USA, Living Through Violence
„American society is engulfed in a world of violence. […] We know from routine statistical data collection, studies and media reports, that there are enormous numbers of violent episodes in this county each year.” (Levine and Rosich 1). Moreover, “The high levels of serious violence appear to be uniquely “American”. The United states has [for example] a higher homicide rate than in any other industrialized nation- nearly double that of Spain, which has the second highest rate.” (Levine and Rosich 84). Violence is being defined in this Essay according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary as “The use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy.” But regardless of how many people speak up about the topic, want to change something about this issue and demonstrate nothing changed so far. The USA as a country, is born with and lives through violence, both in a sense of having prospered from it and being surrounded by it. This essay will break down through different time periods why America is so bound to violence, beginning with the first settlers coming to America, over the business with the Indians, the fight of independence, the Truman doctrine in connection with school violence today, the gun control issue, and it will take a look into one possible future, based on the movie “The Purge”.
We will start with the beginning of the America we know today. To be more specific, this essay is going to take a look at the British settlers and their colonies. Lindner states in his book ‘Matters of Blood’, „With its elements of annihilation, occupation, disciplinary force, and regulation, colonial policy is inseparably intertwined with violence. […] It both ‘begins and perpetuates itself through acts of violence and calls forth an answering violence from the colonized’.” (39). In order to find out why he states it begins with violence we have to go back one step to 18th century Great Britain. During that time, you could get to prison because of many minor offences and therefore their prisons were overflowing with people and the officials had to find a way to get rid of at least some of them. Executions and other terrible punishments were also already part of daily life and a different solution was found. The 1718 convict transportation act empowered local courts to sentence convicts directly to transportation. “Opening a wide space between execution and lesser physical injuries, punishments of exile […] sent thieves, murderers, forgers, and other criminals to British America for seven years or more.” (Cervantes 317). In Scotland for example, “Perpetrators of the most serious crimes were tried by the High Court of Justiciary […]. [And] From 1718 to 1775, the central court in Edinburgh prosecuted 395 persons, […] nearly one half, 181, were ordered for transportation to America […].” (Ekirch 368). Cervantes takes a look at the big picture stating,
“Statistics for the period following 1718 show that the number of transports sent out of London and its environments settled at an average of about 250 persons per year from 1719 to 1730 and rose to about 300 a year from 1730 to 1750. In the two decades before the American Revolution that figure increased further to about 350 felons transported per year. Most accounts double figures from the metropolis to account for all England, and while all these numbers might seem low […] Overall it is estimated that transported felons made up one quarter of all persons who migrated to America in the 18th century from England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.” (319-320).
This of course took its toll on the newly founded colonies in America and all the other people that choose to live over there and so, “Complaints […] – coming from colonial authorities and focusing on the wickedness of convicts in British America – recurred throughout the eighteenth century in a wild array of genres that reported the outcomes of transportation.” (Cervantes 321). Apparently, most of the convicts did not want to change their habits and did not just quietly work for the colonist authorities because they knew that they would not be sent back to England because of its overflowing prisons and the expenses of the journey. Additionally, they knew that the means to perpetrate crimes in America were not yet given, leading to only a few executions and leaving the broad criminal masses free to spread among the settlers. All together this means that right from the beginning roughly every fourth American was already a convicted criminal, and even though not all of them continued in their bad ways or were rightfully convicts to begin with, it did not give the country the best start concerning the management of violence.
Almost at the same time the settlers established their first colonies in America, the trouble with the Native Americans, also called Indians, began. “The ‘natural rights’ listed in the American Declaration of independence are ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ In the older version of John Locke (1690/1966) they are ‘life, liberty, and property.’” (Rapoport 116). And that was exactly what the fight against the Natives was about in the first place. „Wie in anderen grausamen Kapiteln der amerikanischen Geschichte, wurden Gott und die Kultur zur Rechtfertigung bemüht. […] Die weißen müssen die Indianer ablösen, weil die Weißen das Land so nutzen, „wie es den Absichten des Schöpfers entspricht“.“ (Farb 298). The “Native American culture represented a challenge to the emergent national identity; it was already ‘un-American’, believing in communal lands, tribalism, sacredness of the earth, and being suspicious of private property.” (Campbell and Keane 56) and therefore in need of Americanisation if they were to stay in the land. “Americanisation in this context, was an imperialist imposition of values, seeking in different ways to assert a particular, narrow definition of what it might mean to be American at the expense of others.” (56) As everyone can imagine, the Indians were not to keen on changing their whole lifestyle and giving up the land they cultivated and lived on for centuries, so the colonists started to thematically exterminate them. Stammel says in his book „Indianer Legende und Wirklichkeit von A-Z“,
„Die Massenmedien der damaligen Zeit – Zeitungsberichte, Bücher, Predigten und das Gerücht – untermauerten die angemaßte Selbstgerechtigkeit der Weißen durch furiose Schilderungen Indianischer Greul: Marterpfahlberichte von Zeugen, die ‚dabei gewesen‘ waren, es ‚mit eigenen Augen gesehen‘ hatten ergingen sich in haarsträubenden Einzelheiten, die den Haß schürten, noch ehe man überhaupt den ersten Indianer gesehen hatte.“ (74). As a result, the so-called ‘Removal act’ was drawn up in 1830 which stated that the, “President of the United States be authorized to exchange land in the west for Indian land in the east and to assist the Indians with their "removal". This exchange would require ratified treaties and would be "voluntary" for the Indians, but for the tribes who refused Jackson made it clear that their existence as nations would not be tolerated and they would be subject to the laws of the states” (Native History Association)
By this time was „Der „Wilde“ […] von den puritanischen Einwanderern nicht mit dem Menschen, sondern mit jagdbarem Wild gleichgesetzt, eine halbe Stufe tiefer noch als der schwarze Sklave, den man, wie das Haustier, wohl schikanieren, nicht aber einfach abschießen zu dürfen glaubte.“ (Von Matuschka 1). So that after the act had passed and some native tribes did indeed refuse Jackson, were, „Mit der Gründlichkeit und Schnelligkeit, die die Nazis unter ähnlichen Umständen an den Tag legten […] Familien aus ihren Heimstätten gerissen. […] plündernd und sengend fielen die Weißen über ihre Farmen her und eigneten sich an, was sie wollten.“ (Farb 302) and,
„Zu der selben Zeit, als diese Menschen in Scharen starben, berichtete Präsident Van Buren [1837-1841] dem Kongreß, die Regierung hätte das Problem der Indianer „überall gerecht und gütlich gelöst; man bemüht sich um ihre Zivilisation und wird von den besten humanitären Gefühlen geleitet; unablässig achtet man darauf, daß die Indianer nicht durch Einzelpersonen Schaden leiden“.“ (302).
So already some of the first presidents, to be exact the 8th and 9th ones, roughly 40 years after George Washington became the first president of the USA, went to extreme violence to gain land they had no claim to and let this violence out on people who stood no chance against the advanced war machinery of Britain and had only tried to protect their land and culture from the invaders. „Laut einem Buch [Kill the Indian – save the Man] von Ward Churchill, Professor für Volkskunde an der Universität von Colorado, reduzierte sich die Bevölkerungsanzahl der nordamerikanischen Indianer von geschätzten 12 Millionen im Jahr 1500 auf knapp 237.000 im Jahr 1900.“ (Bürgender) Which is the Genocide of a whole nation through the new Americans, with the newspaper ‚Die Zeit‘ stating, „Was Amerika der Welt gegeben hat, das Bild des freien Menschen, dafür hat die Urrasse dieses Kontinents bezahlen müssen.“ (Von Matuschka 2).
Another time span in the USA, where the willingness to engage in violent behavior became very obvious was during the American civil war, also called war between the states, that took place in the late 18th century. During this time the southern states called themselves Confederates and the northern states the Union. This time, the fight was not mainly about property but about one of the other “American rights”, liberty. The Confederates wanted the liberty to further own slaves, the Union was anti-slavery. The eagerness with which the southerners waited for the war and wanted to fight, the so-called pre-battle elation, is something quite intensely portrayed in Michell Mitchells Novel ‘Gone with the Wind’, when a character states “I´d rather go to war than go to Europe [on a Grand Tour].” (22) and she describes that “The Troop met twice a week in Jonesboro to drill and to pray for the war to begin.” (26) Furthermore, she describes the beginning of the war, when every man the right age just rushed out to join the troops, howling, cheering and singing. How it came to such motivation from the Confederates concerning the war can be explained by a few things. First when the Confederacy was founded,
“It [was] by these Confederates agreed that the charge of all just wars, whether offensive or defensive, upon what part or member of this confederation soever they fall, shall both in men, provisions, and all other disbursements be borne by all the parts of this Confederation in different proportions according to their different ability in manner following, namely, that the Commissioners for each Jurisdiction from time to time, […] bring a true account and number of all their males in every Plantation, or any way belonging to or under their several Jurisdictions, of what quality or condition soever they be, from sixteen years old to threescore, being inhabitants here.” (Neuengland Bund 32).
Which of course would be honoured by everyone that lived in the southern states and that,
“It is further agreed, that if any of these Jurisdictions or any Plantation under or in combination with them, be invaded by any enemy whomsoever, upon notice and request of any three magistrates of that Jurisdiction so invaded, the rest of the Confederates without any further meeting or expostulation shall forthwith send aid to the Confederate in danger […].” (33).
This made the war something honourable in which every man had to happily engage as to still be a respectable gentleman, which had the highest value back in these days. And it would have been unamerican not to fight for a ‘natural right’ just accept defeat and give in to the Union.
Years later, President Truman expanded the United States foreign policies, drafting a so-called Truman doctrine. The Truman doctrine basically states that the US now actively supports the fight against anticommunism in the world and lends aid to the countries involved. In a Makro cosmos this means that if someone threatens your wellbeing or has different opinions about how life should be lived which may threaten other people or your own place in the world, it is perfectly fine to react with violence. In a Micro cosmos this would mean that every American who feels threatened by someone else has not only the right to defend himself but also react with counter violence to protect his life and his believes. “Nach Durkheim (1970) ist Kriminalität insofern ‘normal’, als sie sich aus den spezifischen Lebens- und Handlungsbedingungen einer Gesellschaft ergibt. Für Jugendliche sind das die Bedingungen des Aufwachsens in einer (Wie auch immer zu definierenden) modernen Gesellschaft.“ (Fuchs et al. 30) And as we established so far, the United States are a more violent society, so naturally there is going to be more violence amongst teenagers and children. If we take a look at today’s school shootings which happen more and more often, we see the same pattern occurring, but heartily condemn it, want stricter rules about the possession of weapons and claim we cannot understand why kids are doing this. They are doing this because the country itself taught them that this is the way to react to threats, and most of the kids were threatened by bullies, their life and the lives of some of their classmates were made hell for them so they basically applied the Truman doctrine to their own current situation and fought violence with violence.