Learning from Endless War

The backdrop of the Newtown massacre and similar slaughters across America is how frequently the U.S. government opts for violence to settle problems around the world, a message that might influence a troubled individual with access to a gun, says Laura Finley.

By Laura Finley

Guns. Media. Mental Illness. Lax Security. All these and more have been offered as explanations for the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, Dec. 14 that left 26 people, including 20 children, dead. And all of those things may have played a role. But none are the cause of the problem.

And heated debate about them, while important, serves to obscure some other very important conversations about the root issue, which is that the U.S. is a violent, militaristic culture that, in virtually every institution, demonstrates violence as a means of solving problems.

Daniel Barden, 7, one of 20 children killed in the Newtown massacre. (Family photo)

The U.S. is a society organized for war. We spend almost 50 percent of federal tax monies every year on military, not just to pay soldiers and veterans, but to engage in conflict, for research and development of weapons and equipment, and more.

When this amount of funding is spent on military, it clearly cannot be used to build infrastructure, to enhance the quality of our public schools, to provide social services, to assist the poor, hungry and mentally ill, etc. Our military budget is equal to that of the next 15 countries combined.  More than this, however, militarism is an ideology that privileges certain values, including hierarchy, competition, authoritarianism, and obedience, among others.

Politicians, fearful of being seen as “soft,” engage the country in still more violence, at the same time inadequately addressing human needs. This militaristic ideology has shaped the ways our schools are structured, what we teach, and how we teach it. It impacts our media, as commentators on either side of the political divide use the same aggressive methods of yelling at and interrupting one another and degrading their “enemy” whenever possible.

Media over-represents the amount of violent crime, for which creates a fearful populace that will sometimes accept any effort that is supposed to keep us safe. Our criminal justice system is militaristic, from our incessant “wars on” mentality to our arming and equipping military-style SWAT teams and more. I could go on, but I hope the point is made.

To counter a militaristic culture, we need to begin infusing every institution with an alternate model. To do so will require not just schools but the other institutions listed here to begin to see their work as that of peace-building. We need to engage in dialogue that dissects our devotion to militarism and violence and that critically assesses its impact.

We can take back our democracy from politicians who are influenced by militaristic lobbies, the gun lobby, the prison lobby, etc., and we can demand that our politicians begin investing in projects and institutions that empower people and communities, affirm human rights, and promote social justice.

I recognize that this won’t be easy. Radically changing a societal ideology as hegemonic as militarism is never easy. But how many more people, how many more children, do we need to lose before we say better to work hard, engage the difficult conversations, and build a more peaceful future for our children?

Laura L. Finley, Ph.D., Sociology and Criminology, Barry University, is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

6 comments for “Learning from Endless War

  1. Janet
    January 1, 2013 at 18:00

    The Author correctly points out that our culture solves every problem with violence. So when are we going to accept the solution that the answer to an unwanted pregnancy is not self-inflicted violence on the mother and her unborn child?

  2. JoeMcIvor
    December 30, 2012 at 11:43

    I have for some time been trying to alert people to the fact that the
    arms giant, British Aerospace Engineering ( BAe) is sponsoring LEGO
    the toy makers’ “FIRST  LEGO Leagues” and that schools across the world are signing up to these leagues . I would be grateful if you would look into this .

    The arms giant and the children’s toy manufacturer work together to
    teach kids  how to design motorized UAVs and robots in FLL “events” .
    World-wide, 147,130 children are signed up to the BAe-funded league in
    teams usually of around ten. FIRST , “For Inspiration and Recognition
    of Science and Technology”, operates in 56 countries and promotes
    itself as a sort of a “sport for the mind “ ; team events taking
    place in “ a pumped-up environment with music and excitement”
    according to LEGO’s own publicity . In these events team members are
    encouraged to use FIRST buzz-terms like “Gracious Professionalism” and
    “Coopertition” to describe the virtues of “respect towards one’s
    competitors and integrity in one’s actions” that the youngsters are
    purported to develop as they design motorized robots and working UAVs
    .A Junior FIRST LEGO League inculcates similar virtues – “friendly
    sportsmanship, learning, and community involvement” – in children aged
    six to nine.

    On the FIRST website, Mike Heffron, President of Information Warfare,
    Electronics and Integrated Solutions at BAe, explained two years ago why Europe’s biggest arms manufacturer is interested in sponsoring the play
    activity and education of thousands of children throughout the world:
    “Our involvement in FIRST LEGO League is an essential piece of the
    company’s commitment to the community and education. I believe it is
    BAE Systems’ role to help develop a passion for science, mathematics,
    research, and teamwork within students. They are tomorrow’s leaders,
    scientists, and engineers.”
    – Mike Heffron, President, Information Warfare, Electronics and
    Integrated Solutions, BAe
    (the link I took the above quote on the FLL website has since been removed)
    I wrote something about this on indymedia uk and indymedia ireland
    two years ago and made this comment to the indymedia ireland article
    after the tragedy in Sandy Hook after finding that LEGO therapy is now
    being promoted as a treatment for the type of disorder suffered by
    Adam Lanza. see http://www.indymedia.ie/article/98180?search_text=lego

    “In recent years, autism societies around the world have begun to
    advance ” LEGO therapy” as a treatment for those suffering from
    autistic disorders .
    On DECEMBER 14, 2012 ,the day that Adam Lanza shot twenty children and
    six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary , the arms
    giant-funded FIRST® LEGO® LEAGUE issued the following article on its
    blog crowing the benefits of LEGO therapy for those suffering from
    disorders suffered by the likes of Adam Lanza :

    “Students on Autism Spectrum Learn Concept of Teamwork Through FLL”

    “For most children, being part of a team – whether sports,
    cheerleading, or even a band or Scout troop – is a normal part of
    growing up. For children with autism spectrum disorder, however,
    teamwork is a foreign concept – except when it comes to the universal
    love of robots, as some FIRST® LEGO® League teams are proving.

    “I look like a regular person, I have friends like normal people, I
    have favorite things, but I’m different,” writes 10-year-old J.P.
    Tasto in an article about life with autism for his San Diego school
    newspaper. “My way of thinking of teamwork is I want to have a certain
    idea and only that idea. It’s a bit hard for me to give up an idea.”

    His mom, Traci, co-coaches J.P.’s team, the Masterminds, which in
    early November qualified for the FLL® Southern California regional
    competition at LEGOLAND®. “J.P. struggles with not always having his
    way because he’s so smart,” his mom observes. “FLL has been great for
    him in that respect. It really helps him focus, and it helps him to
    work in a team environment.”

    Through his team, J.P. has come to find common ground with other kids.
    “Being in this group of three wonderful girls and five boys, he’s come
    to realize he has a lot in common with some of these other boys. They
    love Minecraft. They love video games. They like programming. They
    love robots,” Traci says.

    According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and
    Stroke, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex
    neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments,
    communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and
    stereotyped patterns of behavior.” Asperger’s Disorder is a common
    variant of autism characterized by impaired social interaction and
    non-verbal communication.

    Thirteen-year-old David of Utah is, in the words of his mom, Ann, “an
    Asperger’s kid.” Though her son is gifted academically, “he doesn’t
    pick up on emotion or double entendres. He doesn’t understand
    euphemisms, sarcasm, or humor. He can offend people because they think
    he should know better,” she shares.

    His tunnel vision can be a challenge when faced with ideas he views as
    unimportant because “he doesn’t logically see the value,” Ann says.
    Therefore, teamwork poses a challenge to him, though it was the
    programming and the building that drew David into FLL and his mom into
    coaching their rookie team. “He likes the subject matter,” Ann says.

    David is not the only Asperger’s kid on his team, though he and his
    teammate share little more than a diagnosis. “One likes programming
    more. The other is more mechanical. One has a hard time sitting
    through the project sessions, and the other one really gets into the
    social justice part of the project – thinking about how people
    sometimes stereotype older folks,” Ann observes.

    “All of the things we teach are good for all the kids. We may hit on
    the difficulties for Asperger’s kids, but all the kids learn good
    teamwork and social skills,” Ann continues. Recently, she was working
    on listening skills with her six-member team when one of the parents
    pointed out, “‘Okay, five of you are not looking at the coach when
    she’s talking to you,’” Ann recounts. “It wasn’t just the Asperger’s
    kids who weren’t giving me feedback. All kids need work.”

    In his third year with FLL, Twelve-year-old Travis of Michigan has
    high-functioning autism coupled with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
    His dad and coach, Matt, is quick to recognize his son isn’t the only
    team member with challenges. “It’s been helpful that we’ve had a
    couple of other kids who have struggled with communication and ADD
    issues,” Matt says. “Travis isn’t the only one who struggles with
    these sorts of things.”

    Like J.P. and David, Travis has trouble making eye contact and reading
    social cues. He wanders as he talks with people. He prefers working
    alone rather than on a team. Sometimes he’ll have a great idea but
    cannot get the words out. “Because of his social skills, Travis really
    needs someone to guide him and be a social interpreter in some
    situations,” his dad says.

    As someone who enjoys “the robot side of things,” according to Matt,
    Travis is learning his place on the team. “I’ve seen him make a
    transition from just being there in his first year to offering
    suggestions. It’s been a chance for him to use his visual-spatial
    skills and his planning skills.”

    During FLL season, Travis seems more focused, Matt has observed, as he
    has to budget his time. His schoolwork reflects his improved focus.
    When FLL season is done, “the end of the year is not quite as exciting
    and focused for him,” his dad says.

    With FLL, Travis has found a place where he belongs. “The Core Values
    set the stage where Travis could be accepted, even if he has
    struggles,” Matt says. “Because of Gracious Professionalism®, people
    are expected to be nice to each other. There are written rules that
    say you respect people for who they are.”

    Ann in Utah has also found that the very culture of FLL creates a safe
    environment for her son David. “One of the things that’s so great
    about FLL is how it’s set up. Empathy comes naturally. It’s built in,”
    she says. Share this!””

    regards ,Joe

  3. pepesel
    December 28, 2012 at 12:16

    Why is this overuse of military and bloated military budgets not even part of the national discussion any longer? The 9-11 attacks seem to have given carte-blanche to a siphoning of a disproportionate use of revenue toward miltary adventurism and interventionism, and the notion of a tacit condoning of constant warfare does seem linked to an ethic of violence as standard-fare.
    I think we need to admit that we’re ethically compromised as a society.

  4. Paul G.
    December 27, 2012 at 04:32

    Good points, let me add the “War on Drugs” is the domestic side of US foreign militarism as illustrated by the military style raids on suspected drug houses, which occasionally arrive at the wrong address, terrorize and sometimes kill innocent people-and routinely their pet dogs which were reacting in their dog way to intruders.

    Reportedly half the prison industrial complex internees are in for drug offenses. This illustrates a tactical mentality that emulates the attitudes of an invading army- and all this at home. The result in the USA is that it is difficult to trust or feel safe with the police who are supposed to protect us.

    Another example is the increasing brutality to which demonstrators are being subjected, I am not sure the level of violence is worse now than that visited upon anti-Vietnam War protesters, but it appears to be more regular and commonplace.

  5. Mark
    December 26, 2012 at 14:37

    Good comments. I would just one comment. Follow the money. He who controls the debt controls everything

  6. Hillary
    December 26, 2012 at 13:25

    The greatest threat to world peace is the arms race started by and still continued by the USA.
    It was the US that bombed Korea into the ground, killing millions.
    It was the US who invaded South Vietnam, mercilessly bombed North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, killing millions.
    It was the US that attacked Iraq killing innocent civilians and destroying that country in a war based on lies.
    Today most American and world historians have disapproved the atrocious Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US.
    Yes it is the US who first created and used nuclear weapons, first created and tested thermonuclear bombs and almost all other advanced weaponry like drones and “Star Wars & Directed-Energy Weapons”.
    Will this Orwellian war for peace ever end ?

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