Hal Pepinsky, email@example.com, “peacemaking” at pepinsky.blogspot.com
February 6, 2015
“Barbarity” is the word President Obama used to describe the summary execution of a downed Jordanian pilot, whose mission was to rain fiery death on the executioners with US-supplied arms, the flow of which members of Congress now seek to increase http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/policy-budget/congress/2015/02/04/jordan-pilot-isis-iraq-syria/22845217/. We criminologists call that retribution, revenge, an eye for an eye, lex talionis. The US president chooses a term that denotes cruelty by an uncivilized group. He speaks for the dominant US political culture that has similarly justified genocide of its indigenous peoples and colonization of Latin America and the Philippines. European colonialism is our heritage. The prevailing US attitude, now linked “freeing” markets to global capital, implies that our violence is superior to theirs.
We are civilized. The more than three thousand prisoners awaiting prisoners have a chance to sit in isolation for a decade or more of appeals before some of them are quietly but firmly strapped down behind walls and fed a selection of chemicals to sedate them, suffocate them, and stop their hearts in a process that often takes a while to finish, but eventually, quietly ends. All this in a system heavily weighted toward selecting poor men of color with white victims among homicides for capital prosecution in the first place. In many cases we humanely substitute sentences of life without parole even to our younger offenders. In our humanity, rather than being barbaric enough to use corporal punishment (in public places at least), we hold a full quarter of all the world’s prisoners in the continental US alone. Pretrial detention aside there aside, the US has now been holding suspected Muslims as “terrorists” of the ISIS kind, without charge, without evidence of wrongdoing, for over a decade. And Jordanians aside, US planes and drones themselves continually set people afire in the region where ISIS rules—weapons too powerful, dropped from too far away to separate “the bad guys” from those they live among, pretty terrifying, if that’s what “terrorism” means.
The bottom line: by wealth and military-technological-bureaucratic elaboration, US violence may be more sanitized and restrained than those we call morally inferior, but it affects far more people. We in the US justify military and economic domination by projecting our own willingness to exact revenge onto our foreign enemies, and displacing our personal violence onto those we incarcerate and execute. Our actions belie our claims to moral superiority, which in itself only feeds war.
President Obama has called for us to begin reinvesting in care of our infrastructure. The military defense budget is 600 billion dollars, larger than the oft-cited 500 billion for social security (which is funded by workers and employers rather than by tax dollars). May the time come when our sense of moral, “civilized” and “developed” superiority in war gives way to taking better care of each other. Love and peace, hal