Category Archives: America at War

Call of Duty

The Road to Guantanamo made one thing very clear; when it comes to terrorism, there is no such thing as innocent until proven guilty.
The experiences of the the prisoners, from capture, to transport, to torture, to release, detailed an incredible incoherence in intelligence opperations. The guards and interrogators took the forms not of protectors, but of perpetrators. Throwing insults amidst injury, The Road to Guantanoma showed armed service members to be desensitized, highly masculine, and rigid. Methods of interrogation were stale, given, knowing. The lack of hope felt by the detainees was palpaple amidst the brute action and unapologetic torture.
But I was not surprised. Not disgusted, but disgruntled. That this is what I have come to expect. This is what I have known. Which makes me think… if my protectors are perpetrators, if my heros are villains… how does that inform my experience of safety?
How does this silent acceptance of terror affect America’s conscious self? Our covert operations and anti-terror efforts come from a culture that values violence, but furthermore from a culture whose safety has often been secured through violence. Genocide, slavery, conquest, apartheid. Violence has helped secure hegemonic rights. But Violence is also used to ease psychological pains… or perhaps exacerabte them.
The other day, some friends of mine were playing Call of Duty. Previously, they’d been playing Grand Theft Auto; hit up a strip club, punched out some gangsters, ran over a hooker, shot down a helicopter. As the tone shifted from city scape to war zone, I closed my eyes and curled under a blanket. As the room shook with the sounds of machine guns and roadside bombs, I laughed at how safe I was. How safe I felt. The sounds didn’t even bother me. But they did scare me.
Just like the looks on my friends faces; their mouths relaxed, their eyes focused, their legs open. “Fuck you dude! You fucking terrorist! Die, asshole!”
And all I could feel was the fleece wrapped round my face and the bed beneath my back.

An endless war

 

Jeremy Scahill said it correctly when he said the world is a battlefield, it seems these days that we are fighting a war that never ends but simply shifts to the next target that fits the WAR ON TERROR model. The United States government has taken a hands on all or nothing approach to the wars on terror in Iraq, and Afghanistan, from 2001 until now the amount of violence and force used by the military has only increased. But is this violence only perpetuating anti-american sentiments? Something I will never understand about the military and it’s decisions is why kill the masses on suspicion of terrorism when that only stirs the pot and creates more violence to deal with in the future.

I really have little knowledge on this subject but common sense tells me that the United States government is simply fueling the fire with the decision to use drones, night raids, and illegal detention against the people of Afghanistan. As more and more innocent people are killed and families destroyed the feelings toward American forces changes, people rally and suddenly an entire population is against US forces and we’ve created a bigger situation than was ever necessary. Scahill speaks to this issue several times, The decision of the US government to “waste a lot of very good assets going after midlevel guys who don’t threaten the United States” simply “engenders more hostility”. And by creating more hostile extremists the US has further and further to fight before it’s War on Terror can end. 

My question is why were the decisions made if the outcome was to create a larger problem. And I could speculate as to how government power and US imperialism play key roles in this, as well as the superiority complex the US seems to have created in relation to the worlds problems and threats. Since 2001 when the United States felt it’s first real outside threat and the war on terror began, our military tactics have become increasingly devastating and invasive as the US tries to assert it’s dominance over all those who harbor anti-american sentiments. Imperialism is the current dominant trait of the United States with regards to the war on terror, the government and the country are threatened and the military is instantly invading countries left and right looking for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. We are military based country so I guess it makes sense that we would react military first.

War has never been my strong point but I do understand literature, so maybe putting it in Utopic terms would make things easier for me to comprehend, similar to George Orwell’s 1984 at some point we enter a war that never ends but simply shifts from one enemy to another, from Eastasia to eurasia and back with the coercion and deception of the government pulling the wool over the publics eyes to the true nature of the war and the violence that occurs. Even the secret prisons and torture of domestic and foreign terrorists relate, and if 1984 is where we are headed with this war on terror then I don’t want to know what’s coming next.

 

 

Human Rights Imperialism in The Road to Guantanamo? Just kidding.

While human rights were definitely a factor in The Road to Guantanamo, I would argue that human rights were anything but forced upon people, rather they were taken away from Shafiq, Ruhel, and Asif and the rest of the detainees at every turn.  In lieu of the discussion surrounding Samuel P. Huntington’s concept of “human rights imperialism,” and the resistance to it, in his article, “The Clash of Civilizations?” watching The Road to Guantanamo was horrifying, and seemingly backwards.  If “human rights imperialism” is defined as the blatant denial of human rights, then yes, Huntington’s point is most definitely reinforced by the film, however, that definition should best be revised, because then it’s only natural for resistance to this form of “imperialism” to be present.  Therefore, with respect to this complete absence of “human rights imperialism” in the film, let alone any indication of any access to basic human rights, I think the incredibly punitive stance society often takes with respect to prisoners is so incredibly pervasive in our culture that, specifically with the war on terror, the idea that someone is “innocent until proven guilty,” has been completely ignored.  Instead, as reflected in the film, there is such a strong inclination to assume people are inherently guilty until proven innocent, or unaffiliated, and in the meantime, those people are deserving of the punishment and torture that the imprisoners see fit at the slight chance that their ungrounded assumption of guilt is correct.

For instance, in “CIA Secret Prisons Exposed – The Disappeared: Are They Dead? Are They Alive? Ask Congress. Ask the President,” Nat Hentoff addresses how “as long as ‘the war on terror continues’…’detainees’ have vanished from the face of the earth,” because they are being held in secret CIA prisons (Hentoff, 1).  As seen in the film, being held in these types of prisons, specifically Guantanamo Bay, results in detainees being subject to abuse, constant and relentless questioning, manipulation, isolation, discrimination, and condescension.  Just at the surface level, detainees were denied access to their human rights of, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile,” the article that, “No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law,” and “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country” (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights).  While the attention to these three human rights is in no way all encompassing of all the violations that took place, the detainment of these prisoners was grounded in the detainees’ choices to exercise and practice the latter of these human rights.

Yet, with the intention of preventing any further terrorist attacks within the United States, the need to treat prisoners so punitively certainly played out.  The men in the film were assumed to be guilty, were questioned, and were punished for telling truths that reflected their innocence.  They were often manipulated into admitting to false guilt in order to escape the tortuous pattern.  They were denied social interactions, physical activity, and were often held in solitary confinement for long periods of time, something that the United Nations describes as “torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment” (Hentoff, 2).  However, like the majority of detainees, Shafiq, Ruhel, and Asif were cleared of all “charges,” essentially making the three years of punishment and detainment useless for those administering it, but making those three years painful and unwarranted for those who should have never been detained in the first place.

The Road to Guantanamo definitely forced the question of the effectiveness of the detainment of those suspicious of terrorist activity, as well as the effectiveness of punishment as a means of proving guilt, when in many cases that guilt was never there.  As a result, since it is clear that punitive measures were ineffective in this system, why is it that the United States’ prison system is still so heavily centered around punishment?  Is there a way to cater the system for rehabilitation effectively?

And while it can be argued that there was good intention behind, “[searching] for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying,” how does that intention justify, in any right, the blatant denial of multiple human rights and the “cruel and inhuman treatment” detainees were subject to (Risen, 1 & Hentoff, 2)?

The West and the Rest

In “The Clash of Civilizations,” the political scientist Samuel Huntington maps out a geopolitical paradigm that is as disturbing as it is destructive. Huntington’s work imagines a new post-Cold War world order, one which pits civilizations against one another in a struggle for power, and one which centers the United States as an exemplar of supreme virtue. Huntington paints broad strokes of ignorance in ascribing certain values and capabilities to entire cultures and–surprise–Western civilization triumphs within Huntington’s crooked hierarchy. On page 40 of the text, Huntington writes,

“Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures. Western efforts to propagate such ideas produce a reaction against ‘human rights imperialism’ and a reaffirmation of indigenous values, as can be seen in the support for religious fundamentalism by the younger generation in non-Western cultures.”

This line of thinking constitutes the framework for what Huntington subsequently calls the “West versus the Rest,” an axis of world politics that essentially demands conformity to Western culture from non-Western civilizations.

“The Clash of Civilizations” was a frustrating reading especially after going through the Gordon and Kaplan pieces, which each offer stark empirical evidence of the heinous practices carried out by the United States government–policies that, in Gordon’s words, are “closer to the government’s own definition of a rogue state than it is to a model democracy.” (2006:44) Over the last ten years or so during the so-called War on Terror, the United States government violated international law and sovereignty, committed countless human rights abuses, and purveyed over immense destruction around the world. Yet, the values that Huntington bestows to the West only involve democratic principles, human rights, liberty and equality, etc. This reasoning that the United States is a Good Power, on a mission to protect world order and that any violence that accompanies this mission is subsidiary, has been employed to dehumanize non-Western civilizations and rationalize war against them.

As I was reading, my mind went to an interview I had seen with Jose Rodriguez, a former director of the National Clandestine Service which authorized the torture of detainees:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MC9PP94f4OQ

This video offers a really illuminating look at Rodriguez’ worldview, which could comfortably fall into the Huntington paradigm. In his justification for authorizing torture, Rodriguez explains (in rather patriarchal language) that the United States were compelled to “put their big boy pants on and provide the authorities that we needed,” because it was a matter of protecting American lives. American exceptionalism is the ideology underpinning this justification, because it allows our government to absolve itself from blame for executing these crimes. As Gordon points out, “American exceptionalism – the assertion that the US is an inherently more democratic, egalitarian and just society than all others – has always been a lie. The current Bush government has indeed formulated a policy of exceptionalism, claiming the right of the US, as a sovereign God-given Christian nation, to exempt itself from the same laws that govern the conduct of other nations.” (44)

The West is the entity committing these atrocities, often at the expense of the “Rest” of the world; but since, as Huntington’s writing shows, the West can wipe away these incidents and project a pristine image of standing up for democratic principles, the West never has to be held accountable for its wrongdoings. Instead, the flawed “Rest” must accommodate to the West’s standards.

Capitalist Movie Madness

 

As a avid cinema consumer and Italian student I have experienced many forms of cinematic display from the 1960’s ranging from Fellini’s plays and documentaries to unseen directors cuts from Pasolini’s La Dolce vita. The messages conveyed in movies of this era vary but almost always touch upon the delicate political situations of the time. One, Two, Three by Billy Wilder is no exception, I found myself laughing and even commiserating with the storyline as the gradual take over of consumer capitalism in the movie is still so applicable to life today, while a rather over exaggerated and unrealistic situation is displayed the overarching themes of the movie hit at a deeply political and unstable aspect of the world at that time.

Small details of the movie that were meant to be funny or silly really stuck out to me as significant indicators of capitalism, its effects on people and the political situation, the names of certain expensive clothing items in the escalation dressing scene that could be tied to certain negative or unallied countries along with the sheer absurdity and frivolity of the transformation scene in general. The significance of the German secretary and her sexualization, exploitation, and commodification by both the Americans and the Russians ties into the political and economic atmosphere and the real punchline of the entire movie, the pepsi bottle in the vending machine bought by the Coca Cola man just seals the deal for me. I felt like it accurately demonstrated the excess, extreme and competitive nature of capitalism even in divided Germany during the Cold War.

pepsi-vs-coke

As one of my classmates pointed out in their blog post One, two, three, four, five six…. the movie does run extremely long and maybe as they said, 45 mins too long but if we refer to the reading by Pells we are given an insight into the cinematic mood of this time period which would not have necessarily agreed. Movie goers were eager for European movies and European based movies as there was a shift in the demand right around the time of the production of One, Two, Three. While it did not do well at the box office it is a prime example of the cinematic displays of the time, all at once a political satire, comedic show and love story while it’s supremely quick paced actions gave the audience a hard and fast political slap in the face. The movie accurately demonstrates the audiences desire for a break from reality, i.e. length, while still giving them the satire and politics of the time period.

Ironically the building of the Berlin Wall disrupted production of the movie and makes the film an even more significant historical piece to us, capturing both the political and social climates of the 1960’s and forever recording it in black and white. I would love to know if the director of the film had any idea of the political upset about to occur and how his movie was influenced by the building of the Berlin Wall. Did he have any idea of the effects the wall would have or how long it would scar the face of Berlin and it’s people and how relevant his movie would be to capitalism today?

Exploring U.S. Colonization of Puerto Rico

Last class, Professor Alamo ended the discussion by asking us to resist the urge to vaguely abhor the United State’s colonialism. Part of what he meant was that we should think critically about the specific, evil-doing (here meaning racist, classist, and sexist) mechanisms that gave U.S. colonialism a dirty reputation. But he also meant that if we demonize U.S. colonialism, we must also critically analyze other imperialist endeavors, such as those of Spain in South America.
The editorial cartoons published in Harper’s Weekly between 1898 and 1900 address U.S. colonialism in relation to Spanish colonialism. The cartoons’ overarching opinion on this topic is that territories like Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines make the decision and are in favor of transferring colonial power from Spain to the U.S. (as in the cartoon She Can’t Resist Him). In other cartoons, Uncle Sam is seen as providing a ticket to the “winning team,” or to the side of prosperity and vitality when he offers political control of an area. The message that these cartoons convey is that these territories, which are personified by small, dark-skinned, ragged caricatures, believe that they would prosper more under American rule than Spanish rule. This feeds directly into the problematic narrative of Americans as perceiving their colonialism as positive for other cultures.
The term “benevolent assimilation” was meant to portray U.S. involvement in Puerto Rico as a chance to improve Puerto Rico’s economy, sanitize its citizens (as was the case with VD-infected prostitutes), and offer Puerto Rico a chance to side with them, the perceived dominators of global affairs. Yet as almost every article in “Reactions to the U.S. Takeover in Puerto Rico 1900-1917” shows, most Puerto Ricans opposed U.S. “occupation,” as one called it.
The American attitude of perceived goodness in its colonialism is ironic because it marks a complete transformation from American colonials as victims of the British crown to perpetrators of harmful colonialism abroad. The question that these cartoons unearth, alongside professor Alamo’s question, is how the American’s perceived “benevolent” assimilation and colonization during this time period is linked to how Spain’ perceived its own colonization. Also, it can call into question how America views its own, former subjugation to British colonization centuries before. Also, when a country reverses its role in the machine of colonialism, how does this change the way it views its past involvement in it?
If we think of the U.S. as a body, the transformation from victim of colonization to perpetrator of colonization reminds us of a common psychological path taken by those who have suffered in the past. According to Abbe Smith, “Although victims do not always become perpetrators, a truism repeated by prosecutors at sentencing as if it were a profound revelation never before put into words, it is the rare serious perpetrator who was not also a victim” (369).
Thinking of the U.S’s reversal of roles in this context, did our route to aggression result from past trauma as a nation at the hands of the British?

Works Cited:
Smith, Abbe, “The “Monster” in All of Us: When Victims Become Perpetrators” (2005). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 219.
http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/facpub/219

Sexy Citizens?

In “Sex and Citizenship,” Laura Briggs explores the relationship between the Keywords Colonial and Body. She states, “Between 1917 and 1918, then, gender and women’s bodies became a significant idiom in which colonial relations were negotiated (70).” Briggs poses the question: who controlled the sexuality of Puerto Rico’s poor women? The terminology created and utilized by the U.S. reflected that of an empire in its naming of Puerto Rico as a “incorporated territory.” Briggs argues that the relationship between island and mainland was rapidly changing during this period, and that the inaction of a prostitution policy provided a concrete and safe platform to debate these new relationships. As the U.S. began to seize control over its newly “incorporated territory” it started with those bodies at the bottom of its racialized and gendered social hierarchy. The representation of these “citizens” through the production of stories on who prostitutes were, focused specifically on the status of their health. These women were portrayed as sickly and diseased by those supporting the prostitution policy; either dangerously infectious or sympathetically in need of health care. Ironically, the U.S. presence most likely made the health circumstances of the population worse in Puerto Rico as a small number of Americans accumulated the concentration of wealth. Although there was much push back against the prostitution policy in Puerto Rico, the production of these stories functioned to emphasize and moralize rhetoric of American Exceptionalism in the United States.

I’m specifically interested in what led some Puerto Rican women to support the prostitution policies put in place. In other words, what are the ideologies and discursive structures that led these women to support “sanitization” efforts?