Mar 9, 2014
Posted on Nov 25, 2013
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
Domestically, the U.S. has grown more militarized as “security” concerns have been woven into every form of travel, terror fears and alerts have become part and parcel of daily life, and everything around us has up-armored. Police forces across the land, heavily invested in highly militarized SWAT teams, have donned more military-style uniforms, and acquired armored cars, tanks, MRAPS, drones, helicopters, drone submarines, and other military-style weaponry (often surplus equipment donated by the Pentagon). Even campus cops have up-armored.
In a parallel development, Americans have themselves become more heavily armed and in a more military style. Among the 300,000,000 firearms of all sorts estimated to be floating around the U.S., there are now reportedly three to four million AR-15 military-style assault rifles. And with all of this has gone a certain unhinged quality, both for those SWAT teams that seem to have a nasty habit of breaking into homes armed to the teeth and wounding or killing people accused of nonviolent crimes, and for ordinary citizens who have made random or mass killings regular news events.
On August 1, 1966, a former Marine sniper took to the 28th floor of a tower on the campus of the University of Texas with an M-1 carbine and an automatic shotgun, killing 17, while wounding 32. It was an act that staggered the American imagination, shook the media, led to a commission being formed, and put those SWAT teams in our future. But no one then could have guessed how, from Columbine high school (13 dead, 24 wounded) and Virginia Tech university (32 dead, 17 wounded) to Sandy Hook Elementary School (26 dead, 20 of them children), the unhinged of our heavily armed nation would make slaughters, as well as random killings even by children, all-too-common in schools, workplaces, movie theaters, supermarket parking lots, airports, houses of worship, navy yards, and so on.
And don’t even get me started on imprisonment, a category in which we qualify as the world’s leader with 2.2 million people behind bars, a 500% increase over the last three decades, or the rise of the punitive spirit in this country. That would include the handcuffing of remarkably young children at their schools for minor infractions and a fierce government war on whistleblowers—those, that is, who want to tell us something about what’s going on inside the increasingly secret state that runs our American world and that, in 2011, considered 92 million of the documents it generated so potentially dangerous to outside eyes that it classified them.
Still, don’t call this America a “police state,” not given what that came to mean in the previous century, nor a “totalitarian” state, given what that meant back then. The truth is that we have no appropriate name, label, or descriptive term for ourselves. Consider that a small sign of just how little we’ve come to grips with what we’re becoming. But you don’t really need a name, do you, not if you’re living it? However nameless it may be, tell me the truth: Doesn’t the direction we’re heading in leave you with the urge to jump out of your skin?
And by the way, what I’ve been describing so far isn’t the apocalyptic part of the story, just the everyday framework for American life in 2013. For your basic apocalypse, you need to turn to a subject that, on the whole, doesn’t much interest Washington or the mainstream media. I’m talking, of course, about climate change or what the nightly news loves to call “extreme weather,” a subject we generally prefer to put on the back burner while we’re hailing the “good news” that the U.S. may prove to be the Saudi Arabia of the twenty-first century—that is, hopped up on fossil fuels for the next 50 years; or that green energy really isn’t worth an Apollo-style program of investment and R&D; or that Arctic waters should be opened to drilling; or that it’s reasonable to bury on the inside pages of the paper with confusing headlines the latest figures on the record levels of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere and the way the use of coal, the dirtiest of the major fossil fuels, is actually expanding globally; or… but you get the idea. Rising sea levels (see ya, Florida; so long, Boston), spreading disease, intense droughts, wild floods, extreme storms, record fire seasons—I mean, you already know the tune.
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