“I say violence is necessary. Violence is a part of America’s culture. It is as American as cherry pie.” — Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, also known as H. Rap Brown.
America has been rooted in violence since our founding. We broke free from England violently and used violent means to expand our nation both geographically (the Mexican War, the Indian Wars, and the Spanish-American War) and economically (slavery).
The Louisiana Purchase and the purchase of Alaska from Russia uniquely expanded our borders through peaceful means.
We also have engaged in countless, unprovoked uses of force, military and otherwise, to preserve our way of life from enemies both real and perceived, intervening in their internal affairs, both in this hemisphere and far away (Vietnam and Iraq).
It was violence that tore us apart and nearly destroyed our country in the 1860s, and it was through violent means — lynchings and segregation — that the South enforced Jim Crow laws after the Civil War.
For those of us who grew up in the 1960s and ‘70s, Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement stood out because they sought to achieve change through peaceful means at a time when self-described revolutionary groups brought domestic violence to our TV screens with bombings and other acts of violence.
But throughout our history and despite our legacy of violence, we had leaders who understood that violence — military and otherwise — could sow the seeds of our own destruction.
From George Washington, who in his farewell address stated, “Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all,” to Abraham Lincoln, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature,” to Dwight Eisenhower, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” our wisest and greatest leaders have warned us of the perils of disunity at home and military ventures abroad.
The White Nationalist movement plaguing our nation today actively preaches violence as a means of overthrowing our government and ending our way of life as we know it.
They are not Americans, for they do not accept Jefferson’s ideal that, “All men are created equal.”
The massacre in El Paso this weekend was the latest example of what happens when our leaders fail to stand up for our founding principles and fail to enact common-sense laws that would limit the damage they can inflict.
The America as we have known it for the past 231 years is falling apart, little by little. The only question now is whether we have reached the breaking point or whether we still have the time — and the will — to repair the damage and save us from ourselves.