The Fort Hood shootings. As of this writing, 13 dead, 31 injured on the Texas military base.
By coincidence, this week’s edition of the New Yorker magazine has an article by Jill Lepore titled "Rap Sheet," slugged, "Why is American history so murderous?" The graphic of a gun – pointed at the reader – held in a hand is slugged, "Homicide may have a political dimension."
Lepore, a New Yorker staff writer and professor of US history at Harvard and chair of Harvard’s History and Literature Program, closes on resounding notes of willful ignorance: "Murder has a history, but it isn’t always edifying, and sometimes the history of crime and punishment has a chilling sameness."
Not predictable patterns, causal patterns?
Lepore acknowledges the work of Ohio State Professor Randolph Roth, whose book "American Homicide" "offers a vast investigation of murder, in the aggregate, and over time. Roth’s argument is profoundly unsettling. There is and always has been, he claims, an American way of murder. It is the price of our politics."
[Roth states,] "The statistics make it clear that in the twentieth century, homicide rates have fallen during the terms of presidents who have inspired the poor or have governed from the center with a popular mandate, and they have risen during the terms of presidents who presided over political and economic crises, abused their power, or engaged in unpopular wars."
From this, Lepore concludes: "The homicide rate appears to correlate with Presidential approval ratings."
Presidential approval ratings have not been around so long. Rather, the given quotation indicates that homicide correlates with the degree of state abuse of the people.
Lepore closes the article:
"The prospect of death didn’t deter Barnett Davenport, a Connecticut murderer who was hanged in 1780, at the age of nineteen. … Davenport killed Mallery, Mallery’s wife, and their seven-year-old granddaughter, beating their heads in with a pestle and a rifle. Next, he pried open the family’s money chest and took from it a pile of bills and a handful of coins. Then he set the house on fire, leaving inside two more children, ages six and four. He was captured, and swiftly hanged. In his confession, he recalled that Caleb Mallery had cried out, in between blows, "Tell me what you do it for!" History does not record the murderer’s reply."
The money the murderer took was beside the point? As we are to understand that the wealth of the oil wells and oil pipeline routes are beside the point in the murderous US conquest of Iraq and Afghanistan? How many children and families, weddings, has the US Air Force blown up in greater Oila? "Tell me what you do it for!"
The murderous pattern extends around the globe, to a large degree with "a chilling sameness" that is very knowable. Noam Chomsky notes (italics added):
"Current developments in South America are of historic significance for the continent and its people. It is well understood in Washington that these developments threaten not only its domination of the hemisphere, but also its global dominance. Control of Latin America was the earliest goal of US foreign policy, tracing back to the earliest days of the Republic. The United States is, I suppose, the only country that was founded as a "nascent empire," in George Washington’s words. The most libertarian of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, predicted that the newly liberated colonies would drive the indigenous population "with the beasts of the forests into the Stony Mountains," and the country will ultimately be "free of blot or mixture," red or black (with the return of slaves to Africa after eventual ending of slavery). And furthermore, it "will be the nest, from which all America, North and South, is to be peopled," displacing not only the red men but the Latin population of the South.
"These aspirations were not achieved, but control of Latin America remains a central policy goal, partly for resources and markets, but also for broader ideological and geostrategic reasons. If the US cannot control Latin America, it cannot expect "to achieve a successful order elsewhere in the world," Nixon’s National Security Council concluded in 1971 while considering the paramount importance of destroying Chilean democracy. Historian David Schmitz observes that Allende "threatened American global interests by challenging the whole ideological basis of American Cold War policy. It was the threat of a successful socialist state in Chile that could provide a model for other nations that caused concern and led to American opposition," in fact direct participation in establishing and maintaining the terrorist dictatorship. Henry Kissinger warned that success for democratic socialism in Chile might have reverberations as far as southern Europe – not because Chilean hordes would descend on Madrid and Rome, but because success might inspire popular movements to achieve their goals by means of parliamentary democracy, which is upheld as an abstract value in the West, but with crucial reservations."
In regard to Harvard history prof/New Yorker staff writer Lepore, one thinks of George Orwell writing in The Lion and the Unicorn:
"There they sat, at the center of a vast empire and a worldwide financial network, drawing interest and profits and spending them – on what? The British ruling class obviously could not admit to themselves that their usefulness was at an end. Had they done that they would have had to abdicate. For it was not possible for them to turn themselves into mere bandits, like the American millionaires, consciously clinging to unjust privileges and beating down opposition by bribery and tear-gas bombs. After all, they belonged to a class with a certain tradition, they had been to public schools where the duty of dying for your country, if necessary, is laid down as the first and greatest of the Commandments. They had to feel themselves true patriots, even while they plundered their countrymen. Clearly there was only one escape for them – into stupidity."
For the ruling class in the US, the status quo establishment, the only escape from central and vital understanding of US homicide is stupidity, or status quo ideology. Thus these writers, these editors, these publishers with their plaintive articles, practically pleading for ignorance in asking, Why are we so murderous? and in answering practically with relief, We dare not know.
"History does not record the murderer’s reply"?
Rather, the actions of the establishment speak louder than the words of its flunkies.
Tony Christini, teacher, writer, publisher, cofounder of Liberation Lit fiction journal, author of Iraq conquest novel Homefront and half a dozen ebooks of topical fiction. He can be reached at: [email protected].