Jan 06

Usually we start the new year with our “Most Thought-Provoking Event”. And next week we will. On Violence is going to get into some very dark, ugly subject matter. Upsetting territory. Spoiler alert: the most thought-provoking event of the year will be police shootings. But before we dive into the muck, let’s make one thing very clear:

2015 was a GREAT year.

Not just a good year. A great year. Possibly the best year in human history. We live longer than ever. We live better than ever. We live safer than ever. We’re the most educated society in human history producing more (and better) art than at any time in human history. Literally, if I asked you to pick a better year than 2015, you would either pick 2015, or some other year in the past five. This isn’t our opinion; it is math.

So we need to celebrate this. In a new tradition, here is our list of the best news stories you probably heard about...just not as much as mass shootings or ISIS.

Best News Story of 2015: The Iran Nuclear Deal

Our winner for the best news story of 2015 was the Iran and P5+1 deal over Iranian nuclear enrichment. By the end of 2015, Iran shipped the remainder of its low-enriched uranium to Russia as part of the deal.

This single story averted more loss of life than ISIS, terrorism and Syria combined. A war with Iran that would have involved Israel, Europe, the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia could have caused millions of casualties. The political and economic instability would have been even more catastrophic. The US casualties alone, as we’ve written about, could have dwarfed the Iraq war in a matter of months.

Beyond just averting a terrible outcome, the Iranian nuclear deal represents a chance to bring a country the size of Afghanistan and Iraq combined back into the global fold. We can turn an adversary into an ally. The nuclear deal was the first step.

(As a bonus, when Iranian oil comes online oil prices will fall further, hurting OPEC’s cartel.)

Second Best: Sustainable Development Goals

This is really a two part accomplishment. Fifteen years ago, nations around the world agreed to try to end global poverty and child mortality, as a part of the Millennium Development Goals. In large part, the world succeeded. The number of people living on less than a $1.25 a day decreased from 47% to 14%. The number of maternal deaths in childbirth fell by nearly 50%. The deaths of kids under 5 fell nearly 50% as well.

So earlier this year, the nations of the world reconvened after years of deliberation to create a new set of goals for 2030. You might not have heard because most of the news coverage during the signing was about Pope Francis visiting the US. (He visited to speak at the SDG conference.) And let me get this out of the way: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are more convoluted and will be harder to achieve than their forerunners. These new goals are definitely more bureaucratic than the last round, but still an important tool in human advancement.

Final thought: Did you hear about this terrific news story? Probably not. Did you hear about ISIS? Our point exactly. The Millennium Development Goals did more good than ISIS could ever do evil.

Third Best: Paris Climate Accord

Perhaps you’ve noticed a trend in these good news stories. They all feature massive deals by bureaucracies to change policy. Nothing about that previous sentence is sexy, but the truth is, these sorts of agreements will change the world in ways private organizations just can’t. It’s like charity. Private groups can donate millions of dollars, but one change by the federal government can allocate more money than them combined ever could.

If you want to go in a different direction, just look at China choosing to fight global warming or the rise in green energy in America. These changes can do more than the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Federation and NRDC combined.

And similar to the SDGs, the Paris Accord has its own problems. On its own, it won’t reduce CO2 emissions enough to keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius worldwide. But the accord got pledges from nearly every nation and it has mechanisms to increase commitments over time. This political agreement combined with technological advancement is our best hope to stop global warming.

Fourth Best: Renewing Diplomatic Relationships between America and Cuba

We like allies. We especially like making allies when there’s no reason to not be allies with someone, like say a country just off the coast of Florida that we’re enemies with due to a conflict that ended 25 years earlier, in which the majority of Americans (even young Cubans) supports easing tensions.

Yeah, good call.

Dec 01

(Michael C is writing today on behalf of a group veterans who are working to fix some of the long-term problems plaguing the West LA VA Campus in Los Angeles. To learn more go to #VATheRightWay.org. Then please comment. There are only six days left. Today is one of Michael C’s public comments he’s submitted to the Veterans Affairs department.)

Every Veterans Day, a lot of people thank me for my service in the US Army. I’ve always wished I had a way for the people who are thanking me to give back. Well, this year I did: we have an opportunity to fundamentally change how the VA interacts with veterans in Los Angeles. Specifically, by fixing the West Los Angeles VA Campus.

The West LA VA Campus sits on land that was gifted to the VA for the benefit of Los Angeles veterans, specifically their housing and healthcare. Federal law mandates that VA land must be used for the benefit of those same veterans. A few years ago, a group of Los Angeles veterans sued the VA because the West LA Campus was being fundamentally mismanaged. Earlier this year, the VA settled the lawsuit.

As part of the settlement, for the next two weeks, the VA is collecting public comments on their plan to renovate and restore the West LA VA Campus. Many veterans, such as myself, believe that their plan is more of the same from a VA system that has failed veterans and has routinely abused this wonderful resource.

So I made my voice heard and offered a public comment And I encourage anyone reading to do the same. I want the VA to reestablish a board of governors to oversee the West LA Campus. Without this vital piece of oversight, the West LA VA Campus will continue to be mismanaged. Or worse.

Trust me, the mismanagement is real and not hyperbole on the part of veterans. Many citizens are aware of the general problems with the VA--for instance the average wait time for a veteran in Los Angeles in 176 days for an appointment, above the national average--but not aware of how the VA has inappropriately sub-leased the land on the West LA VA Campus. The VA profits off the land by renting it out to private companies like 20th Century Fox, Marriott Hotels and others. According to NPR, in the last twelve years, the VA has made between $28 and $40 million renting the land.

Of course, the VA isn’t even that good at trying to profit off the land. The Government Accountability Office estimated that millions of dollars of land use revenue went uncollected. In 2012, when they should have collected $1.5 million dollars, they only collected $700,000. And the VA also makes other long-term arrangements (called extended use leases) that drastically under-charge wealthy private organizations. For instance, the Brentwood school--a private institution that charges over $30,000 per year for elementary school--pays only $450,000 a year for its lease for a twenty acre sports facilities. My alma mater, UCLA, pays $5,000 a month to lease land for its baseball field. This is prime real estate in the heart of Brentwood that the VA rents for well below the current market rates.

But the worst part is that the money collected for these private institutions doesn’t even go to helping veterans. This despite a federal law insisting the VA use funds to pay for veteran health care.

Luckily, we have a chance to change this. As part of the terms of the settlement, the VA must present a plan to fix the issues facing the campus. And that plan must be approved by veterans. Personally, I wouldn’t sign off on the plan until the VA solves the fundamental governance issues. Unless the VA is responsible to veterans, it will not change.

An independent board of governors will give veterans a seat at the table. The only way to ensure that the VA doesn’t give away prime Los Angeles real estate in sweetheart deals is oversight by an independent board. The only way to ensure all leases benefit veterans is an independent board. The only way to address the concerns of veterans in the long term is an independent board.

The time to help veterans is now. After leaving the military, 51% of veterans don’t know where to get help. A huge number--nearly 37%--of veterans have considered suicide, and most don’t seek help. And California veterans have a 7.7% unemployment rate. We know that the VA can help prevent suicides, homelessness and unemployment; veterans just need to know where to go.

While this seems like a local issue, it isn’t. The West LA VA Campus, as the largest campus of its kind in America, can serve as a model for how to fundamentally change the VA. The lessons in governance we implement in LA can expand to Chicago, New York and other large VA campuses. If we can create a systems where veterans have a voice in changing the VA to truly serve their needs, the effects could be tremendous.

I have personally commented on the VA plan. Frankly, the plan is more of the same that veterans have come to expect from the VA in Los Angeles. I told the VA that I want to see an independent board of advisors (with veteran representation) overseeing the West LA VA Campus. I encourage all veterans and concerned citizens to join me. (Go to #VATheRightWay.org to learn more and provide a public comment.)

Nov 23

(Michael C is writing today on behalf of a group veterans who are working to fix some of the long-term problems plaguing the West LA VA Campus in Los Angeles. To learn more go to #VATheRightWay.org. Then please comment. Today is one of Michael C’s public comments he’s submitted to the Veterans Affairs department.)

A board of advisors.

Those four words could do more to improve the functioning and conditions of the West LA VA Campus than any plan ever could.

A board of advisors.

I wrote it again because I just like the sound of it. But really, having boards with established oversight over public institutions is a time-tested way to improve the function of government. The University of California is overseen by a board of regents. Publicly traded companies have boards of directors. Communities have established school boards and police advisory boards. Simply put, when a community wants a voice at the table over how any organization works--from a school system to police to companies--they establish independent boards with oversight authority.

A board of advisors.

The VA Campus has shown that it needs this oversight. The litany of issues that were settled in the current lawsuit all stem from not having this crucial oversight. Contracts with private companies that don’t benefit the veterans of LA? Those wouldn’t happen (or would be severely curtailed) with a board providing independent oversight. Long term leases that don’t contribute to veteran health or welfare? Those wouldn’t happen with a board providing independent oversight. A lack of housing to serve the different needs of homeless or housing-insecure veterans at the West LA VA Campus? Again, that wouldn’t happen with a board providing independent oversight.

A board of advisors.

Really, the board isn’t about fixing the current issues. In many ways, the proposed plan will solve some of the current issues, like a lack of housing for veterans and ending inappropriate extended use leases). But in ten years? Or twenty years? Or beyond? Can any plan on paper fix those issues? They can’t. Unless the VA establishes a process to ensure that the land upon which the West LA VA Campus sits is properly managed for the benefit of veterans. So that’s what I recommend...

A board of advisors.

Because whoever the VA puts in charge of running the facility won’t have the best interests of our community; he’ll want to advance his career in the VA. He or she will answer to their bosses. We need to eliminate this incentive. We need to eliminate any opportunities for waste, fraud and abuse. We need independent oversight.

A board of advisors.

Here is my proposal. (Though, any board of oversight would be better than none, even if it doesn’t follow my exact plan.) The board should consist of 7 to 9 appointed individuals. The individuals should be appointed by different stakeholders including the VA, veteran’s groups, the mayor’s office and possibly the governor’s office. The board should have a minimum of 33% veteran membership and positions should be held for a four year term. The board should have a minimal budget, but should have enough funds to conduct independent investigations and audits.

The board’s purview should include approving any land management issues. This includes approving extended use and short term leases, new housing and construction and land management decisions. The board should provide advice on any veteran issues in general, from quality of care to other issues. The board can’t control how the VA operates. That would require fixing Washington and no board in L.A. can do that. But the board can provide a voice and manage the use of the land.

And really, that is what veterans are asking for here. A voice. A seat at the table. It is the only way we can fix the long term issues plaguing the VA.

Nov 17

The country celebrated Veterans Day last week, and for many well-meaning friends and family, it was a chance to thank me for serving in the Army. Like many soldiers, I’ve struggled with how to react to “Thank you for your service.” I never know what to say; I don’t quite know the best response to someone showing me gratitude for something I did voluntarily.

I’m not the only veteran with who struggles with “Thank you for your service”. Other veterans have have similar troubles, or incongruous reaction, when faced with the expression of gratitude from strangers. Some veterans feel uncomfortable with this response. Others just don’t know what to say.

This being On Violence, I also have a slightly darker take. By thanking a soldier for their service, or in some cases even shipping care packages or putting a sticker on your car, many Americans can avoid making tougher sacrifices during war. (I would also say that many of the the links above get at this feeling without bluntly saying it.)

By thanking a veteran for his or her service, by saying those words, you let yourself off the hook for any other action that could meaningfully help veterans. And I believe people thanking veterans do it with the best of intentions...but if it ends at “Thanks”, then we haven’t really moved the needle. (Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone.) Think of it this way: it is one thing to thank your wife for making dinner; it is another to do the dishes afterwards.

So, in honor of Veterans Day last week, here’s a great way you can move the needle and provide meaningful change:

Comment on the VA plan to renovate the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Campus (West LA VA Campus for short).

In news to me, the West LA VA Campus is not actually VA property. It was deeded to the veterans of Los Angeles county. While this seems like a local issue, it is really about the future of how the VA serves veterans nationwide.

The background. A few years back, a class action lawsuit was filed by Los Angeles veterans against the VA for misuse of the campus and property. The key issue is that (roughly) the land was donated to veterans not to the Veteran’s Affairs Department. The main issue was that extended leases on the property benefitted either the rich (Brentwood residents), powerful (students at the Brentwood school) or or influential (UCLA), without benefiting or even helping veterans. In 2015, Secretary of the VA Bob McDonald signed a settlement agreement that formed a non-profit group, Vets Advocacy, to address the issues on the West LA Campus.

Fast forward to 23 days ago, when the Veteran’s Affairs Department revealed their plans to update the campus and fix the issues. Of course, the government doesn’t do things simply (their plan is 900 pages long) or conveniently (so they only allowed 45 days of public comment), and now local veteran leaders are trying to spread the word. These leaders (from several groups I am a part of including the Veterans in Film and Television Los Angeles and others) want veterans to read the plan and a different plan written by Vets Advocacy.

So take a moment and spread the word about the #VATheRightWay. Comment on the plan, especially if you are a veteran. Learn about the issue. And again, spread the word.

That’s how you thank a veteran.

Sep 24

(This week and next we are discussing blockbuster films and violence, partly inspired by our friend’s IndieGoGo campaign.)

First, let’s establish bona fides. We LOVE Star Wars.

A few years ago, Michael quizzed his then fiance with a hypothetical from Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs:

“You meet the perfect person. Romantically, this person is ideal: You find them physically attractive, intellectually stimulating, consistently funny, and deeply compassionate. However, they have one quirk: This individual is obsessed with Jim Henson's gothic puppet fantasy The Dark Crystal. Beyond watching it on DVD at least once a month, he/she peppers casual conversation with Dark Crystal references, uses Dark Crystal analogies to explain everyday events, and occasionally likes to talk intensely about the film's "deeper philosophy."

“Would this be enough to stop you from marrying this individual?”

His fiance’s response? Yeah, because that’s how you are with Star Wars.

It’s true. Ever since our father made the fateful decision to rent Return of the Jedi at the local video store (okay, now I feel old), Michael C and I have loved Star Wars. We started a Star Wars collection, stored in six boxes at our dad’s house. We’ve read supplementary material (meaning the books now called Star Wars legends). And not just the novels, but the guides and technical manuals on weapons, planets, vehicles and more. Though it’s always been more of Michael’s thing, we’ve watched those damn movies countless times. Hell, we went and saw Phantom Menace in theaters when it was released in 3D a few years ago. (Except for the race scene, “Duel of the Fates” and Darth Maul, still terrible.)

I say all this to prep for potential backlash when I say the following:

The violence in Star Wars is pretty damn immoral.

We started this series in response to an email we got from someone about adding a tax to violent movies a few years ago. If you add a tax to violent movies, Star Wars should be the first one.

Why? Because Han, Chewie, Luke, Leia and Lando literally murder hundreds of people and aliens, and no one seems to give a damn. Consequences, what consequences? Most obviously, Luke is a mass murderer, blowing up a space station with millions of people on it. (I’ve read accounts that it had 31 million people.) That means Luke, aided by Han, killed 31 million people in A New Hope. Wow. (H/T to Clerks, of course, which made this point first.)

Doesn’t that qualify you for the dark side? More importantly, how does this never come up again in the series? Zero guilt.

But that’s too obvious, as evidenced by the Clerks reference. A much more personal mass murder occurred after the destruction of Jabba’s pleasure barge. Han, Luke, Leia and Lando just kill hundreds of people on Jabba’s pleasure palace, and two scenes later no one seems affected by it. It’s just shocking, really. To murder innocent people--slaves and servants as well--and no one remarks, “I feel really guilty. I just murdered, like, 400 people. Many were slaves.” (And let’s pause to consider that many were space groupies, just hanging out with Jabba, sleeping on his Jabba’s floor, which is odd. And uncomfortable.)

Hell, the only guy who feels bad about violence is Malakili (Oh, sorry, the guy who owns the rancor Luke killed). And it’s because Luke killed his pet, not a person. Sure, Luke almost goes to the dark side wanting to murder the Emperor. Not sure how he’s not already there.

Star Wars is a pop film. Pulp fiction. It’s the original summer blockbuster. It’s fun. It also views the world in binary terms: dark side versus light side. And if you’re on the dark side, you can die without moral complications. If you work for the Emperor, ditto.

There are two historical precedents to judge whether Luke should have absolutely no moral qualms about killing: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The pilots involved felt no guilt about their involvement. Which makes sense, to some degree. Japan attacked America first. They wouldn’t surrender. A land invasion would have cost possibly millions of American lives. Just like destroying the Death Star, which had already destroyed a planet in service of an evil emperor.

Except that something still has to, or should, gnaw at you. Those were civilians in Hiroshima. And surely some of the soldiers on the Death Star weren’t evil, just doing their job. Even in the clip from Clerks above, what’s upsets them is the death of contractors, not those in the Imperial Army, which doesn’t make a lot of sense if you take conscription, poverty, patriotism and a myriad of other factors into account for why someone joins the military. Hell, knowing the poverty levels on many planets, I’d be sympathetic to anyone who joined the Imperial Guard. (Unless they’re all clones, but do clones have souls?)

And none of this excuses killing everyone on Jabba’s palace...

Which brings me to the worst part of this whole thing, the most nihilistic thing I can write: I just don’t care. These moral issues don’t change my love of the original trilogy; I think it’d be bad parenting to not show a kid the original Star Wars trilogy. But if you really think about it, from a moral viewpoint, Star Wars is morally reprehensible. Though I think these movies are pretty corrupt morally, I love them. Having realized they are corrupt morally, I still love them. And not really any less than before.

In many ways, really, that’s the the actual problem.

Sep 17

(This week and next we are discussing blockbuster films and violence, partly inspired by our friend’s IndieGoGo campaign for Burp Girl. Read the whole series here.)

For anyone who’s tried to be a screenwriter--and read the books or listened to the podcasts that go along with that--you know your screenplay has to have one thing: stakes. What’s at stake? If nothing is at stake, the story won’t be dramatic. (I could digress that this “rule”, like any rule, is broken all the time and I don’t actually believe every story must have stakes, but that’s a much longer argument for later.)

Unfortunately, trying to make their movies stand out, Hollywood has made the stakes too damn high.

I’m not the only person who’s pointed this out. Todd VanDerWerff at Vox (quickly becoming our favorite writer about the entertainment industry) made this argument about Jurassic World: it works because the fate of the world isn’t at stake.

“...in a film like Jurassic World, the world won't end; instead, people's lives will. Instead of asteroid versus everybody, this is dinosaur versus human, or even dinosaur versus dinosaur."

VanDerWerff makes a great point. I mean, even Ant-Man--whose power is literally a shrinking suit--kept referencing that the world would end if the technology leaked. Uh, no it wouldn’t have.

I actually have a slightly different complaint/take, born of the same impulse to raise the stakes too damn high: by taking the world to the brink of chaos, the heroes in many blockbusters actually lose. The only victory is pyrrhic at best. To establish stakes, cities get destroyed by rampaging monsters, villains, aliens or robots. Millions are killed. But they’re defeated at the end by the heroes. The world didn’t end, but millions still died.

In other words, I know longer feel good leaving many big budget films, because I believe the heroes have lost.

Some examples:

- The last chapter in the approximately seventeen-hour-long Hobbit series demonstrated this phenomenon perfectly. Smaug destroys Laketown, killing most everyone in the town, and a few hundred humans survive. Then the orcs attack and specifically attack the humans. How many people, if any, survived? Even if the good guys “win” at the end, at what cost? Most everyone is dead. Most of the dwarves are dead. A bunch of immortal elves died. Everyone’s dead, except for Frodo and Gandalf. Yay? (And the fate of the world wasn’t at stake.)

- Or take The Dark Knight Rises. Rises from what? Technically, Batman “wins” after he saves Gotham from a nuclear explosion. Then again, the citizens of Gotham were held hostage in a quasi-terrorist police state, with the executions of thousands by show trials led by Scarecrow for six months. Technically Batman “saved” Gotham, but I’d argue, end result, Gotham (and Batman) lost. Winning would have stopped Bane in the first place.

- Or, more infamously, Man of Steel. Even when it was first released, critics and fanboys widely panned the film for having Superman and Zod basically destroy all of Metropolis. Sure, Zod didn’t take over the Earth, but millions died.

- Captain America: Winter Soldier. We loved this movie. But did Captain America really win, or did HYDRA? End result: HYDRA destroyed SHIELD. Mission accomplished? Sure, other meta-humans weren’t killed. Still sucks.

Oddly enough, I’m not sure this trope is out there. I tried to research it, and aside from articles comparing the first two Avengers films to Man of Steel, others haven’t made this specific point.

I think I know why this happens. It’s not just about raising stakes, though that’s a huge reason why. More importantly, big budget blockbusters are too predictable. Everyone knows a happy ending is coming. How do you make the audience feel suspense then? Destroy so much that it appears like they won’t win.

But if you lean too far in the “Will the heroes win?” direction, at some point, my answer will just be no. It’s a logic concern. Midway through watching the last Hobbit film, I turned to my girlfriend and said, “There’s no way they can realistically come back from this.” I was right. Twelve dwarves joining a massive battle won’t make a difference.

More important, though, is the moral question: how do other filmgoers not notice or, worse, not care about this? If millions of anonymous people die on screen, doesn’t it matter? You shouldn’t leave the theater feeling good about what you’ve just seen.

Sep 15

A few weeks back, my friends Ben and Christina told me about a comedy webseries they are producing, partnered with Stan Lee’s World of Heroes. In it, Christina plays the heroine Burp Girl, a superhero with a power you can imagine. (Here is the link to the first episode and a link to their IndieGoGo campaign.)

Ben asked me if On V could write a post linking the themes of On Violence and super-hero movies to help promote the campaign. Maybe something about the violence endemic in comic book movies? I asked Eric C and he said, “A post? We have a whole series on that.”

You see, a few years ago, we received an email from a reader about putting a tax on violence in Hollywood films. It inspired Eric C to write a rebuttal post, “Hollywood’s Actual Violence Problem”, arguing...

“Hollywood does have a “violence problem”, but the problem isn’t violence; it’s morality. Like the screenplays that Michael C and I wrote, Hollywood films tend to be violent. Unlike our screenplays, they lack a moral point of view. They fail to the show the cost of violence and its complexity. Violence itself isn’t the problem, but how Hollywood portrays that violence. As Ebert’s dictum goes, it's not what a movie says, but how it says it...

“If we want to solve Hollywood’s violence problem, Hollywood needs to show the audience the problems with violence: the guilt that comes from killing and the lingering effects of PTSD.

“Not to mention the complexity of violence. Hollywood needs to show the difficulty of violence: killing the wrong people and the unintended consequences of killing those wrong people. Or even the unforeseen consequences of killing the right people...

“In short, Hollywood should stop glorifying violence. Stop presenting heroes who can kill dozens without guilt. Show violence as it actually is: complicated, hard and ugly. Present violence the way it actually is, and we may want to be less violent.”

That one email inspired Eric to rethink and examine violence in Hollywood, especially in big-budget blockbusters, comic book movies and action films. In Star Wars, Luke, Han and Leia just go around murdering people, from Yavin to Tatooine, with little emotional consequence. Legolas and Gimli might be sociopaths. And in comic books, we went from never killing bad guys to offing them left and right.

In short, it spawned a whole bunch of post ideas. Turns out, though, Eric C never actually finished outlining the series or writing more than two posts. Well, worry no more. We’re finishing that series. We’ll call it, “A Few More Takes on Hollywood’s Violence Problem”.

And support our friend’s IndieGoGo campaign!

Aug 20

After two vigorous opening arguments to our debate, “Does America Make the World Safer?”, we have our rebuttals.

Eric C Rebuttal

The main argument Michael C put forth is that a wide variety of traditionally liberal (in foreign policy terms) policies have made the world safer, including establishing international norms and treaties, a rise in the number of democracies around the world, and free trade. And yes, America has traditionally supported those developments, if not outright invented them in the modern era. Or as he wrote “[America] has been the single largest supporter for international relations liberalism.”

Actually, that’s not the case.

Those changes would probably have happened independent of America. Even China, leading its fellow BRIC nations, is creating its own version of the International Monetary Fund. Instead, America pushes back against these trends, supporting dictatorships and opposing treaties. Outside of encouraging free trade--for all the wrong reasons, I might add--America does not make the world safer.

Most importantly, Americans believe they are above international norms. We flouted the Geneva conventions after 9/11. Our politicians bash the UN. We support dictators, when convenient. We barely approve treaties. This doesn’t mean we can’t get better, but it doesn’t mean we are making the world safer.

And he didn’t address the other huge issues I brought up: America is the most violent developed country in the world. Our murder rate is an embarrassment, and this is directly connected to our domestic issues like gun rights, a punitive not rehabilitative justice system, and economic inequality.

Internationally and domestically, right now, America is not making the world a safer place because we reject the policies that make it safer.

Michael C Rebuttal

Eric C and I looked at the data for the last 15 years--the massive decline in war--and drew the conclusion that the world is indeed getting safer.

But how can you look at those 15 years and not see the U.S. as widely involved in all the factors causing that decline? The collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent victory of the Western (mostly United States) vision of modern civilization helped drive that decline. Yes, the world would be less violent if the U.S. hadn’t started a war in Iraq, but that doesn’t make the world less safe because the U.S. is in it.

Further, this motion isn’t, “Could America be even better?” because of course it could. The motion isn’t, “Has America caused violence around the world?” If Eric C just had to point out a single bad American action, then yes he would win in a landslide. But Eric C has created an impossible standard. For America to win, under his terms, it would have to be perfect.

But the debate is about the balance. On the whole, adding up all the good and subtracting all the bad, does America make the world a safer place? I would say it absolutely does. It spends money to help developing nations, its economy drives the world closer together, and even its military has fought dictators. So yes, America is making the world safer.

If you would like to respond to the prompt, send us an email at info at On Violence dot com.