America, Land of Death

W.J. Astore

Checking today’s headlines at CNN was a grim affair. First, gun violence:

Ten mass shootings happened across the nation this weekend, leaving at least seven people dead and more than 40 injured. It was the latest in a streak of violent weekends in America. The weekend before this, there were also 10 mass shootings that left 12 people dead across seven states. (CNN defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot, not including the shooter.) This weekend’s violence included shootings at several parties and celebrations, including in California, Indiana and Colorado. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 293 mass shootings in 2021 so far.

After death by gun, we have death by vehicles on America’s roads:

38,680: That’s how many people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020, according to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s the largest projected number of deaths since 2007, despite a 13.2% decrease in miles traveled from the prior year.

And of course the Covid-19 death toll has surpassed 600,000 in the United States (one study suggests the true Covid death toll is over 900,000), with the Trump administration having rejected any responsibility for its botched response to the pandemic. Most Trump supporters seem content with the notion that, well, at least Trump tried to do, well, something, like blaming the Chinese for “Kung Flu.” Sadly, Trump’s “gifts” of bluster and boasting and bragging and bombast just had no effect on a deadly virus.

At this site, I often marvel at how Americans have so little knowledge of or interest in America’s wars overseas and the deaths and suffering they produce. But the hard truth is that we also tend to ignore mass death here in the USA, whether from guns or motor vehicles or lack of affordable health care. Indeed, I’ve seen estimates to suggest that perhaps half of America’s deaths from Covid could have been prevented if our country had a national health care system. But we’d rather die from kleptocratic capitalism (in the name of freedom) than live with democratic socialism.

I don’t think America has a death wish — but we sure could use a lot more emphasis on life and living. Readers, what say you?

Remarkably, despite how busy he’s been, the Grim Reaper has time to answer questions at a Florida beach (as played by Daniel Uhlfelder)

19 thoughts on “America, Land of Death

  1. Just after posting this, a question popped into my head: Why does the Grim Reaper hate America?


    1. He doesn’t. It’s just that America seems to love him and who would not choose a working environment where one does not have to worry too much about accountability ?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The conclusion I’ve come to after lo, these many years and at least one broken odometer’s-worth of miles is that the majority of Americans are embarrassingly provincial. They know little or nothing about and have little or no interest in anything that doesn’t directly impact them and theirs. They are on an endless quest for peak experiences, a people – to borrow from Oscar Wilde – “without passions, only appetites.” They revel in their own ignorance, and distrust and vilify anyone and anything outside their increasingly narrow parameters of acceptable behavior and thought. As Tom Mix once said, “You call this living?” It isn’t Life, merely existence.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes — when I think of Trump and people like him, I see only appetites and grievances. They want, want, want, and nothing is ever their fault; indeed, they are always the aggrieved party.


  3. Boxed In:
    On returning from Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1987 I was amazed at how lonely I felt. In those countries, there is almost constant social contact. One is rarely alone. On arrival back in the U.S.A. I was very aware of how isolated Americans are. They live in little boxes, go to their jobs in little boxes, work in little boxes, then go home to their little boxes in their little boxes. Then they stare at little boxes until it is time to go to sleep and start it all over again
    There is a spiritual vacuum in this country and the people have a hunger that can not be satisfied with more material goods. Tragically, they have no knowledge of what is wrong and tend to blame someone or something else for their dissatisfaction. They want more( of something ) believing that will make them feel better, but it does not, so they want more.

    When one’ life is meaningless, the lives of others will be viewed likewise, and violence against others, or the deaths of others will be shrugged off. Many people who would not actually do violence get a vicarious thrill seeing or reading about it, e.g., the daily news or the latest gun movie.

    Unfortunately, I only have the diagnosis, not the treatment for the spiritual deficiency here in America.

    Now I am going outside so I don’t have to stare at this little box in my little box.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. your box metaphor is stunningly condign, wjs, m.d. thank you… and plaudits to you, wja, for initiating this stimulating thread.

      on the way to japan in 1962 for my first job overseas, i had a 2-week layover in LA for orientation. i was so appalled, distressed and discouraged by the tacky, banausic malignancy of the relentlessly sprouting proliferation of boxes across the so-cal landscape, that i became profoundly depressed. having provenanced from small-town new hampshire, maine, vermont, and upstate new york’s finger lakes, w/ no TV in our house, LA and its surrounds seemed formidably alien… even emesis-inducing.

      i recall hiking to the top of a santa monica hill above glitzy bel air and screaming across the valley toward downtown LA. i shouted my agonistic despair over all those boxed-in boxes, isolated even then from everyone else, behind hi-tech security gates, night guards, snarling dogs, concrete walls, and TV’s that were blasting their cacophonies through the air column. it seemed surreal.

      my subsequent arrival in the semi-rural area of mitaka-shi, japan, was a deterging psychic relief from the cancerous ambit of southern california. the only change in nearly 60 years is that the twin malignancies of capitalism and consumerism have been unleashed and have now crawled across most of the NA moonscape.

      one way to transform the american zeitgeist is to instaurate a national program that provides sufficient funding for every single high school or college/trade-school student to participate for a minimum of one year in an AFS [american field service], peace corps, or CUSO [canadian university students overseas] type of program… perhaps even making it a requirement for one’s high school diploma or uni degree.

      it seems impracticable, but it can be done if the level of “passion” is there rather than the ungratifiable “appetite” [thank you oscar wilde and BUTSUDANBILL!].

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you so much for your brave, heartfelt work, WJ Astore!

    We certainly could use more emphasis on life and living. This depends on allowing ourselves to really feel and make sense of our feelings (shame, horror, fear, grief, disgust, outrage, sorrow, and yes love and joy), the ground of thinking and acting for ourselves in fresh, authentic ways, more easily said than done in any society controlled by greedy, shameless, power-hungry elites including our forms of late capitalism in the US and Canada. I read a brave, beautiful example of this this morning, how Don Amaro, a country and folk singer of Cree and Metis descent, responded to the request from the Winnipeg Jets management to sing Oh Canada before a hockey game, days after the discovery of hidden graves of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, BC. Two native elders joined him, not wanting him to be alone in this brave act.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Another thoughtful post WJA!

    My thoughts turn to education. Would not the average Joe have an above-average appreciation for the world and his own country if he/she had an excellent (but not necessarily university level) education?


  6. Yeah, Bill, I’ve suspicioned similarly myself for a while now. Zombie and vampire movies used to be second-level cinema, something for a small and diminishing-since-their-heyday market of uncertain patrons, but they’ve become big and mainstream the last couple of decades. They’re much more gory and violent than they used to be , as well. Seems to me to be a clear tell of a death-wish, or death infatuation, that.

    I don’t ever recall any criticism of these movies and their marketplace success ever raising that question, either, which tends to point to the acceptance of this theme amongst the intelligentsia besides the general (young adult, as a rule) moviegoing audience. Perhaps there is some notice and concern about it in the church press and leadership officialdom, but I’m not plugged in there and so I can’t say. There certainly should be concern in those quarters.

    One guess of mine revolves around some of what I’ve been doing since I moved into my new neighborhood.* About 15% of the land area in the hood is HOA property, some of which is park but most is open space. Nobody in the 40 years this neighborhood has been here has ever done anything to make the grass grow green on any of this land until I spread 200 cubic yards of fertilizing mulch last year. There’s some gross dead area of consciousness for people to want to live in ugly ungreen outdoors when they don’t have to. But there’s some other sociological factors about this, too, and the biggest I think (aside from American physical laziness when it comes to doing physical work) is a sense of lack of control of the issues in their lives, that their efforts won’t change things any or make any difference. Anomie is a major theme in our lives, and zombie movies and indifference to mass death here and abroad is just a reflection of that. As is an indifference to living in a green neighborhood or not.

    BTW, Jeff St. Clair ran the bit on Boomers. HOOORAY! First thing I’ve gotten into print since the accident, and that’s a reassurance, particularly if you’ve had a TBI.

    Best– Dan

    *Ummm, gotta be careful about generalizing from personal experience like I’m doing here. Very dangerous ice to skate over, that. ________________________________


    1. Thanks, Dan. Definitely something to all those zombie flicks, especially since zombies eat brains. I feel as though our collective brains are slowly being eaten by a culture that doesn’t value grey matter to begin with. And if we’re not thinking to begin with, if we’re just a bundle of reflexes and learned responses, who needs a brain anyway. Send in the zombies!


  7. Before existence as we know it
    is never more …..
    Death will be the last thing to die!
    I saw this grim update in my inbox today and it should be an embarrassment for all who thought the forever wars were what mankind needed.
    Around 7,000 personnel were lost in post 9-11 battlefield conflicts….
    We now are over 30,000 suicides from the ranks of armed forces, retired and active, during this same period.
    That’s over 4 times as many losses when the human being counts the cost of their service, in their minds private nightmares.
    This is a collective HOWL & CRY for help! Where is the proper support mechanisms, why didn’t they understand this was coming.???
    It speaks volumes after reading your post about how we were mislead by the brass which made false claims; stating how well we really did in these foolhardy misadventures. This sad figure tells me that some terrible experiences were glossed over. I wish I could get out under the stars tonight but the sky is crying here. Death is going to have its way with my mind for now; it is not going away quietly at this moment.


    1. Ah, yes, the stuffed-shirt, ticket-punching, kiss-up/kick-down fuck-up-and-move-up military “brass.” You know, the kind of guy who would marry the West Point Superintendent’s daughter to advance his career. In other words, what ironic history would ultimately reveal as:

      A Badly Managed Perception

      See the boot-licking, ass-kissing, chicken-shit Dave
      As he spins like a top on the table
      Never mentioning troops that he sent to their grave
      As the price of his own career fable.

      Like the basketball player of comedy fame
      Who would dribble before he could shoot
      He had Kagan and Keene conjure up a new name
      For his mission-creep plan, old and moot.

      Like those old books on COIN that we studied before
      Back in nineteen and sixty and nine
      Where we learned why the French had done badly at war
      ‘Cause they thought to do Wrong was just fine.

      But to Dave and his General-kind, Wrong’s OK.
      If you just do it more it will “work.”
      Which explains why they cannot tell nighttime from day
      And pin medals galore on the jerk.

      Then he fell for the lure of the camel-toe cleft.
      Now he sells on TV his hot air:
      “To prevent the return of the ones who’ve not left,
      We’ll assure that they’re always still there.”

      So please, Dave, betray us with bullshit and spin
      And collect some more loot for your lying.
      You have proven that losing’s the best way to “win,”
      (If you don’t mind a “few” thousands dying).

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2018

      Liked by 2 people

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