The troubled souls (generally known in the media as “monsters” and “lunatics”) who keep shooting up schools and shopping centers, believe they are solving deeper problems. We all know, of course, that in reality they are making things dramatically worse.
This is not an easy problem for us to solve. We could make it harder to obtain guns, and especially guns designed specifically for mass killings. We could take on the problem with our entertainment: we have movies, television shows, video games, books, and toys promoting killing as the way to fix what ails us. We could take on the problem of our news media: we have newspapers and broadcast chatterers promoting killing as a necessary tool of public policy. We could reverse the past 40 years of rising inequality, poverty, and plutocracy — a trend that correlates with violence in whatever country it’s found.
What we can’t do is stop arming, training, funding, and supporting the mass murderers in our towns and cities, because of course we haven’t been supporting them. They aren’t acting in our name as our representatives. When our children run in horror from classrooms strewn with their classmates’ bloody corpses, they are running from killers never authorized by us or elected by us.
This situation changes when we look abroad.
Picture a family in a house in Pakistan. There’s a little dot very high up in the sky above. It’s making a buzzing noise. The dot is an unmanned airplane, a drone. It’s being flown from a desk in Nevada. The family knows what it is. The children know what it is. They know their lives may be ended at any moment. And they are traumatized. They are in a constant state of terror. And then, one bright clear morning, they are torn limb from limb, bleeding, screaming, groaning out their last breaths as their home collapses into smoking rubble.
Picture a family in a house in Afghanistan. They’re asleep in their beds. A door is kicked in. Incomprehensible words are shouted. Bullets fly. Loved ones are grabbed and dragged away, kicking and screaming with horror — never to be seen again.
The troubled souls (generally known in the media as “tax-payers”) who keep this far greater volume of violence going, believe they are solving deeper problems. But when we look closely, we see that in reality we are making things dramatically worse.
That is the good news. There is violence that we can much more easily stop, because it is our violence. The U.S. Army last week said that targeting children in Afghanistan was perfectly acceptable. The U.S. President maintains a list of men, women, and children to be killed, and he kills them — but the vast majority of the people killed through that program are people not on the list, people in the wrong place at the wrong time (just like the people in our shopping malls and schools).
In fact, the vast majority of the people killed in our foreign wars are simply bystanders. And they are killed in their homes, their stores, their schools, their weddings. The violence that we can easily end looks very much like the violence we find so difficult to address at home. It doesn’t take place between a pair of armies on a battlefield. It happens where its victims live.
Were we to stop pouring $1.2 trillion each year into war preparations, we would also be stopping the public funding of the manufacturers of the weapons that rip open our loved ones and neighbors in our schools and parking lots. We would be altering dramatically the context in which we generate public policy, public entertainment, and public myths about how problems can be solved. We would be saving lives every bit as precious as any other lives, while learning how to go on to saving more.
One place to start, I believe, would be in withdrawing U.S. troops from over 1,000 bases in other people’s countries — an imperial presence that costs us $170 billion each year while building hostility and tensions, not peace. There’s a reason why, at this time of year, we don’t sing about “Peace in My Backyard.” If we want peace on Earth, we must stop and consider how to get it.