This is not a defense of terrorism.
It is merely a need on my behalf to ask a couple of questions.
I awoke on Wednesday, June 14th, to news of the shooting at a Congressional baseball practice, where a man opened fire on a group of legislators and other political players, including Republican Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Multiple people were wounded – Scalise currently remains in critical condition – and the shooter was killed. I am not really one for prayers, but certainly my thoughts are with the families of those involved.
But my thoughts are also on a rather dark realization that this specific type of incident may not be an isolated occurrence going forward.
“U Po Kyin’s earliest memory, back in the eighties, was of standing, a naked pot-bellied child, watching the British troops march victorious into Mandalay. He remembered the terror he had felt of those columns of great beef-fed men, red-faced and red-coated; and the long rifles over their shoulders, and the heavy, rhythmic tramp of their boots. He had taken to his heels after watching them for a few minutes.”
In over 100 years of British rule in Burma, there were many uprisings by the native population; occasionally war, but often guerilla tactics and ‘terrorism.’
I think it is difficult for many people, myself included, to fully comprehend the feelings of powerlessness, of being trapped without hope, many Burmans living under such a system of oppression might have experienced.
The British Empire imposed laws on Burma, which were good for Britain; Laws which benefitted British companies, who then pillaged the country’s natural wealth; Laws which impoverished the local population, restricting their ‘upward mobility.’
As in Orwell’s passage, Burmans would have been hard pressed to go about their daily lives without seeing British soldiers or officials; A constant reminder of their subjugation.
It is not difficult to translate this to the modern world; With the British Empire replaced by the United States.
The U.S. imposes rules on less powerful nations through international bodies, who act as administrators of U.S. will; Things like economic sanctions, which have led to more deaths than I’d care to think about, but which the holders of power in the U.S. – here’s looking at you Madeline Albright – often arrogantly present as “worth it.”
International aid tied to extreme privatization allows US companies to pillage the natural wealth of many countries.
And, of course, go anywhere in the world and you will never be far from a U.S. military installation.
In the Middle East and Latin America particularly – places which have felt the hand of U.S. intrusion most severely – it is difficult to estimate the levels of anger and despair felt by many civilians, and what they might feel justified in doing because of those feelings.
I would like to think that I would never, or, at least, almost never, be an advocate for violence. But I would have to add the caveat that I do not pretend to fully understand the psychological impacts of oppression felt by many around the world.
This, I suppose, brings me to my point, incidentally, back where we started – the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice.
For years (at least), unrest has been growing amongst the U.S. population regarding their political system. The Iraq War was a sham. The economic crash destroyed so many lives while the perpetrators received bonuses. The last election was a clash between the two most unpopular candidates ever in the recorded history of the competition.
Obviously, I could go on.
But as unrest grows, so does the grip of the existing power structure grow tighter.
Thus, the dramatic expansion of the surveillance state, the erosion of mainstream media and the education system, the decline of worker’s rights and wages, and the creep of inequality.
When an individual walks into a group of legislators and lobbyists as they train for a charity event and starts shooting, they are, by most definitions, a psychotic person.
But I don’t think it is unfair to ask two questions:
How many people in the United States are feeling powerless against an oppressive system to the point of anger and despair?
And what is the breaking point where an individual would feel justified converting these feelings into violence?