Study Guide

America Violence

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Close to the top of the speaker's laundry list of complaints is the violence he sees in America, either perpetrated by the country itself, or allowed to happen as a result of the country's inaction. Our speaker is a lover of peace, and some of his harshest critiques are reserved for the violence that surrounds him. In many cases, the violence that he bemoans has already happened, but that doesn't mean he can't use this platform to argue for a better, more peaceful country in the future.

  • Line 4: The speaker wants an end to "the human war." What's a human war? Well, for one thing, it's a conflict that specifically involves people, which at first may seem obvious. We mean, are there fish wars? Probably not. Still, in this line the adjective "human" seems to really point out that war is not something that just "happens." It's the result of human behaviors and choices. More than that, the speaker includes himself in that picture. He wants to know when "we," everyone, will decide to knock this business off.
  • Line 5: Well then! The speaker is pretty clear about how he feels when it comes to nuclear weapons. At the time this poem was written, the atom bomb had only recently been dropped (twice) on Japan. It seems like the speaker is reacting the obscenity of the violence in those bombings with some obscenity of his own.
  • Line 20: Tangiers! Sounds like a pretty wild vacation! For Burroughs, though, "it's sinister." Ginsberg's good friend wound up in Tangiers in part because he accidentally murdered his wife by trying to shoot an apple off her head with a gun—and missing. Everywhere he turns, the speaker sees violent acts tainting his world.
  • Line 26: Even without checking, the speaker knows that every day somebody somewhere in America "goes on trial for murder." Sure, an optimist might see that as a testament to our efficient legal system. Still, we don't think that's what the speaker's getting at here. What kind of society produces so much violence? A broken one, that's what.
  • Line 59: Sacco and Vanzetti were two Italian immigrants and political activists who  were put to death by electrocution after a controversial series of trials. Here the speaker speaks up not just for immigrants and labor supporters, but also against the violence that society perpetrated against these two men.

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