metablue.jpg (14625 bytes)

June 2004, Volume 11 Nr. 12, Issue 133
Bullying, a National Institution: 
Preparing for Abu Ghraib and Beyond

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

I'm the father of two children, now adults, who experienced both public and private schools.  Both were bullied and picked on, abused by classmates, other students and teachers alike.  Our son, a kidney transplant recipient, when he behaved "poorly", at the age of six due to medications, necessary medical trauma and medically induced PTSD, was pounced upon and held down to the floor by teachers and staff, while being videotaped.  Does this sound familiar?

I spent 30 years in education.  I taught from the 7th grade on up through seniors in high school.  I have written about a qualitative change in the attitudes and behavior of students in previous issues of Metaphoria, changes that led me to seriously consider leaving teaching on numerous occasions prior to when I did in year 2000.  Perhaps, the most convincing of all, was a videotape that showed a gathering of young people in which one of them was severely beaten, while youthful spectators enjoyed the "entertainment".  The poor victim was mercilessly trounced as the thrill of each blow spread across the faces of those assembled.  This beating was close to home, not abstract strangers on the evening news.  These were recognizable students, neighbors, folks I knew, some whom I've taught.  As a youngster, I was on the receiving end of similar harassment and intimidation.  We didn't call it terrorism then, but that's what it was. 

Each year, one out of 13 kids under the age of 19 attempts suicide, a rate that has tripled over the last 20 years. Last year, more than 2,000 of them succeeded — a staggering number. (ABC News, Nov 28, 2004)

Many years ago, a school where I taught had an annual sanctioned freshman class initiation.  The yearly ritual was approved by the administration.  In one instance, the initiation consisted of new and spotless commodes suitable for frosh head dunking during the full school assembly.  Welcome to high school.  To the school's credit, the practice was abandoned when some staff complained and the administration changed hands.  Why was such hazing ever allowed in the first place?  

From High School to College

On February 21, 2004, MSNBC published an article, "Football has always used sex to lure players.  "No surprise Colorado rape scandal has developed" said sociologist Richard Lapchick further telling the Associated Press that 

Colleges have allowed a kind of culture to exist where they’re using sex as a vehicle. Formally or informally, they’re creating a climate that sets in motion a feeling of license on the part of players at that school that they can have sex with women against their will.”

The Colorado University scandal is not an isolated incident either.  NPR reports that sex and alcohol are common college recruiting tools.  Nebraska, the University of Virginia, etc.  An  NPR piece of March 10, 2004, "Congress to Probe Recruiting Scandals" reports that athletic departments convey that women are inferior and that misogyny and athletic entitlement are taught long before students reach college.  

"More than 100 women have returned from war duty in the Middle East and Afghanistan and reported being sexually assaulted by male soldiers... three-fourths of the female respondents who said they were raped said they did not report the incident to a ranking officer."  (NPR, May 11, 2004, "Rape and the Military".)

Crossing the Line

Consider the naval tradition and ritual of "Crossing the Line" which takes place when ships cross the equator.  Carrie Little Hersh, writing in "Crossing the Line : Sex, Power, Justice and the US. Navy at the Equator, 

When my father came home from a seven-month Gulf War cruise in 1991, he told me about his participation in a bizarre ceremony when his ship crossed the equator. He talked of men receiving unusual haircuts, being paddled and insulted, being smeared with garbage and old food, and, most curiously, of a number of the men on the ship dressing up as women for a beauty pageant. He showed me photographs of men covered from head to toe in filth and being beaten with pieces of fire hose, and other pictures of men flashing massive false breasts to a crowd. As intrigued as I was, I was not surprised at the content of the ceremony. Having grown up a Navy brat, living near or in large Navy communities my entire life, I had grown used to the antics of Naval personnel. I had no problem picturing many of the Navy sailors and officers whom I knew participating in and laughing at the abuse and delighting in the garbage. And despite, or perhaps because of, many of the men's beliefs that women and homosexuals had no place in the Navy, I was not at all surprised at their amusement and willingness to participate in the transvestite pageant. Inexplicably, it just seemed to fit.

Hersh, in a chapter entitled, "A Ritual Affirmation of Feminine Inferiority further writes, "While this outright sexual dominance is performed within the ritual, the implications extend to all male/female relations in the Navy."  Penetrating the line, penetrating the enemy, and penetrating the female share a common theme.  With torture, the psyche and the mind of the prisoner are also penetrated.

The Secretary of the Navy Instruction 1610.2, dated October 1, 1997, in the spirit of preserving "military customs and traditions" states that "Hazing behavior that is degrading, embarrassing or injurious is unprofessional and illegal."  There are instances, however, where sailors have been disciplined for refusing to participate in the ritual.  However, most

Participants are willing to overlook unbelievable humiliation and pain and discomfort, considering it so important that they are willing to risk punishment to ensure that it is carried out. (Hersh)


And what of  Abu Ghraib, Iraq?  If we United States citizens can treat each other in such systematic dehumanizing and brutal manner such as pinning down six year olds in our schools, beating up classmates in the park, disciplining each other for not participating in humiliating and degrading rituals, raping as athletic privilege, then what might we do when placed in authoritative positions that encourage bullying behavior?  What might we do when given orders to soften up prisoners?  How might we process and interrogate prisoners who are of a culture, language, religion, dress and appearance far removed from our own?  How might we respond to the demonized unfamiliar masses of a country we occupy by force?  What if there are few, if any, brakes on the power and the methods we have at our disposal?  What if we have the backing and encouragement of the mightiest corporate industrial war-making machine in human history?  What if we are rewarded and told, "Good job"?  What if at the same time that torture and human rights violations are taking place in our midst as happened in Abu Ghraib, the Commander is Chief, George W. Bush is telling the world, 

A year ago I [gave a] speech saying we had achieved an important objective, accomplished a mission, which was the removal of Saddam Hussein. As a result, there are no longer torture chambers or mass graves or rape rooms in Iraq.

Abu Ghraib prison, the events of Columbine High School, and others, are sad outcomes of an inculcated and inbred culture of privilege, superiority and invincibility, gone awry.  Bush's statement of denial is Newspeak, the result of compartmentalizing good and evil always in favor of our nation-state.  Good is a perpetual descriptor of everything we do.  God, the ultimate good, is always with us.  Evil is something other people are and other  nations do.  The evil doers are always elsewhere.  The evil doers are never in our local park beating up a kid, picking on a disabled child on a school bus, raping a co-ed, forcing someone to participate in humiliating rituals, spraying tons of depleted uranium, dropping cluster bombs, abusing prisoners.  Nor, do evil doers ever occupy the White House.  Empire is never having to say we're sorry.


Like the video of the local kids in the park, the events at Abu Ghraib were photographed and videotaped for a larger audience.  Who knows how much file sharing, CD swapping, partying, reminiscing of abuse peppered with glee, laughter and hilarity followed those images?  Who knows how far the distribution spread before one disgusted human being bravely blew the whistle?  Who knows how far the cover-up went before the CDs became public?  On May 23, 2004, Donald Rumsfeld banned digital camera equipped cell phones from military installations in Iraq.  The ban will soon expand throughout the military.  What we don't know about does not exist.  

'Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? "1984", George Orwell.

In the neo-con PNAC (Project for a New American Century) culture of world domination through any means, far from being a hero, the whistleblower is a slime ball snitch, an unpatriotic breaker of the positive esprit de corps.  Worse, he is a "pussy".  Pussies are people who in early life refuse to play football or take showers in gym class and who could care less about winning a wrestling match or competing in the physical fitness arena.  Pussies are bleeding hearts who squirm at collateral damage.  Pussies are people who sense outrage over their tax dollars killing a wedding party.  Like sissies, pussies are preyed upon through an understood undercurrent endemic in our schools and throughout society.  I remember a gym teacher who benched a fat boy as being just such a pussy.  The pre-teen fat boy could not reach the basket with an overhand shot.   I know this fat boy.  Forty-three years later the events are as vivid as ever.  I will never forget the coach's name.  This great American coach, a paragon of macho prowess is unfortunately, all too common. 

Embed With

The world recoils at the horrific abuse and degradation at the hands of the occupying power in Iraq .  Domestically, the corporate-state media rationalizes.  We are told this is a time of war and it will last a lifetime or two.  The neo-con pundits through their lackey corporate news networks tell us not to forget about 9/11, as if we could.  Conveniently and deliberately they ignore the fact  that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.  Meanwhile,  embedded "reporters" deliver fabrications as "truth".  The Pentagon public relations and sales departments send a hailstorm of colonels and generals, marketing vice presidents with stars and stripes, to do damage control.  Relying on Pentagon partisans in camouflage fatigues to tell us the truth is like trusting the police perpetrators to tell us what really happened to Abner Louima.  Join the Army and be all you can be.  

Conservative talk-show mouth organs and administration apologists tell us that the events at Abu Ghraib are isolated incidents, that these are actions of a few "bad apples" working under very stressful conditions.  They tell us that Abu Ghraib is akin to the goings on at any college fraternity.  I hope not.  But, I know better.  Some Republicans have gone so far as to say that they are more appalled at the lack of outcry against the reporting of the events than they are appalled by the actual abuse events.  These attempts at deflecting the outrage insult everyone but the overtly partisan.  The logic is parallel to claiming that a lack of an outcry against reporting a  rape is more important than dealing with rape itself.  If only those photographs had not come out, the abuse would not have happened the thinking goes.  Enter, Donald Rumsfeld and his camera ban.

The perpetrators of the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the young abusers in the local park, the football player rapists, the police that pulled over Rodney King beating him to a bloody pulp, the police that killed unarmed Amadon Diallo with a 41-shot fusillade, the police that tortured Abner Louima in a police precinct bathroom inserting a broomstick into his rectum, the police riot at the peaceful anti-FTAA demonstration in Miami where authorities "excitedly pulled tasers and other weapons out of their camouflage cargo pants" after agent provocateurs did the bidding of the state (Alternet, Tom Hayden, Nov. 20, 2003), were as Rush Limbaugh likes to call it, just blowing off a little steam.  Limbaugh and others blame the outrage against this "steam letting" on the feminization of America.  We are according to these chicken hawks who avoided military service,  pussies.  

Passing DU and Dividends

The internal soul-searching of a nation that has been fed a pack of lies and distortions necessitates it telling itself that these events are aberrations, mere anomalies in our  military institutions dedicated and trained to dehumanize and kill any enemy on demand.  This nation has numbed itself into believing that it can do no evil.  How could it with God and Jesus on its side?  As John Ashcroft performs his "Let the Eagle Soar", "As the land beneath her sings: 'Only God, no other kings' " he brings us the PATRIOT Act.  Like covering the titanium breasts on the statue, The Spirit of Justice, Ashcroft and his apocalyptic messianic comrades see infidels, like nipples, popping out everywhere.  With the collapse of the Soviet empire in the closing days of the 20th century, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and company have found a substitute enemy for the new millennium.  How else could the vast war machine justify its existence and budget of $420.7-billion for fiscal year 2005?  How else could Halliburton, KBR, Bechtel, The Carlyle Group, et al, further prosper?  How else would neo-liberalism survive?  Where would the new century's immense corporate profits come from?  Profits and speaking in tongues, it appears, are a necessary component of economic salvation.  Pass the depleted uranium ammunition along with the dividend check, please.

What happens to a population fed a steady diet of violence, fear and insecurity?  What happens to bullies on the school bus and playground who pick on the fat kid, the queer kid, the nerd, the unathletic, the disabled, the foreigner, the atheist, the vegetarian, the different dresser, the otherwise groomed, the non-hunter, the gunless, the awkward, and the not so beautiful?  How do the privilege-inculcated and supra-testosterone enabled behave when called upon to exhibit the God Bless America "patriotism" of manifest destiny?  What happens to them when they are told, "You're either with us or against us".  Wake up and smell the fascism.

I am not surprised that there is prisoner torture and sexual abuse by the military in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Camp Bucca, Afghanistan, or anywhere else.  I have seen bullies up close and first hand.  I have been bullied by virtue of my weight, zits, immigrant status, politics, non-belief, politics, being different, etc.  Yet, I am privileged because I am white and can blend into the typical fabric of U.S. society.  

There are 2,000,000 people incarcerated in U.S. prisons today, mostly for drug violations.   The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other nation on Earth.  There are an estimated 12,000 rapes per year in U.S. prisons.  This exceeds the reported annual number of rapes in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago combined.  

Profiting in U.S. "corrections" has a long history, but the penal system is now more open to privatization than ever.  These ever-increasingly privatized jails, just like privatized U.S. warmaking are highly profitable.  War making is big business.  The second largest contingent of armed personnel in Iraq are not from the United Kingdom.  They are private for-hire mercenaries who outnumber all other so-called "coalition forces" put together.  

The youth who intimidates and bullies that which they cannot or refuse to understand today becomes the soldier, mercenary. teacher, prison guard, member of congress, president, etc., of tomorrow.  Yesterday's sexually privileged athlete is tomorrow's leader.  And what of the abused?  Will the abused become the abuser?  Will the abused rebel against a system that perpetually integrates fear into daily life?  What worries me the most is what will happen in a decade or two when the youth throughout Iraq grow up and respond to the abuse inflicted by the U.S. Empire.  

These are great days we're living, bros. We're Jolly Green Giants, walking the Earth . . . with guns!  (Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick, 1987).

© 2004 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

Return to Homepage