Violence and Caution

Violence contributes to the American tendency to avoid controversial subjects. The U.S. has some of the highest crime rates in the world, including approximately 83% more total crimes than Germany. For example, the murder rate in the U.S. is more than five times higher than in Germany.

Avoiding controversial topics allows Americans to find a safer way to communicate with people they don’t know. It allows strangers to get to know each other in a non-threatening environment. If you’re too straightforward and offend the wrong people in the U.S., it’s much more likely to end badly for you.

Bleeding Kansas was the term given to Kansas during the American Civil War in the mid-1800s. Kansas was a territory at the beginning of the war, and so unlike most of the states, which were divided into free-state (Union) and slave-state (Confederacy), Kansas contained people who strongly supported one side or the other.

This led to an outbreak of neighbor-against-neighbor violence, including several massacres such as the Pottawatomie Creek massacre (in which five slave-state supporters were murdered) and the Marais des Cygnes massacre (in which five free-state supporters were murdered). Kansans who wanted to remain safe had to find ways to avoid discussing their allegiances.

George Tiller was an abortion doctor in Wichita. In 1986 Tiller’s clinic was firebombed. During its rebuilding Tiller displayed a controversial sign: “Hell no, we won’t go.” In 1993 he was shot several times while in his car, but survivved. In 2009 he was killed in during church services by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder.

The creators of South Park, a satirical cartoon, have faced many death threats from people offended by their controversial material. One of the more prominent threat campaigns occurred in 2010 after the show featured a character meant to represent the prophet Mohammad wearing a bear suit. This campaign was largely led by Jesse Morton, who was arrested and pleaded guilty to making threatening communications and conspiring to commit murder.

In 1979 in Greensboro, North Carolina an anti-racist march was confronted by members of the Klu Klux Klan. Things soon turned violent, and the white supremacists, who were armed, shot and killed several marchers.