Friday, June 20, 2014

The Empire and Violence

Only in the heart of the Empire does one witness such grotesque celebration of violence.

Violence as a way of life.

Violence as sacred.

Violence normalized into everyday stories, and violence exalted to a powerful cultural story.

Violence in the guns that are sold openly, guns that are carried by everyday people as an expression of some fantasy of liberty, guns that are weapons in the hands of a killer that turns to violence to express her or his angst, and advanced weapons that are the symbols of liberty in the killing fields in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya.

The cultural affinity for violence is manufactured in the valorization of soldiers.

The celebration of heroes of the many wars that the US has waged in the name of freedom, the celebration of fallen martyrs who are framed as the protectors of the freedom, the commemoration of the courage of soldiers, the memorial day and the veteran's day: these are all expressions of  violence that elevate violence as a cultural affinity, as a cultural icon, and as a sacred story.  Violence then is tied to the story of "American exceptionalism." Americans are exceptional because they represent the ideals of liberty in the free world. Cultural icons like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood will normalize violence as a justified expression of liberty. Stories of heroes from Iraq and Afghanistan will valorize a war that killed many Iraqi civilians in a senseless pursuit of power and the free market.

These celebrations of violence obfuscate the realities of oppression that have been carried out across the global South by the US empire. Essential to these oppressions are US soldiers, trained as killing machines, and valorized as heroes in a widely accepted cultural narrative of violence. Violence then also is at the center of the widely accepted story of American liberty, celebrated in the same breath as democracy and freedom. This positioning of violence in the realms of democracy and freedom leaves uniinterrogated the oppressive roles of the US empire in Chile, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Philippines, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Essential also to violence are jihadists, martyrs, and believers for whom violence is integral to the assertion of a cultural-religious identity. These same jihadists are often trained by US-backed CIA operatives. They are supplied weapons by US arms manufacturers.

Also integral to the cultural narrative of violence are the media.

These stories of violence are essential to a media system that thrives on the sale of violence. Ratings of CNN and FOX go up as they partake in 24-hour cycles that offer us news from the ground. The images of the eplosives, missiles, and modern weapons hold our attention, drive up the ratings, and deliver the audience for the commerce of liberty.

The cultural politics of violence feeds the political economy of the industry of violence. A large industry of weapons operates on the sale of violence globally. This industry, a large part of which is based in the US but is also global in scope, needs violence to grow, to drive up economic growth, and to circulate currencies globally. Supplying weapons to US military and weaponizing jihadists are all part of the same game for this military industry, a game of creating markets and profiting from these markets through the large scale sale of violence.

As we witness these ongoing expressions of violence in the Middle East, narrativized most recently in the rise of ISIS, we need to connect these stories of violence with the violence of the Empire. We need to ask critical questions such as: Who is sponsoring this violence? Where are the arms supplies coming from? Who is training the jihadists? What is the broader historical context for this rise of violence in the Middle East?

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