United States: Militarism at heart of violent culture

Students rally outside the White House in February.

As President Donald Trump continued smearing millions of immigrants as violent gang members to justify racist deportations, it happened again.

A young white man entered a school on February 14, not far from where I graduated, and unloaded a legally purchased weapon of war. He killed 17 innocent people in three minutes.

Despite the fact that mass shootings have become routine in the US, there is a feeling this one might become a turning point.

There is already much discontent and disgust with Trump and the right among young people. They are coming to see the connections between corporate political influence, the policies that encourage US capitalists to export weapons around the world, and domestic gun laws.

Trump only made matters worse when he suggested that teachers like me should be armed. Some educators responded with a social media campaign demanding to be “armed” with what we actually need: books, school counsellors, food for hungry students and classroom supplies.

On February 22, 10,000 people — some survivors of the Parkland shooting — rallied at the Florida State Capitol building to demand gun control. In response, Florida legislators refused to even debate gun regulations, further alienating thousands of students.

This will likely be a radicalising moment for high school students across the country. Planned school walkouts are spreading, reviving a great tradition, with all eyes turned to actions planned for March 14, March 24 and April 20.

We now need to expand demands beyond gun control — and connect the issue of mass murder at home to state-sanctioned mass murder abroad. At age 19, shooter Nikolas Cruz has not lived a year of his life when the US was not actively bombing or occupying other countries — and exporting war through lucrative weapons contracts.

A teen who can’t yet legally buy beer or rent a car was able to purchase a weapon made for tactical combat. But the same legislators who allow the AR-15 to be sold more easily than a Bud Light have supported every US war and bloated military budget presented to them. The US-manufactured ammunition that kills abroad also kills in Florida.

The crisis we have before us is a capitalist crisis.

Years of gearing up the military-industrial complex has further enriched the ultra-wealthy barons of war and death who profit from increased weapons sales. The most recent boom in domestic gun buying came during the Barack Obama years — after a racialised “they’re coming for my guns” scare.

US corporations such as Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin are the largest global exporters of weapons. In 2015, US companies accounted for about half of worldwide weapons sales that totalled more than US$80 billion overall.

And that’s not to mention the even greater sums the US government spends buying weapons for the Pentagon. The search for ever-more effective methods of killing people inevitably leads to weapons manufactured for military purposes ending up on the domestic gun market.

Plus, some of the Pentagon’s deadliest weapons are being sold to heavily militarised police forces — these guns are essentially subsidised twice by taxpayers.

The nearly one-to-one ratio of guns to people in this country is the result of a constant state of war, bloated military budgets and the frequent use of violence in the history of this society. All this is at the root of a culture where militarism, gender violence, racism and mass incarceration thrive.

In some mass shootings, the perpetrators identify openly with white supremacist ideology. This was the case with Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in June 2015.

It looks to be the case with the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, who was reported by classmates to have been openly racist.

He also has a history of abusing and threatening women, which matches a widely documented connection between domestic abuse and mass shootings.

In many cases, hostility to feminism and racial justice has played a significant role in cases of young white men seeking to exact “revenge”. It is crucial that we connect the rise of white supremacist groups that rally at least some of these men to the highest rate of mass shootings in the world.

Cruz’s case also raises the US military’s heavy recruitment presence in schools across the country — particularly through the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program that targets low-income children as early as sixth grade.

This includes teaching students how to shoot guns in preparation for future deployment to wars not yet launched. Cruz was a member of JROTC and his school rifle team, which received a $10,000 grant from the National Rifle Association before Cruz was expelled.

The struggle to end mass shootings will not end with Trump’s empty promise to ban “bump stocks”, nor with the Democrats’ offering a more consistent commitment to gun control laws. Stopping such horrific violence must also be a struggle against war, militarism, racism and misogyny — all essential elements of capitalism.

We need a completely different society, free from terror, mass murder, mass incarceration and war. In such a society, freedom would not be measured by access to automatic weapons, but rather by access to health care, including mental health care, housing and peace.

That world is incompatible with entities like Lockheed Martin and the NRA, and all the other producers of death for profit. The thousands of young people who are taking action today may be opening up such possibilities.

[Abridged from US Socialist Worker. Gabriel Paez is an educator in Chicago who went to high school near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.]

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