Tennessee Opens Up A Can Of Whoopass

Tennessee native son

Fess Parker in Disney’s Davy Crockett: King Of The Wild Frontier

According to stats released by the FBI, Tennessee is the most dangerous state in the U.S. Evidently, Tennesseans more than threaten to open up a can of whoopass.

24/7 Wall Street reports that last year, Tennessee “was among the top 10 in the country for murders and robberies and was first for aggravated assaults.” We reported 41,550 violent crimes.

Tennessee boasts a long history of violence. Tennesseehistory.com offers this dramatic narration of our mid-19th c. volunteerism in response to President Polk’s call for war with Mexico:

With fellow Tennessean Sam Houston in trouble and the legendary exploits of David Crockett and other native sons who had given their lives for Texas Independence still fresh in their minds, Tennesseans had developed a strong dislike for the Mexican government and jumped at the opportunity to go to war against them. Within a week, 30,000 Tennesseans responded to the call and swelled the ranks of the militias. Many complained they couldn’t even purchase a place in the units.

Here, “Tennessee’s Online History Magazine” tells us that heroic Tennesseans fought to protect Texas from Mexico. Remember the alamo. But Texas was in Mexico. As was New Mexico. And California.

Here’s another way to tell the story: United Statesians settled in Mexico then decided it was theirs. They shot people who thought otherwise. Manifest Destiny encouraged this kind of thing. Polk, too, felt a sense of God-given entitlement. So the U.S. entered the so-called Mexican-American War to violently redraw international boundaries. And international wealth. Think Gold Rush, Texas oil, cattle, farmlands, and Palos Verdes.

In Mexico, this war is called the Northern Invasion. Walter Benjamin is right: history is written by the victors.

Of course, Tennessee was one of many U.S. states eager to invade Mexico. But Tennessee names itself after our eagerness to fight. Our highway signs welcome travelers to the Volunteer State. UT fans cheer for the Vols. That we continue to tell the story of our eagerness to fight and “strong dislike for the Mexican government” – or any “un-American” government, for that matter – suggests we like our violent legacy. Despite a comically colloquial tone and not-so-funny bias, the TennesseeHistory.com writer gets something right: pride.

Tennesseans are proud to whoop ass. So proud that we’ve landed ourselves at the top of the FBI’s most dangerous state list.

Tennessee is where I live and think and teach and, when I read reports about our long-impressive violence and long-disappointing education, worry. To ground academic pursuit in lived experience, I often invite writing students to choose their own research topics. When I ask them to focus on something they find immediate and compelling, they often choose guns. My students like to write about their god-given rights to bear arms.

But 41,550 violent crimes? My gods. We should not be given guns.


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