I have previously posted on this subject, and I will certainly do so again: the militarization of American culture.
Militarization is one of the symptoms—it is not a cause—of the simmering violence that mars American life. As it grows, it weakens our civility. As it weakens our civility, it debases our lives. And while living debased lives, we find that civil disagreement becomes more difficult. Even more dangerous. And when civil disagreement becomes dangerous, dialogue stops.
And a democracy cannot thrive when the possibility of dialogue declines.
Two very simple things that all of us can do now to stem the tide: recognize this militarization for what it is: a gratuitous, often unexamined, and occasionally unintentional endorsement of violence. Next, expose it whenever we can. Recognize and expose.
Raising awareness about this issue is the only tactic that all of us can use, wherever we live, however we make a living. Again: recognize and expose.
And so now, to recognize and expose Oklahoma Governor Fallin, who recently thought it was time to drive a tank to the grand opening of Wilshire Guns, where you can enjoy both alcohol and "world-class shooting in 34 first-class ranges." (But note: once you have a drink, you cannot return to the range for the remainder of that day. Of course, how you get home with your guns, after a few hours in The Range Café, is your business.)
But while you're there, check out the menu: Sambal Shotgun Skewers, Double-Barrel Burgers, and a .50 Caliber Cubano, featuring Cuban Bakery bread. In short, a militarized menu.
Maybe Governor Fallin should have known better? On September 13, 1988, Presidential hopeful Michael Dukakis climbed aboard a 68-ton M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank in suburban Detroit and made electoral history. Seldom has the vast field of American political optics seen such a blunder: the event was organized by a 23-year-old rookie, Matt Bennett, and as the reporters were leaving the ridiculous event, one of them saw Matt and said, "Nice event, Matt. It may have cost us the election. But besides that, it was great." Dukakis's opponent in the 1988 election, George W.H. Bush, received 426 electoral votes; Dukakis got 111.
Or maybe Governor Fallin knew exactly what she was doing. Unlike the Dukakis story, Fallin's stunt slipped under the radar, and she won her election on a gun-friendly platform. Few, if any, national figures found this latest event troubling, and the story vanished. We paid no attention to the Governor's antics. And that troubles me.
Slowly, increasingly, as we embrace an iconography of violence in our culture, we grow more comfortable with the daily and destructive presence of violence in our lives. We cease to question it; we drop the outrage; we assign it an inevitability that insures its survival.
We back down.
Surrounded by images of violence that are sanctioned by elected officials, we begin to feel that violence is an unavoidable part of our lives. When this happens, we all lose.
A governor drives a tank to the grand opening of a shooting range that serves alcohol. Business as usual. Don't tread on me. Molon labe.
Are we forgetting that violence is not always inevitable? That violence is not always unavoidable? That with wise policies founded on community-based prerogatives—universal background checks continue to receive the vast support of the American people—we can confront our violent communities with something other than a show of arms?
Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. Amercans, particularly those who never served in the military, have always fetishized the military and used it in deranged ways to support questionable causes. We are a militaristic people, after all, and we seem increasingly enamored of finding cultural and civic spaces where guns or armed intervention become our go-to options for directing the conversations that we once negotiated in more civil ways.
This is true even in our choice of vehicles. As Paul Roberts brilliantly detailed in his Harper's piece on the development of the SUV, Detroit got into the military game during the Nineties and began aggressively marketing the SUV to Americans—particularly the Hummer, "a 'civilian' version of the military HMV made famous by Desert Storm and half a million survivalist morons." We are a can-do people, Roberts argues, and our choice of vehicles reflects this:
If the old muscle cars let working-class men momentarily escape their utterly functional lives with a roaring display of machismo, the SUV lets middle-class white suburbanites pretend to some degree of usefulness: the muscle car said, 'I am macho'; the SUV says, 'I am a man of action, a woman with purpose. I go places. I have real, important things to do, and, by God, I may have to drive across your lawn to do them.'
Anyone who chooses to look can see this happening everywhere in our culture: from the Gadsden flag that flies from my neighbor's porch to the camo our grade-school kids wear to the battle-rattle gear of the Feguson police, the American military exerts an outsized influence on our national identity.
It is time that we become aware of it, recognize it, and call it out. Expose it. And then see what happens.
I hope that's enough.