In Costa Rica, they give peace a chance

You mean violence isn’t the answer?

Mark Drolette is a Sacramento expat who contributes occasionally to SN&R.

I didn’t realize how much I didn’t miss living amid violence until I realized I didn’t miss living amid violence.

Actually, I’m lying. (Just practicing, in case I’m reincarnated as a Republican. Or a Democrat.) 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 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 (nonviolently, natch). Check this 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: Even without the hit-man angle, what an asinine idea for a commercial, and if those were my kids, spurning home cooking would be their best chance for survival.

The ban on the ad isn’t surprising. See, Costa Rica doesn’t have a military, having banned it, too—in 1949. It appears that choosing tranquility over tanks—even when it involves serious matters, like, say, Whoppers—is embedded in the Costa Rican national psyche. Regular readers know I’m constantly harping on this 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.

Per, 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? Just a couple of tanks full of gas higher: $2,056.

It’s beyond refreshing living in a place that has officially rejected war (and thus, by extension, violence, since war gets pretty violent). Costa Ricans aren’t apt to demand any time 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.

Perhaps, then, unlike a certain newly arrived resident, two generations of armyless Costa Ricans truly don’t realize how much they don’t miss living amid violence—a thought more refreshing still.