Dennis Myers: the violence our government fosters


On Sunday, a friend and I attended a 50th anniversary Reno showing of the movie “Bonnie and Clyde” on the big screen.

A filmed introduction of the movie by Ben Mankiewicz repeated the familiar claim that the movie resonated in the 1960s because of its portrayal of violence. We were at the movie the day after the Charlottesville violence, and I recalled something journalist Jack Newfield wrote after Robert Kennedy was murdered in 1968:

“I tried to read the Los Angeles papers, filled with sidebar stories about violence in America. Sociologists, politicians, and religious leaders blaming movies, comic strips, and television. No one seemed to think that Vietnam, or poverty, or lynchings, or our genocide against the Indians had anything to do with it. Just popular culture like [the movie] Bonnie and Clyde, never political institutions, or our own tortured history.”

It’s a lesson we never seem to learn no matter how many reminders we get – real violence has more influence on us than imaginary violence. Before someone starts blaming video games or music for Charlottesville, we should really think about our wars and out treatment of people, including our own people.

After the Columbine school shooting, Washoe County School Board member Jody Ruggerio and others around the country who make the mistake of believing news coverage started an effort to stop Marilyn Manson concerts because some journalists identified Manson with the shooters. This Las Vegas Sun sentence was a sample: “The two gunmen were members of the “Trench Coat Mafia” clique, which reportedly favored bands such as Manson’s.”

Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn did not join the effort to block a Nevada concert but did ask Manson to voluntarily cancel it, which Manson did.

All this was based on a myth. The two shooters disliked Manson music. They listened to KMFDM, something journalism never did discover.

Violence comes from somewhere, and it’s not Marilyn Manson. It is not generated by pop culture such as violent movies. But the actions of government which foster real violence instead of imaginary violence is a prime suspect. “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other,” said Edmund Burke.

How do school children react to how casually the United States routinely goes to war? What kind of message do we send to children when we get into a war that is preventable and unnecessary for reasons that turn out to be false, and then STAY there year after year?

Iraq as of this week has cost the United States $820,740,895,622 and has cost Nevadans $6,685,302,360. For those who think the U.S.’s Iraq war is over, the counter tallying up our Iraq war expenses is still spinning. How precious can life be if our leaders do things like that?

“There is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night,” Robert Kennedy said after Martin King’s murder. “This is the violence of institutions – indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books, and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man amongst other men.”

How much despair can people absorb before it breaks into violence?

Presidents, standing off at a safe distance, use drones to kill people who our intelligence agencies claim are this or that – and how many times have those agencies been dead wrong? Why take their sole word on a matter of life and death?

Moreover, those who happen to be in the area of the drone strike also die, noncombatant civilians who happen to cross a street or enter a store at the wrong time. What do other nations think of us as a result of these sloppy procedures?

The racism that drove the Charlottesville protesters make them unsympathetic to us, but their three dead victims and the families who now mourn them deserve more. Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.”

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.