The rescue of Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt along with three Americans and several other hostages held by a rebel group provides a badly needed object lesson in today’s shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later society.
Not a shot was fired in the brilliantly executed rescue operation. Not a drop of blood was shed. Instead of guns and bombs, the Colombian commandos used guts and guile. Early reports indicate the rescue squad simply disguised themselves as rebels, camouflaged their helicopter and told the guards they had come to transfer the hostages to another rebel camp.
That kind of “jinalship” reminds me of a legendary Jamaican folk hero, Brer Anansi. The crafty little spider always got what he wanted by outwitting bigger and stronger opponents.
But how many political leaders use their brains instead of their brawn to solve problems today?
Not President Bush. His professed policy of preemptive strikes calls for shock-and-awe attacks if any foreign nation just looks at America the wrong way. When Barack Obama suggested that an American president might be wise to reason with prospective enemies before blowing them away, Bush branded the Democratic presidential candidate an appeaser who would have wilted before Adolf Hitler.
And John McCain is more Bush than Bush when it comes to policies like “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”
As this kind of simplistic bellicosity becomes more widespread, with the Supreme Court insisting that every American should have the right to pack a handgun and various states passing laws that give residents permission to shoot anyone who seems threatening, have you ever stopped to wonder what is driving the culture of violence?
You may blame television, movies, the Internet, computer games, pulp fiction… and in a way you would be right. But I believe a far more sinister force lurks in the background.
Long ago, when Eisenhower was warning America to watch out for the “military-industrial complex,” I read an article in one of those egghead magazines, like Harper’s or Atlantic, that traced the contributions from the super-rich to books, comic strips, movies and other art forms depicting force as the ultimate problem solver.
I have to admit that force is a tempting idea. Who can watch Charles Bronson blast one of those maggots in a movie like “Vigilante” and not have a warm feeling that justice has been served at last in an unjust world? Solving disputes by force is a tenet of might-is-right fascism. But it is understandably seductive in an exasperatingly complex society where we are so often obliged to stand helplessly by while the scum of the earth commit unspeakable outrages and go unpunished.
But why would members of the super-rich promote such a philosophy? What’s in it for them?
I can think of several things. One example that leaps to mind: Many of the world’s super-rich are involved in the manufacture of arms and make obscene profits every time one of their products is used to blow up a village or mow down a crowd of protesters. I even heard on public radio that the Bush family had shares in a company called the Carlyle Group that builds bombs and other goodies to send to Iraq and other hot spots.
But I am also convinced there’s a more subtle connection. People who make huge sums of money need a government they can count on to create an environment in which they can thrive – like earthworms in a compost pile. If the general populace starts electing “pinkos” and “liberal goo-goos,” the government might start putting the ordinary people first, and the pigs who fatten at the public trough would fall upon lean times.
So, day by day and hour by hour, a torrent of shoot-’em-up trash overwhelms the airwaves and the libraries, television screens and movie theaters, and an already brain damaged populace soaks up the culture of violence.
And we wonder why our children massacre their classmates, why so many husbands strangle their wives, why a group of teenagers beats a homeless man to death for sport…
Oh, Brer Anansi, if only we had you with us today – instead of Charles Bronson.