Newtown, Drones, American Militarism, and Peace

Imagine being a parent of one of the children who never returned from Sandy Hook elementary school yesterday (December 15th, 2012). Contemplate the utter devastation, loss, and grief. The massive, gaping void. The gnawing guilt and sense of powerlessness.

Now imagine being a parent of a child obliterated in a US drone attack in Pakistan. The same devastation, loss, and grief. The same void. The same guilt and powerlessness. Probably multiplied, because families in Waziristan, where the majority of drone attacks take place, tend to live in close proximity to one another. So the chances are that a strike that kills one child will take other members of the family with it.

Both experiences are almost incomprehensibly horrific. Yet as President Obama weeps, understandably, for the victims of the former, he is the author of the latter. US officials have even gone so far as to describe children massacred by drones in Afghanistan as having ‘potential hostile intent’, as though that justified turning them into hunks of blackened flesh.

I don’t believe that Obama is evil. I believe he does what most of us do: compartmentalises his psyche in order to function. Destruction and anguish within American borders is a tragedy. Outside of them, it’s collateral damage from defending American interests.

Ultimately, though, I think this stance neglects a simple truth: that it’s impossible to lionise militarism and violence to the extent that the US does without said militarism and violence permeating civilian life. Check out this ‘awesome’ US Army recruitment commercial for an example:

Another option: drop by this site that tallies a running total of the truly staggering amount of money spent in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

Gun control might go some way towards mitigating the effects of this dynamic, but in a society as militaristically-inclined as the US, simply taking away the guns is unlikely to alter the underlying mindset. It also raises the question of whether the police will remain armed, a disturbing prospect in itself.

In his speech in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown shooting, Obama promised ‘meaningful action’ to prevent further tragedies.

I applaud the sentiment. If he’s serious about taking ‘meaningful action’, I submit that he needs to begin by withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, staunchly advocating the dramatic reduction of the US military budget, and proposing to channel the surplus into public education, healthcare, renewable energy, and all the other services that could rebuild a fractured and alienated social fabric.

I realise he’ll meet with fierce opposition from Republicans should he adopt this stance, but what has he got to lose? This is his second term. His legacy and his conscience, not his re-election, are at stake now.

As long ago as the 4th century BC, Roman military writer Vegetius famously claimed that “If you want peace, you must prepare for war”. I’d say that recent events in Connecticut demonstrate quite the reverse: if we want peace, we must invest in peace.

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