Blessed Are The Peacemakers
A graphic of a U.S. soldier holding a gun in front of a photoshopped American flag reads, “Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” With thousands of likes and shares on social media, this commemoration of militarism equates martial action to heroic peacemaking elevated by holiness. Another graphic shows a collage of Hillary Clinton and photos from the 2017 Women’s March on Washington captioned, “#ImStillWithHer #TheResistance.” It garners retweets and replies calling Clinton and the marchers true American heroes fighting for democracy. The dichotomy of how heroism is conceptualized is indicative of contemporary divisiveness in America. However, this division is not accurately represented. The portrayal fails to account for the suppression of an entire direction of the political spectrum. With leftism subtracted from the media, liberalism and conservatism can freely disfigure bravery through different mediums. Thus, American perceptions of heroism have been distorted by the aggregation of propaganda glorifying militarism with the liberal hijacking and sanitizing of revolutionism.
The government and media have reconstructed the political spectrum to parallel liberalism with leftism. This allows a bipartisan effort to redefine ideologies effectively to the general American public while suppressing news from the leftist side of the political spectrum. Consequently, this deception of liberalism as leftism dictates how Americans identify with a multitude of morals and political ideologies. There are key differences between leftists and liberals that distinguish how dissimilar their philosophies are, and highlights the fallacy in synonymizing the two. Economically, liberals generally believe that capitalism is effective or can be reformed when ineffective, while leftists believe that capitalism is intrinsically exploitive and cannot be reformed. Liberals also commonly believe that hate speech is free speech, while leftists believe that hate speech is a method of violence.
Distinguishing between leftism and liberalism is especially imperative when analyzing the distortion of heroism in the U.S. In terms of heroism and bravery, the distinction between liberal and leftist philosophies is astronomical. While many liberals may hail Barack Obama and Joe Biden as icons and heroes, leftists recognize them as neoliberal war criminals.
Another component in the misrepresentation of heroism is distorted through the state’s monopoly on violence, which is perpetuated through media and government action to manipulate civilian opinions on legitimate versus illegitimate force. In tandem with garnering positive emotions towards state-sanctioned violence, the monopoly allows those who are doubtful of the state’s violence to be labeled as ungrateful and unpatriotic. This distortion is why many Americans see militant violence and war as a battle for freedom and subsequently do not pin the blame of violence on individuals in the military. This perception of different forms of violence and uprising are dictated specifically by government enacted propaganda. Through pro-military advertisements, news reports, movies, and television shows, the state depicts militaristic violence as honorable and necessary. Sequentially, violence from direct action by leftists is demonized and viewed as superfluous brutality. This is why Antifa breaking storefront windows and punching Neo-Nazis is deemed inexcusable, but participating in an institution that has murdered over 100,000 Iraqi civilians is considered bravery.
The glorification of the military is immorally dismissive of American sanctioned war crimes, torture, and corruption. One of the most heinous illustrations of military sadism is the torture and prison abuse in Abu Ghraib. Torture, rape, sodomy, and murder took place in the Iraqi prison led by U.S. forces. Members of Blackwater, a privatized U.S. military organization, carried out the Nisour Square massacre, killing 14 unarmed Iraqis. Most of the accused militants declared their innocence, proclaiming that they had done nothing wrong (Apuzzo 2015).
On a larger scale, classified U.S. military documents released by WikiLeaks in 2010 reported that of the approximately 109,000 military-related deaths in Iraq, over 66,000 were civilian deaths.
One of the most evocative facets of this jingoistic military propaganda is the widespread sentiment that the U.S. military fights for the protection of American freedom and rights. This fraudulent claim is transmitted by both liberals and conservatives in the news, with a recent example being the debate on protesting the national anthem. The refusal to stand during the national anthem has been deemed by some as being disrespectful towards veterans who have allegedly fought and died for the flag. Others interpret that veterans fought and died for the right to protest. Both interpretations are wrong. The narratives that troops fight either for the flag or for our freedom to protest are factually inaccurate and ethically corrupt. Invasion and imperialism do not grant rights to Americans. Participating in an organization that has murdered and displaced hundreds of thousands of innocent people does not give rights to a single U.S. citizen. Involvement in these structures of imperialism and invasion are far from heroic.
Whereas extolment of the military is a bipartisan effort, liberalism has its own brand of propaganda venerating a different form of falsified heroism. Liberals and Democrats have continuously hijacked leftist revolutionary ideas and diluted them, calling these sanitized actions heroic and brave. Liberals will declare that dissent is patriotic while simultaneously shaming leftist methods of resistance. Liberalism typically embraces nonviolent resistance while simultaneously being complacent towards Democrats who have murdered civilians via drone strikes and fueled mass incarceration. Liberals have also been generally arguing that we must fight hate with love. Hugging Neo-Nazis is a new craze endorsed by pacifistic liberals trying to demonstrate that love can conquer all bigotry. There is also the argument that hate speech is still free speech and should be respected and protected, no matter how prejudiced. Showing compassion to bigots normalizes their bigoted behavior. Allowing hate speech to be vocalized openly with little to no consequence is an act of violence.
Neoliberal approaches to solving problems marginalized groups face are not transformative, they are based around reform. Liberals similarly are not committed to constructing a revolutionary movement and are frequently the same people who bolster the myth that violence and discrimination are simply about individual cruelty rather than organized governmental brutality. Through their complacency, liberals are dutifully upholding state sanctioned violence, capitalism, and imperialism. Politicians, both liberal and conservative, have historically criminalized radical movements. The U.S. government has utilized tactics such as incarceration, solitary confinement, torture, and assassination to destroy groups like the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords. Many liberals who acknowledge these organizations as previously significant forces do so in a sanitized way. They shift the meaning and methods of these movements to include reform rather than direct action and radical mass organizing.
The liberal resistance movement is one of the most prominent contemporary examples of sanitized revolutionism. The focus on resisting Trump’s presidency ignores the atrocities of the government prior to recent months. Discourse about contemporary politics has further humanized politicians who are not part of the Trump administration. In actuality, the liberal resistance movement was negligible when a Democratic president dropped over 26,000 bombs on 7 countries in 2016 alone (Zenko, 2017). As per the Foreign Policy Journal, these bombings were part of invasions grounded on lies, not justifiable wars. The Colin Kaepernick kneeling protest has also been hijacked by the resistance, as many liberals recently began depicting NFL protests, largely initiated by Kaepernick, as a part of the resistance against Trump. The meaning of this kneeling protest has been misappropriated, as it is about police brutality and racism that has existed regardless of the political party sheltered in the White House.
The 2017 Women’s March on Washington broadcasted another example of liberals hijacking and sanitizing revolutionism while skewing heroism. The march itself was not an issue. The problems were in the representation of the march in the media and its overall whitewashing. Coverage of the marches by major media outlets was, apart from Fox News, generally positive and non-patronizing. Reports on widespread protests for Black, Indigenous, transgender, and class rights have traditionally been less than favorable. The media’s coverage of the marches also demonstrated the drastically lower levels of militant policing present, as compared to other demonstrations where protesters were not predominantly white women.
White femininity’s apparent placidity is innately linked to how the state and media treat various populations of protesters. Liberal organizers capitalize on this to further falsely depict themselves as successfully peaceful revolutionaries.
The rhetoric by many of the speakers and participants at the march was characteristically liberal rather than radical. Actress America Ferrera began by declaring that Trump and the rest of the government are not representative of the United States, which is incorrect. These figureheads were voted into office by millions who share their sentiments, whether rooted in racism, sexism, classism, or any other –ism. These –isms are characteristically American. They are rooted in this country’s origins of genocide and legacies of crimes against humanity, both domestically and internationally. Sentiments of wanting to work with Trump to advance women’s health care were later affirmed by Scarlett Johansson’s speech. The liberal narrative of wanting to work with oppressive forces to make a change was continuously regurgitated.
The Washington march’s erasure of activist groups and revolutionaries was inevitable but still disappointing. A common example was the erasure of transgender women and activists, such as Marsha P. Johnson, through the signs equating uteruses to womanhood. The minimization of women of color was also a chief predicament. When post-march dialogues pointing out the discrepancies between white feminism and intersectional feminism at the events emerged, many white women responded with defensiveness and hostility. Additionally, the liberal axioms declaring that womanhood comes before race and that racialized feminism is divisive became toxically widespread.
In analyzing and critiquing liberals and conservatives distorting heroism, the explicit delineation of leftist heroism is necessary. The goal of leftism isn’t to change the minds of every individual. The goal is to ensure that bigoted sentiments are not given the opportunity to act on those beliefs. Additionally, the goal is to dismantle systems of bigotry enacted by the state. As a leftist, my American heroes are those who have fought against the institutions of the United States despite endangering themselves in their pursuit of revolutionism. There are many paths to dismantling systems of oppression. To me, a hero is Chelsea Manning, a trans woman who leaked the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Diary and was sentenced to solitary confinement. A hero is Angela Davis, a radical prison abolitionist devoted to dismantling the prison-industrial complex. A hero is Marsha P. Johnson, a pioneer for LGBT rights and AIDS activism. A hero is every revolutionary who works to dismantle structures of inequality through organizing, educating, and agitating the oppressed.
By Vandita Sewsahai
Illustrations done in collaboration with the New Media Artspace at Baruch College. The New Media Artspace is a teaching exhibition space in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at Baruch College, CUNY. Housed in the Newman Library, the New Media Artspace showcases curated experimental media and interdisciplinary artworks by international artists, students, alumni, and faculty. Special thanks to Frannie Torres and ZhenZhen Qi for creating artwork for this piece.
Check the New Media Artspace out at http://www.newmediartspace.info/
Apuzzo, Matt. “Ex-Blackwater Guards Given Long Terms for Killing Iraqis.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Apr. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/04/14/us/ex-blackwater-guards-sentenced-to-prison-in-2007-killings-of-iraqi-civilians.html.
“Iraq War Logs: What the numbers reveal.” Iraq War Logs: What the numbers reveal: Iraq Body Count, 23 Oct. 2010, www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/numbers/warlogs/.
Roberts, Paul Craig. “Obama the War Criminal, Butcherer of Women and Children.” Foreign Policy Journal, Foreign Policy Journal, 11 Jan. 2017, www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2017/01/11/obama-the-war-criminal-butcherer-of-women-and-children/.
Zenko, Micah, and Jennifer Wilson. “How Many Bombs Did the United States Drop in 2016?” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 5 Jan. 2017, www.cfr.org/blog/how-many-bombs-did-united-states-drop-2016.