The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Our Violent Heritage Makes Itself Known Today

Back in 1974 W. Eugene Hollon had his book Frontier Violence: Another Look published and somewhere between 1977 and 1981 I read it for my history major. It stuck with me. He states that our violent origins color what we do and who we are today. I believe you see this in the current gun debate and the massacres that have occurred. On page vii of the Preface, he states:
America has always had a violent past, and the frontier in a way has stood for this country at its most violent. Without exception, the history of every Western state is replete with lawlessness, from the arrival of the early Mountain Men to the appearance of the twentieth century Minutemen. In between we find a wide range of individual types--claim jumpers, miners, cowboys, cattle rustlers, Indian haters, Border ruffians, Mexican banditti, mule skinners, railroad workers, highwaymen, racial bigots of various colors, professional outlaws, homicidal maniacs, and hired gunslingers. Each group had more than a speaking acquaintance with violence, for the rough life on the frontier prior to 1900 produced scant recognition of the law as law.
This was a common theme on Gunsmoke for those who remember the radio and TV shows. From week to week, Matt Dillon solved problems of aggressive outlaws with his six gun and ... gun smoke. As a result, Hollon states (a result of frontier violence and not a TV series/radio show, just to be clear):
...our folklore tends to support the image of Americans as tough, aggressive, and unafraid--real go-getters who tamed the wild frontier and never lost a war. ... Success depends upon aggressiveness, whether on the football field, in the used-car lot, or behind the desk of the Oval office of the White House. This may be why the frontier outlaw has endured so long in literature and legend. He went out and got what he wanted with his own two hands, frequently by violent means. His deeds, real and imaginary, have served as a culturally valid metaphor of how we have viewed ourselves. (p. x)

As a result, we have our modern gun culture and solve all too many of our problems today with gun smoke and smoking rhetoric to support our gun toting ways. Hollon states on page 122:

Modern American society is violent, not simply because guns are available. The slogan of the National Rifle Association, "guns don't kill, people do," is as oversimplified as the assertion by Congressman John M. Murphy that "gun nuts think their weapons are an extension of their penises." In any case, thanks to our pioneer heritage, the casual wearing or possession of hand guns long after the traditional dangers of the frontier have disappeared makes easier the job of settling personal problems. It also contributes to homicidal violence.

I believe Hollon's remarks on page 114 sum up our current situation just as well today as it did the situation in 1974, which is depressing in many ways:

Violence has always functioned in America, in forms varying from the crude to the sophisticated. It has been a regular force for changing the status quo, as well as for preserving it. And almost everything that has been said about it in relation to our frontier heritage contains large elements of truth. Like its symbolic representative--the American cowboy--the frontier has been the source of much of our strength as well as our dilemma. It has lent respectability to certain kinds of violence and provided excuses for various groups--including the government--to parade their barbarities as righteousness.

Don't allow our government and our people to continue to be enslaved by our violent past. Work for reduction to gun violence today ... and always.

Update, Friday, January 18, 2013: As Hollon stated,  Each group had more than a speaking acquaintance with violence, for the rough life on the frontier prior to 1900 produced scant recognition of the law as law. You can see that this scant recognition of law as law remains today amongst some of our more rural lawmakers (and their law enforcement arms). Jeff Barnard of Associated Press reported that President Barack Obama's executive orders working toward controlling the gun violence in the nation (mostly dealing with insufficiencies in registration and our mental health institutions) would be entirely ignored from Mississippi to Oregon and on up to Alaska. Never mind any acts of Congress as I have my doubts about Congress acting in this matter. As examples: Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) urged his state legislators to make it illegal to enforce any executive order they deem to violate the Constitution. Tennessee Republican State Representative Joe Carr moves it should be a crime for federal agents to enforce any firearms or ammunition bans. Instead Carr wants more guns in schools. Similar proposals are stirring in Wyoming, Utah, and Alaska. At the end of the article, Barnard allows how this is unlikely to be anything more than bluster and blow, but it does illustrate Hollon's contention and show us that our violent frontier heritage and the mindset it instills remains strong among us today.

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