After raising our heads and opening our eyes from prayers for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting, it is time for us to open our eyes and see the truth about our national character.
There have been worse massacres in our history, and it could even be said that both hateful and psychotic violence is in our blood.
In 1890, 75 Sioux were ambushed and massacred by South Dakota militiamen, even though the Sioux were on their own Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
In 1919, African-American sharecroppers organized a union in Arkansas and for their effort, 237 of them were murdered by white vigilantes. Many of the murderers were WWI veterans that had just returned from war.
Just two years later, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, whites went on a rampage, and in the course of burning down 35 blocks of the African-American section of town known as Greenwood, they also murdered 300 blacks.
But we know the list of organized massacres of Native Americans — many of them “state sponsored,” as in genocide — is legion. Likewise, the systemized enslavement of African-Americans, and subsequent murder by whipping, lynching or police shootings of unarmed persons, is also beyond cover up.
At My Lai, Vietnam, American soldiers massacred between 300 and 500 unarmed men, women, and children. Abu Ghraib, while merely torture and prison abuse, rather than murder, was only a decade ago. It reminds us that our propensity to inflict violence on others, especially people of color, is in our history and in our blood.
While the news media, especially local television stations, gratuitously focus on stories involving violence by African-American males, the vast majority of shootings with multiple victims are perpetrated by whites. In fact, most school shootings have been located in rural and suburban settings and featured white perpetrators.
Our most popular movies are blockbusters of violence, with heroes who inflict greater death and pain than the most violent of the movie bad guys. The more commercially successful video games are not about teaching kindness, or how to be a loving partner in intimacy, but how to kill on a scale beyond that of the Las Vegas massacre. Violence is in our history and in our blood, and now we are steeped in it through art and fantasy.
Take a step back and look at our history: In our 241 years of history as a sovereign nation, we have been at war at least 90 percent of the time. Heck, we have been at war in Iraq for 25 years now.
Fifty-seven percent of our total budget goes to the military, and if veterans’ benefits are added in, it balloons to 63 percent. Compare that to 1 percent for food and agriculture (which includes SNAP or food stamps). We are a war machine: a global empire that uses coercion and violence, or the threat of violence, to get what we want. It is who we are; it is in our history and in our blood.
The only way to change this terrible litany of loss, is to change our history and who we are.
We flail at the maniacs who perpetrate the violence while covering our eyes to avoid looking upon the fabric of our society. We celebrate and mythologize guns and violence. In the random massacres going on all around us, and the horrendous pain and grief they inflict, we need to see they are expressions of a national character steeped in violence. Included in that history and character, is also a racial component of white violence against people of color.
If we truly want to reduce the level of violence in our society, we will reduce our militarism, use our art and media to teach and propagate peace and loving-kindness, and spend our national treasure on building community and well-being. Anything short of doing those things simply means more violence.
Cameron Miller is the author of the spiritual fiction “The Stream Room Diaries” and numerous published poems and is publisher of www.subversivepreacher.org. He lives and writes in Geneva and serves as the priest of Trinity Episcopal Church. “Denim Spirit” runs every Wednesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.