WW2 Relevance

|   12 January 2011

Violent rhetoric and physical violence

Tucson, Arizona

There is a relationship between violent political rhetoric and physical violence. Anyone who has studied the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis is aware of that. Which is why I’m puzzled, in the light of the debate going on in America at the minute after the tragic shootings in Arizona, that this basic – obvious – relationship is somehow in doubt.

I guess what is really being disputed are the facts of this particular case. Sarah Palin and her ‘tea party’ colleagues dispute that their rhetoric influenced the killer who murdered six people at Democratic Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords’ political meeting in Tucson last weekend. They might be right – they might be wrong. We don’t know yet.

But there is surely no doubt that a recent previous attack on Congresswoman Giffords’ office in Tucson, perpetrated just hours after the vote on health reform, was politically motivated. Nor is there any doubt about the violent gun-related rhetoric Sarah Palin uses to conduct her politics. She, for example, proselytizes a motto she says she gained from her father: ‘don’t retreat, reload’; and she published a list of districts she wanted to unseat Democrats from with the targeted area highlighted under a telescopic gunsight – this list of districts included that of Congresswoman Giffords, who is today fighting for her life after the shooting. (The idea, pushed by one of Palin’s aides after the shooting in Arizona that these were not gunsights but ‘surveyor’s symbols’ would be laughable if this were not so serious.)

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this particular killer was influenced by this violent rhetoric, nor, of course, am I saying that the level and type of this violent rhetoric equates in scale to that used by infamous dictators in history.

But I am saying that violent rhetoric can be a step on the way to actual violence. This is something Congresswoman Giffords also clearly believes. She said back in March on MSNBC that there could be ‘consequences’ from using gunsight imagery in politics, and remarked that: ‘The rhetoric is incredibly heated, not just the calls, the emails, the slurs, things have really gotten spun up. When you think about it, our democracy is a light, a beacon around the world because we effect change at the ballot box and not because of these outbursts of violence in certain cases… ‘

And what of the argument that politics has ‘always been like this’ in the USA? Well, before the shooting, Congresswoman Giffords remarked: ‘Some of my colleagues have served twenty or thirty years and they’ve never seen it like this.’

Depressing, isn’t it?

Comments are closed.