Life is cheap in America. That’s what makes us exceptional.

The American homeland was never a modern war battlefield. This distinguishes us from all other major participants in two world wars. And yet, today, the homeland is the daily scene of far greater human slaughter than any other rich nation would find endurable – not only through slaughter with guns, but also through drug abuse and mismanagement of a virus.

If you’re looking for a true definition of American exceptionalism, this is it.

Somehow we’ve gotten used to living with a deadly trifecta. Just look at the numbers.

In 2020 (the latest year for which the CDC has complete data), more than 45,000 Americans died from gunshots, a 25 percent increase from 2010.

In 2019, 70,630 people died from drug overdoses, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, and more than 10 million people “abused” (a euphemism for both fatal and non-fatal overdoses) opioid prescriptions.

Between June 2021 and March 2022, there were 234,000 preventable deaths from COVID-19, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — accounting for 60 percent of the deaths since vaccines became available. “Preventable” includes many people who have died because they chose not to get vaccinated.

Each of these scourges has its own pathology. But what makes them egregious, in addition to the numbers, is that together they represent a peculiarly American breakdown of what are considered norms of behavior in other advanced democracies.

If that were the number of battlefield deaths witnessed and recorded as such, the total of 349,000 over no more than a year would be considered appalling. (The total number of American military deaths in four years of World War II was 405,399, and that was drawn from a far smaller total population.)

“Not getting vaccinated (and not wearing a mask) — much like the freedom to be armed — is considered part of a sacred American birthright, even if exercising it could kill you or others.”

Life has become very cheap when it can be wiped out at this rate without the country really noticing. But death on this scale in America has reached a steady state — the scientific term describing how “dynamic equilibrium occurs when two or more reversible processes are occurring simultaneously.”

Reversible? Think about it. How reversible are these three diseases – gun deaths, drug overdoses and COVID?

We’re in the midst of one of those gun attacks that have a cascade of swear words in Washington, DC — yet even one of the most ardent supporters of stronger gun control, Democratic Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, admits he won’t be able to effect significant change, no matter how horrific the blood-soaked classrooms become. No, this chain of tragedies cannot be reversed as long as the coercive power of the gun lobby fundamentally overrules the people. Does this mean that we as a society have achieved a new and enduring indifference to human suffering, that the mere repetition of mass shootings, whether in schools, churches, synagogues or supermarkets, has dulled the senses?

Behind two of the scourges, guns and opioid addiction, are venal corporate interests, but they have behaved differently. Nothing is holding the gun manufacturers back. Business has never been better. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, between January 2019 and April 2021, 7.5 million American adults became new gun owners — nearly 3 percent of the population.

In contrast, Big Pharma is being forced to pay billions to offset the ravages of opioid addiction. This week, two companies, Teva and Allergan, in the most recent settlement, struck a $161.5 million settlement with the state of West Virginia, which has been hit harder by the opioid epidemic than most other states. Patrick Morrisey, the state’s attorney general, said the money would help “so we don’t lose another generation to senseless death.”

Big Pharma has been very effective in lobbying to keep prescription drugs more expensive than anywhere else in the world, but it has been unable to defend the ruthless advertising and profiteering it has applied to opioids.

And here’s the key difference between the two types of death: The gun manufacturers (and their advocates) benefit from the assertion that decision-making power over the gun rests with the gun owner, not them, while the drug manufacturers had no such defense — they supplied the bullet himself, knowing that it is addictive and deadly if unscrupulously prescribed. Of course, the right to opioids is not enshrined in any constitutional amendment either.

It’s hard to say how many of the preventable COVID deaths were directly related to vaccine resistance. Some have been the result of racial inequalities in the availability of health care and reliable information, compounded by misinformation circulating on social media.

Finding an entrepreneurial hand behind the anti-COVID vaccine movement comes down to one company, Fox News. Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham both cynically promoted fake stories about vaccines killing people and played doubt on whether they even worked. This followed the way Fox News slavishly repeated Trump’s mockery of science and his dismissal of COVID as nothing more than the flu, giving airtime to the quackery.

But for the most part they preached to the converts. Anti-vaccination opponents are equally influenced by something that citizens of other liberal democracies find puzzling: a resistance to voluntary conformity disguised as an assertion of basic individual rights. Not getting vaccinated (and not wearing a mask) — much like the freedom to be armed — is considered part of a sacred American birthright, even if exercising it could kill you or others.

When it comes to actual defense of life as a political movement, it is ironic that in America it relates more to the unborn than to the living. The “right to life” movement is now awaiting its moment of victory thanks to an aggressively atavistic Supreme Court. And in the same spirit, the court is as willing to support the gun lobby as it is to kill Roe v. calf. Don’t look there for the milk of human goodness.

In wars, the dead are commemorated to deter future wars. War Graves focuses the carnage into a powerful visual framework that everyone reacts to. I have visited the cemeteries behind D-Day beaches in Normandy and beyond. Its magnitude obliges us to remember, never to forget the sacrifice made by thousands of Americans to liberate Europe.

America itself has now become like a war zone, but the graves are scattered, not concentrated. From Columbine in Colorado to Sandy Hook in Connecticut, from Parkland in Florida to Uvalde in Texas, the children and youth killed in mass shootings are or are being buried where their families wish – in moments of terrible individual grief that cannot be translated to an act of national remembrance strong enough to put an end to this preventable carnage.

As a result, America can no longer go out into the world as a paragon of advanced and civilized societies and speak of its uniqueness when it has the blood of such a collapse of basic human values ​​on its own hands. Life is cheap in America. That’s what makes us exceptional.


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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