By Mark Drolette
I didn’t realize how much I didn’t miss living amidst violence until I realized I didn’t miss living amidst violence.
Actually, I’m lying. (Just practicing, in case I’m reincarnated as a Republican. Or a Democrat.) Really, I knew before I moved to Costa Rica in April I’d not pine for the latest mad pronouncement from the Bush administration -- in other words, any pronouncement from the Bush administration -- claiming that ceaseless warfare is the price peace-loving Americans must pay to, uh, live in peace.
Obviously, Costa Rica’s not violence-free. Its murder rate ranks higher than the States’ (6.47 vs. 5.5 per 100,000, in 2004). Nor is it sans less onerous crime. Property theft is common here and often goes unpunished, as Costa Rica’s judicial system leaves much to be desired. (Unlike, you know, America’s.)
But when it comes to a collective attitude towards violence, Costa Ricans beat their American counterparts hands-down (non-violently, natch). Check this (April 11) item from the The Tico Times, Costa Rica’s leading English language newspaper:
“The [Costa Rican] government has prohibited TV commercials for Burger King because they trivialize violence… [One] commercial…depicts three mothers seeking to hire a hit man to get rid of the company’s character ‘the king’ because his fast food has captivated their children, turning them away from their home cooking.”
Two thoughts: 1) Even without the hit man angle, what an asinine idea for a commercial and 2) if those were my kids, spurning home cooking would be their best chance for survival. (So my “cooking” sucks. Thank goodness for mango-banana smoothies.)
Really, though, the ad’s banning isn’t surprising. See, Costa Rica doesn’t have a military, having banned it, too -- in 1949. (Costa Rica was also the third country ever to abolish capital punishment, in 1887.) It appears this choosing of tranquility over tanks -- even when it involves serious matters, like, say, Whoppers -- is embedded in the national psyche. Regular readers (thanks, Mom!) know I’m constantly harping on the Costa-Rica-has-no-army angle but since I come from a land where a grotesquely-bloated military is practically sacrosanct, I’m still wowed.
It’s subtle, but if one looks hard at how Costa Rica and America prioritize defense funding, one can detect a difference. Per GlobalSecurity.org, in 2005 (the last year for which figures for Costa Rica are available), the average Costa Rican paid $21 for defense. Each American’s current tag? A scoche higher: $2056.
It’s refreshing living in a place that has officially rejected war (and thus, by extension, violence, since sometimes war gets pretty violent). Costa Ricans aren’t apt to demand anytime soon that another nation put up its nukes, unlike the blast-‘em-first-don’t-even-ask-questions-later mind(less)set of millions of quaking Americans convinced by a war-profiteering administration that the “homeland” (yecch) is poised to be overrun tomorrow by hordes of virgins-craving Koran thumpers.
Perhaps, then, unlike a certain newly-arrived resident, two generations of army-less Costa Ricans truly don’t realize how much they don’t miss living amidst violence -- a thought most refreshing of all.
Copyright © 2008 Mark Drolette. All rights reserved.
(published originally in the Sacramento News & Review)