Almost everyone is shocked and appalled by the atrocious murders of 10 human beings at the King Soopers grocery store on Table Mesa Drive on March 22.
Why did these murders happen? Why are dangerous weapons so readily available in our country? Why does paranoid mental illness sometimes take the form of lethal aggression in American society? There is a vital, but usually unacknowledged, connection between the plague of senseless mass killings that afflicts this nation and our long history of militarist imperialism.
The United States is clearly a militarist country. It has about 800 foreign military bases (more than all other countries combined), a huge weapon-producing industry, a military budget exceeding that on the next 10 countries combined, an addiction to interminable warfare, an ideology that justifies policing the world, a willingness to kill hordes of people in poor non-Western countries, and a determination to be the global hegemon.
Militarism and imperialism are fraternal twins. Both are deeply imbedded in American history. American militarism and imperialism were initially forged in the expropriation and extermination of the Indigenous population, a process which entailed almost continual warfare. Both of these fraternal twins were accelerated by the Mexican War of 1846-48 and the Spanish American War of 1898-1902. And under the successive impacts of World War II and the Cold War, U.S. militarism and imperialism leaped forward (literally in tandem). Unfortunately, this dismal duo has had profound impacts upon American culture and society.
Imperialism produces political arrogance, a sense of being exceptional, and an intense desire to expand. Militarism induces a flood of weaponry, fascination with the technology of killing and an almost erotic love of guns. Imperialism breeds aggression towards adversaries, a craving for domination and an admiration for violent power. Militarism generates insensitivity to the suffering of others, toleration of death and veneration for killers in uniform. Imperialism and militarism jointly engender what the eminent historian Chalmers Johnson calls the “sorrows of empire.” For example, 9/11 was basically caused by U.S. militarism and imperialism. The current plague of senseless mass killings is yet another “sorrow of empire.”
Of course pointless mass killings, like the Kings Soopers’ slaughter, are done by deranged human beings. But the form taken by lunacy is structured by the culture in which that lunacy is located. In a militarist culture that venerates lethal force and celebrates its purveyors, paranoid insanity will sometimes become deadly belligerence. And the means for executing such perilous belligerence will be readily available. Chalmers Johnson writes that, “The most serious sorrow of empire is the irreversible damage we do to ourselves.”
I strongly support rigorous gun control legislation. But I also doubt that such restrictions will be as efficacious as their liberal advocates suppose. Within an intensely militarist society, it is extremely difficult to keep assault weapons away from conniving lunatics. Moreover, the imperialist-militarist values that steer deranged human beings towards random homicide remain intact.
The most appropriate memorial to the 10 people killed at King Soopers would be eliminating the basic causes of their shameful slaughter. This implies working for rigorous gun control legislation — but more profoundly, it implies building a movement to dismantle the entrenched militarism and imperialism of American society. If this should happen, the martyrdom of the Boulder 10 will not have been in vain.