On Aggression as a First Choice: Is There Another Way? :: By Herbert J. Hoffman, Ph.D.
It was my senior year in high school — many years ago — and I was seated, along with many of my football teammates, on the auditorium stage. It was a pre-game rally before 1500 classmates and teachers. The auditorium was filled with energy. The main speaker was a much revered former outstanding athlete at Central High School. A man in his 50’s, he spoke with passion about the upcoming football game. It was exciting! However, I found myself feeling revulsion as he concluded his speech by saying, “Go out there and Kill, Kill, Kill!”, repeating the last three words numerous times as the audience joined in.
Granted that the speaker did not mean his exhortation to be literal, it was emblematic of an attitude that has prevailed in this Nation since its inception — and even before. Aggression is the path to solving differences and the use of aggressive and demeaning language is one of the means employed to facilitate the use of aggression. No, I have not lost sight of the vignette being about a football game — however, I am concerned that it is illustrative of a much more serious game — WAR!
The prevalent ethos in the United States is that differences in opinion, behavior, faith, gender orientation are to be resolved by aggressive actions — not by discussion, negotiation, understanding or compassion. We have a long history of addressing differences by means of aggression — beginning with the conquest of the Native Americans to the present day wars with, and occupations of, sovereign nations. Domestically, we have seen the rapid response of police officers to fire their weapons to resolve a situation — often involving racial differences — and this follows the examples set by our foreign policy actions. It is no happenstance that, since its inception, the United States has initiated wars of aggression — with the exceptions of the Civil War and WWI — against enemies who are non-caucasian. In these instances, as in many of the police shootings, the imminent threat to security is either highly suspect or completely absent.
Have we, primarily European Americans, not advanced beyond our more primitive instincts to annihilate those who are different from us, who are not members of our tribe, whom we perceive as “enemies?” These “primitive instincts” are not sufficient to explain — or justify — our aggressive and often violent response to those who are “different.” Yes, as I noted, that since before its birth the United States has demonstrated a significant aggressive streak in its approach to the resolution of conflict which is reflected in our foreign policy.
In February of 2015 Glenn Greenwald wrote, “What we see here is what we’ve seen over and over: the West’s wars creating and empowering an endless supply of enemies, which in turn justify endless war by the West.” He continued, “It’s also a reminder that the military-industrial-congressional-complex that President Dwight Eisenhower first warned us about in 1961 remains in expansion mode more than half a century later, with its taste for business as usual (meaning, among other things, wildly expensive weapons systems). Above all, though, it’s an illustration of something far more disturbing: the failure of democratic America to seize the possibility of a less militarized world.”
The ethos and the soul of the our country is at a potential “tipping point” as we move closer to the 2016 elections. Do we continue on our course of militarized conquest — employing the most powerful military the world has ever witnessed — or do we begin moving towards a national stance of diplomacy, relationship and non-violence in our approach to the resolution of differences? Spearheaded by the diplomacy of President Obama and Secretary Kerry, the negotiations involved in the development of a non-nuclear agreement by the members of the Security Council and Germany with Iran can stand as a model for future negotiations.
It will require strong leadership for such a beginning movement in international relations to prevail. It is clear that if this approach is to have any chance at success, the United States would have to be involved — involved to the point of taking very strong leadership by the President, the Congress and the people. It would be a clear message that the “exceptionalism” marking this Nation would no longer be that of the mightiest military, the strongest aggressor, the purveyor of terrorism (drones are one example, the manufacture and sale of cluster bombs another). But, instead, exceptionalism would be that of the accomplished negotiator, the preference for non-violent approaches to resolving differences and the respecter of all peoples and their cultures.
In a sense President Obama took a step in this direction when he stated, following the massacre in Charleston, SC, “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency — and it is in our power to do something about it.” However, his failure to mention the role of our military abroad, the violence it spreads, and the model it conveys leaves a broad void.
Some are willing to express outrage with respect to domestic violence, but what gets in the way of our leaders taking a stand to denounce the violence which we and other nations disseminate? In 2015 the Stockholm Peace Research Institute noted that the United States accounted for 31% of world military expenditures and from 2010 to 2014 which earned the distinction of being the world’s number 1 exporter of weapons. Bill Gilson, a member of Veterans for Peace in New York City, further elaborated in his 2015 Memorial Day address, “The US cannot be the largest arms supplier in the world and hold itself innocent of the violence raging throughout the world and in our cities.”
As far back as 97 years ago on June 16, 1918, in Canton, Ohio, Eugene Debs, a five time candidate for President, “got it” when he declared: “Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder…. And that is war, in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles.”
The military/industrial complex does well under the conditions of forever war. “Orwell highlights how this operates in his novel, “1984.” He writes about Nations A, B, and C always at war in some combination of two against one, resulting in a high price paid domestically as resources are drained from underwriting quality of life projects such as support for infrastructure, health care, and education and facilitated a class-based society. It is notable that in 2014 the United States spent more on defense than the next seven countries combined.
The expenditures on war-making act as a curb on the domestic economy and function as a damper on the stability and growth of the middle-class. A 2011 University of Massachusetts study concluded that jobs in infrastructure, health and education create “significantly greater opportunities for decent employment” than a similar amount spent on defense. “There is a common perception that war is good for the economy. But in a paper for the Costs of War Project based at Brown University, PERI Assistant Research Professor Heidi Garrett-Peltier finds that war spending creates significantly fewer jobs than other kinds of government spending.” The end result of lower levels of employment and the diminution of quality of life enhancements breeds aggression and violence domestically as impoverished citizens attempt to survive by engaging in criminal activity.
What then can be done to change what has been a national emphasis since the end of WWII, to have the strongest military war machine ever? What can be done to change the prominent role violence has in this country? How do we move from choosing violence and aggression to negotiation and compromise as the preferred method for resolving differences? How do we approach what constitutes a major cultural shift? Is it even possible?
As the saying goes, “You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.” Therefore, we must make the effort to participate and change as a people or succumb by default.
In this election season which candidate, which party will come forward with a platform that addresses the concerns expressed above? The Green Party’s 2012 platform spoke directly to these concerns: “Establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, and human rights. End the wars and drone attacks, cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700 foreign military bases that are turning our republic into a bankrupt empire. Stop U.S. support and arms sales to human rights abusers, and lead on global nuclear disarmament.” Will we see such a strong and moral statement appear in the platforms of the major parties in 2016; will the party standard bearers speak out forcefully, convincingly, leading the way to a significant culture change in this country? At best the answer is, “Unlikely.”
Perhaps Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate for President, comes closest as he calls for a “revolution,” a political revolution. “I believe that the power of corporate America, the power of Wall Street, the power of the drug companies, the power of the corporate media is so great that the only way we really transform America and do the things that the middle class and working class desperately need is through a political revolution when millions of people begin to come together and stand up and say: Our government is going to work for all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.” In response to Anderson Cooper’s request for elaboration, Sanders responded: “What I mean is that we need to have one of the larger voter turnouts in the world, not one of the lowest. We need to raise public consciousness….when people come together in a way that does not exist now and are prepared to take on the big money interest, then we could bring the kind of change we need.”
Robert Kennedy was prescient when he held, “A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough — But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.”
Sanders, echoing the Kennedy theme, is advocating a major cultural change powered by the people. It means that citizens have to realize that their own interests are being made subservient to the interests of the moneyed class, the oligarchy, a class that profits from the manufacture and sale of weapons of aggression. The citizens have to realize that we have the power to change this equation by massive expression, non-violent actions and monumental voter turnout. These actions would constitute “cultural change!”
David Swanson, director of World Without War, has authored a Peace Pledge http://davidswanson.org/individual which speaks to the issues I have identified.
“I understand that wars and militarism make us less safe rather than protect us, that they kill, injure and traumatize adults, children and infants, severely damage the natural environment, erode civil liberties, and drain our economies, siphoning resources from life-affirming activities. I commit to engage in and support nonviolent efforts to end all war and preparations for war and to create a sustainable and just peace.”
Imagine the majority in Congress pledging, the President pledging and the millions upon millions of United States citizens pledging — and you pledging. That would be a revolution! The time is NOW!
Perhaps in the future, football rallies will not call for “killing” the opponent, but prevailing over the opponent by playing the best game we can — to actualize the potential in each of us.
:: Herbert J. Hoffman is an author, Ph.D., Member VFP National, Maine and New Mexico.
:: President John Kennedy signing the Limited Test Ban Treaty. (National Nuclear Security Administration Photo)
Published Date: Tuesday, November 17th, 2015 | 10:23 PM