Is the United States Destined to Endless Wars and a High Rate of Violence

I. How Does War on al-Qaeda End?

The Justice Department White Paper says a lethal strike against an American citizen can only be made to protect against “an imminent threat of violent attack.” However, imminence “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons or interests will take place in the significant future.” The White Paper further claims that the US can carry out operations “with the consent of the host nation’s government,” and then declares that such operations would still be lawful “after a determination that the host  nation is unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual targeted.” In essence, sovereignty conditions don’t really matter.

“Can any of us imagine a time when we are not firing weapons into foreign countries; when we are not sending agents into mosques to foment plots; when we are not spying on Muslim students?” [1] What if al-Qaeda is no more? “Surely there will be (and are) other protean fighters who claim no country and who will swear themselves to our destruction. Why should we not wage war against them?” [2]

II. Is Nonviolence Possible?

Todd May, professor of the Humanities at Clemson University, has written a very provocative piece on whether nonviolence is possible in the United States. Professor May says first and foremost: “We are steeped in violence. For example, our murder rate is 3 to 5 times that of most other industrialized nations. We can’t get rid of the death penalty, which causes disbelief in non-death penalty countries. When faced with gun violence, many prescribe more guns as the solution.” [3]

May identifies one reason for our high rate of violence as “competitive individualism:” We are wary of others and reject the social solidarity characteristic of Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand. We view our fellows as our competitors. Our ability to control events in the world has declined, possibly starting with Vietnam. Our desire to control reinforces violence.

Another reason for our violence is economic. We no longer count on government and often view it as an enemy. We no longer feel obligations to others who share the planet. We seek the best economic returns for ourselves. Many believe in U.S. exceptionalism.

Professor May proposes a nonviolence which is not passive, but is “creative activity.” We must recognize others as our fellow human beings, even when they are on “the other side of the barricades.” Also, we must recognize that we are all fragile human beings.

May says the civil rights movement is the most shining example of nonviolence and points out that we have pulled together after other tragedies. He quotes Immanuel Kant as saying the core of morality is treating others not simply as means but also ends in themselves. 


[1] Tanehi Coates, “How Does the War Against al-Qaeda End?” The Populist, April 1, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Todd May, “Is American Nonviolence Possible?” The New York Times, April 21. 2013.