In one of my columns last week, I pointed out that mankind developed the ability about seven decades ago to destroy planet earth and mankind itself. We had entered the nuclear age. In the United States, the terrifying possibility of nuclear holocaust hit home during the October 1962 confrontation between America and Russia, a confrontation known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the years immediately following that frightening episode, American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas (November 1963), the Vietnam War began to escalate dangerously (1964/1965), and then the Black Power phenomenon (1966) marked the philosophical adoption of the violent self-defence concept, as opposed to Christian and Gandhian non-violence, by young American blacks.
The American power structure, which is dominated by a financial-military-industrial complex, did everything it could to convince the American people that a lone, crazed gunman, one Lee Harvey Oswald, had murdered the American president while he was seated in an open convertible in a motorcade, but I do not believe this story. I believe the American power structure itself conspired to kill Kennedy for various reasons, one of these reasons being the fact that JFK had refused to provide American air cover for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles, and another reason being the indications that he was not completely hawkish where the American war effort in Vietnam was concerned.
Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, soon began to increase American involvement in what was basically a civil war in Vietnam. A shooting war always increases the budgets and leverage of American generals and admirals, and such a war boosts the profits of companies which are engaged, directly or indirectly, in the business of manufacturing arms and armaments.
As all this American taxpayers’ money began to be directed into the Vietnam war effort, it meant that domestic poverty programs in America itself were reduced or sacrificed. The leadership of the black civil rights movement, a movement which was essentially a socio-economic upliftment initiative, began to see that their movement was being undermined: the Vietnam War had become the priority in the LBJ White House. So then, a more militant black leadership emerged – Carmichael, Rap Brown, the Black Panthers, etc. Even Martin Luther King, Jr., himself felt compelled to condemn America’s violence in Vietnam. For this, he was shot dead in April of 1968.
Within the ranks of young people in the majority white population of America, a mood of alienation began to spread. In the first instance, young white American males were fearful of being drafted and sent to Vietnam. Some of the more idealistic and altruistic of their white generation had made heroic contributions to the black civil rights movement earlier in the 1960s, but Black Power in 1966 called for whites to be excluded from leadership, or even active, roles in the movement. In the second instance, the aura of nuclear Armageddon hung heavy over America and the conscious world, and so it was that rich and comfortable white youth began to do a lot of different drugs and create a lifestyle of carefree indolence and pleasure-seeking. They became what were called “hippies.”
With the official end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the vast majority of the hippies drifted back to mainstream life in suburban America. But, the thing about the Vietnam War was that it was fought on the evening news of American network television. The return home of dead American soldiers in body bags was televised. For the first time ever, the American people gained a sense of how gory and crazy war really was. The hippies had been scarred by the reality of American foreign policy. As late as 1968 and The Green Berets, American filmmakers were still producing movies which glorified war and violence. Remember, to make a movie you have to solicit financial backing, and war propaganda is what the American financial-military-industrial complex appeared to want.
All the movies we, Belize’s Baby Boomer generation, saw growing up here were American trash, and we became more American than the Americans. Our more macho youth dreamed of becoming U.S. Marines and FBI agents, and so it was as our young people began migrating to the States after Hurricane Hattie in 1961. The American military represented golden opportunity for “undocumented” Belizean youth.
In 1976, right after the Vietnam War, Martin Scorsese made a movie called Taxi Driver, which starred Robert De Niro as a working class Vietnam veteran. Taxi Driver became the blueprint for the crazed-gunman massacres we have been seeing in the United States in real time. The thing is that almost anyone in America can walk into a store and purchase the most powerful of weapons, and the weapon of choice for the Taxi Driver clones in the third millennium is the assault rifle, which is like a hand-held machine gun.
When Scarface, starring Al Pacino, was made in 1983, a lot of film critics considered it excessively violent and bloody. Today, Scarface is tame, Jack. The Stallone and Schwarzenneger epics elevated violence to the level of American religion. The hero’s weapons are totally destructive, and the hero always wins. With an assault rifle and a couple automatic handguns, some black clothing, a mask, and a bulletproof vest, any geek can become Stallone or Schwarzenneger. The line between the movies and reality becomes blurred for the mass murderer. But, in the real world, “heroes” die. So do many innocents.
In Belize, there is excessive firepower in the hands of Belizean youth, and a culture of violence has developed in which the gunmen are heroic and ladies desire them. Today, we are an American colony, and the minds of our young people have been influenced by decades of television, video games, cartoons, and movies – all American, and all obsessed with guns and violence.
On Friday morning in a small, quiet town in Connecticut, a 20-year-old male armed himself with his mother’s guns, including an assault rifle, shot his mother dead, and then made his way to the town’s elementary school, where he shot and killed twenty innocent children and six innocent adults before turning one of the guns on himself. Connecticut is one of the most wealthy and exclusive states in America; Connecticut is where most of the Wall Street multimillionaires and billionaires live. In the United States, the outcry against their gun culture is now louder than it has ever been.
In the small, quiet village of Lords Bank, which is side by side with Ladyville near our international airport, a businessman who was an older student at SJC when I was there fifty years ago, was shot and killed in a robbery attempt on Saturday night. Otto Peterson, 69, was a good guy. In the same village twenty four hours later, a 15-year-old high school student became the innocent victim of mistaken identity. He looked like an older person who is a Belize City gang figure. In the dark, the gunmen, armed with more firepower than sense, took him down. I got a brief glimpse of his mother’s face on Monday morning, and that would have broken anybody’s heart.
In Belize City and surroundings, we are living in a war zone. There are draconian laws designed to control the weaponry, but too much money is to be made manufacturing and distributing same. Belize’s gun laws have not achieved the purpose for which they were intended. At the same time arms manufacturers are in the lucrative business of expediting violence and death, the makers of movies have glorified the same. Blood sells.
In the midst of this, we’ll be wishing each other Merry Christmas. Sometimes it seems that we are dreaming dreams. Perhaps, that is all we have left. They say, nevertheless, that as long as there is life, there is hope. So, in response to you, I say, igualmente, igualmente. Merry Christmas, everyone.