TV and movies make sure of that. The emotional shock of violence, of seeing blood and guts, sells. A culture saturated with media violence compels the producers to raise the level of the violence. Public insensitivity to violence and death over time requires that they be exposed to more of each. How wonderful, after all, was the government produced media program called "Shock and Awe"? It played for months. How glorious was the regime's war of choice on Iraq with its orchestrator, the "commander-in-chief" smirking, "Bring it on!'
So then, where is the physical evidence for United States' culture being a ubiquitous culture of violence and death? Consider the following from the www.historuguy.com website:
The American Revolution 1775-1783
The Indian Wars 1775-1890
Shay's Rebellion 1786-1787
The Whiskey Rebellion 1794
Quasi-War With France (Naval) 1798-1800
Fries's Rebellion "The Hot Water War 1799
The Barbary Wars 1800-1815
The War of 1812 1812-1815
Mexican-American War 1846-1848
U.S. Slave Rebellions 1800-1865
"Bleeding Kansas" (Civil war Kansas) 1855-1860
Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry 1859
United States Civil War 1861-1865
U.S. Intervention in Hawaiian Revolution 1893
The Spanish-American War 1898
U.S. Intervention in Samoan Civil War 1898-1899
U.S.-Philippine War 1899-1902
Boxer Rebellion 1900
The Moro Wars 1901-1913
U.S. Intervention in Panamanian Revolution 1903
The Banana Wars 1909-1933
U.S. Occupation of Vera Cruz 1914
Pershing's Raid Into Mexico 1916-1917
World War I 1917-1918 (USA involvement only)
Allied Intervention in Russian Civil War 1919-1921
World War II 1941-1945 (USA involvement only)
The Cold War 1945-1991
The Korean War 1950-1953
The Second Indochina War "Vietnam War" 1956-1975
U.S. Intervention in Lebanon 1958
Dominican Intervention 1965
The Mayaguez Rescue Operation 1975 (May 15)
Iranian HostageCrisis and Rescue Attempt-- "Desert One" or "Operation Eagle Claw" 1980 (April 25)
U.S. Libya Conflict 1981, 1986
U.S. Intervention in Lebanon 1982-1984
U.S. Invasion of Grenada 1983
The Tanker War. "Operation Earnest Will" 1987-1988
U.S. Invasion of Panama 1989
Second Persian Gulf War "Operation Desert Storm" 1991
"No-Fly Zone" War 1991-2003
U.S. Intervention in Somalia 1992-1994
NATO Intervention in Bosnia (Operation Deliberate Force) 1994-1995
U.S. Occupation of Haiti 1994
U.S. Embassy bombings and strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan (The bin Laden War) August, 1998
"Desert Fox" Campaign (part of U.S./Iraq Conflict) December, 1998
Kosovo War 1999
Attack on the USS Cole October 12, 2000
Attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon September 11, 2001
Afghanistan War (Operation Enduring Freedom) October 7, 2001-Present
Third Persian Gulf War "Operation Iraqi Freedom" March 19, 2003-Present
Intervention in Haiti March, 2004
In addition to the above wars, there is the war on alcohol (prohibition), the war on communism, the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on obesity, the war on terrorism, etc. It is as if the United States government, like the kids of my youth, is saying to everyone that disagrees with it or doesn't fit into the cultural paradigm, "I will kill you!". And it does kill. In case we haven't noticed those people that we have been saying "I will kill you!" to for so long are saying it back to us. And, they are doing it. What the United States desperately needs is peace with itself and with the world.
Our pResident, George W. Bush, tells us that he speaks to Jesus. I wonder if the dialogue ever includes Mathew 26:15 when it purports to quoting Jesus as having said, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword"? I doubt it since the United States is so permeated with the culture of violence and death that its major religion has forgotten that its central figure, Jesus Christ, the "prince of peace" was killed by crucifixion. As governor of Texas, George W. Bush signed many execution orders forgetting that it was capital punishment that put Jesus to death. The pervasiveness of "I will kill you" even as I promote freedom is embedded in this White House. I can't imagine Jesus today supporting George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's war of choice on Iraq. So, George and Dick, since "if you're not with us then you are against us" is your mantra, what side does this place your Savior on? I'll tell you where it places Him. It places him behind bars for he would today be racially profiled by homeland security and arrested as a national security risk. Perhaps, He would even be deported to some country in eastern Europe where other Christian governments can torture Him. Imagine the headlines, "Jesus Extremely Renditioned!" Two countries recently cited for carrying out torture through extreme rendition are Poland and Romania. You would think such old cultures would know better given their history and experience with oppression.
In the 21st century, we continue living with violence in our streets and in the media, and with violence in our hearts. How long can a nation so nefarious and vicious avoid its self-destruction? William Greider in "The End of Empire" (The Nation, September 23, 2002) writes,
The US financial position is rapidly deteriorating, due mainly to America's persistent and growing trade deficit. US ambitions to run the world, in other words, are heavily mortgaged. Like any debtor who borrows more year after year with no plausible way to reverse the trend, a nation sinking deeper into debt enters into an adverse power relationship with its creditors--greater and greater dependency.
The creditors Greider is referring to are more and more looking like the adversaries of the future. Greider points out that "Instead of reformulating global governance to share power and burdens more broadly...America still acts as if it runs things--alone." We can after all at any time tell them, "I will kill you." But, we all know what happens in time to the bully that uses the bully line once too often. The empire, like the bully, sooner or later fades away.
All, with the lapse of Time, have passed away,
Even as the clouds, with dark and dragon shapes,
Or like vast promontories crown'd with towers,
Cast their broad shadows on the downs: then sail
Far to the northward, and their transient gloom
Is soon forgotten.
(from Beachy Head by Charlotte Smith)
© 2005 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski, PhD