Death and Violence in America

W.J. Astore

It’s staggering the number of people dying in America in ways that are preventable. Here’s a quick summary, courtesy of Blake Fleetwood at Scheerpost:

  • Gun deaths are at record levels, up 45% from the previous decade. In 2020 there were a total of 45,222 firearm deaths in the US.
  • Suicide rates have gone up more than 30% in the last 20 years. More than 1.4 million adults attempt suicide every year in America. And 45,979 succeeded in killing themselves in 2020. The highest rate of suicide is among middle class white men.  Suicides rose to the highest in the central part of the country. In 2020, 54% of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition. 
  • Health risks for adolescents have shifted from pregnancy, alcohol, and drug use to depression, suicide, and self harm.
  • Drug overdose data from the CDC indicates that there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021, an increase of 28.5% from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before.

When you start adding these numbers, you reach a grim conclusion: Americans are killing themselves and others at record rates. Grimmer still are the numbers from the Covid-19 pandemic, which in the U.S. has killed more than a million people. Estimates suggest that a true national health care system could have reduced this number by 300,000 (!), but there’s no interest among Democrats or Republicans to create such a system. Our politicians, corrupted by money from the health care “industry,” Big Pharma, etc., have no interest in saving lives (or even saving money, since a national health care system would save trillions over time).

Is it any wonder why the U.S. government embraces violence with such zeal? If you can’t care for your own people, why should you care at all for other peoples, such as in Yemen or Ukraine? What matters is profit from selling weapons, whether in the U.S., awash in assault rifles and other guns, or overseas with massive arms sales or shipments to Saudi Arabia and Ukraine, among others.

Violence or the threat of violence can be enormously profitable to those who deal in it.

Last night, I was watching baseball and saw an advertisement for a new show. In one 30-second clip, I saw several assault rifles and a gun battle, with a few handguns thrown in for good measure. We are assaulted constantly by such imagery, so much so that gun violence is seen as “normal” because it has become our new normal. Hence the gruesome spike in mass shootings across America.

Way back in the early 1980s, I had a sticker that read “NRA Freedom.” Remarkably, “freedom” in America has become synonymous with having guns everywhere, more than 400 million of them. Other freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly, are being curtailed and eroded with barely a complaint, but any attempt to make it slightly more difficult for a few people to buy guns is instantly opposed.

A culture of freedom is increasingly a cult of death. And as the Outlaw Josey Wales said, “Dyin’ ain’t much of a living.” Time to learn from Josey.

The New American Motto: Choose Death!

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Clint Eastwood as the Outlaw Josey Wales

W.J. Astore

As some Americans party hearty this Memorial Day weekend, I just happened to catch this snippet via The Washington Post:

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) [of Arkansas] said a recent high school swim party contributed to the state’s “second peak” of infections but still encouraged residents to venture out. “We take the virus very seriously, the governor told Fox News. “It’s a risk, it causes death, but you can’t cloister yourself at home, that is just contrary to the American spirit.”

Don’t you love the false choice?  Apparently, the only two choices available to Americans are 1) Cloister yourself at home; 2) Get out there, throw caution to the winds, and celebrate your “American spirit.”

What about a third choice?  Get outside, be responsible with social distancing, wear a mask when necessary, and be prudent while thinking of others and their health and safety.

Again, no one said you had to cloister yourself like a nun, but at least you’re not harming anyone if you do.  Far, far worse is an attitude of total irresponsibility, as the Post reported here from the Ozarks: A nearby bar and grill advertised a pool party for hundreds of people called “Zero Ducks Given.”

Ah, yes, how clever.  Or, as I like to say, “Live free and die.”

But let’s remember what the Outlaw Josey Wales said about this: “Dyin’ ain’t much of a living, boy.”  Just so.

“Doin’ Right Ain’t Got No End”

Bill McKinney as Captain Terrill in "The Outlaw Josey Wales"
Bill McKinney as Captain Terrill in “The Outlaw Josey Wales”

W.J. Astore

President Obama’s recent ten-year commitment to Afghanistan (until 2024 and beyond) put me to mind of a line from The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), the classic Western starring Clint Eastwood.  Eastwood plays the “outlaw” who just wants to be left alone in the aftermath of a brutal civil war.  But another character, the vicious Captain Terrill, wants to pursue and kill all the Confederate irregulars who had fought against the Union.  In hot pursuit of Eastwood and a wounded confederate, Terrill rejects the idea that the killing will stop once the final two “outlaws” are dead.

“Doin’ right ain’t got no end,” Terrill coldly says.

That’s our government’s attitude in a nutshell: “Doin’ right ain’t got no end,” especially when the “right” involves killing outlaws.  No matter how many we kill, there’ll always be more to find. And in the brutally imprecise process of rooting them out and killing them, we’ll make many mistakes and harm many innocents, thereby creating many new enemies — and many more men like Captain Terrill.

Like Terrill, our government’s actions and attitudes have conspired to create a forever war, a score-settling exercise against outlaws that serves to perpetuate terror. We’re trapped in a cycle of violence that’s very much of our own making. We believe we inhabit an implacably hostile realm that supposedly hates us and our freedoms too, and by believing it, we make it so.

This neurotic state recalls a science fiction novel, Deathworld (1960), which I read as a teenager. Its author, Harry Harrison, imagined a world where the flora and fauna are relentlessly hostile to a certain band of can-do colonists, who reply in kind with Spartan-like warrior intensity and murderous brutality.

As impressive as these warriors and their death-dealing technology are, their actions merely beget more violence. Until an outsider visits and sees the situation for what it truly is, the colonists cannot perceive that it’s their own fear and violent natures which are driving their enemies to attack. Unless they change their implacably hostile mindset, their ultimate defeat is inevitable because their actions spawn new enemies and endless violence everywhere.

As the United States exercises its global power in the name of winning a war on terror, we are creating a death world of our own making. As long as we continue to believe we’re “doin’ right” in fighting an open-ended (and seemingly endless) war, Captain Terrill’s words will continue to render a harsh and endless judgment.

“Doin’ right ain’t got no end” – a tragic meme for a death world of our own making.