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DECEMBER 30, 2009   

Government violence

I've been reading The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel that was a Christmas gift. It's taken me a couple of chapters to adjust to the book's pace and style, something I remember from her wonderful earlier book The Poisonwood Bible. Now that I'm in sync with it, I'm really enjoying the story.

Surprisingly—or maybe not—even in the early chapters I've been reminded of harsh realities I never expected. There's a brief incident involving the main character as a boy, running from tear gas as U.S. troops evicted war veterans from Washington, D.C.

This portrayal of the Bonus Army—43,000 marchers, World War I veterans and their families—being attacked by tanks, mounted cavalry and foot soldiers made me think about how we view protesters through various lenses.

It's easy for us to condemn Iran's security forces for beating protesters who disagree with the current government. In 1989 we were understandably shocked when tanks rolled into China's Tiananmen Square. But somehow it's harder for us to see that our own government responds to serious protest in pretty much the same way.

Watch the video above: those are tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1932. Hundreds of veterans were injured and several killed. In 1894, 12,000 U.S. Army troops attacked workers during the Pullman Strike, killing 13. We celebrate Labor Day in the U.S. because the government was trying to mend fences with workers, creating the new national holiday just six days after the strike ended.

Kent State shootings, May 4, 1970And let's not forget National Guard troops killing four students at Kent State in 1970 and two more at Jackson State a few days later. These were unarmed students protesting the Vietnam War.

I'm not saying this to excuse government attacks on protesters in Iran or anywhere else. What I am saying is that we can't claim any moral superiority in this regard. Our government has responded similarly to perceived threats, and I'm pretty sure would do it again. It's what governments do.

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