Quagmire of Violence: The Cultural Linkage of State-Sanctioned and State-Condemned Violence

Dawn L. Rothe, Western Michigan University
Christopher W. Mullins, University of Missouri St. Louis

Throughout April 20, 1999, the media inundated homes across the United States with images of the atrocity at Columine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Former President Clinton addressed the nation vis-a-vis the massacre by insisting that we must teach ouf children to settle their differences through words and not weapons. Yet the day before, the U.S. conducted air strikes against Yugoslavia; within 2 hours the U.S. dropped nine 500 lb. laser-guided boms onto 2 civilian sites -- killing up to 80 ethnic Albanians. The distinction between sanctioned and condemned violence is, indeed, a culturally created artifact. A stateis approval or condemnation of violence has little to do with the simple fact that violence remains violence. U.S. cultural schemas dictate that a proper response to conflict is the use of violence, reflecting a deeper cultural ethos that self-interest, fear, and retaliation can be carried out through the use of violence. This response profoundly dominates both the relationships that the U.S. government has with other nations, the relationship between our state and its citizens, as well as the relationships our citizens have with each other. By juxtaposing state condoned violence, such as April 19, 1999 air strikes, with condemned violence, such as the Columbine Massacre, we offer a criminological analysis linking such acts of violence to a broader constellation of U.S. cultural ethos which appears to shape the behavior of political institutions and citizenries alike.

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Updated 05/20/2006