Monday, June 18, 2012

What is the root of political violence?

As one peruses the history books, looking through the collected volumes of man’s past, one finds a clear pattern.  Violence.  Raw, unmitigated, violence.  Sometimes, it is army against army, sometimes it is an army against a civilian population, sometimes, it is tribe against tribe, family against family or clan against clan.  Often, one sees individual violence done for political purposes.

Swords, axes, pikes, lances, knives, cudgels, and a thousand other implements of death, morphed into rifles, pistols, rocket propelled grenades, fighter aircraft, helicopters, bombers and atomic bombs.  The more technologically advanced we’ve gotten, the more people we can kill at once.  There was a time when people had to be killed one at a time - you needed strong, muscular fighters trained from childhood to wield the heavy, edged, pointed and blunt weapons of yore, and they needed to be largely within arm’s reach to do it, unless you count the archers and pikers.

Today?  Any 18 year old kid with an automatic weapon can kill a dozen men older, stronger and wiser then himself with a twitch of his finger and a bit of practice in keeping the weapon trained downrange - or can push a button launching a guided missile designed to kill hundreds of civilians thousands of miles away.

In our history, most of the violence has been for political purposes.  To either take resources, change leadership, force ideology or religion on others or just to eliminate a threat you are afraid of.  Most governments in the past have had one thing in common - succession plans were either non-existent, or really necessary, since leadership changed, sometimes drastically, if the head man died.  Often, those plans failed anyway, since the killers were members of a different clan, tribe, family or nation.  The goal was the same - put someone else in charge, most often, yourself.

In recent centuries, mankind has gravitated towards forms of governments that tend to soften the need for violence, by cementing in place a form of government that eliminates the problem of replacing the head guy at death sparking civil war - democratic forms with legal systems of laws that cement that succession so that another member of the head guy’s political party takes over - thus smoothing over the transition by ensuring that many policies of the dead guy remain in place.  This eliminates one goal of the killers - changing leaders to change policies, as well as the plan to replace the dead guy with your own candidate.  Not to say that there still aren’t other reasons to assassinate a leader.  Lots of people think the mob killed JFK and his brother, because of their “war” on the mob.  If so, that tactic failed, too.  The US government not only kept that war going, but intensified it, and by the 70’s, had largely put the major crime families out of business. (only to be replaced by drug lords, but, hey, any power vacuum is begging to be filled…)  That illustrates the value of modern bureaucratic organizations, which have policies that can survive the demise or resignation of the head honcho.  The age old tactic of the mob in killing its enemies to stop threats against them don’t work when your opposition has more people than you’ve got bullets.

So, does this mean that violence is a thing of the past?  No, but it does mean that as mankind modernizes its political systems, we can eliminate some major causes of mass violence.  It is time that we got together and started outlawing dictatorships.

The world has that power, it just has to muster the courage to use it.

No comments: