By Chandra Muzaffar.
The whole world condoles with the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. It is a terrible tragedy: 27 people dead, 20 of them six and seven year-old kids. It is the worst school massacre in the history of the United States.
Senseless, mindless killings of this sort have been happening at regular intervals in the US. They have become more frequent in the course of the last couple of years.
Lax gun control laws that vary from state to state are seen as one of the causes. The ruling elite should have the courage to introduce tough gun control laws at state and federal level. These should pave the way for the eventual prohibition of private gun ownership.
But over and beyond the question of gun control, US society as a whole will have to deal with its deeply entrenched culture of violence. Its emergence as a state was characterised by unspeakable violence against the indigenous people of the land. The African slave population was also a victim of cruel violence perpetrated by slave owners and the ruling elite. Violence has continued to be perpetuated in politics and social life through the ages.
One of the main reasons why violence figures so prominently in US society is because its global power has been built around the institutions and instruments of violence. The US is the world’s biggest military spender. In 2012, its military expenditure was 711 billion, more than 40% of total global military expenditure. Its 800 odd military bases gird the globe. It has the most devastating arsenal of weapons in the possession of any nation or empire in the history of the human race.
This huge killing machine has gone into action on a number of occasions in the last six decades in pursuit of its agenda of control and dominance. And among its millions of victims have been thousands and thousands of children. US clandestine wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, among other Latin American countries, from the fifties to the eighties, testify to this fact. Who has kept a count of the children killed by US bombs in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the sixties and early seventies? Have we forgotten the 650,000 children who died as a result of the severe Anglo-American engineered sanctions against Iraq from 1991 to 2003 — sanctions which in reality served as a weapon of war? After the US led invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003, thousands of children continued to die in the unending sectarian conflicts unleashed by the war. The US-NATO occupation of Afghanistan has had a similar effect upon children. Many children have also been killed in the unmanned US drone attacks along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The US had participated actively in the NATO bombing of Libya in 2011 in which scores of children perished. Today, the US, in collusion with some of its allies including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, is providing material and military support to rebels and foreign mercenaries in Syria who have deliberately — and brutally — massacred children in various parts of the conflict ridden country.
In this regard, there is also the violence against children committed by the US’s special ally, Israel. Weren’t a disproportionately high number of Palestinian children killed in Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012 and Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9? What about the children killed in the 2006 Israeli assault on Lebanon? Or, the large number of children wiped out by the right-wing Christian Phalangists in Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon in 1982 who were working hand- in-glove with elements in the Israeli political and military leadership?
We ask, who weeps for all these children killed over decades in different parts of the world by the might of power? Who mourns for these innocent lives? Who sheds tears for these buds of beauty crushed to death under the heels of the rulers of the world? Has the mainstream Western media— CNN or BBC; the New York Times or the London Times —- ever highlighted the massacre of these little ones? Do politicians across the globe trip over one another to offer sympathies to the families of the children killed?
But let us be clear about this: it is not just the US and its allies who have killed children. During its occupation of Afghanistan, the demised Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was also guilty of killing children. The Iraq of Saddam Hussein tortured and killed children of dissidents. So did the Syria of Hafiz Assad. In confronting the militants in his country, his son, Bashar al-Assad, has also killed children. The Taliban, in and out of power, have not spared children either in their military operations. Some Palestinian freedom fighters have, without batting an eyelid, blown up Israeli children in a school bus or in a school cafe.
This utter lack of humanity has manifested itself in countless other situations involving children. In Sudan, in Somalia, in Kenya, in Rwanda, in the Congo and in Mali, children, trapped in violent conflicts, have, in the past as in the present, paid the ultimate price. Violent conflicts, whether internal or external, in any part of the world —- in Indonesia or Thailand; in India or Sri Lanka; in Ireland or Serbia —– invariably take a huge toll on the lives of our little ones.
This is why we must do all we can to minimise violent conflicts. We must address the underlying causes of these conflicts which are often related to political power, economic resources or religious/cultural sentiments. Sometimes violence at the individual level may have a psychological root. There may be elements in our primary socialisation that may explain our tendency to resort to acts of violence. An attempt must be made to rectify them.
It is only if we are prepared to overcome the underlying causes of violence that we would be able to eliminate one of the most horrific crimes against humanity — the massacre of children.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
17 December 2012.