As we are visited once again by the horrors of mass shootings, we are forcibly reminded of all of the ways in which violence can shatter lives at a moments’ notice. We are transfixed by the tragedies and unable to fully reckon with their origins. In each case, we ponder “motive” and whether the death(s) might be considered “hate crimes,” never fully acknowledging that all such deaths are the costs we must pay for the ways in which war is woven into the very fabric of our society.
In the upside-down world of our political ideology, we believe- we want to believe- that we are a peaceful society, a society only driven to war when called upon to defend ourselves and “our way of life.” Thus, we fail to see these events as the costs of war.
Yet, we are steeped in war and the weapons of war. At least since World War II, when only a war production economy could end the Depression and stave off radical demands for fundamental change, we have lived on the production of death.
As that global conflict gave way to the Cold War, the Korean War, the wars in Central America, the Iraq War, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Serbia, the Second Gulf War, the war in Yemen, the war in Libya, and the war in Syria, we have come to rely on arms production to fund our entire enterprise.
As we moved to a permanent military footing and a permanent military economy, the vast surplus of this production has landed in our communities. As police forces became the recipients of surplus weaponry, our communities have borne the cost of an increasingly armed and militarized police force.
The costs of these wars and this violence is borne disproportionately by Indigenous people, by people of color, and by the poor. But none of us are immune. All of these guns have not made us more secure; indeed, more Americans than ever live behind fences and in gated communities with private “security” forces. The profusion of the security services of all kinds- federal, state, local, private- has led to a society in which we are increasingly policed but no safer. Those with wealth and privilege imagine that they will be protected. Yet, every mass shooting at a supermarket should dispel the myth that some may be “safe.”
We might also consider how different our society might be, were all of the vast resources that are poured into death and destruction devoted to the common good. As Baran and Sweezy pointed out a half century ago in Monopoly Capital, government spending for education and the public welfare tends to undermine the class interests of the oligarchy, while militarization fosters all kinds of reactionary and irrational forces in society. We have plenty of evidence that the weapons of war have bred such forces in our society; we need to understand their sources and their cost to us, not as isolated incidents, but as a fundamental part of our society that must be addressed should we ever hope to achieve our vision of a just and peaceful world.
For a longer treatment of this issue in its broader historical context, please see my article “The Strange Career of the Second Amendment” in Against the Current; it is available in two parts here (link) and here (link).