Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Racism, War, and Me

Capt. Jim Finley, USMC (Ret.) writes:
To attribute prejudices to American service members in general is to display prejudice - there are racists in the military, but there are a lot of non-racists, and when I was in (I'm a retired Marine) the non-racists were the majority by far.
This is in response to what I wrote in this post:
Some people in blogtopia have been concerned about news that the US Army has ended its prohibition on recruiting white supremacists. I haven't written anything about it, largely because the addition of a few more white racists to the already white and racist US officer corps seems a little like deck chairs on the Titanic at this point. Although as Steve Gilliard has pointed out, the fact that gangs and skinheads are joining the Army is probably going to be bad for unit cohesion. Though probably not as bad as, you know, being in Iraq.

Maybe this is the natural outcome of war - it's hard to kill lots of people unless you learn to hate them, I guess. But it's worth pointing out that Bacevich (and Trainor and Gordon) are saying something clearly: American forces went in to this war with their prejudices already in place. The conduct of the war has only confirmed their odious racism.
I've added emphasis to my own words, which is probably the height of blogger masturbation, but I hope you'll forgive it and move on.

Capt. Finley: I have no desire to pick a fight with a Marine, retired or otherwise. I am a Poli Sci major, and otherwise not a particularly adept or athletic guy. All the same, I believe you've misinterpreted me here. I never assumed for a minute that all US officers were racists. Indeed, I assume that the hard-core racists are in the minority (though their ranks may swell, with recent news.)

The problem is, saying that the majority of officers aren't racists is kind of like saying "technically, he isn't dead yet." I suppose it's good news, but with a taste of foreboding as well.

I don't know when you were in the Corps, Capt. Finley, nor do I know if you saw combat. But I'd ask you to re-read the last paragraph of mine in particular. The nature of combat in Iraq - where all the enemies speak a different language and roughly (to American eyes, at least) look the same, and where death can come from any corner, is a perfect recipe to turn even the most liberal of academics (yo) in to paranoid racists.

Put plainly, I don't have that much confidence in my own multicultural ethics to believe that in their place, I wouldn't react just as many in the Army have.

And the additional point, which was the point of the post you responded to, is that the American Army did not go in to Iraq as multiculturally-minded liberal academics. Many - I'll concede not all, and apologize if I implied otherwise - were carrying incredibly noxious racist ideas, a prejudice that has directly impacted the way they fought this war.

If you want more examples of American racism, read Nir Rosen's accounts of the occupation. I challenge you to leave with any other impression than that the American troops have adopted some pretty bad habits.

But, you say, Rosen is a New Yorker, and probably voted for Gore. So how about the Dem-bashing, slobbering military fetishist Matt Taibbi?
At home we deride every American soldier as a potential war criminal, we label them committers of massacres, we call them dumb and when we're really being nice, we say they're just dupes, field hands for the rich frat boys who got high on punch and drove us into this mess. But there's something beautiful about the way you can pluck fifteen American kids from the parking lots of the Midwest, drop them anywhere in the world, and you'll get the same thing every time: dip, dick jokes and 50,000 pounds of finely tuned convoy rumbling at top speed. Our kids may not be the best educated, they may not read many books, but in a fair fight, they will kick your ass.

Whether or not this is a fair fight is another question. But you can see why the Army is still convinced we can win this thing. The Army thinks it can do anything. The Army looks at Iraq like a drooling six-foot-six-inch bully would, staring in at home plate with an arm full of ninety-nine-mph heaters. To that kid, the game is never over. They almost all think like that over here. God forbid they should ever stop thinking like that.
Yes indeed. God forbid the US Army ever stop seeing itself as a overpowering bully. Again, this is the language that the pro-war side has started to use, and Taibbi is only the most recent example - found this morning via Red State Son. Hard to believe, but it gets much worse.
The failure of Abu Ghraib was the failure to accept the role we had created for ourselves as new masters of subject peoples. We wanted to rule absolutely and also to be liked, which was why our first reaction after the scandal broke was to issue profuse apologies, call for a self-flagellating round of investigations and demand the prison's closure. A hegemonic power more comfortable with ruling would have just shot the reporter who broke the story and moved on.
Yes, if those stupid brown people had just done what we told them - like stop looting, or please give us oil cheap - then Abu Ghraib would never have happened. Because obviously, perversion and sadism on the parts of American soldiers and officers is somehow dependent on how obedient the Iraqis are.
There is an impression that we are not fighting back, but we are: Here in Abu Ghraib and places like it, away from public view, we swoop down in the night and snatch people out of their homes by the half-dozen. I would imagine that rules are bent. But what rules can there be in a place like this? (The Commando's take on the Geneva Convention: "While you're beating his ass, don't take his picture.")
Ah, good. I was wondering when we'd get to the part where Taibbi pushes the White House line that Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, Bagram, and God knows how many other places are part of the war on terror, all evidence to the contrary. Look - the DoD itself has concluded that most of the people at Gitmo are innocent by any standard. What makes you think that the situation in Iraq is any better? If anything, it's liable to be much, much worse. And to describe the US conduct in Iraq as "bending a few rules" is like saying Jeffrey Dahmer had bad table manners.

Maybe the height of this exercise in absurdism is when Taibbi writes near the end of his piece:
Beyond the walls of the FOB the chaos of Iraq is just a fresh take on the same old totalitarian double-think from the last century that sent Nazis and Communists on crazed quests for paradise by sanctioning the violence buried in their dumb hearts. All bloody revolutions rely for their success on ideologies that dehumanize the nonbeliever, and these Islamic fanatics roaming the streets of Baghdad, piously chanting "Allahu Akbar!" as they watch the bodies of ice salesmen or infidel teenagers cook, are no different. On top of everything else, they're not even original.
After spending several hundred words talking about the White Man's Burden to liberate Iraq if only these silly little brown children would let us (and if they don't, we'll "beat their ass" with the camera off) Taibbi can - apparently without irony - write that they're dehumanizing us.

How, exactly, is reason supposed to penetrate this armor of stupidity? This offensive shield of stupidity? How do we make the American people see that down this road lies destruction?

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