Gabrielle Giffords, Violence and Responsibility

As the mainstream news networks tell us, Gabrielle Giffords continues to recover, and efforts to make sense of the shooter likewise continue apace.

The usual suspects are being rounded up.

From a lone gunman with mental problems, to demagogic rhetoric by public figures and on to the availability of handguns.

But, of course, we have seen all this before. Each time America experiences such an incident, we see the repeated scenario of shock: How could this happen? Concern for the killed and injured and resolve to do something. All of it soon fades with the next news cycle.

Each episode confirms America’s unwillingness to look at its life lies, its controlling mythologies and its myopia regarding violence.

To begin at the beginning: America is a country founded in revolution. This was not a civil disobedience movement committed to nonviolence. Even as we defined ourselves as a New World, our war of revolution linked us to the Old World and its wars. After defeating the British and exterminating the Indians, we then fought a civil war against each other over the issue of slavery.

After the two world wars, America has had a virtually uninterrupted engagement in wars from Southeast Asia, to Central America and, now, in Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan.

Giffords, unfortunately, joins a long line of American politicians who have been shot or assassinated. And Obama joins a long line of presidents who have decried the violence in our country even as they simultaneously were responsible for one war after another in their role as commander in chief. The drone attacks Obama authorizes regularly kill as many or more innocent bystanders as were killed in Tucson, but, not surprisingly, the evening news is not covering their funerals or the struggles of the seriously injured to recover.

These observations are not original. Many reading this will be familiar with Michael Moore’s critique of American violence in “Bowling for Columbine.” But however often the analysis is presented, the American public is unable to comprehend it because of its deep-seated belief that we are different from other peoples, that because of our values we do not do such terrible things, that it is only the aberrant individual.

But whether it is John Wilkes Booth assassinating Lincoln, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinating Kennedy, John Hinckley Jr. shooting Reagan, Timothy McVeigh blowing up the Morrow Building, or Jared Lee Loughner shooting Giffords and killing others, responsibility also lies with Americans’ commitment to the principle that violence solves problems. This has been and continues to be part of the bedrock of our society and culture. Americans believe that we are somehow exempt from the original sin of human fallibility, but the rest of the world knows the truth about American exceptionalism. Just ask the innocent Pakistanis and Afghans targeted by our drones.

Americans continue to accept the old lie that these wars are being fought for our security and, therefore, continue to support a Pentagon budget which equals the military expenditures of the rest of the world’s leading nations. To cut through all the pious pronouncements, a more useful response to the Arizona shootings might be to look in the mirror.

And, then, take the initiative and look about wherever we are and ask what we can do in our community to make a difference.