“I’ve always tried to show people that the devil we blame our atrocities on is really just each one of us. So don’t expect the end of the world to come one day out of the blue – it’s been happening every day for a long time”
Newspapers in India are depressing to read even in the best of times. Rapes, murders, accidents, bribery and corruption usually dominate the pages while small stories of hope and triumph fight for space in dark corners. That’s what sells. At less than five rupees (8 cents) a copy, newspapers in India often resort to clickbaiting an audience of sleaze-hungry people to increase their readership. In fact, electronic media has mastered this technique.
But sometimes, a juxtaposition of news stories makes for a story in itself. Today’s Times of India, Bangalore edition, page 12 is one such example. Here have a look.
On Sunday, 5th Nov 2017, another ‘mad man’ with a weapon shot dead 26 innocent churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, a small Texas town where ‘everybody knew everybody’. The killer, Devin Patrick Kelley, a former USAF airman, had been court martialled and jailed for domestic assault on his wife and stepson in 2012 (he reportedly cracked the toddler’s skull), and cashiered from service in 2014 for ‘bad conduct’. But that didn’t stop him from legally purchasing a Ruger AR-556 rifle that he used to perpetrate this crime. This weapon reportedly sells for anything between $799 to $849 – cheaper than some of the latest iPhones, and available almost as freely in some parts of the US.
On the same day, US President Donald Trump, on a politically surcharged tour of Asia, made a public statement that Japan could protect itself from the likes of North Korea by buying billions of dollars of American military equipment. Trump rallied that Japanese PM Shinzo Abe could “shoot them (North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles) out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the US”.
This is a familiar narrative as far as the United States is concerned. Support or create monsters (sometimes real, sometimes imaginary) around the world, beat up paranoia in the public mind, and then use this as a premise to push in American or Coalition troops & weaponry, arming potential ‘victims’ to the teeth in the process.
With each mass shooting in the US raising the same difficult questions, it is time to ask if the shenanigans of their own foreign policy have come home to roost. Successive US governments (and a recalcitrant Congress) which failed to protect their own citizens from the spectre of gun violence have taken on the self-assigned role of global peacekeeper for many decades now. It is time to ask what kind of peace this has brought to America or the world at large.
Iraq is all but destroyed by sectarian violence. Estimates of casualties in the Iraqi War since 2003 vary greatly, ranging from 1,10,000 to 4,60,000, about 4500 of them American. The Chilcot Report, as described in a July 2016 New York Times article, presented the familiar conclusion that “Britain, like the United States, used flawed intelligence to justify the invasion, that Iraq posed no immediate national security threat, that the allies acted militarily before all diplomatic options had been exhausted and that there was a lack of planning for what would happen once Mr. Hussein was removed.”
More than 3500 coalition troops died in the Afghanistan campaign launched by the US after 9/11, not including tens of thousands of civilians. More than 2400 of them were American. Luke Coffey, Director, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy states in an analysis that “we need to start measuring success by achievements on the ground and not by unrealistic expectations. We also have to realize that patience is required. Success in Afghanistan will be measured in years and decades, not twenty-four-hour news cycles and 140-character-long tweets”. Other critics are much less generous in their analysis of what the US did finally achieve.
The Congressional Research Service concluded that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost US taxpayers upwards of $1.6 trillion. What this has achieved is there for the world to see. But we will miss it, blinkered as we are by the ‘freedom and liberty’ story propagated by those whose interests ultimately lie in rewriting history through destroying and rebuilding countries.
Contrast the casualty figures with gun violence in the US alone. According to Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence in America, in an average year, there are more than 12000 homicides in the US due to guns. On an average, over 90 Americans are killed by guns every day. Even considering that 62% of such deaths constitute suicide, that is 4500 Americans put to death each year – not through Bin Ladens or Saddam Husseins but through the smoking barrels of locally available guns. Simply put, gun violence claims more lives in the US each year than the total number of US troops killed in two of their biggest wars in recent history. Isn’t that a sobering statistic?
Now read the article presented in today’s paper with a fresh perspective of where all this may be coming from. President Trump said that the latest shooting in Texas that left 26 people dead was due to a ‘mental health problem’ and wasn’t ‘a gun situation’. He goes on to say “fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction”.
Who has the real mental health problem and in whose hands the biggest guns have been vested is a question Americans must answer after they are done with offering the roses and candlelight vigils.
In response to the deadliest mass shooting in the US that claimed 59 lives in Las Vegas just last month, Trump had said “we’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes on. But I do have to say, how quickly the police department was able to get in was really very much of a miracle. They’ve done an amazing job.” While credit must surely go to the police for stopping the shooter when they did, such obtuse commentary only serves to divert attention with whataboutery and post-truths.
What Trump is trying to sell to Japan–the ‘you can protect yourself by buying more American arms’ theory–is the same agenda in a different package that vested interests and the National Rifle Association has been peddling in-country for years under shelter of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Founded in 1871 as ‘a recreational group to promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis’, the NRA has an annual budget of over $250 million, much more than all the gun control advocates put together. Promoting guns and assault weapons for personal use on behalf of the industry that funds them is their main agenda. But as American singer-musician Marilyn Manson, a recipient of misdirected public wrath pointed out in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado: “I think that the National Rifle Association is far too powerful to take on, so most people choose Doom, The Basketball Diaries or yours truly“.
Doom, Basketball Diaries and Marilyn Manson – all of that is already taken. So Trump has chosen a new villain: mental health.
In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, President Trump had promised to talk of gun laws ‘as time goes by’. A month later, rivers of blood continue to run in little towns of America while the President is busy war mongering and selling bigger and deadlier weaponry to an already violent and polarised world.
I don’t dig Marilyn Manson or his music. But looks like he had a point.
What goes around, comes around. Whether they are guns or roses.
© KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2017. All rights reserved.
Views expressed are personal. My deepest condolences to thousands of victims and bereaved families whose lives are shattered each year by gun violence. Our silence or denial only makes the world more unsafe, year after year.
Feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.