The Police, the Military, and the Ethos of Violence

Another deadly police shooting of a black man led to this Wendy’s being torched in Atlanta.  The Atlanta police chief has resigned.

W.J. Astore

Here are ten thoughts that have occurred to me lately.

  1. Police are a nation within a nation (“the thin blue line”), with their own flag, their own uniforms, their own code of conduct, maybe even their own laws.  How do we get them to rejoin America?  How do we get them to recall they’re citizens and public servants first?
  2. Our systems of authority, including the presidency under Trump, serve themselves first.  They all want the same thing: MORE.  More money, more authority, more power.  And they all tend toward more violence.  And because racism is systemic, much of that violence is aimed at blacks, but it’s aimed at anyone considered to be fringe or in the way.
  3. We need an entirely new mindset or ethos in this country, but the police, the military, the Congress, the president are all jealous of their power, and will resist as best they can.  Their main tactic will be to slow roll changes while scaring us with talk of all the “enemies” we face.  Thus we already see Trump hyping China as a threat while claiming that Biden wants to “defund” the military — a shameless and ridiculous lie.  Meanwhile, Biden is against defunding the police and proudly took ownership of the crime bill that created much of the problem.
  4. We used to have a Department of War to which citizen-soldiers were drafted.  Now we have a Department of Defense to which warriors and warfighters volunteer.  There’s a lot of meaning in this terminology.
  5. Even as the police and military are government agencies, publicly funded, they are instruments of capitalism.  They protect and expand property for the elites.  They are enforcers of prevailing paradigms.
  6. It amazes me how cheaply one can buy a Washington politician.  You can buy access for a few thousand, or tens of thousands, and get them to dance to your tune for a few million.  This is capitalism, where everything and everyone can be bought or sold, often on the cheap.
  7. Doesn’t it seem like Washington foreign policy is dropping bombs, selling bombs, killing people, or making a killing, i.e. profiteering?
  8. America always need a “peer enemy,” and, when necessary, we’ll invent one.  America is #1 at making enemies — maybe that should be our national motto.
  9. Too often nowadays, “diversity” is all about surface or “optics.”  Thus the call for Joe Biden to select a black woman as his running mate, irrespective of her views.  Thus we hear the names of Susan Rice and Kamala Harris being mentioned, both mainstream Democrats, both servants of the national security state, pliable and predictable.  But you never hear the name of Nina Turner, who was national co-chair of Bernie Sanders’s campaign.  She’s an outspoken black progressive, and that’s not the “diversity” Joe Biden and the DNC seek.  Or what about Tulsi Gabbard, who has endorsed Biden?  Woman of color, extensive military experience, lots of appeal to independent-minded voters.  But she’s an opponent of forever wars and the military-industrial-congressional complex, and that’s “diversity” that cannot be tolerated.  So we’re most likely to see a “diverse” ticket of Biden-Harris or Biden-Rice, just like Hillary-Tim Kaine, i.e. no progressive views can or will be heard.
  10. One secret of Trump’s appeal: He makes even dumb people feel smart.  After all, even his most stalwart supporters didn’t drink or inject bleach after Trump suggested it could be used for internal “cleansing” to avoid Covid-19.

Bonus comment: Can you believe that those who worked to suppress protests in Washington, D.C. compared their “stand” to the Alamo and the Super Bowl?  Talk about Trump-level hyperbole!  Here’s the relevant passage from the New York Times:

On Tuesday, during a conference call with commanders on the situation in Washington, General Ryan, the task force commander, likened the defense of Lafayette Square to the “Alamo” and his troops’ response to the huge protests on Saturday to the “Super Bowl.”

Mission accomplished!  What’s on your mind, readers?

25 thoughts on “The Police, the Military, and the Ethos of Violence

  1. All good points. Don’t forget the role of journalism at keeping the military in check. Case in point: The images of Vietnam brought into our living rooms were instrumental in changing Americans’ opinions and eventually ending that war thanks to courageous journalists. Compare that to the sanitized, sparse bits of reporting on our nearly 20 years in Afghanistan. Are we still there? I’m not even sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. First, extremely well-written, incisive comments. Second, you’ve nailed it in terms of “leadership” psyche. At an ACLU meeting immediately after Bush’s rigging and theft of the 2004 election, I listened to a summary by a political scientist who said, “Government is about keeping power. Period. To do that, their 24/7/365 M.O. is to keep the public as poorly informed as possible. They can’t stay in power if the people really learn what’s going on. Down through the centuries, it has always been a fight between the people, who seek the truth, and the government, that is determined to hide it.” Of course, the corollary is that the more corrupt the government, the more iron-clad the secrecy is.

    As for Biden and defunding the military, I’d have much more respect for him if he actually made that happen. But, as you’ve said, he’s in the pockets of the MIC, so he’ll vote to increase military budgets, like all his predecessors.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Capitalism. Ah, “funny” you should mention that! Brace for a super-condensed crash course in Marxism: What is The State? “A body of armed men” that defends the privileges of the Ruling Class. (The Judiciary, prison system, etc. are auxiliary organizations of repression.) The Capitalist State will NOT stand for being “reformed” significantly. So we already see token gestures like resignation of a few Chiefs of Police and (supposed) prohibition of choke holds. And look what it took to bring THAT about! Like no one knew choke holds were potentially lethal before this?? But the police will NOT be “defunded” to any significant extent and certainly not “dismantled.” Not under a President Biden, not under any president of these Disunited States. Who is prepared to take on The State, weapons in hand? Unfortunately, only the Nazis at this time, and of course they want to impose a much more repressive regime. To paraphrase Trotsky: Fascism is the punishment inflicted on the working class for failing to successfully rise against the exploiters.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sometimes answers to “Questions” can be found in Moody Blues songs…”Why do we never get an answer when we’re knocking at the door with a thousand million questions about hate and death and war?…


    1. It’s a world of persecution that is burning in its greed. A good answer.

      Justin Hayward: great singer, creative lyrics, skilled guitarist. He had it all.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Unfortunately, never have the folks running this country been more REMOVED from enlightenment than in this moment!! Today is Flag Day, and also happens to be Donald Trump’s 74th birthday. White House apparently not making a big deal out of this. There are reports he had some physical difficulties during his West Point sham appearance–unsteady gait, problem raising a glass of water to his mouth (!!). This should give a certain Mrs. Clinton a good laugh!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. I had another thought just now. Trump, echoing Nixon, is tweeting about the “silent majority” that allegedly supports his crackdowns on protesters.

    But what if people like us are the real “silent majority”? And what if we’re tired of being silent?

    Trump’s support, at least for now, is waning. People like us need to speak up and be heard — because right makes might.

    These thoughts were stimulated by Nick Turse’s new piece at TomDispatch:


    1. I wish I were as sanguine about the silent majority. I believe that body of the population actually consists of people who just want to get by until tomorrow, who are too busy “running on ice” (to quote another great lyricist, Billy Joel) to parse the whys and wherefores. They just know that the country is screwed up, and they don’t know what to do next. They believe the last thing they saw on TV, and their biggest concerns are next month’s rent/mortgage payment and how to get the kids through school. They don’t exercise critical thinking skills, because they weren’t taught to do so. They’re silent because they aren’t engaged, and if they stated opinions, they’d merely repeat the latest MSM-speak. The overarching crisis in the world is an existential one. It’s not a matter of philosophy or politics, but rather, lack of engagement beyond a very circumscribed sphere. Huge numbers of people are ignorant and apathetic because they see no advantage in the alternatives.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re definitely onto something here. Look at the level of apathy when election time rolls around in this country! That’s what allows a Trump to gain the White House via the Electoral College, having lost the popular vote. (No, I’m not “endorsing” the Democrats as a solution to our societal problems.) It’s the people who don’t seek answers beneath the surface who are prone to lean toward Fascism: “Things are so screwed up now, we may as well vote for the guy ‘promising’ us he can set the ship aright.” (Mussolini supposedly “made the trains run on time.” Never mind that civil liberties were tossed out the window.) Now, allow me to look at the Trump phenomenon from a quite different angle. I am re-watching Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking TV series “Cosmos” to celebrate its 40th Anniversary. In discussing the evolution of the human brain, Dr. Sagan indicated that the most primitive, or “reptilian,” part of the brain is considered the source of such traits as aggression and “a willingness to follow leaders unquestioningly.” Hmmm. Seems like a frighteningly large chunk of US population is stuck in the reptilian stage of evolution!


          1. “Broca’s Brain” is simply a collection of essays. “The Dragons of Eden” is actually my #1 pick for Sagan’s books, followed by the book version of “Cosmos.” Strictly my personal opinions, of course!


  6. Yes, “Question” all questions are great right now because it shows people are thinking and are no longer going to accept the Status Quo!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Australian activist, civil rights lawyer and author Lizzie O’Shea looks at the role of police as overseers of all our lives by linking it with emergent capitalism. Policing of various sorts in various ways has been with is forever and works for the rich and powerful. However, the first professional British police force created a model exported around the world.

    Here is a lift from her book, “Future Histories.”

    “They wanted to figure out how collaboration among the propertied classes would best allow them to maximize the opportunities presented by the novel and developing system of capitalism. Specifically, this resulted in a proposal to the merchants’ committee to fund an experiment, which was duly accepted. The Marine Police Office opened in 1798 as a kind of pilot program. Officers were paid and uniformed, and their job was to watch over the wet docks. They supervised the workers and kept an eye on the ships and their cargo. They enforced working hours and were even responsible for paying out wages. When they encountered misbehavior, they did what was necessary to bring the errant workers before a magistrate. It was a raging success, significantly reducing the merchants’ losses for a small price. Harriott congratulated himself for “bringing into reasonable order some thousands of men, who had long considered plunder as a privilege.” Working their magic in a way that would impress even the toughest political lobbyist, Harriott, Colquhoun and Bentham managed to convince Westminster to support the project, and the Marine Police Office came under state authority two years later. Not only did the merchants have a police force, it was now funded by the public purse.”
    O’Shea, Lizzie. Future Histories . Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
    Note: Colquhoun is pronounced cu-HOON

    She tells us the police were payed out wages to the dock workers. This also meant laws about

    More quote ““It is the dread of the existing power of immediate detection, and the certainty of punishment as the consequence of this detection,” wrote Colquhoun, “that restrains men of loose morals from the commission of offences.” Surveillance, plus the spectacle of force, offered an economical and effective way of maintaining order. It is not walls, locks or bars that prevent crime, Colquhoun argued; instead, “restraints are only to be effected by the strong and overawing hand of power.” He was describing a tactic that would be deployed by the powerful in our own era: surveillance as a method of social control.”
    “Colquhoun determined that the conversion of river workers into a disciplined, regulated class of wage laborers could only be achieved through moral transformation. This transformation involved the criminalization of idleness and a revision of the sense of injustice that made workers feel entitled to a decent share of the fruits of their labor.”

    Lizzie O’Shea’s book is about technology today and tomorrow but looks backward at history to see how similar means with different technology were used by those in power to keep down the underclass. It is worth noting that exporting this to the young USA fit numerous places and certainly partnered all too well with slave patrols.
    I thought it was also interesting to note that here was a private enterprise which managed to get put into the public realm to pay for it. Different from today’s privatization but accomplishing the same purpose, to control (repress / oppress) the public according to the direction of corporations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this glance at some Brit. history I was totally unaware of. Given the ethics of so many of today’s uber-wealthy, it’s pretty droll contemplating the police as a force to upgrade societal morals!!


  8. Pretty formidable package when put together and should help explain why so many Scots like myself cannot understand our national Westminster government ( or should it be regime since I don’ t approve of it ) who blindly follow the USA foreign policy without shame. Very concentrated piece of writing and worth saving.


  9. Thumbs up on #9 and Tulsi. Diversity of thought is a showstopper for the DNC (when it is really the only “diversity” that matters).
    Thumbs down on #10. Calling people dumb makes you sound dumb (and you’re not). Keep it Bracing, not Debasing. That’s why I come here.


    1. I thought about that (the use of dumb). I thought of using ignorant/informed versus dumb/smart, but it didn’t have the same sting. Maybe I was wrong.

      Actually, I do dumb things (or stupid) — we all do. And sometimes I wish people would just say “I did a dumbass thing” and “I’m sorry” rather than offer long-winded apologies that mean nothing. Think here of that recent episode in Pacific Heights, SF:


      1. Yes, there are dumb/ignorant actions indeed. “Actions” is key (vs. generalizing to the person or group overall). As Caine once said in Kung Fu…”From a single action you draw an entire universe”. That is beneath us.


      2. In one of our stranger language quirks in living memory, the late Manute Bol, a 7 ft.-7 inch Sudanese immigrant who played in the NBA, is credited with coining the phrase “My bad” to cover the kind of admission of error combined with apology you are hankering for! If you can say it all in two little words, why not?


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