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Violence, USA: The Warfare State and the Brutalizing of Everyday Life

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Posted on May 2, 2012
kevin dooley (CC BY 2.0)

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

(Page 2)

Given Hollywood’s rush for ratings, the film gratuitously feeds enthralled audiences with voyeuristic images of children being killed for sport. In a very disturbing opening scene, the audience observes children killing each other within a visual framing that is as gratuitous as it is alarming. That such a film can be made for the purpose of attaining high ratings and big profits, while becoming overwhelming popular among young people and adults alike, says something profoundly disturbing about the cultural force of violence and the moral emptiness at work in American society. Of course, the meaning and relevance of “The Hunger Games” rest not simply with its production of violent imagery against children, but with the ways these images and the historical and contemporary meanings they carry are aligned and realigned with broader discourses, values and social relations. Within this network of alignments, risk and danger combine with myth and fantasy to stoke the seductions of sadomasochistic violence, echoing the fundamental values of the fascist state in which aesthetics dissolves into pathology and a carnival of cruelty.

Within the contemporary neoliberal theater of cruelty, war has expanded its poisonous reach and moves effortlessly within and across America’s national boundaries. As Chris Hedges has pointed out brilliantly and passionately, war “allows us to make sense of mayhem and death” as something not to be condemned, but to be celebrated as a matter of national honor, virtue and heroism.(11) War takes as its aim the killing of others and legitimates violence through an amorally bankrupt mindset in which just and unjust notions of violence collapse into each other. Consequently, it has become increasingly difficult to determine justifiable violence and humanitarian intervention from unjustifiable violence involving torture, massacres and atrocities, which now operate in the liminal space and moral vacuum of legal illegalities. Even when such acts are recognized as war crimes, they are often dismissed as simply an inevitable consequence of war itself. This view was recently echoed by Leon Panetta who, responding to the alleged killing of civilians by US Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, observed, “War is hell. These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place, they’ve taken place in any war, they’re terrible events and this is not the first of those events and probably will not be the last.”(12) He then made clear the central contradiction that haunts the use of machineries of war in stating, “But we cannot allow these events to undermine our strategy.”(13) Panetta’s qualification is a testament to barbarism because it means being committed to a war machine that trades in indiscriminate violence, death and torture, while ignoring the pull of conscience or ethical considerations. Hedges is right when he argues that defending such violence in the name of war is a rationale for “usually nothing more than gross human cruelty, brutality and stupidity.”(14)

War and the organized production of violence has also become a form of governance increasingly visible in the ongoing militarization of police departments throughout the United States. According to the Homeland Security Research Corp, “The homeland security market for state and local agencies is projected to reach $19.2 billion by 2014, up from $15.8 billion in fiscal 2009.”(15) The structure of violence is also evident in the rise of the punishing and surveillance state,(16) with its legions of electronic spies and ballooning prison population - now more than 2.3 million. Evidence of state-sponsored warring violence can also be found in the domestic war against “terrorists” (code for young protesters), which provides new opportunities for major defense contractors and corporations to become “more a part of our domestic lives.”(17) Young people, particularly poor minorities of color, have already become the targets of what David Theo Goldberg calls “extraordinary power in the name of securitization ... [they are viewed as] unruly populations ... [who] are to be subjected to necropolitical discipline through the threat of imprisonment or death, physical or social.”(18) The rhetoric of war is now used by politicians not only to appeal to a solitary warrior mentality in which responsibility is individualized, but also to attack women’s reproductive rights, limit the voting rights of minorities and justify the most ruthless cutting of social protections and benefits for public servants and the poor, unemployed and sick.

This politics and pedagogy of death begins in the celebration of war and ends in the unleashing of violence on all those considered disposable on the domestic front. A survival-of-the-fittest ethic and the utter annihilation of the other have now become normalized, saturating everything from state policy to institutional practices to the mainstream media. How else to explain the growing taste for violence in, for example, the world of professional sports, extending from professional hockey to extreme martial arts events? The debased nature of violence and punishment seeping into the American cultural landscape becomes clear in the recent revelation that the New Orleans Saints professional football team was “running a ‘bounty program’ which rewarded players for inflicting injuries on opposing players.”(19) In what amounts to a regime of terror pandering to the thrill of the crowd and a take-no-prisoners approach to winning, a coach offered players a cash bonus for “laying hits that resulted in other athletes being carted off the field or landing on the injured player list.”(20)

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The bodies of those considered competitors, let alone enemies, are now targeted as the war-as-politics paradigm turns America into a warfare state. And even as violence flows out beyond the boundaries of state-sponsored militarism and the containment of the sporting arena, citizens are increasingly enlisted to maximize their own participation and pleasure in violent acts as part of their everyday existence—even when fellow citizens become the casualties. Maximizing the pleasure of violence with its echo of fascist ideology far exceeds the boundaries of state-sponsored militarism and violence. Violence can no longer be defined as an exclusively state function since the market in its various economic and cultural manifestations now enacts its own violence on numerous populations no longer considered of value. Perhaps nothing signals the growing market-based savagery of the contemporary moment more than the privatized and corporate-fueled gun culture of America.


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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, May 6, 2012 at 7:52 am Link to this comment

Americans insist on believing that their crimes, like
everything they do, are bigger than everyone else’s.

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americanme's avatar

By americanme, May 5, 2012 at 10:17 am Link to this comment

Some of us brown folks are not so little.

Nor is our righteous anger.

Evo Morales nationalized another white european invader operation this week.

Go, Evo!

Report this
Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, May 5, 2012 at 6:36 am Link to this comment

vector56, May 4 at 6:59 pm:

‘““Since 9/11, the war on terror and the campaign for
homeland security have increasingly mimicked the
tactics of the enemies they sought to crush.””

I too like americanme was pissed off at the hypocrisy
of the above sentence!

Who the fuck did we mimic when we wiped out the
Natives? Who did we mimic when we engaged in “human
Slavery for 200 years? Who did we mimic when we
snuffed out 3 million people in Vietnam (who did not
attack us)?  Who did we mimic when we killed a
million Iraqis (again, did not attack us)?’

Just about every imperial power that has ever
existed.

The logic of empire—take power and grab stuff—
grows out of the logic of the state, the idea that
the best social order is one in which an elite rules
everyone else.  When states become strong enough,
they enact empire until they go broke or are
defeated.  The U.S. is hardly unique in this regard. 
None of this is news.

The interesting question is what you’re going to do about it.

Report this
vector56's avatar

By vector56, May 4, 2012 at 7:59 pm Link to this comment

““Since 9/11, the war on terror and the campaign for homeland security have increasingly mimicked the tactics of the enemies they sought to crush.””

I too like americanme was pissed off at the hypocrisy of the above sentence!

Who the fuck did we mimic when we wiped out the Natives? Who did we mimic when we engaged in “human Slavery for 200 years? Who did we mimic when we snuffed out 3 million people in Vietnam (who did not attack us)?  Who did we mimic when we killed a million Iraqis (again, did not attack us)?

americanme is right; this is about little Brown people counter attacking after we invade and turn over their natural Resources to BP and Exxon Mobile.

Report this

By balkas, May 4, 2012 at 1:52 pm Link to this comment

in u.s, for first century or so, econo-military-educational-political power went to individuals and not to govts. all
americans thought exactly the same regarding the basic tenets on which u.s ran or runs even now.
the system of rule in u.s is based on the ideology of individualism.
since that ideology i call personal supremacism or unlimited individual freedoms in certain areas of life was
supported by 100% of americans, no govt needed to worry about any coup d’etat, usurpation, labor strikes,
rebellions.
so, why have standing army when it was not needed; there was no enemy at home to fight, since the system of rule
and structure of society was 100% safe.
but even today most of the army is abroad. the reason for that is obvious: there is no danger whatever right now to
the system of rule or u.s basic ideology.
once a threat wld arise at home, the army will also come home!

Report this
Samson's avatar

By Samson, May 4, 2012 at 11:11 am Link to this comment

The fascinating thing about the original design of
the American Republic is that the revolutionaries of
that time sought very hard to keep the government
from having a monopoly of the use of force.

In terms of foreign action, the government was denied
a standing army.  Type “Standing Armies” into google
along with a name like Madison and Jefferson and
you’ll quickly learn that the Founding Fathers of
this country viewed standing armies as a great threat
to the liberty they had fought so hard to win.

Thus, early America relied on militias to apply
force.  The President didn’t have a standing army to
order about.  Instead the President had to ask
citizens to come volunteer to serve in a militia if
he wanted to use war and force as a part of his
statecraft.

This was a freedom loving and democratic solution to
keeping the power of war and force out of the hands
of a ruler.  The citizens had the ultimate final vote
on a war, in that they could refuse to volunteer to
fight it if they thought it wrong and improper.

The same principle was applied to police power, where
the local sheriff or police chief had only a small
force to command, and for any serious use of force
they had to ask citizens to volunteer to be
‘deputies’.  In the west, this took the form of a
‘posse’.  Again, if the citizens thought a sheriff
was out of line, they could refuse to volunteer.

Both were mechanism that America used to keep itself
free.  Behind both was the idea that in the end its
the citizens who should control the use of force by
their democratic government.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, May 4, 2012 at 7:08 am Link to this comment

The state is war.  War is not an ‘instrument of statecraft’, it’s the fundamental principle of the state.  Violence, an intrinsic characteristic of the state, is a primary element of art and entertainment and the object of devout worship; this is the ideology of the state, the means by which it is sustained and replicated in the minds of the people.  But there is nothing new about this and I am surprised to see it attributed to recent events.

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By JSand, May 4, 2012 at 3:55 am Link to this comment

Surfboy - It is a cut and paste from the Vietnam Era because the Vietnam Era is being cut and pasted into reality.  Same thing 30 years later.  Apparently, we don’t really learn from our mistakes.  Or maybe the MIC learns well and decides to repeat the program over and over.

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prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, May 3, 2012 at 10:32 pm Link to this comment

Don’t freak Gerard…we have what we need as long as we don’t give it up….and when
we give it up we end up in neat little rows, instead of circles..Just like the ones above..

There are so many little rows in our lives, rows and rows of rows and rows…

Instead of rows make circles. Circles inside, circles with others, networks of friends.

Sorry for being cryptic, but the destruction of us all begins with our enculturation, to
obey, to bury our original face. Without that seed implanted in our psyche they could not
succeed, because they need our cooperation. Our individuality is the only tool that can
save us, one by one. That seed creates a schism that constantly churns in us, it can
free us all. It’s impossible to harvest us unless we are in neat little rows.

Friendship, this could be the age of friendship. Then their hate and fears would be
undone.

Report this

By gerard, May 3, 2012 at 8:02 pm Link to this comment

My key question got lost: “What are our resources?”
  Special experiences? In what field or area?
  Special training? In what?
  Special advantages?  Special interests?  Abilities?
  Primary concern?  What would be necessary to “make
          it happen” with us as a talent pool”?
  Who do you think might help?
  Who are already working on related issues?
Such “what if?” questions are meant only to start
some conversations and to increase a list of possibilities and encouragements—to awaken some
enthusiasm and shake off anxiety and inertia. To put the life back into our lives.
  Many of the articles published here NEED SOME SERIOUS CRITICISM regarding content omissions and commissions.  Anybody who isn’t a nervous wreck as a result of what this country is doing and not doing isn’t paying attention—but on the other hand, it’s the wrong time to give up.

Report this

By Marian Griffith, May 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@Americanme
—-Your logic escapes me.—-

I know

—-Can you name a country on this planet that is majoritively WHITE that the US is planning to invade for its resources?—-

Technically the USA never (officially) invaded any country for its resources. Even unofficially it has rarely done so in the past. If anything Iraq is a bit of an odd one in the list.

However, you may want to do a internet search for ‘countries invaded by the usa’ depending on which page you look at you may have to do a bit of weeding since it may also list various military actions inside the USA (against native american tribes and even striking workers in the late 1800s). Even so the list is depressngly long… but a lot of them are not predominantly inhabited by people of colour (and yes, the people of the middle east and northern africa may have a slightly tinted skin but they are considered caucasian).

Further, I would like to repeat that I did not call -you- racist. I only explained that you appear to see a racist motivation in the foreign policy of the USA which I do not see at all. Near as I can tell the USA is equal opportunity genocidal. The USA did not invade all those countries because its inhabit had a differently coloured skin but to gain territory, to ensure that the population that would rebel against capitalism was brutally repressed, and in some occasions just to sell more newspapers (or to get a president re-elected).

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americanme's avatar

By americanme, May 3, 2012 at 11:35 am Link to this comment

marian:

Your logic escapes me.

Can you name a country on this planet that is majoritively WHITE that the US is planning to invade for its resources?

I can’t.  And I not only travel a lot, but am pretty good at geography.

Give me a break here with your justifying racism.

Report this
Magginkat's avatar

By Magginkat, May 3, 2012 at 8:51 am Link to this comment

A long mind numbing, sometime repetative rant by Henry Giroux but still has some interesting points but to me this paragraph says it all:

“Young people, particularly poor minorities of color, have already become the targets of what David Theo Goldberg calls “extraordinary power in the name of securitization ... [they are viewed as] unruly populations ... [who] are to be subjected to necropolitical discipline through the threat of imprisonment or death, physical or social.”The rhetoric of war is now used by politicians not only to appeal to a solitary warrior mentality in which responsibility is individualized, but also to attack women’s reproductive rights, limit the voting rights of minorities and justify the most ruthless cutting of social protections and benefits for public servants and the poor, unemployed and sick.”


NOTE:  He made it all the way thru 4 paragraphs before
using the word pedagogy, apparently is pet word! LOL

Report this

By dadster, May 3, 2012 at 8:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In olden times ,during war or into war zones,media
was never let in for good reasons.“Everything is fair
in love and war”. War cannot be fought on Geneva
conventions which is applicable mainly to the
Prisoners of war. War zone is not a convent school,
nunnery or a religious shrine .Its a place where
people are just not fighting for their own country
alone but also fighting for their own life.You either
kill or get killed .There is no mercy asked or given
or expected.The media coming in with their intrusive
noses to make a living by “reporting” on war might
find many strange things happening there which may
not be exactly normal human behavior in civilized
social settings but a killer’s behavior fit for
butcheries. No one can fight wars on the principles
laid down in the Bible, Koran or by Buddhist non-
violent principles or even by any “rules of
engagement” laid by a bureaucracy sitting in air-
conditioned comfort in their offices in national
capitals….if you want victory in war and lesser
casualty. Every branch of human activity has its own
ethics different from that of others . Business
ethics is to get maximum profits for the share
holders and not to their business clients from whom
profits are made,nor are they expected to behave with
any social responsibility.Their responsibility is
only towards their shareholders who have invested
their money for a profit in the business. they are
much more “principled than politicians who take their
votes from the public on the promise that they would
look after public welfare and protect the interests
of the public and then go and do everything against
public welfare to their own personal benefit and
siding with the business shareholders whose declared
aim is to make profit from the public by fleecing or
exploiting or by whatever it takes to achieve their
aim of making profits, often greedy for it too. You
cant play volleyball with the rules of football in
which touching the ball with your hand is foul!So,
leave the battle-ground to the soldiers who when they
fight fight to win in whichever ways it takes to
strike terror in the hearts of their opponents and do
whatever it takes to destroy the morale and courage
of their adversaries to bring victory to the nation
for whom they are fighting at the peril of their
life . Media,human rights organizations keep
yourselves away from the war zone . Its not a place
for you to walk in and judge protected by your own
soldiers at the cost of their life. As soldiers we don’t need your sympathy or support other than
keeping yourselves as far away from us as possible
and we will bring victory to you which you can
celebrate with us and write to your home about.
Leave us, soldiers, alone to do our job, our way and, don’t make the rules for us .You don’t know what
bloody game we and you are in, nor can you understand
it unless you enroll yourselves in the army and put
on the uniform and come and fight in the trenches
with us.Don’t enter the battle zone for filing a
“report”, please, kindly .Thank you.

Report this

By Marian Griffith, May 3, 2012 at 2:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@do over
—-how many Americans will perish before this death march ends—-

Americans? not so many.
Human beings? millions, I fear.

@Americanme
If you refuse to read past the first few lines, how can you learn if your initial impression is correct or not?
And from your comment is seems to me that you want to view this issue in a racist framing (‘their’ racism, not yours). I think you are wrong in that. Greed is not limited to colour (nor is everybody outside the USA non-white). It just happened that the steadily contracting sphere of ultra rich and their 1pct cadre of executives all started out as white about a century ago, and like all groups seeks to renew itself in its own image.

@surfboy
Personal attacks against other people because they disagree with you is not lending your arguments any more weight. If anything it underscores the argument that the writer of this article was trying to make. That the more warlike we become the more the vocabulary of violence takes over every aspect of our lives, including how we disagree with each other.

Report this
prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, May 2, 2012 at 9:41 pm Link to this comment

one more thing that picture is wrong, and all out of proportion…

Report this
prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, May 2, 2012 at 9:33 pm Link to this comment

Yes, mankind is a tragic undertaking, up to our neck in a river of blood, and
gasping for air.

We’ve been warned since the very beginning, by Jesus, and Buddha, Lao Tzu, and
countless other holy men that stretch back to the beginning of time.

It’s been said that man’s basic confusion is in his cunningness, his cleverness, and
knowledgeability. It’s not our ignorance that will destroy us but our cunningness.
But sinners sometimes make it, scholars never. 

We go on making the wrong decisions over and over again, we are a lost species
and doomed. 

Knowing that is so, gives one the greatest possible freedom, to do and live just as
you want to live, to be what you are inside without fear.

Ultimately that is the only thing that we have, that can free us from the drooling
jowls, of those sick and twisted butchers, and their followers, who always seem to
rule us.

As Krishnamurti said “violence is desperate touching”...

Report this

By gerard, May 2, 2012 at 6:34 pm Link to this comment

So far it’s downhill all the way!

Report this

By do over, May 2, 2012 at 6:14 pm Link to this comment

A country founded on genocide is doomed to consume itself.  Over one hundred million Native Americans perished, how many Americans will perish before this death march ends?

Report this
americanme's avatar

By americanme, May 2, 2012 at 5:50 pm Link to this comment

Surfer:

Glad to see that I am not the only one here who is not brain-dead.

Report this

By wildthang, May 2, 2012 at 4:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The warfere state and the wealthfare state as a military police state and banana republic.
An exaggeration of western civilization in general with the template of war built into all institutions.

Now in a reaction to the 60’s attempt to validate a love-based system alternative. This by allying fundamentalist religious fervor and military dominance in turning back to sexual repression and war as an outlet.

Now we are building on the WWII outmoded model of GI Bill and Marshal Plan of nation renovation one after the other and the building of a military favored class for benfits and preference and economic necessity.

It is a fear of becoming femimized as a result of the 60’s, the feminist movement, and the fear of phthalates estrogenization. Mixed with the projections of climate change chaos and the idea survival will depend on valuing aggression.

The privatization is being mixed with dogmatic faith based initiatives which completes the circle of military-merchant-missionary-university research complex designed in the middle ages for Nobles, Knights, Merchant Guilds, Missionaries, and University Research complex.
Vulnerable people are being turned over to the religious dogmatic service corps.

Learning how to live within the means of our planet will require the love-based system instead based on interdependence not independence. More accurately a balancing of the two in creating a world not based on wars of destruction and reconstruction profiteering, a population growth economics, excessive accumulation of wealth for a few, and poisoning the very planet we live on. If not the human species may be the cause of its won extinction.

Report this

By wildthang, May 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The warfere state and the wealthfare state as a military police state and banana republic.
An exaggeration of western civilization in general with the template of war built into all institutions.

Now in a reaction to the 60’s attempt to validate a love-based system alternative. This by allying fundamentalist religious fervor and military dominance in turning back to sexual repression and war as an outlet.

Now we are building on the WWII outmoded model of GI Bill and Marshal Plan of nation renovation one after the other and the building of a military favored class for benfits and preference and economic necessity.

It is a fear of becoming femimized as a result of the 60’s, the feminist movement, and the fear of phthalates estrogenization. Mixed with the projections of climate change chaos and the idea survival will depend on valuing aggression.

The privatization is being mixed with dogmatic faith based initiatives which completes the circle of military-merchant-missionary-university research complex designed in the middle ages for Nobles, Knights, Merchant Guilds, Missionaries, and University Research complex.
Vulnerable people are being turned over to the religious dogmatic service corps.

Learning how to live within the means of our planet will require the love-based system instead based on interdependence not independence. More accurately a balancing of the two in creating a world not based on wars of destruction and reconstruction profiteering, a population growth economics, excessive accumulation of wealth for a few, and poisoning the very planet we live on. If not the human species may be the cause of its own extinction.

Report this
americanme's avatar

By americanme, May 2, 2012 at 3:53 pm Link to this comment

gerard,

I really do hate to add to your feeling of despair, but truthdig is just a safety valve for discontent—as as such it would not surprise me to know that it receives funding from the US government to continue its hapless function.

If you are posting here, the folks in Washington and NYC and Chicago and LA know that you won’t be beating their doors down with tar and feathers in your hand.

Either because the site has worked and you have vented and then gone shopping, or because you are posting here because you are being paid by the US government to add to the tone of hopelessness (The Way of the Wimp) and verbal violence (virtual threats and potty-talk personal attacks against posters who do not share your cyncical occupation of shill).

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By gerard, May 2, 2012 at 3:47 pm Link to this comment

Perhaps the most pregnant sentence in this piece—if “pregnancy” is not completely off-key in such a deadly expose—is this quotation:  “... this brutalizing psychology of desensitization, emotional hardness and the freezing of moral responsibility that is particularly crucial to understand, because IT GROWS OUT OF A FORMATIVE CULTURE in which war, violence and the dehumanization of others becomes routine, commonplace and removed from any sense of ethical accountability.”
  The first step in “understanding” is recognition.
  For what I am about to say,  I will surely be labelled as a prude—not just an old fuddy-duddy—and that, perhaps in an effort to dismiss what I am about to say:
  Much of the “formative culture” exhibited both in the predominance of hopeless (utterly!) articles chosen for attention on TD, and much of the demeaning language used habitually by many commenters to defeat—not to understand—those in disagreement, is just one small part of the widely popular “brutalizing psychology of desensitization” which we all know is at the very root of all our problems.  It is also very likely that we are not ourselves desensitized, in spite of capitalism run wild, war, social injustice and environmental degradation. Yet, ...
  At the same time this “brutalizing psychology od desensitization” is cause, it is now turning into effect because it antagonizes, divides, and undermines all effort at mutual interchange of ideas, hence of understanding, hence of personal and group decision-making, and ultimately of mutual and cooperative action. Yet mutual and cooperative action is the only thing that can save the human future. Everything we say is “related to the human future” whether we believe it or not.
  Therefore I am interested to discover what hope there is in such an endeavor as Truthdig because I think it has extremely important possibilities as a creative avenue to help us escape from an otherwise extremely sick and dead-end denoument.
  By posting this message today I risk upturning more than one frail sense of composure.  I also risk losing friends at a time when I have almost no others, due to relative immobility.  But the question must be asked—and answered, for there is no more time for cruelty, evasion and pretense.
  It is either find a mutual truth around which to unite and expand the circle, or be party to the creation of our own miserable Camp 14, as in the “Gulag” article.
  Warning each other of coming disasters is not going to be enough. Nor is impractical moralizing or advisement. I am suggesting that we “Occupy Truthdig” for a period of time, and see what we can discover and build together. What are our resources?

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americanme's avatar

By americanme, May 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm Link to this comment

Right off the bat, I disagree with the analysis.  here is the opening gambit:

“Since 9/11, the war on terror and the campaign for homeland security have increasingly mimicked the tactics of the enemies they sought to crush.”

Nonsense.

The enemy that they seek to crush is, in order of priorities:

1.  All non-whites on the planet who have resources they want.

2.  Anyone in their own country who doesn’t go along with the promotion of genocide for the ends of capitalism.

I didn’t read any further than the bogus opening gambit.  Nor will I.

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By Tiarose, May 2, 2012 at 2:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is the culture that has also fostered the rise in workplace bullying.

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