Militarism at the heart of a violent culture

February 26, 2018

Gabriel Paez, an educator in Chicago who went to high school near the site of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, looks at what factors could be driving the violence.

AS THE president continued smearing millions of immigrants as violent gang members to justify racist deportations and a border wall, it happened again. A young white man entered a school, not far from where I graduated, and unloaded a legally purchased weapon of war, killing 17 innocent people in three minutes.

Despite the fact that mass shootings have become routine in the U.S., there is a feeling that this one might possibly become a turning point.

There is already much discontent and disgust with Trump and the right among young people. They are coming to see the connections between corporate political influence, the policies that encourage U.S. capitalists to export weapons around the world, and their ability to shove them down our throats domestically.

Trump only made matters worse when he suggested that teachers like me should be armed. Some educators responded with a social media campaign demanding to be "armed" with what we actually need: books, school counselors, food for hungry students and classroom supplies.

Students stage a die-in outside the White House following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting
Students stage a die-in outside the White House following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting (Lorie Shaull | flickr)

On February 22, 10,000 people--some of them survivors of the Parkland shooting--rallied at the Florida State Capitol building to demand gun control. In response, Florida legislators refused to even debate gun regulations, further alienating thousands of students from a political system that claims to represent them.

This will be likely a radicalizing moment for high schoolers across the country. Planned school walkouts are spreading, reviving a great people's tradition, with all eyes turned to actions planned for March 14, March 24 and April 20.

WE NOW need to expand the demand beyond gun control, and connect the issue of mass murder at home to state-sanctioned mass murder abroad. At age 19, shooter Nikolas Cruz has not lived a year of his life when the U.S. was not actively bombing or occupying other countries, and exporting war through lucrative weapons contracts.

A teen who can't yet legally buy beer or rent a car was able to purchase a weapon made for tactical combat--but then again, the same legislators who allow the AR-15 to be sold more easily than a Bud Light have supported every U.S. war and every bloated military budget presented to them. The U.S.-manufactured ammunition that kills abroad kills just the same in Parkland, Florida.

The crisis we have before us is not about rap music or video games, as has been charged in previous mass shootings. It is a capitalist crisis.

Years of gearing up the military-industrial complex has further enriched the ultra-wealthy barons of war and death who profit from increased weapons sales. The most recent boom in domestic gun buying came during the Obama years, after a racialized "they're coming for my guns" scare, which, of course, never happened.

U.S. corporations like Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin are the largest global exporters of weapons. In 2015, U.S. companies accounted for about half of worldwide weapons sales that totaled more than $80 billion overall.

And that's not to mention the even greater sums the U.S. government spends buying weapons for the Pentagon. The search for ever-more effective methods of killing people inevitably leads to weapons manufactured for military purposes ending up in the domestic gun market.

Plus, some of the Pentagon's deadliest weapons are being sold to heavily militarized police forces--these guns are essentially subsidized twice by taxpayers.

THE NEARLY 1-to-1 ratio of guns to people in this country is the result of a constant state of war, bloated military budgets and the frequent use of violence beyond the Pentagon in the history of this society. All this is at the root of a culture where militarism, gender violence, racism and mass incarceration all thrive.

In some mass shootings, the perpetrators identify openly with white supremacist ideology. This was the case with Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in June 2015, and it looks to be the case with the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz.

Cruz, who posted pictures of himself online heavily armed and wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat, was reported by classmates to have been an open racist. He also has a history of abusing and threatening women, which speaks to a widely documented connection between domestic abuse and mass shootings.

Obviously, not all mass shootings have been driven by hostility to feminism and racial justice, but this has played a role in significant ways in cases of young white men seeking to exact "revenge" on "normies." So it's crucial that we connect the rise of white supremacist organizations that rally at least some of these men to the highest rate of mass shootings in the world.

The case of Nikolas Cruz also raises another issue: the U.S. military's heavy recruitment presence in schools across the country, particularly through the JROTC program that targets low-income children as early as 6th grade.

This includes teaching students how to shoot guns in preparation for future deployment to wars yet to be launched. In fact,

Cruz was not only a member of ROTC, but he was part of his school rifle team, which received a $10,000 grant from the National Rifle Association before Cruz was expelled.

The struggle to end mass shootings in the U.S. will not end with Trump's empty promise to ban "bump stocks," nor with the Democrats' more consistent commitment to gun control laws. Stopping such horrific examples of violence must also be a struggle against war, militarism, racism and misogyny, all of them essential elements of capitalism.

Ultimately, we need a completely different society that is freed from from terror and mass murder, from mass incarceration and war. In the society we strive for, prosperity and freedom would not be measured by access to automatic weapons, but rather by access to health care, including mental health care, housing as a human right and global peace.

The world we want is incompatible with entities like Lockheed Martin and the NRA, and all the other producers of death for profit. The thousands of young people who are taking action today may be opening up such possibilities, and we can't shy away.

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