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When Does Violence Matter?
In December 2001, 110 of 112 revelers at a wedding died, thanks to a B-52 and two B-1B bombers using precision-guided weapons to essentially wipe out a village in Eastern Afghanistan (and then, in a second strike, to take out Afghans digging in the rubble). The incident got next to no attention here. It wasn’t, after all, a case of American “violence,” but a regrettable error. No one thought to suggest that the invasion of Afghanistan should be shut down because of it, nor was it discredited due to that mass killing.
It had been a mistake. As would be the case with those other weddings obliterated by U.S. air power in Iraq and Afghanistan in the years to come. As were the funerals and baby-naming rites blasted away in those later years. As have been, more recently, the more than 60 children killed by CIA drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, the funerals hit by those same drones, and the recently documented secondary strikes -- as in that December 2001 attack -- on rescuers trying to pull the wounded out of the rubble.
None of this, of course, gets significant attention here. Despite the pleas of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, few here suggest shutting down U.S. and NATO air operations in that country because of violence against civilians. There are few cries of horror for the eight Afghan sheepherders, none out of their teens, one possibly as young as six, who were killed by a NATO air strike in Kapisa Province just the other day. There are no major editorials or front-page media stories calling for the U.S. and its allies to mend their violent ways or change their policies because of them. It’s certainly not popular to suggest that such acts might discredit American policy abroad.
Yet, as Rebecca Solnit points out, “violence” within and by the Occupy movement in this country -- we’re talking about several sexual assaults in Occupy camps, a suicide, drug use, and a small amount of property damage, bottles thrown, and the like by outliers at Occupy demonstrations -- has in certain quarters somehow been enough to discredit the movement, even in some cases to paint it as a kind of living nightmare. Such violence, minimal as it might have been, instantly discredited Occupy on the American landscape.
This, mind you, in a society in which 14,000 murders were committed in 2011, in which more than 30,000 people died in traffic accidents, in which a recent Pentagon report indicated that violent sexual crimes in the military have risen by 64% since 2006 (95% against women, even though they make up only 14% of the force’s personnel). And yet somehow, neither weapons, nor cars, nor the U.S. military is discredited by such violence.
It would, in fact, be surprising to imagine that a movement whose camps actually welcomed, housed, and fed those essentially thrown away by this society would lack problems. In truth, Occupy should have been hailed for its assault on violence at every level in this society. Nothing could be more striking in Solnit’s latest piece, “Mad, Passionate Love -- and Violence,” than the statistic she cites on the remarkably unnoticed drop in violence in Oakland, California, in the weeks before Occupy Oakland itself was violently assaulted by that city’s police force.