I say violence is necessary: it is as American as cherry pie
– H Rap Brown (American black power leader)
Thou shalt not kill
There was a considerable shortage of stone in Moses's day, so God had to be brief with his commandments. The full commandment should have read: 'Thou shalt not kill unless you think you can get away with it and thy victim is someone you deem unworthy. Any innocent bystanders also killed by your actions you shalt deem as "collateral damage" and not worry yourself overmuch about them'.
In the past, British children's books featured little violence. William may have had a dust up with Ginger and they both rolled into a ditch – but it was in fun and that was as far as it went. And before that, there were Noddy and Big Ears and the Famous Five. Then there was 'Uncle Mac' on radio for Children's Half Hour
: he (Uncle Mac) was Derek McCulloch OBE and he was vehemently opposed to portraying even the mildest form of violence for children's consumption.
Biggles was about as violent as it got in those days and, even then, the pugnacity was carefully channelled. Later children's comics, like the Beano
and the Dandy
, rarely featured aggressive acts, although Korky the Kat could take a tumble or two. Later still, boys' comics (never girls') such as the Rover
and the Hotspur
began to portray more violent acts but always within certain limits.
American comics and cartoon strips were different: from the start, Porky Pig tried to shoot Daffy Duck, and Wily Coyote wanted to feast on Road Runner – and Wily Coyote suffered some terrible bashings as a result, although he always recovered immediately. Batman and Superman and their ilk took violence to a whole new level as did the many comic strip books based on cowboys. If the American comic books for younger children muted their violence in humour, Batman and Robin faced vile criminals quite prepared to use violence (and the utmost violence) to obtain their evil ends – like ruling the world. So, in turn, it was quite acceptable to use some level of violence to counter them.
The cowboy comics laid down the necessity for everybody to wear guns to protect against the villains who inhabited all Western towns; this protocol was supported by the innumerable Western movies where, fortunately, the good guys were always swifter on the draw than the bad guys – although this was never found out until after an innocent or two had been killed.
And all this background culture has fed into the mainstream of the US. The message was twofold and even ambiguous; firstly: 'There are bad people about so you need to defend yourself,' and, secondly: 'Violence is commonplace and can be used as a tool to achieve certain ends'.
That makes it all the more credible to believe other nations can be evil and filled with people who both envy and hate you, and this feeds back into your politics whereby you are willing to spend absurd sums on your military forces under the guise of necessary defence spending. The US spends more money on its armed forces than the next 20 nations combined (most of whom are allies of the US). The very fact of the existence of such a powerful force puts on a subtle pressure to use it – or, to misuse it: and examples of such a misuse we have seen in Iraq and now in the slaying of Iranian General Soleimani who was murdered when an MQ-9 Reaper drone fired missiles into his convoy as he was leaving Baghdad Airport.
To what purpose? The murder may well have temporarily boosted the waning popularity of the sad man that is currently the President of the United States; after all, some people like to see their President acting 'tough' as they consider it but, beyond that, little has been achieved other than wrack up tension within the area and invite retaliatory action from Iran.
We had a workable nuclear agreement with Iran and the Iranians were happy to go along with its terms. It may not have been the best deal in the world, but coming out of it without any further discussion concerning its details as Donald Trump did, violated all international norms and set a dubious precedent for the future.
Certainly, Iran is a strange country, with its own repressive government and with little relationship to democracy; but it was developing and was an enemy to the Taliban and such groupings as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
A digression: I had a contact in Iran. He explained how he used to go on demonstrations against the US; waving flags and chanting in the streets. He was a doctor and a highly intelligent man, but he knew that if he was not seen to be an eager demonstrator it could have tragic consequences for himself and his family. So, like his neighbour, a legal man, they jumped about in the streets uttering 'death to America'. He finally fled one night with his family and eventually came to civilised Scotland.
There is an undertone in Iran that wants democracy and a more open society but that will not be encouraged by ignoring the rights of the 85 million people that constitute the population. Even those Iranians who view their government as a deeply despotic and a deeply flawed regime will not welcome attacks by the United States and will join with their government in resisting.
Some time ago, in 2014, a younger and more alert Donald Trump criticised Barack Obama for possibly threatening Iran militarily. He openly pled with Obama on a television programme where Trump was being interviewed, to negotiate with Iran. Obama would have done that anyway as it made sense to do so.
So, what has changed? I suspect that Trump is less of his own man these days than he was – perhaps his mind is simply failing at his age (his father suffered from Alzheimer's), but he is now acting with the extreme right in the US. And they all have been brought up on too many violent comics. We must stick with Noddy and Big Ears.
Bill Paterson is a writer based in Glasgow