A friend of mine is an Iraq combat veteran and currently works as an armed member of law enforcement. He put it this way: "Around the world and inside the country, we enforce our will at the point of a gun." He was referring to the fact all our military and police agencies depend on lethal weapons for their authority; intimidation is an important aspect of military/police authority, and civilians are meant to know this. This is why the 2003 bombing attack on Baghdad was called "shock and awe." Lethal weapons are meant to suggest opposition is futile.
"For the government to, then, turn around and tell you, as a citizen, you can't have a gun is hypocritical," my friend said. This, of course, is the original spirit of the Second Amendment and "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" and the notion of a "well regulated militia" that may or may not be linked with the central government.
If the debate over gun control hinges on morality issues, the secrecy and the willful suspension of moral concerns that characterizes the President's targeted assassination policy is a real problem. Our current wars operate in two very distinct modes. One is secrecy and the control of information and the press. Bradley Manning is the current example of what happens when one violates this mode. The other mode is public relations, that is, all the controlled and re-processed information the military and government intelligence agencies allow to be made public. The most courageous members of our press, media and free-lance operations like Wikileaks operate in the gray zone between these two modes, trying to shine light into the vastness of what is kept secret.
To ask for too much information on who exactly is being targeted and killed by SEAL teams and drones, and why, borders on being subversive, since it necessarily involves humanizing those on the wrong end of our government's violence. It would involve an awareness of the "enemy's" mourning process. Killing in war demands simplification and demonization and the reduction of people to words like "terrorist." A rigidly enforced program of secrecy assures that the public here at home remains ignorant of anything other than that the killing is necessary and is being done to protect them.
A good, loyal American does not expend grief or outrage for any of the 176-plus beautiful children killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia by the President's drone project -- certainly nothing like what we've seen expended for the 20 beautiful children killed so viciously at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Actually "seeing" the grief and outrage on the other end of our killing would be a first step to ratcheting back our assassination programs. Thus, Americans are urged to steel themselves from engaging in such weak-sister thinking and to not question Dick Cheney's call to rely on "the dark side."
Can a Violent Government Prevent More Adam Lanzas?
Adam Lanza was clearly operating under an unfathomable delusion. His father is a wealthy corporate executive. His parents were divorced, and he lived an inner-driven life of moneyed privilege with his mother. For some equally unfathomable reason his mother kept military-style weapons with large magazines and hundreds of rounds of ammunition within easy access to her troubled young son about whom she had recently expressed concern to friends. We must ask: What was she thinking? Why are her actions not irresponsible and culpable? Where was 20-year-old Lanza's corporate executive father in all this? Is the father being protected from scrutiny by high-powered, expensive security?
We can all agree Adam Lanza was operating under some profoundly insane delusion that made killing little kids acceptable -- maybe even justified in his mind. But delusions don't have to be insane; they can sometimes be very ordinary, even institutionally encouraged.
Anyone who has thought about the range of motivations for US war-making over the past decades should realize, while our leaders may not be mentally ill or insane, in conjunction with their great power and lethal weaponry they too often operate under various delusions. There's the obvious examples of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the presumed link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Then there's my favorite delusion, the notion that our soldiers went to fight in Vietnam, Iraq and even Afghanistan to protect the freedom of Americans at home. American power, yes; freedom, no way. The Vietnamese, Iraqis and Taliban had zero interest in attacking the US.
When you inject religion into the war-motivation business things can get really weird. There was the Air Force general during the Iraq War who declared to "the terrorists" that "My God is stronger than your God." I'm now reading a small memoir of an interrogator in Iraq (Dinner With a Terrorist by James Rosone) who writes how he prayed "to see if this was what God wanted me to do." In the end, God told him to go to interrogator school. He accepted the mission in which "God would pit [him] against some of the most evil and wicked people one could possibly imagine." I'm an atheist, so when it comes to delusional motivations for war I tend to see the madness in the Middle East as the convergence of three powerful delusional forces: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. I will concede it is a legitimate question to ask whether anything can be a "delusion" if tens of millions of people share the same supernatural belief.
Vice President Joe Biden has been slated to lead the post-Newtown fight for gun control. He's quite experienced with this kind of thing. When Democrats felt Ronald Reagan had knocked them out of the box in the early 80s, he was the senator who argued that crime bills would help bring the party back. He worked closely with Republicans like Strom Thurmon on crime bills and, in the process, helped design the current Drug War. Recently, he fought for counter-terrorism as a tactic in Afghanistan and in the War on Terror. This tactic won the day over General Petraeus' counter-insurgency approach. The core tool in the counter-terrorism war is the use of intelligence to come up with leadership targets for assassination teams and lethal drone hits. Now, of course, the Drug War and the Global War On Terror are intricately linked and are one seamless US war with no end in sight.
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and a host of others are now making the justified case that citizens don't need war weaponry like AR15s with extended magazines. Ironically, vociferous gun owner Bill O'Reilly also questioned civilian use of AR15s on his show recently. Such weapons, they say, should only be in the hands of highly trained military and police units fighting terror and crime.
I'm all for the banning of AR15s for civilian use, keeping better track of mentally ill citizens as long as they are granted dignity in the process, and discouraging violent video and film culture. But I'm also for ending our wars and pulling back our more than 700 bases imposing our "way of life" around the world. It seems clear to me that Pax Americana -- our imperial intervention into other cultures -- spurs much of the violence we fear from the world around us. It certainly spurred 9/11, an argument effectively shut down after September 11, 2001, and never really taken seriously again.
Given a government that relies on weapons and violence so much for its power, in a political landscape where both the far right and the far left don't trust that government, it's going to be hard for this President to argue weapons must be kept from the hands of citizens. A president with a morally questionable hit list who oversees some pretty questionable surveillance projects, including of the American people, may be a wonderful dad but he's not a great moral model for weapons control in a violent, dark world.