Third, and most importantly, these incidents of people "going postal" are intimately and directly related to the example being set by those in authority and by the forces of enmity, solitariness, and scapegoating that are at full volume over the last several decades in the U.S. and the world. This is in certain respects a distinctly U.S. problem in that these kinds of mass killing sprees are concentrated here, with ready access to and the celebration of the military and paramilitary gear that Holmes sported. But it is not exclusively American because it is larger than that. While the NRA is a major culprit in this they are not the exclusive perpetrator. In China, for example, there has been a spate of incidents involving middle-aged men who are so profoundly disaffected and abused that they have expressed their alienation by killing sprees of young Chinese children.
The most important parallel here is not between the depiction of violence and battles between good and evil present in contemporary mass entertainment such as the film "Dark Knight Rising." There is a connection in a broad and diffuse sense and of course, Mr. Holmes did not choose his get-up and target venue coincidentally. But one can readily imagine a mass murderer choosing Disneyland instead. Playgrounds and day-care centers are where the incidents in China have been. The connection between filmic and video game presentations of violence are connected to these murderous rampages only in the sense that entertainment and individual and group behaviors are both reactions to and reflective of larger social, economic, political, and ideological forces.
No, the most important parallel or connection here and in the other "going postal" incidents is to the pervasive sense of anomie that we find in most of the world today. The dominant media organizations today such as NewsCorp (Fox News et al), the reactionary, scapegoating, violent conspiracy nut pundits who whip the more impressionable people up into a froth on a daily basis such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and the ruling political parties in virtually all countries (the Republicans and the Democrats here in the U.S.) who are neck deep in killing sprees (Obama's kill list only the most well-known of these), and the scapegoating of immigrants, of minorities (George Zimmerman's execution of Trayvon Martin being, according to Mr. Zimmerman, part of God's plan, just as Dr . George Tiller's murderer cites God's plan as his motivation) and of women, the passing of laws and enacting policies that treat everyone as guilty until proven innocent, the government giving itself the power now to hold you indefinitely and drive you crazy or kill you merely on an accusation, economic policies that say you're out of luck motherf*cker if you're not one of the 1%, the degradation of the meaning of truth, facts, science, and even seemingly simple things like good manners (many people now routinely yell on their cell phones and drive around at night with their high beams on as if to say, f*ck you or simply because they don't bother to check whether their actions are making driving conditions more hazardous for others because what matters now is Me, me, me, not you because you're not me, are you?).
When I heard about Mr. Holmes' killing spree in Aurora, Colorado what I first thought of was not Columbine or video games or the NRA. My first thought was how much this sounded and looked like what American soldiers led by Robert Bales did to villagers in Kandahar, Afghanistan on March 11, 2012. As I wrote at the time:
After murdering these innocents one by one, this U.S. soldier - many Afghan witnesses, including one whose father was killed, saw several U.S. soldiers involved in the attack - then covered his/their victims with a blanket and set them afire.
"This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan," Mr. Obama said in a statement.
Yet another example of the "exceptional character of our military" and its extraordinary "respect" for the Afghan people -- one of a whole string of incidents that show the U.S. high regard for the people whose country it has been occupying for more than ten years in the longest war in U.S. history (not counting its wars on Native Americans).
The Marines who filmed their urinating on the corpses of dead Afghan fighters is another instance of the "exceptional character of our military" and its extraordinary "respect" for the Afghan people.
The Korans deliberately burned by the U.S. in Afghanistan is still another illustration of the "exceptional character of our military" and its extraordinary "respect" for the Afghan people.
The 2005 Haditha Massacre where at least two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians were murdered by U.S. troops under the command of Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich who admitted that he had told his soldiers to "shoot first and ask questions later" is but more evidence of the "exceptional character of our military" and its extraordinary "respect" for the Iraqi and Afghan people.
In return for his "exceptional character" Wuterich was convicted of "dereliction of duty."
The U.S. policy of bombing large gatherings in Afghanistan, including wedding parties, is still another example of the "exceptional character of our military" and its extraordinary "respect" for the Afghan people.
This is what liberation looks like, U.S. style.
To those who want to assert, as Mr. Obama and Mr. Panetta keep having to repeat, that these actions do not represent the attitudes and policies of their fine military machine, let's note for the record and for accuracy's sake that these wars were illegal, immoral, and unjust in the first place. These atrocities are merely the most publicized incidents of a policy; these are not aberrations. These are the results of the mentality and deliberate policies of this government, first under Bush and now under Obama.
As Cofer Black, Director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, replied to the Russian official who was warning him that the U.S. plans to invade and occupy Afghanistan were going to lead to the same disastrous results as what happened to the Russians:
"We're going to kill them," he said. "We're going to put their heads on sticks. We're going to rock their world."