On Being Thankful…For State Violence?

by | Nov 28, 2013

When people ask me which of the books I have written was my favorite, I respond with my first one: Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival. In it, I analyze how institutions – i.e., organizations that have become ends in themselves – have a need to structure our thinking and our behavior in order that we may dedicate our lives to their purposes. Political systems are the most pervasive and vicious expressions of this syndrome, but other institutions have learned to play this same game. The modern corporate-state is the most apparent example, wherein business corporations have managed to convince most Americans that their interests are synonymous with those of the nation-state. The song from the musical Li’l Abner reminds us that “What’s good for General Bullmoose is Good for the U.S.A.”

The entertainment industry, the mainstream media, schools, churches, foundations, and other permanent organizations have, with but few exceptions, climbed aboard the bandwagon of corporate-state-collectivism to extoll the virtues of a society structured around the principle of state-directed violence. So widespread is the practice that most people hardly recognize it.

High-school, college, and professional sports teams are awash in the symbols of state-violence. From the high-school in Richland, Washington that calls itself the Richland Bombers – whose football helmets have a mushroom cloud on them – to the many other schools and colleges whose athletic teams dress in various forms of military attire, students and other fans have their statist identities reinforced by cheering for the young warriors on the field; warriors who will soon be killing the scheduled foe in other lands. No doubt the most vulgar expression of this insanity was found in Northwestern University’s recent football game in which their players dressed in uniforms and helmets designed as American flags, with an abundance of make-believe blood spattered throughout so that students and fans would realize that more than just the outcome of a game was being played out on the field.

This same military theme has been employed by many other colleges, from the substitution of camouflaged uniforms, to players carrying gigantic American flags onto the field. Nor have professional sports been left out, as witnessed during the recent World Series with incessant showing of the troops as part of the stage props; along with flag color guards and repeated patriotic songs – in case any fans might have thought they were there to watch a baseball game!

Militarism long ago began consuming holidays. In my childhood, what is now celebrated as Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day. Our family went to the local cemetery to lay flowers on the graves of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives. While the graves of soldiers were also decorated, it was the remembrance of ancestors – however they might have died – that was the purpose of this day. But no more: the militarists have turned the day into an occasion for celebrating wars. Old John Wayne movies are now trotted out, in which Wayne recreates his brave exploits in defending the back-lot of Republic Pictures during World War II.

July 4th is another victim of the war machine. What began as a celebration of independence from British rule, has become yet another conscript in the war against peace and liberty. To emphasize just how separate our liberty is from our actions, most states prohibit individuals from using fireworks to celebrate their “independence,” with the state taking over this function on their behalf. This is done in the name of “safety” and “security,” the emotional scarecrows used by statists to keep the boobeoisie huddled in collective fear at the feet of their rulers.

While an abundance of war films is available to entertain people on this day, perhaps the worst of the bunch is the old Bing Crosby movie Holiday Inn. Crosby has a resort lodge that is open on all the major holidays. On July 4th, he comes on stage wearing a large red-white-and-blue “Uncle Sam” hat, and sings a song about “independence.” On a screen behind him are pictures of soldiers, bombers being manufactured, Navy ships, more soldiers, and an occasional photo of FDR, more Navy ships, bombers flying in formation, etc., etc.

We have recently witnessed one of the more troubling corruptions that have turned “holidays” into “hostility days.” In my youth, November 11th was celebrated as “Armistice Day,” to celebrate the ending of World War I – a war that innocent minds believed would “end all wars.” End all wars? What a treasonous thought! “War is the health of the state,” Randolph Bourne reminded us, and to be against war – i.e., to favor peace – marks one as an enemy of the state! It’s enough to get the war-monger, Bill Clinton and other statists, upset with the notion of people “hating their government.”

At the school one of my grandchildren attends, an Army officer came – on November 11th – to speak on the importance and virtues of the military. Both my daughter and grandchild were troubled by this pro-war propagandizing, particularly in a school that is supposed to help children learn to live a civilized life. But the statist agenda did not end there. Some ten to twelve days later, the students put on a Thanksgiving play, which included an unabridged singing of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Just how the school bozos managed to segue the national anthem into the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving – and to do so with a straight face – remains a mystery to me. I know that the details of this first celebration are a mix of fact and myth, but poetic license does have some limits. Perhaps school officials have unthinkingly bought into the statist proposition that any public celebration must have, at its core, the rejoicing over the war system. If this be the case, I would urge these pedagogues to do some elemental research. Should they do so, they will discover that the original Thanksgiving was held in 1621, an event that preceded the creation of the United States of America by 168 years, and “The Star Spangled Banner” by 191 years.

They might also be reminded that the occasion of that first Thanksgiving was to celebrate the acts of production that made possible the survival of those who considered these successes a worthy reason to rejoice. It would be another 312 years until the celebration of one’s work efforts as a source of sustenance would be discarded and replaced by the system of federal “food stamps.” Furthermore, those who reportedly gathered for the first Thanksgiving were family members and friends – including Indians – who regarded themselves as having a common purpose in rejoicing their accomplishments. It was not until 200 years later – in the mid-19th century – that the aforesaid Indians were looked upon as hindrances to the “Manifest Destiny” that had become the purpose of the United States of America to advance. I suspect that the red-white-and-blue enthusiasts of those subsequent years paused to “give thanks” and ‘honor the troops” of the 7th Cavalry who bravely slaughtered the helpless and harmless Indians. Perhaps these Thanksgiving Day festivities were also accompanied by the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Reprinted with permission from LewRockwell.com.


  • Butler Shaffer

    Butler D. Shaffer was an American author, law professor and speaker, known for his numerous libertarian books and blog articles for LewRockwell.com. He was a Professor of Law Emeritus at the Los Angeles-based Southwestern University School of Law.

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