Summer of Hate:
Our Wars Come Home to Roost
by Michael I. Niman
ArtVoice (Syndicated) 9/6/06
Drug gangs, drive-bys, executions, revenge killing, automatic weapons, funerals, prayer vigils and “Stop the Violence” rallies—these are the headlines for summer 2006 in most American cities and countless small towns. We’re awash in blood as an endless stream of senseless murders dominate our evening newscasts. Using words like “insanity” to describe the wave of killings, besieged communities are calling for forces ranging from God to the National Guard to come save us from our own children. With hands t shrust helplessly skyward, community activists at their wits’ ends want to know what the hell is going on.
What’s going on is simple. The Iraq war, predictably, and right on schedule, has come home. It’s one of those “I told you so” moments when progressives consciously have to avoid appearing arrogant in the face of calamity as yet one more foreseeable consequence of Bush administration policies catastrophically plays itself out.
An Historically Verified Pattern
The historically verified pattern works like this: The US, in going to war, models wholesale violence as its most effective strategy for problem resolution. Such violence goes unquestioned, and is even glorified, by a mainstream media that celebrates the technology of mass killing while playing down the humanity of its victims. “Embedded” reporters talk about the merits and features of different weapons systems while avoiding reporting firsthand on humanistic stories about how such weapons impact the people upon whose communities they rain down.
Subjective camera angles show us the perspective of soldiers firing weapons, but never the story of a family whose small child just stumbled upon a cluster bomblet. We learn to feel and identify with the power of those soldiers—not to empathize with the invisible victims. When victims do appear, they are editorially stripped of their subjectivity, written off as necessary “collateral damage.”
The armed forces, like the tobacco industry, are constantly prowling for youthful recruits to replace those who quit, are injured or are killed. As with other child predators, the search for naive youngsters willing enlist to become cannon fodder for an increasingly discredited government leads recruiters into the nation’s schools, onto Web sites and into cultural venues frequented by young people. Once there, they use every seductive tool modern media offers to lure children into their web of violence. This includes distributing posters glorifying armed and dangerous young recruits who are shown in control of powerful weapons systems, offering online video games where players can virtually experience the power of an assassin, or even working recruiting videos into the electronic wallpaper at Chuck-E-Cheese. In poorer schools, where students face bleak job prospects, school administrators invite recruiters to pose as teachers, militarizing their curriculums with Junior ROTC programs. In the end, the recruiting process not only snares enlistees—it lends the credibility of government to a regimen of ultra violence.
Once violence is modeled and celebrated on such a mass scale, it’s only a matter of time before people start emulating their government, using violence to solve their own problems. This reality has been with us since media technology starting bringing wars and military recruiting into our homes and schools.
According to US Department of Justice statistics, the US domestic murder rate spiked by five percent during World War I. During the longer World War II, the rate temporarily rose by 15 percent. It went up five percent during the shorter Korean War, and then surged by a whopping 40 percent during the decade-plus Vietnam War.
This pattern all but guaranteed that as the current war against Iraq dragged on, the domestic murder rate would increase accordingly. As with previous wars, there is a lag time from when the war starts to when the war hits home. Usually, as wars wear on, governments become harder pressed to justify them, hence increasing vilification of enemies and a concurrent celebration of the impending “victory,” usually through annihilation of said enemies.
In the case of the current Iraq War, the lag time was further drawn out by early media insistence that this wasn’t really a war but a benign “police action” meant to “liberate” the country that would actually wind up occupied. With the war now dragging on longer than US involvement in World War II, the reality of the war, as a war, and the government’s need to justify it, have both hit home. Hence, according to the FBI, the nation saw a 4.8 percent increase in its murder rate from 2004 to 2005, with what might be an even larger jump for 2006.
The War on Drugs
Complicating the matter is another war—the four-decade-long “War on Drugs,” initially declared by President Nixon. As this failed “war” increased the penalties and risk associated with drug dealing, it drove some dealers out of the market, tightening the availability of illicit drugs. With the market tightened, but demand still strong, street prices went up, making the market more profitable, and hence more competitive, for the smaller and more committed number of dealers that remained. Drug War critics refer to this outcome as a government price support for drug gangs.
Here we have an irony. As the conservative Cato Institute has pointed out, the more we spend on anti-drug measures, the more lucrative the drug trade becomes, and the more violence we see as rival groups of drug dealers literally battle for market share. Since they are already facing draconian anti-drug laws (60 percent of federal prisoners and 25 percent of state prisoners nationwide are incarcerated for drug dealing or possession), adding potential murder charges into the mix doesn’t act as an additional deterrent.
Again, none of this should have come to us as a surprise. We saw a similar spike in violence in the 1920s during Prohibition, when rival gangs brutally fought over the lucrative liquor-running market. The difference is that while Prohibition was repealed after 13 years, the failed War on Drugs is approaching its 40th birthday, with the only real result being an uptick in violence and the creation of a global class of powerful, rich, violent narcotraffickers.
It gets worse. The money used to incarcerate drug prisoners and fund other aspects of the War on Drugs, and the bottomless pit of tax dollars incinerated daily by the Iraq War, represent funding diverted from education, job creation, effective policing and drug treatment programs that could effectively address our current epidemic of violence.
Increase the Peace
Likewise, some of the knee-jerk draconian responses proposed by well-intentioned community activists promise to also, if enacted, exasperate rather then solve the problem of street violence. History has shown that police-state escalations in the War on Drugs only serve to increase profits and hence violent competition for those profits.
There’s only one effective way to address violence on our streets—that’s to address violence and the celebration of violence in our society. In the past, war-caused surges in the nation’s murder rates have subsided when the wars have ended. This holds true for Prohibition as well. If we are serious about ending the insane bloodshed on our streets we need to end the insane bloodshed in Baghdad. We need to end the War on Drugs. We need to get military recruiters and JROTC out of our schools. We need to fund education and drug treatment instead of endless wars. We need to end the social inequality that offers one set of children the opportunity to go to college while tempting another with only the riches from drug-dealing.
In short, if we want peace, we need to live in peace as a nation and as a society.
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