What does it say about the ubiquity of modern violence that Amnesty International, arguably the world’s most notable pro-peace movement, organizes its central purpose around a “mission statement,” an organizational articulation originating in military strategy? (How about a statement of purpose???) Such an abiding paradox demonstrates the depth of the contradictory cultural cues that inform our civil conduct.Thinking about “the militarization of everything” in these dialectic terms forces us, for instance, to extend and reevaluate our understanding of “military recruitment.” Conscription into both obvious and occult militarized cultural norms, institutions, and interpretive frameworks is perpetuated at the most inconspicuous moments. From fashion (pea coats, camouflage), to exercise (military press), to entertainment (NCIS, Homeland, Call of Duty), to sports (military sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt, fighter jets over baseball diamonds), to card games (“war”), and even to unwitting martial tropes (“god’s army,” “spearheading a campaign,” “on my radar”), our very cognition seems bounded and branded by military metaphor and method.
It’s possible to argue that our imperceptible absorption of these contradictory everyday “ways of being” has generated a certain type of national neurosis. In light of the “militarization of everything,” why are we surprised that of the 64 individuals involved in “mass shootings”*** since 1982, 24 were serving, had served, or claimed service in the U.S. Military—a 3700% over-representation relative to the military eligible U.S. population share? Moreover, why are we bewildered that 55 of the 64 assailants used military-grade weaponry and/or donned military-grade regalia in enacting their violence?
Here’s the point: We say we want “peace” but when pressed to define it we can’t, and then remain frustrated by having not achieved it. This is the textbook description of neurosis. Neuroses are compromises with unconscious conflicts that generate satisfaction by their very perpetuation.
So, what do we really want? What do you really want? Is it peace? Freedom? Security? Bullet-proof backpacks? Armed officers in every school?
As major media networks continue to report on the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, maybe we need to turn off the television and step in front of a mirror. Any conversation worth having needs to begin by taking an inventory of our collective values and squarely confronting our national neuroses, those generated by preaching peace, but living, playing, wearing, and watching war.
***The FBI defines “mass shootings” as four or more murders occurring at roughly the same time.
Graphic from nordique licensed under Creative Commons