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DateLine Sunday, 22 April 2007

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Virginia Tech massacre, interplay of US domestic, foreign policies

The gory killings recently at the Virginia Tech University in the US, while unsettlingly underscoring the violence - prone nature of American society, helps focus also on the interdependence of a state's domestic and foreign policies.

While the first part of this proposition should cause no major puzzlement, the latter part would require some explaining, for, it may not be immediately clear as to how a country's domestic and foreign policies mutually reinforce each other.

However, even in the case of violence in US society, no easy explanation offers itself on the increasingly bizarre bouts of violence in some seats learning in the US, including High Schools. Why is violence taking so eerie a form in educational institutions? Why the mind-boggling brutality?

Rising expectations

It would seem that US society is now beset with a spiral of "rising expectations" and not a mere "revolution" of such expectations which is usually associated with the initial stages of modernity. Impressive educational achievement remains a gateway to upward social mobility and rising affluence and standards of living only intensifies this scramble for glowing educational achievement. It stands to reason that when this process of upward mobility is thwarted by educational failure and inadequate academic performance, the result could be barbarism and violence on the part of those who thus fail. Accordingly, educational institutions become centres of barbaric violence.

The brutalization of seats of learning in the US is facilitated by the comparatively easy availability of arms and lethal weapons for those seeking to vent their frustrations through an unleashing of violence.

Former US President Ronald Reagan's oft quoted pronouncement that people and not arms take lives, would seem to carry some conviction, but in an increasingly restive and fiercely competitive society, the brutalization of humans emerges as a strong certainty, thus raising the prospect of runaway violence and the increasing criminalisation of society.

Hopefully, then, the Virginia Tech bloodletting would compel the US state and public to revisit the debate on the need to curtail the easy availability of arms in US society and prompt them to look at ways of managing the spiral in "rising expectations" and its dangerous by-products, such as the brutalization of the human.

Foreign policy

As argued earlier, however, the domestic sphere cannot be considered entirely in isolation from the foreign affairs arena. If a policy of permitting the militarisation of domestic society is followed, it would invariably have an answering echo in the area of foreign policy. In the US case, this mutual reinforcement of domestic and foreign policies is amply clear. The policies that create a fiercely acquisitive domestic society, and make tragedies such as Virginia Tech possible, are allowed to inform the foreign policy moulding process. Militarism in the domestic and foreign policy spheres is the result.

Today, the "war on terror" is a principal pivot of US foreign policy. Hegemonic control of the world system through a policy of military aggression emerges as a principal component of US foreign policy. This explains increasing US military intervention in regions of the world which are vital to US interests. Iraq and Afghanistan are two of the most recent instances of aggressive US military intervention.

However, as in the case of the US domestic sphere, such policies are only promotive of violent confrontation and aggression in conflict resolution. The "war on terror", far from making the world a safer place has only spurred increasingly violent reactions to the US military presence.

The recent Al-qaeda-inspired carnage in Algeria is ample evidence that the "war on terror" is increasingly endangering not only US interests everywhere but also those states which are seen as aligning themselves with the West. Spiralling and wasting violence could indeed be the lot of a good part of the world.

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