December 7, 2011
UHM prof, Craig Santos Perez wrote this powerful letter to the editor of the Marianas Variety. Also see Craig’s poem at the Moana Nui conference:
Thursday, 08 December 2011 00:16 Letter to the Editor
THE northeast trade winds brought Magellan to Guåhan on his quest to trade with China (for silk, tea and porcelain). We became a fueling stop on the Manila Galleon trade route between Acapulco and Manila. With Spanish missionization, our souls were also traded.
To protect these material and spiritual trade routes from other European traders, the Spanish militarized Guåhan, building 14 military structures between 1671 and 1835. The Chamorro-Spanish War began in 1671. U.S. corporate trade interests in the Caribbean, Pacific, and Asia spurred the Spanish-American War of 1898. After the war, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines were annexed by the United States, traded from one colonizer to another.
The “Insular Cases” that decided our fate also involved trade. In DeLima v Bidwell (1901), the DeLima Sugar Company sued New York City for charging tariffs on sugar from Puerto Rico. In Downes v Bidwell (1901), S.B. Downes & Company sued New York City for charging tariffs on oranges from Puerto Rico. Goetze v United States (1901) challenged tariff law on goods from Hawai’i (annexed after the Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown by U.S. military-backed corporations). In Fourteen Diamond Rings v United States (1901), an American who purchased 14 diamond rings from the Philippines refused to pay tariffs. The plaintiffs in these cases argued tariffs were illegal since all the countries they imported from were annexed, hence they were no longer “foreign countries.”
Annexation was a free trade strategy, orchestrated by U.S. corporations and protected by the U.S. military. While the Spanish traded crucifixes for Chamorro souls, the U.S. traded flags for Chamorro bodies. More than 600 Chamorro men enlisted as mess attendants during the U.S. Naval period. Of course, our bodies were inspected and vaccinated first.
After World War I, Japan gained control over trade in other parts of Micronesia. When Japan occupied Guåhan during World War II, we were incorporated into the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” Again, we were traded from one colonizer to another.
When the U.S. re-occupied Guahan, we were traded once again. Then the Guam Organic Act of 1950 traded U.S. citizenship for more Chamorro bodies. Approximately 3,700 Chamorros enlisted by 1971. The children of the Organic Act became the soldiers of the Vietnam War. Their children are now exported by a new breed of traders: military recruiters.
It is not a coincidence the military buildup on Guåhan was announced in 2005/2006. It was the same time the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) – a group of world leaders and global CEOs (Big Sweatshops, Big Pharmaceutical, Big Military Contractors, Big Oil, Big Agriculture, Big Mining, Big Banking) – began pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, a NAFTA-like free trade agreement for our region. Of course, “free trade” means eliminating tariffs, labor unions, fair wages, health benefits, job security, safety standards, and environmental regulations.
It is not a coincidence the military buildup on Guåhan was approved before the 2011 APEC meeting was held here in Honolulu.
Will we trade our children to the military recruiters? Will we trade our economic sovereignty for commissary privileges? Will we trade our ancestral burial grounds for a museum? Will we trade the innocence of a 12-year-old Chamorro girl for the sexual violence of 8,000 U.S. Marines?
Will we trade our culture for tourists from Russia and China? Will they trade our “Native Inhabitant Vote” for a “Haole-Always Vote?”
Will we trade the scent of the ocean for the scent of U.S. dollar bills?
Corporate trade and military interests have been controlling our destiny since the 16th century. Will we continue to trade away our future?
Craig Santos Perez,
March 22, 2011
Scott Crawford sent the following email that I wanted to pass along. Sarah Vowell just published a novel entitled “Unfamiliar Fishes”, which is set in Hawai’i. In her dry witty way she exposes America’s “orgy of imperialism” in 1898:
You gotta watch this…
We’ve seen Sarah Vowell on The Daily Show before, and enjoy how she shares history with her dry wit and puts things in ways you can easily relate to. As Jon says, “I laugh, but I learn.”
Well, now she’s written a book on Hawai’i, “Unfamiliar Fishes”. She describes the “orgy of imperialism” of the summer of 1898. And she nails it. Kekula said when it was over, “that was one
of the most comprehensive statements on Hawaii ever presented in such a broad media.” A whole lot of very well-informed, engaged people watch Jon Stewart. And the way she explained it was a
truth that many people probably heard for the first time. A lot of people will read her book.
She explains the context of the Spanish-American War, the role for Hawaii as “a naval base for our forthcoming invasions,” the missionary family children who “overthrew the Hawaiian queen so as to hand the Hawaiian Islands over to the United States,” mentions the anti-annexation petitions, and compares the joint resolution as “the sort of law New Jersey would use to declare a day Jon Bon Jovi Day.”
Her video excerpt from the book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qlj2sdEelak
By Sarah Vowell
(Riverhead Hardcover, Hardcover, 9781594487873, 256pp.)
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
From the bestselling author of The Wordy Shipmates, an examination of Hawaii, the place where Manifest Destiny got a sunburn.
Many think of 1776 as the defining year of American history, when we became a nation devoted to the pursuit of happiness through self-government. In Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell argues that 1898 might be a year just as defining, when, in an orgy of imperialism, the United States annexed Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam, and invaded first Cuba, then the Philippines, becoming an international superpower practically overnight.
Among the developments in these outposts of 1898, Vowell considers the Americanization of Hawaii the most intriguing. From the arrival of New England missionaries in 1820, their goal to Christianize the local heathen, to the coup d’état of the missionaries’ sons in 1893, which overthrew the Hawaiian queen, the events leading up to American annexation feature a cast of
beguiling, and often appealing or tragic, characters: whalers who fired cannons at the Bible-thumpers denying them their God-given right to whores, an incestuous princess pulled between
her new god and her brother-husband, sugar barons, lepers, con men, Theodore Roosevelt, and the last Hawaiian queen, a songwriter whose sentimental ode “Aloha ‘Oe” serenaded the first
Hawaiian president of the United States during his 2009 inaugural parade.
With her trademark smart-alecky insights and reporting, Vowell lights out to discover the off, emblematic, and exceptional history of the fiftieth state, and in so doing finds America, warts and all.
March 22, 2011
Interesting analysis from Stratfor of the U.S.-led war in Libya and the Westʻs conflicting imperatives: welcoming popular democratic uprisings while preventing repressive governments from crushing them:
Nevertheless, a narrative on what has happened in the Arab world has emerged and has become the framework for thinking about the region. The narrative says that the region is being swept by democratic revolutions (in the Western sense) rising up against oppressive regimes. The West must support these uprisings gently. That means that they must not sponsor them but at the same time act to prevent the repressive regimes from crushing them.
This is a complex maneuver. The West supporting the rebels will turn it into another phase of Western imperialism, under this theory. But the failure to support the rising will be a betrayal of fundamental moral principles.
The problem with Libya is that the government enjoys significant popular support from certain tribal factions, while the opposition forces are a loose coalition of tribes that oppose the Gadhafi regime, not a popular uprising.
Libya, the West and the Narrative of Democracy
By George Friedman
Forces from the United States and some European countries have intervened in Libya. Under U.N. authorization, they have imposed a no-fly zone in Libya, meaning they will shoot down any Libyan aircraft that attempts to fly within Libya. In addition, they have conducted attacks against aircraft on the ground, airfields, air defenses and the command, control and communication systems of the Libyan government, and French and U.S. aircraft have struck against Libyan armor and ground forces. There also are reports of European and Egyptian special operations forces deploying in eastern Libya, where the opposition to the government is centered, particularly around the city of Benghazi. In effect, the intervention of this alliance has been against the government of Moammar Gadhafi, and by extension, in favor of his opponents in the east.
The alliance’s full intention is not clear, nor is it clear that the allies are of one mind. The U.N. Security Council resolution clearly authorizes the imposition of a no-fly zone. By extension, this logically authorizes strikes against airfields and related targets. Very broadly, it also defines the mission of the intervention as protecting civilian lives. As such, it does not specifically prohibit the presence of ground forces, though it does clearly state that no “foreign occupation force” shall be permitted on Libyan soil. It can be assumed they intended that forces could intervene in Libya but could not remain in Libya after the intervention. What this means in practice is less than clear.
There is no question that the intervention is designed to protect Gadhafi’s enemies from his forces. Gadhafi had threatened to attack “without mercy” and had mounted a sustained eastward assault that the rebels proved incapable of slowing. Before the intervention, the vanguard of his forces was on the doorstep of Benghazi. The protection of the eastern rebels from Gadhafi’s vengeance coupled with attacks on facilities under Gadhafi’s control logically leads to the conclusion that the alliance wants regime change, that it wants to replace the Gadhafi government with one led by the rebels.
But that would be too much like the invasion of Iraq against Saddam Hussein, and the United Nations and the alliance haven’t gone that far in their rhetoric, regardless of the logic of their actions. Rather, the goal of the intervention is explicitly to stop Gadhafi’s threat to slaughter his enemies, support his enemies but leave the responsibility for the outcome in the hands of the eastern coalition. In other words — and this requires a lot of words to explain — they want to intervene to protect Gadhafi’s enemies, they are prepared to support those enemies (though it is not clear how far they are willing to go in providing that support), but they will not be responsible for the outcome of the civil war.
The Regional Context
To understand this logic, it is essential to begin by considering recent events in North Africa and the Arab world and the manner in which Western governments interpreted them. Beginning with Tunisia, spreading to Egypt and then to the Arabian Peninsula, the last two months have seen widespread unrest in the Arab world. Three assumptions have been made about this unrest. The first was that it represented broad-based popular opposition to existing governments, rather than representing the discontent of fragmented minorities — in other words, that they were popular revolutions. Second, it assumed that these revolutions had as a common goal the creation of a democratic society. Third, it assumed that the kind of democratic society they wanted was similar to European-American democracy, in other words, a constitutional system supporting Western democratic values.
Each of the countries experiencing unrest was very different. For example, in Egypt, while the cameras focused on demonstrators, they spent little time filming the vast majority of the country that did not rise up. Unlike 1979 in Iran, the shopkeepers and workers did not protest en masse. Whether they supported the demonstrators in Tahrir Square is a matter of conjecture. They might have, but the demonstrators were a tiny fraction of Egyptian society, and while they clearly wanted a democracy, it is less than clear that they wanted a liberal democracy. Recall that the Iranian Revolution created an Islamic Republic more democratic than its critics would like to admit, but radically illiberal and oppressive. In Egypt, it is clear that Mubarak was generally loathed but not clear that the regime in general was being rejected. It is not clear from the outcome what will happen now. Egypt may stay as it is, it may become an illiberal democracy or it may become a liberal democracy.
Consider also Bahrain. Clearly, the majority of the population is Shiite, and resentment toward the Sunni government is apparent. It should be assumed that the protesters want to dramatically increase Shiite power, and elections should do the trick. Whether they want to create a liberal democracy fully aligned with the U.N. doctrines on human rights is somewhat more problematic.
Egypt is a complicated country, and any simple statement about what is going on is going to be wrong. Bahrain is somewhat less complex, but the same holds there. The idea that opposition to the government means support for liberal democracy is a tremendous stretch in all cases — and the idea that what the demonstrators say they want on camera is what they actually want is problematic. Even more problematic in many cases is the idea that the demonstrators in the streets simply represent a universal popular will.
Nevertheless, a narrative on what has happened in the Arab world has emerged and has become the framework for thinking about the region. The narrative says that the region is being swept by democratic revolutions (in the Western sense) rising up against oppressive regimes. The West must support these uprisings gently. That means that they must not sponsor them but at the same time act to prevent the repressive regimes from crushing them.
This is a complex maneuver. The West supporting the rebels will turn it into another phase of Western imperialism, under this theory. But the failure to support the rising will be a betrayal of fundamental moral principles. Leaving aside whether the narrative is accurate, reconciling these two principles is not easy — but it particularly appeals to Europeans with their ideological preference for “soft power.”
The West has been walking a tightrope of these contradictory principles; Libya became the place where they fell off. According to the narrative, what happened in Libya was another in a series of democratic uprisings, but in this case suppressed with a brutality outside the bounds of what could be tolerated. Bahrain apparently was inside the bounds, and Egypt was a success, but Libya was a case in which the world could not stand aside while Gadhafi destroyed a democratic uprising. Now, the fact that the world had stood aside for more than 40 years while Gadhafi brutalized his own and other people was not the issue. In the narrative being told, Libya was no longer an isolated tyranny but part of a widespread rising — and the one in which the West’s moral integrity was being tested in the extreme. Now was different from before.
Of course, as with other countries, there was a massive divergence between the narrative and what actually happened. Certainly, that there was unrest in Tunisia and Egypt caused opponents of Gadhafi to think about opportunities, and the apparent ease of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings gave them some degree of confidence. But it would be an enormous mistake to see what has happened in Libya as a mass, liberal democratic uprising. The narrative has to be strained to work in most countries, but in Libya, it breaks down completely.
The Libyan Uprising
As we have pointed out, the Libyan uprising consisted of a cluster of tribes and personalities, some within the Libyan government, some within the army and many others longtime opponents of the regime, all of whom saw an opportunity at this particular moment. Though many in western portions of Libya, notably in the cities of Zawiya and Misurata, identify themselves with the opposition, they do not represent the heart of the historic opposition to Tripoli found in the east. It is this region, known in the pre-independence era as Cyrenaica, that is the core of the opposition movement. United perhaps only by their opposition to Gadhafi, these people hold no common ideology and certainly do not all advocate Western-style democracy. Rather, they saw an opportunity to take greater power, and they tried to seize it.
According to the narrative, Gadhafi should quickly have been overwhelmed — but he wasn’t. He actually had substantial support among some tribes and within the army. All of these supporters had a great deal to lose if he was overthrown. Therefore, they proved far stronger collectively than the opposition, even if they were taken aback by the initial opposition successes. To everyone’s surprise, Gadhafi not only didn’t flee, he counterattacked and repulsed his enemies.
This should not have surprised the world as much as it did. Gadhafi did not run Libya for the past 42 years because he was a fool, nor because he didn’t have support. He was very careful to reward his friends and hurt and weaken his enemies, and his supporters were substantial and motivated. One of the parts of the narrative is that the tyrant is surviving only by force and that the democratic rising readily routs him. The fact is that the tyrant had a lot of support in this case, the opposition wasn’t particularly democratic, much less organized or cohesive, and it was Gadhafi who routed them.
As Gadhafi closed in on Benghazi, the narrative shifted from the triumph of the democratic masses to the need to protect them from Gadhafi — hence the urgent calls for airstrikes. But this was tempered by reluctance to act decisively by landing troops, engaging the Libyan army and handing power to the rebels: Imperialism had to be avoided by doing the least possible to protect the rebels while arming them to defeat Gadhafi. Armed and trained by the West, provided with command of the air by the foreign air forces — this was the arbitrary line over which the new government keeps from being a Western puppet. It still seems a bit over the line, but that’s how the story goes.
In fact, the West is now supporting a very diverse and sometimes mutually hostile group of tribes and individuals, bound together by hostility to Gadhafi and not much else. It is possible that over time they could coalesce into a fighting force, but it is far more difficult imagining them defeating Gadhafi’s forces anytime soon, much less governing Libya together. There are simply too many issues between them. It is, in part, these divisions that allowed Gadhafi to stay in power as long as he did. The West’s ability to impose order on them without governing them, particularly in a short amount of time, is difficult to imagine. They remind me of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, anointed by the Americans, distrusted by much of the country and supported by a fractious coalition.
There are other factors involved, of course. Italy has an interest in Libyan oil, and the United Kingdom was looking for access to the same. But just as Gadhafi was happy to sell the oil, so would any successor regime be; this war was not necessary to guarantee access to oil. NATO politics also played a role. The Germans refused to go with this operation, and that drove the French closer to the Americans and British. There is the Arab League, which supported a no-fly zone (though it did an about-face when it found out that a no-fly zone included bombing things) and offered the opportunity to work with the Arab world.
But it would be a mistake to assume that these passing interests took precedence over the ideological narrative, the genuine belief that it was possible to thread the needle between humanitarianism and imperialism — that it was possible to intervene in Libya on humanitarian grounds without thereby interfering in the internal affairs of the country. The belief that one can take recourse to war to save the lives of the innocent without, in the course of that war, taking even more lives of innocents, also was in play.
The comparison to Iraq is obvious. Both countries had a monstrous dictator. Both were subjected to no-fly zones. The no-fly zones don’t deter the dictator. In due course, this evolves into a massive intervention in which the government is overthrown and the opposition goes into an internal civil war while simultaneously attacking the invaders. Of course, alternatively, this might play out like the Kosovo war, where a few months of bombing saw the government surrender the province. But in that case, only a province was in play. In this case, although focused ostensibly on the east, Gadhafi in effect is being asked to give up everything, and the same with his supporters — a harder business.
In my view, waging war to pursue the national interest is on rare occasion necessary. Waging war for ideological reasons requires a clear understanding of the ideology and an even clearer understanding of the reality on the ground. In this intervention, the ideology is not crystal clear, torn as it is between the concept of self-determination and the obligation to intervene to protect the favored faction. The reality on the ground is even less clear. The reality of democratic uprisings in the Arab world is much more complicated than the narrative makes it out to be, and the application of the narrative to Libya simply breaks down. There is unrest, but unrest comes in many sizes, democratic being only one.
Whenever you intervene in a country, whatever your intentions, you are intervening on someone’s side. In this case, the United States, France and Britain are intervening in favor of a poorly defined group of mutually hostile and suspicious tribes and factions that have failed to coalesce, at least so far, into a meaningful military force. The intervention may well succeed. The question is whether the outcome will create a morally superior nation. It is said that there can’t be anything worse than Gadhafi. But Gadhafi did not rule for 42 years because he was simply a dictator using force against innocents, but rather because he speaks to a real and powerful dimension of Libya.
Libya, the West and the Narrative of Democracy is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
July 20, 2010
Resolution Opposing U.S. Imperialist Wars and Militarism
Resolution Opposing U.S. Imperialist Wars and Militarism
Prepared for the 2010 U.S. Social Forum People’s Movement Assembly
WHEREAS, Pentagon spending has doubled to over $700 billion in the past eight years, and the U.S. Empire maintains over 700 military bases around the globe to wage perpetual war in its unending pursuit of profits and power;
WHEREAS, in the process, the U.S. military kills innocent civilians and destroys infrastructure, undermines democracy and human rights, threatens the sovereignty of nations, displaces farmers and indigenous people from their land, and wreaks environmental devastation;
WHEREAS, the U.S. government uses the so-called War on Terror as justification for the militarization of the U.S. border, the wholesale targeting of Muslim and Arab communities, the expansion of police departments, the prison industrial complex, and other institutions and policies aimed at silencing all those seen as threats to capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and heterosexism;
WHEREAS, U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stolen more than $1 trillion away from vital needed services, such as universal healthcare, affordable housing, and living wage jobs in communities victimized by the economic crisis – especially people of color, who bear the brunt of these crises due to structural racism, and immigrants, who become scapegoats in times of economic recession;
WHEREAS, the Pentagon continues to invest billions of our tax dollars and human resources each year into developing new and more advanced weapons systems that have no civilian or military justification, while the average living standard in the United States has long been on the decline, and unemployment has steadily been on the rise;
WHEREAS, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of troops for war, and dropping tons of munitions on urban centers and rural communities not only destroy lives, but pushes the planet closer to ecological destruction by consuming a massive amount of fossil fuels, destroying critical ecosystems, and creating resource scarcity;
WHEREAS, we believe all people should have the right to self-determination and peaceful existence; that collective security comes from mutual respect, not by hoarding of the world’s resources by a few; and we must move beyond empire and militarized methods of control; and
WHEREAS, people in the United States have a stake in challenging the power of war-making institutions and converting the vast resources now wasted on war-making into productive capacity for raising the quality of life for all; and we see our futures intertwined with the futures of the people of the Global South, and believe that we have a responsibility to hold this government accountable; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that we, the undersigned organizations, united in our opposition to imperialist war and militarism, commit to building a movement for a truly just and lasting peace; and be it further
RESOLVED, that we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are struggling under the weight of U.S. militarism and imperialism for peace, justice and self-determination in other countries; and be it further
RESOLVED, that we demand an immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and call on the U.S. government to provide reparations to address the humanitarian crises in these countries, as well as repair the physical damage caused by its invasion and occupation; and be it further
RESOLVED, that we reject any planned attack on Iran, and call on the U.S. government to stop funding Israel’s occupation and colonization of the Palestinian people; and be it further
RESOLVED, that we call on the U.S. government to respect the self-determination of people in Africa, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East, and demand a total abolition of all foreign military bases and other infrastructure for wars of aggression, including military interventions, operations, trainings, exercises, and laboratories dedicated to weapons construction; and be it further
RESOLVED, that we call on the U.S. government to put the vast resources now wasted on war-making toward meeting urgent civilian needs, including the funding of jobs in housing, health care, education, clean energy and infrastructure repairs, and preventing the layoff of state and local public workers; and be it further
RESOLVED, that we declare October 2010 a month of people’s resistance against empire, and be it further
RESOLVED, that on October 2, we will take to the streets of Washington, DC to call for moving the money from wars, weapons and war planning to jobs, homes and education; and be it further
RESOLVED, that on October 3-7, we will mark the anniversary of the launching of the Afghanistan war with decentralized international days of action for an immediate ceasefire, negotiations and total withdrawal of all US and NATO troops.
CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities
Causa Justa: Just Cause
Communities for a Better Environment
Direct Action for Rights and Equality
Desis Rising Up & Moving
DMZ Hawaii/Aloha Aina
Grassroots Global Justice – Beyond Empire
Hawaiian Independence Action Alliance
Labor Community Strategy Center
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
National Priorities Project
Nodutdol for Korean Community Development
Ohana Koa / Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific
Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago
People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER)
Veterans for Peace Chapter 27
Veterans for Peace Chapter 47 (Southwestern Pennsylvania)
West Coast Famoksaiyan
Women for Genuine Security
May 16, 2010
Making the Invisible Empire Visible
Film Review by John Junkerman
Mention “The Insular Empire” to the average American, and they’d likely have no idea what you were talking about. They probably still wouldn’t get it if you gave them another clue: “America in the Mariana Islands.” These are the title and subtitle of a new film by Vanessa Warheit, which began screening on PBS earlier this year.
It is the singular misfortune of the residents of Guam and the Northern Marianas to have been born on tiny islands of great strategic value in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The consequence has been their colonial subordination for four centuries to a succession of empires: Spain, the United States, Germany, Japan, and, since the Pacific War, the US again.
A “colony” of the American “empire”? Of course, the US does not acknowledge that the “territory” of Guam and the “commonwealth” of the Northern Mariana Islands are colonies. But, as the film points out, the residents of these islands bear American passports yet have only token representation in the US Congress. They have the ‘right’ to fight in the US military (soldiers from Guam have died in Iraq and Afghanistan at a per capita rate four times as high as any US state), but they don’t have a vote in the election of the commander-in-chief. One third of Guam is controlled by the US military and the island is slated for a massive military buildup, but as a “non-self-governing territory,” the islanders have no say in the matter.
The principle of government with the consent of the governed, over which the American colonies fought the War of Independence, does not apply to the Mariana Islands. Yes, these are colonies.
It is one of the ironies of the American “empire of bases” (in Chalmer Johnson’s apt phrase) that the empire remains largely invisible to all but the soldiers who occupy these bases spread across the globe and the citizens of the lands that host them. What is true of the de facto American empire is even more true of these colonies: to Americans, they are no more than tiny specks in the ocean, 6,000 miles from the coast of California. This film, the first comprehensive telling of the story of the Marianas to the American public, performs the invaluable service of making this invisible empire visible.
The film could not be more timely. The transfer of 8,000 Marines (and nearly 10,000 dependents and civilians) to Guam from the Futenma air base on the equally militarized Japanese island of Okinawa is scheduled to take place in 2014. Preparations for the $12 billion base construction project (which will include extensive dredging of coral reef so the naval base can accommodate aircraft carriers, among numerous other expansions) are already underway. The project will bring in some 79,000 people, including temporary construction workers, boosting the population of the already crowded island by 40 percent. While welcomed by some sectors on Guam as an economic transfusion, the buildup threatens to destroy the island’s natural beauty and cause an environmental disaster. The US Environmental Protection Agency in February blasted the military’s draft environmental impact statement as “environmentally unsatisfactory,” citing expected shortages of drinking water, the over-burdening of the island’s crumbling sewage treatment infrastructure, and inadequate plans to mitigate ecological damage.
But the military’s presence and proposed expansion are not the focus of this film, only in part because the military refused to allow the filmmakers access to the bases and declined requests for interviews. Rather, the film aims to illuminate the history that has left these islands pawns in America’s global chess game. It is a complex history: despite being part of the same archipelago, Guam (an American colony since the Spanish-American War in 1898), and the Northern Marianas (which include the islands of Saipan and Tinian) have different colonial pasts and distinct political status today. This history is deftly told with inventive graphics and superbly researched archival footage, reflecting the eight painstaking years spent in producing the film.
The islands’ complex history is matched by a deeply conflicted identity. Much of the population is intensely loyal to the US, reflecting the pervasive presence of the military and the high levels of enlistment, yet the islanders are perpetual second-class citizens. English is spoken and the dominant culture is American (the world’s largest K-Mart is on Guam), yet there are persistent efforts to preserve the indigenous Chamorro language and culture. Guam’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism and the military, but a different course of development might have been chosen if the islanders had control of their land and destiny (choices that the Guam Buildup will put forever out of reach).
Warheit has provided depth and character to these issues of identity by following four individuals, two each from Guam and the Northern Marianas, through the course of the film. The eldest, Carlos Taitano, a former speaker of the Guam Legislature, was born in 1917 and thus witnessed and participated in Guam’s postwar history, during which “the people of the Marianas were a distant afterthought,” he observes. A businessman (the island’s Coca-Cola bottler) and an advocate of statehood, he died in 2009, before the film was released, his distant dream unrealized.
When Hope Cristobal represented Guam in the Miss Universe pageant in 1967, she visited the States for the first time and encountered anti-Vietnam War protests in San Francisco, opening her eyes to a counter-military narrative she had never imagined on Guam. She has since become an advocate for Guam’s self-determination and the director of a museum of Chamorro culture. It is, in many ways, a reclamation project: when she was a schoolgirl, she was punished for speaking the Chamorro language (recalling the forced Americanization of Native Americans, and the parallel Japanization of the Okinawa islanders), and few young people now speak the language.
Where Guam was occupied by the US Navy and Air Force, Saipan (in the Northern Marianas) was used by the CIA as a secret base to train Chinese and Southeast Asian insurgents, and Lino Olopai found work on the base as a security guard. Pete Tenorio worked as a caddy on the CIA’s golf course. The Northern Marianas were then a UN trust territory under US administration, until 1975, when a plebiscite approved a “covenant” that made the islands an American commonwealth.
Lino Olopai and Pete Tenorio appear in an excerpt of the film.
Tenorio entered politics and eventually was elected “resident representative” of the commonwealth, with an office in Washington, DC, where he negotiates not with Congress but with the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs. “People here [in the US] are just not aware of this relationship,” he says in frustration, “and if they’re not aware, what’s our solution to it?” Olopai pressed for independence at the time of the plebiscite and when the commonwealth status was approved, he left Saipan for the Caroline Islands to reconnect with his roots. There he learned the dying art of celestial navigation, which he has continued to teach to others since his return to Saipan.
While the US military is not the focus of the film, its presence is inescapable. US soldiers march in uniform in Guam’s annual Liberation Day parade, commemorating the defeat of the Japanese occupation of the island on July 21, 1944. More than 60 years later, the military is still lionized as Guam’s “liberator,” but, as Hope Cristobal comments, “The US has not given us anything but the military.” If the Guam Buildup goes forward as planned, there will be precious little room left on Guam for anything but the military.
For many years, Cristobal made an annual trek to the UN, to appeal for Guam’s self-determination before the Special Committee on Decolonization. In one of the most poignant moments of the film, her daughter Hope Cristobal, Jr. follows in her footsteps and testifies at the UN. The road ahead for Guam is a long one, she comments, “but even if you make one ripple in this big ocean, it still counts.”
The compact (59-minute) and information-packed format of the film make it a valuable resource for teaching and organizing. For information on PBS broadcasts and other screenings of the film, consult the blog here. The film is available on DVD, and a Japanese-subtitled version will be available soon, through the same blog address.
John Junkerman wrote this review for The Asia-Pacific Journal.
John Junkerman is an American documentary filmmaker and Japan Focus associate living in Tokyo. His most recent film, “Japan’s Peace Constitution” (2005), won the Kinema Jumpo and Japan PEN Club best documentary awards. It is available in North America from First Run Icarus Films. He co-produced and edited “Outside the Great Wall,” a film on Chinese writers and artists in exile that will be released in Japan and abroad later this year.
Recommended citation: John Junkerman, “Making the Invisible Empire Visible,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 20-1-10, May 17, 2010.
February 11, 2010
The following article by Chris Hedges is like an apocalyptic-postmodernist-humanist-survivalist manifesto. He raises interesting arguments and analysis about the futility of trying to save a corrupt and dying system and the need to create a new system. He argues that we need to plan, prepare and implement strategies for a long period of survival, resistance, and rebuilding of the world. With the unsentimental vision of a former war correspondent, his descriptions of the addictive power of violence and its deforming effects are compelling. He touches on militarization:
The rot of imperialism, which is always incompatible with democracy, has seen the military and arms manufacturers monopolize $1 trillion a year in defense-related spending in the United States even as the nation faces economic collapse. Imperialism always militarizes domestic politics. And this militarization, as Wolin notes, combines with the cultural fantasies of hero worship and tales of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, action measured in nanoseconds and a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility to sever huge segments of the population from reality.
Chris Hedges on the Zero Point of Systemic Collapse
We stand on the cusp of one of humanity’s most dangerous moments.
08 Feb 2010
Aleksandr Herzen, speaking a century ago to a group of anarchists about how to overthrow the czar, reminded his listeners that it was not their job to save a dying system but to replace it: “We think we are the doctors. We are the disease.” All resistance must recognize that the body politic and global capitalism are dead. We should stop wasting energy trying to reform or appeal to it. This does not mean the end of resistance, but it does mean very different forms of resistance. It means turning our energies toward building sustainable communities to weather the coming crisis, since we will be unable to survive and resist without a cooperative effort.
These communities, if they retreat into a pure survivalist mode without linking themselves to the concentric circles of the wider community, the state and the planet, will become as morally and spiritually bankrupt as the corporate forces arrayed against us. All infrastructures we build, like the monasteries in the Middle Ages, should seek to keep alive the intellectual and artistic traditions that make a civil society, humanism and the common good possible. Access to parcels of agricultural land will be paramount. We will have to grasp, as the medieval monks did, that we cannot alter the larger culture around us, at least in the short term, but we may be able to retain the moral codes and culture for generations beyond ours. Resistance will be reduced to small, often imperceptible acts of defiance, as those who retained their integrity discovered in the long night of 20th-century fascism and communism.
We stand on the cusp of one of the bleakest periods in human history when the bright lights of a civilization blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity. The elites have successfully convinced us that we no longer have the capacity to understand the revealed truths presented before us or to fight back against the chaos caused by economic and environmental catastrophe. As long as the mass of bewildered and frightened people, fed images that permit them to perpetually hallucinate, exist in this state of barbarism, they may periodically strike out with a blind fury against increased state repression, widespread poverty and food shortages. But they will lack the ability and self-confidence to challenge in big and small ways the structures of control. The fantasy of widespread popular revolts and mass movements breaking the hegemony of the corporate state is just that – a fantasy.
My analysis comes close to the analysis of many anarchists. But there is a crucial difference. The anarchists do not understand the nature of violence. They grasp the extent of the rot in our cultural and political institutions, they know they must sever the tentacles of consumerism, but they naïvely believe that it can be countered with physical forms of resistance and acts of violence. There are debates within the anarchist movement – such as those on the destruction of property – but once you start using plastic explosives, innocent people get killed. And when anarchic violence begins to disrupt the mechanisms of governance, the power elite will use these acts, however minor, as an excuse to employ disproportionate and ruthless amounts of force against real and suspected agitators, only fueling the rage of the dispossessed.
I am not a pacifist. I know there are times, and even concede that this may eventually be one of them, when human beings are forced to respond to mounting repression with violence. I was in Sarajevo during the war in Bosnia. We knew precisely what the Serbian forces ringing the city would do to us if they broke through the defenses and trench system around the besieged city. We had the examples of the Drina Valley or the city of Vukovar, where about a third of the Muslim inhabitants had been killed and the rest herded into refugee or displacement camps. There are times when the only choice left is to pick up a weapon to defend your family, neighborhood and city. But those who proved most adept at defending Sarajevo invariably came from the criminal class. When they were not shooting at Serbian soldiers they were looting the apartments of ethnic Serbs in Sarajevo and often executing them, as well as terrorizing their fellow Muslims. When you ingest the poison of violence, even in a just cause, it corrupts, deforms and perverts you. Violence is a drug, indeed it is the most potent narcotic known to humankind. Those most addicted to violence are those who have access to weapons and a penchant for force. And these killers rise to the surface of any armed movement and contaminate it with the intoxicating and seductive power that comes with the ability to destroy. I have seen it in war after war. When you go down that road you end up pitting your monsters against their monsters. And the sensitive, the humane and the gentle, those who have a propensity to nurture and protect life, are marginalized and often killed. The romantic vision of war and violence is as prevalent among anarchists and the hard left as it is in the mainstream culture. Those who resist with force will not defeat the corporate state or sustain the cultural values that must be sustained if we are to have a future worth living. From my many years as a war correspondent in El Salvador, Guatemala, Gaza and Bosnia, I have seen that armed resistance movements are always mutations of the violence that spawned them. I am not naïve enough to think I could have avoided these armed movements had I been a landless Salvadoran or Guatemalan peasant, a Palestinian in Gaza or a Muslim in Sarajevo, but this violent response to repression is and always will be tragic. It must be avoided, although not at the expense of our own survival.
Democracy, a system ideally designed to challenge the status quo, has been corrupted and tamed to slavishly serve the status quo. We have undergone, as John Ralston Saul writes, a coup d’état in slow motion. And the coup is over. They won. We lost. The abject failure of activists to push corporate, industrialized states toward serious environmental reform, to thwart imperial adventurism or to build a humane policy toward the masses of the world’s poor stems from an inability to recognize the new realities of power. The paradigm of power has irrevocably altered and so must the paradigm of resistance alter.
THERE WAS A LOT OF TALK LAST YEAR ABOUT HOW BARACK OBAMA WOULD BE A “TRANSFORMATIONAL” PRESIDENT – BUT TRUE TRANSFORMATION, IT TURNS OUT, REQUIRES A LOT MORE THAN ELECTING ONE TELEGENIC LEADER. ACTUALLY TURNING THIS COUNTRY AROUND IS GOING TO TAKE YEARS OF SIEGE WARFARE AGAINST DEEPLY ENTRENCHED INTERESTS, DEFENDING A DEEPLY DYSFUNCTIONAL POLITICAL SYSTEM.
PAUL KRUGMAN, “MISSING RICHARD NIXON,” THE NEW YORK TIMES, AUGUST 30, 2009
Too many resistance movements continue to buy into the facade of electoral politics, parliaments, constitutions, bills of rights, lobbying and the appearance of a rational economy. The levers of power have become so contaminated that the needs and voices of citizens have become irrelevant. The election of Barack Obama was yet another triumph of propaganda over substance and a skillful manipulation and betrayal of the public by the mass media. We mistook style and ethnicity – an advertising tactic pioneered by the United Colors of Benetton and Calvin Klein – for progressive politics and genuine change. We confused how we were made to feel with knowledge. But the goal, as with all brands, was to make passive consumers mistake a brand for an experience. Obama, now a global celebrity, is a brand. He had almost no experience besides two years in the senate, lacked any moral core and was sold as all things to all people. The Obama campaign was named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008 and edged out runners-up Apple and Zappos.com. Take it from the professionals. Brand Obama is a marketer’s dream. President Obama does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another. This is the essence of successful advertising. You buy or do what the advertisers want because of how they can make you feel.
We live in a culture characterized by what Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics.” Junk politics does not demand justice or the reparation of rights. It always personalizes issues rather than clarifying them. It eschews real debate for manufactured scandals, celebrity gossip and spectacles. It trumpets eternal optimism, endlessly praises our moral strength and character, and communicates in a feel-your-pain language. The result of junk politics is that nothing changes, “meaning zero interruption in the processes and practices that strengthen existing, interlocking systems of socioeconomic advantage.”
The cultural belief that we can make things happen by thinking, by visualizing, by wanting them, by tapping into our inner strength or by understanding that we are truly exceptional is magical thinking. We can always make more money, meet new quotas, consume more products and advance our career if we have enough faith. This magical thinking, preached to us across the political spectrum by Oprah, sports celebrities, Hollywood, self-help gurus and Christian demagogues, is largely responsible for our economic and environmental collapse, since any Cassandra who saw it coming was dismissed as “negative.” This belief, which allows men and women to behave and act like little children, discredits legitimate concerns and anxieties. It exacerbates despair and passivity. It fosters a state of self-delusion. The purpose, structure and goals of the corporate state are never seriously questioned. To question, to engage in criticism of the corporate collective, is to be obstructive and negative. And it has perverted the way we view ourselves, our nation and the natural world. The new paradigm of power, coupled with its bizarre ideology of limitless progress and impossible happiness, has turned whole nations, including the United States, into monsters.
We can march in Copenhagen. We can join Bill McKibben’s worldwide day of climate protests. We can compost in our backyards and hang our laundry out to dry. We can write letters to our elected officials and vote for Barack Obama, but the power elite is impervious to the charade of democratic participation. Power is in the hands of moral and intellectual trolls who are ruthlessly creating a system of neo-feudalism and killing the ecosystem that sustains the human species. And appealing to their better nature, or seeking to influence the internal levers of power, will no longer work.
We will not, especially in the United States, avoid our Götterdämmerung. Obama, like Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the other heads of the industrialized nations, has proven as craven a tool of the corporate state as George W. Bush. Our democratic system has been transformed into what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin labels inverted totalitarianism. Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism, a free press, parliamentary systems and constitutions while manipulating and corrupting internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions. Political candidates are elected in popular votes by citizens but are ruled by armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington, Ottawa or other state capitals who author the legislation and get the legislators to pass it. A corporate media controls nearly everything we read, watch or hear and imposes a bland uniformity of opinion. Mass culture, owned and disseminated by corporations, diverts us with trivia, spectacles and celebrity gossip. In classical totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics. “Under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true,” Wolin writes. “Economics dominates politics – and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness.”
Inverted totalitarianism wields total power without resorting to cruder forms of control such as gulags, concentration camps or mass terror. It harnesses science and technology for its dark ends. It enforces ideological uniformity by using mass communication systems to instill profligate consumption as an inner compulsion and to substitute our illusions of ourselves for reality. It does not forcibly suppress dissidents, as long as those dissidents remain ineffectual. And as it diverts us it dismantles manufacturing bases, devastates communities, unleashes waves of human misery and ships jobs to countries where fascists and communists know how to keep workers in line. It does all this while waving the flag and mouthing patriotic slogans. “The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed,” Wolin writes.
The practice and psychology of advertising, the rule of “market forces” in many arenas other than markets, the continuous technological advances that encourage elaborate fantasies (computer games, virtual avatars, space travel), the saturation by mass media and propaganda of every household and the takeover of the universities have rendered most of us hostages. The rot of imperialism, which is always incompatible with democracy, has seen the military and arms manufacturers monopolize $1 trillion a year in defense-related spending in the United States even as the nation faces economic collapse. Imperialism always militarizes domestic politics. And this militarization, as Wolin notes, combines with the cultural fantasies of hero worship and tales of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, action measured in nanoseconds and a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility to sever huge segments of the population from reality. Those who control the images control us. And while we have been entranced by the celluloid shadows on the walls of Plato’s cave, these corporate forces, extolling the benefits of privatization, have effectively dismantled the institutions of social democracy (Social Security, unions, welfare, public health services and public housing) and rolled back the social and political ideals of the New Deal. The proponents of globalization and unregulated capitalism do not waste time analyzing other ideologies. They have an ideology, or rather a plan of action that is defended by an ideology, and slavishly follow it. We on the left have dozens of analyses of competing ideologies without any coherent plan of our own. This has left us floundering while corporate forces ruthlessly dismantle civil society.
We are living through one of civilization’s great seismic reversals. The ideology of globalization, like all “inevitable” utopian visions, is being exposed as a fraud. The power elite, perplexed and confused, clings to the disastrous principles of globalization and its outdated language to mask the looming political and economic vacuum. The absurd idea that the marketplace alone should determine economic and political constructs led industrial nations to sacrifice other areas of human importance – from working conditions, to taxation, to child labor, to hunger, to health and pollution – on the altar of free trade. It left the world’s poor worse off and the United States with the largest deficits – which can never be repaid – in human history. The massive bailouts, stimulus packages, giveaways and short-term debt, along with imperial wars we can no longer afford, will leave the United States struggling to finance nearly $5 trillion in debt this year. This will require Washington to auction off about $96 billion in debt a week. Once China and the oil-rich states walk away from our debt, which one day has to happen, the Federal Reserve will become the buyer of last resort. The Fed has printed perhaps as much as two trillion new dollars in the last two years, and buying this much new debt will see it, in effect, print trillions more. This is when inflation, and most likely hyperinflation, will turn the dollar into junk. And at that point the entire system breaks down.
IMAGINE LEADING ECONOMISTS SPENT A LITTLE TIME IN THE WILDERNESS. PERHAPS THE CHAIR OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE COULD SPEND AN AFTERNOON STANDING AT THE MOUTH OF THE TSIU RIVER ON CENTRAL ALASKA’S LITTLE EXPLORED LOST COAST, AS THE SLEEK BODIES OF SILVER SALMON EVERYWHERE SWELLED UPSTREAM PUSHING AGAINST HIM.
E.F. SCHUMACHER SOCIETY, SMALLISBEAUTIFUL.ORG
All traditional standards and beliefs are shattered in a severe economic crisis. The moral order is turned upside down. The honest and industrious are wiped out while the gangsters, profiteers and speculators walk away with millions. The elite will retreat, as Naomi Klein has written in The Shock Doctrine, into gated communities where they will have access to services, food, amenities and security denied to the rest of us. We will begin a period in human history when there will be only masters and serfs. The corporate forces, which will seek to make an alliance with the radical Christian right and other extremists, will use fear, chaos, the rage at the ruling elites and the specter of left-wing dissent and terrorism to impose draconian controls to ruthlessly extinguish opposition movements. And while they do it, they will be waving the American flag, chanting patriotic slogans, promising law and order and clutching the Christian cross. Totalitarianism, George Orwell pointed out, is not so much an age of faith but an age of schizophrenia. “A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial,” Orwell wrote. “That is when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud.” Our elites have used fraud. Force is all they have left.
Our mediocre and bankrupt elite is desperately trying to save a system that cannot be saved. More importantly, they are trying to save themselves. All attempts to work within this decayed system and this class of power brokers will prove useless. And resistance must respond to the harsh new reality of a global, capitalist order that will cling to power through ever-mounting forms of brutal and overt repression. Once credit dries up for the average citizen, once massive joblessness creates a permanent and enraged underclass and the cheap manufactured goods that are the opiates of our commodity culture vanish, we will probably evolve into a system that more closely resembles classical totalitarianism. Cruder, more violent forms of repression will have to be employed as the softer mechanisms of control favored by inverted totalitarianism break down.
It is not accidental that the economic crisis will converge with the environmental crisis. In his book The Great Transformation (1944), Karl Polanyi laid out the devastating consequences – the depressions, wars and totalitarianism – that grow out of a so-called self-regulated free market. He grasped that “fascism, like socialism, was rooted in a market society that refused to function.” He warned that a financial system always devolves, without heavy government control, into a Mafia capitalism – and a Mafia political system – which is a good description of our financial and political structure. A self-regulating market, Polanyi wrote, turns human beings and the natural environment into commodities, a situation that ensures the destruction of both society and the natural environment. The free market’s assumption that nature and human beings are objects whose worth is determined by the market allows each to be exploited for profit until exhaustion or collapse. A society that no longer recognizes that nature and human life have a sacred dimension, an intrinsic value beyond monetary value, commits collective suicide. Such societies cannibalize themselves until they die. This is what we are undergoing.
If we build self-contained structures, ones that do as little harm as possible to the environment, we can weather the coming collapse. This task will be accomplished through the existence of small, physical enclaves that have access to sustainable agriculture, are able to sever themselves as much as possible from commercial culture and can be largely self-sufficient. These communities will have to build walls against electronic propaganda and fear that will be pumped out over the airwaves. Canada will probably be a more hospitable place to do this than the United States, given America’s strong undercurrent of violence. But in any country, those who survive will need isolated areas of land as well as distance from urban areas, which will see the food deserts in the inner cities, as well as savage violence, leach out across the urban landscape as produce and goods become prohibitively expensive and state repression becomes harsher and harsher.
The increasingly overt uses of force by the elites to maintain control should not end acts of resistance. Acts of resistance are moral acts. They begin because people of conscience understand the moral imperative to challenge systems of abuse and despotism. They should be carried out not because they are effective but because they are right. Those who begin these acts are always few in number and dismissed by those who hide their cowardice behind their cynicism. But resistance, however marginal, continues to affirm life in a world awash in death. It is the supreme act of faith, the highest form of spirituality and alone makes hope possible. Those who carried out great acts of resistance often sacrificed their security and comfort, often spent time in jail and in some cases were killed. They understood that to live in the fullest sense of the word, to exist as free and independent human beings, even under the darkest night of state repression, meant to defy injustice.
When the dissident Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was taken from his cell in a Nazi prison to the gallows, his last words were: “This is for me the end, but also the beginning.” Bonhoeffer knew that most of the citizens in his nation were complicit through their silence in a vast enterprise of death. But however hopeless it appeared in the moment, he affirmed what we all must affirm. He did not avoid death. He did not, as a distinct individual, survive. But he understood that his resistance and even his death were acts of love. He fought and died for the sanctity of life. He gave, even to those who did not join him, another narrative, and his defiance ultimately condemned his executioners.
We must continue to resist, but do so now with the discomforting realization that significant change will probably never occur in our lifetime. This makes resistance harder. It shifts resistance from the tangible and the immediate to the amorphous and the indeterminate. But to give up acts of resistance is spiritual and intellectual death. It is to surrender to the dehumanizing ideology of totalitarian capitalism. Acts of resistance keep alive another narrative, sustain our integrity and empower others, who we may never meet, to stand up and carry the flame we pass to them. No act of resistance is useless, whether it is refusing to pay taxes, fighting for a Tobin tax, working to shift the neoclassical economics paradigm, revoking a corporate charter, holding global internet votes or using Twitter to catalyze a chain reaction of refusal against the neoliberal order. But we will have to resist and then find the faith that resistance is worthwhile, for we will not immediately alter the awful configuration of power. And in this long, long war a community to sustain us, emotionally and materially, will be the key to a life of defiance.
The philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote that the exclusive preoccupation with personal concerns and indifference to the suffering of others beyond the self-identified group is what ultimately made fascism and the Holocaust possible: “The inability to identify with others was unquestionably the most important psychological condition for the fact that something like Auschwitz could have occurred in the midst of more or less civilized and innocent people.”
The indifference to the plight of others and the supreme elevation of the self is what the corporate state seeks to instill in us. It uses fear, as well as hedonism, to thwart human compassion. We will have to continue to battle the mechanisms of the dominant culture, if for no other reason than to preserve through small, even tiny acts, our common humanity. We will have to resist the temptation to fold in on ourselves and to ignore the cruelty outside our door. Hope endures in these often imperceptible acts of defiance. This defiance, this capacity to say no, is what the psychopathic forces in control of our power systems seek to eradicate. As long as we are willing to defy these forces we have a chance, if not for ourselves, then at least for those who follow. As long as we defy these forces we remain alive. And for now this is the only victory possible.
Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, is the author of several books including the best sellers War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and his latest, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. He is married to the Canadian actress Eunice Wong. They have a son, Konrad, who is also a Canadian.
July 5, 2009
Kill the Indian. Save the Man.
Thursday 02 July 2009
by: Dahr Jamail and Jason Coppola, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
In 1845, an American columnist, John O’Sullivan, writing about the proposed annexation of Texas, claimed that it was America’s “manifest destiny to overspread the continent.” Later in the same year, referring to the ongoing dispute with Great Britain over Oregon, he wrote that the United States had the right to claim “the whole of Oregon.”
And that claim is by the right of our Manifest Destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent that Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.
The westward expansion did not originate with O’Sullivan’s theory. In 1803, the United States acquired 23 percent of its existing territory through the Louisiana Purchase. Seeing land as a source of political power, the government began to actively pursue aggressive expansion of its territories through the 19th century. The idea of Manifest Destiny was one component of the process which captured the popular imagination. This was further fueled by the discovery of gold and other minerals in the West attracting Easterners acting on their conviction in their right and duty to expand.
The Mexican-American conflict generated massive casualties, and when it was over, the US controlled all of New Mexico and California, and more of the territory of Texas. When Texas was annexed in 1846 as the 26th state, Col. Ethan Allen Hitchcock wrote, “We have not one particle of right to be here.”
Acclaimed historian Howard Zinn told Truthout, “The Mexican War, presented as something we were doing because Mexicans had fired on our soldiers … no, we were going to Mexico because we wanted to take forty percent of Mexican land. California, Arizona, Nevada … all of that beautiful land in the Southwest that was all Mexico. I’ll bet there are very few Americans today who live in that area and know that it belonged to Mexico. Or they may ask, how come all these names? How come Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Santa Ana, how come?”
Perhaps Americans seriously believe that the US was preordained by God to expand and exercise hegemony over all that it surveys? After all, our 25th president, William McKinley, (1897-1901) declared that “The mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation.”
In the Sandwich Island Letters from Hawaii, Mark Twain exhorted his country folk sardonically, “We must annex those people. We can afflict them with our wise and beneficent government. We can introduce the novelty of thieves, all the way up from street-car pickpockets to municipal robbers and Government defaulters, and show them how amusing it is to arrest them and try them and then turn them loose – some for cash and some for political influence. We can make them ashamed of their simple and primitive justice. We can make that little bunch of sleepy islands the hottest corner on earth, and array it in the moral splendor of our high and holy civilization. Annexation is what the poor islanders need. Shall we to men benighted, the lamp of life deny?”
John Trudell of the Santee Sioux comments on the use of mainstream Christianity by the United States as a tool to dominate and colonize large tracts of the continent. Talking to Truthout at Venice Beach, he said that a religious perception of reality as projected by the US, replacing a spiritual perception of reality like that held by most indigenous peoples, “… leads to insanity and incoherence. It leads to self-destruction. It eats into the spirit of the being.”
The analogy he uses in order to illustrate the spiritual impact that religious, administrative and corporate colonization has upon indigenous people is graphic and poetic. He says, “This is a form of mining. It is like a technological form of mining the energy of the planet and we are forms of that energy. That’s the ‘being’ part of us. The human form is made up of metals, minerals and liquids of earth. All things of the earth have ‘being.’ We know they can take the bone, flesh and blood out of the earth that is uranium and put it through a mining-refining process and convert its being into a form of energy, and we know they can do it with fossil fuel. And we know that when they do these things it leaves behind poisons and toxins. And they – and I’m just going to call them the industrial ruling class – but they mine the ‘being’ part of human through programming the human when the human is born to believe their obedience. So the human being that enters this reality is put in with all this distortion that is based upon there being something wrong with them and fear comes real quickly. And when you mine the being part of human, fear is the toxin left behind from that mining. And this programming begins at birth. And the way we’ve been picked apart, we end up as human beings having this tendency to feel powerless. And it’s everywhere…. This powerlessness feeling is pretty prevalent on this planet. ”
An acclaimed poet, national recording artist, actor, and activist, Trudell was a spokesperson for the United Indians of All Tribes occupation of Alcatraz Island from 1969 to 1971. He also served as chairman of the American Indian Movement (AIM), from 1973 to 1979.
Steven Newcomb, a Shawnee/Lenape Native American and author of “Pagans in the Promised Land – Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery,” has written: “It’s a little known fact that the Catholic Church issued a number of papal edicts in the fifteenth century that set into motion patterns of colonization that became globalized over many centuries. In the documents “Dum diversas” (1452) and “Romanus Pontifex” (1455), for example, issued by Pope Nicholas V to King Alfonso V of Portugal, the pope “authorized” the king to send men to the Western Coast of Africa and “to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue” all non-Christians, “to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery,” and to “take away all their possessions and property.” Such patterns of thought and behavior became institutionalized in law and policy, and the patterns are still operative against indigenous peoples today under the concept of “the State.”
An effective means to institutionalize this process was to indoctrinate Native American children at highly religious boarding schools run by the Department of Interior. The children were severed from their families on reservations with the ostensible aim of saving them from poverty.
The original boarding school idea came from Gen. Richard Henry Pratt who formed the Carlyle Indian School in Carlyle, Pennsylvania, in 1878. He wrote in “The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites,” Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the “Friends of the Indian” 1880-1900 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), 260-271, “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”
Systematically, his school and its later extensions stripped away tribal culture. Students were forced to drop their Native American names, barred from speaking in their native languages and forbidden to wear long hair. Punitive measures and torture were rampant.
Pratt’s conviction of moral superiority can be gathered from his views on slavery, “Inscrutable are the ways of Providence. Horrible as were the experiences of its introduction, and of slavery itself, there was concealed in them the greatest blessing that ever came to the Negro race – seven millions of blacks from cannibalism in darkest Africa to citizenship in free and enlightened America; not full, not complete citizenship, but possible – probable – citizenship, and on the highway and near to it.”
Marcos Terena, of the Terena people in the Pantanal region in Matto Groso do Sur, Brazil, was recently visiting the United Nations in New York City. Terena, a key participant in the creation of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, told Truthout, “Big agribusiness is commercializing our corn, yucca, potatoes and other seeds. Oil companies are also in indigenous territory and causing all kinds of destruction.”
He spoke of Parkinson’s disease, cancer, heart attacks and mental disorders, all sicknesses new to the Terena Spiritual leaders who have no means to cure them. They believe with good reason that these ailments have come into their midst with the advent of Western companies and accompanying pollution and contamination.
Terena’s words hit home: “In 1992, in our communities, there was no need for psychiatric hospitals. Now these sicknesses are arriving to us as well. I tell our spiritual leaders that the white people also don’t know how to treat these sicknesses. We are also worried about you who live in the US.”
Forty-three-year-old Moi Enomenga is a leader of the Huaorani, an indigenous group of hunters and gatherers that have inhabited the rainforests at the headwaters of the Amazon for millennia, with no contact from the outside world until as recently as the late 1950′s. Numbering approximately 3,000 individuals, they maintain a traditional lifestyle.
In 1992, the western oil company Maxus Energy Corporation, based in Dallas, Texas, showed up in his area, prompting Enomenga to organize a protest. He later traveled to the US to rally for support. In his absence, the president of Ecuador and the head of the oil company flew to his community and got them to sign an agreement that allowed the oil company to begin work. The modus operandi seems to be a replica of deals made in the earlier century with Native American groups, though not for oil. Members of the Huaorani who had been taken away and educated at missionary schools were bribed to facilitate the deal.
This caused much fighting between the indigenous communities, but did eventually lead to their reunification and they have since begun to work together again to resist the exploitation of their land with some help from outside. Since then, they have been fighting a constant battle.
After initial conflict over the matter, the indigenous communities did eventually reunite and start resisting the exploitation of their land. It has been a constant battle and to gather support for it. Enomenga, who is also ecotourism coordinator, has traveled extensively throughout the Amazon and the world.
At a recent interview in New York, he spoke with Truthout: “There are three thousand of us Huarani. We are one people, we all speak the same language. The more we unite, the stronger our voice will be. We can be an example for the rest of the world if we can achieve a little bit more.”
He says, “First they drill, then they extract oil, then there is a highway, then there is colonization, then there are so many problems, because, here, the forest is clean, but when the companies enter, they destroy so much. The people don’t have what they need to live, because the Americans don’t respect much, because they take the oil, instead of letting us live. This is why the Huaorani ask for the oil-drilling to stop.”
Enomenga recounts his history to explain how the struggle of his people mirrors his own, “Twenty-five years ago, we were still living free. We didn’t have borders. Our territory went from Peru into Ecuador. My father and grandfather always defended our territory … they guarded it very well. Nobody came inside. If people disrespected our laws and came to hunt on our territory, they would get killed. In 1957, American missionaries, five of them, showed up at the village of my grandfather on my mother’s side. Those five missionaries were killed there. I always thought about this when my mother and father would tell me their stories. I thought when I turned twenty-five I would then defend my land. After the five missionaries were killed, more came and said we would be bombed if we didn’t move. So they took us away from our communities and moved us to one area. Today there is a community where the missionaries took everybody. I always thought that this kind of thinking can’t be permitted on our land. My father and grandfather defended our territory by killing. Now I have to defend our territory by making friends with people and organizing.”
He has indeed done this, by working nonviolently to oppose the ongoing colonization of his land and people with success enough to draw some attention and a movie has been made of his efforts. Nevertheless, the painful effects of the missionaries and colonists are experienced daily, and he narrates them:
“About 50 years ago, colonists came here, and brought diseases, and an enormous number of Huaorani died. This is why the Huaorani don’t want them here in Ecuador. Here, we have a lot of history, stories about how the planet was born, how the Huaorani lived…. I would teach them about this, but they come here to educate us, but I don’t want them to. The missionaries lie. I don’t believe them. I believe in our own spirituality here: the forest.”
Unfortunately, not everybody does. The colonists have never believed the forest, land, buffalo, lakes, and the ocean to be the right of indigenous populations.
In 1872, John Gast created an allegorical representation of Manifest Destiny called American Progress. The painting shows the US, personified as Columbia, floating through the sky holding a school book, stringing telegraph wire as she travels, leading civilization westward with American settlers while the Native Americans and wild animals flee.
The chairman of the Maa Civil Society Forum in Kenya, Ben R. Ole Koissaba of the Massai People, says, “Before the white man came we were the rulers of East Africa, both Kenya and Tanzania, but because of the kind of land God gave us, the kind of resources God bestowed upon us, there was envy and greed.”
He described to Truthout how the Massai were dispossessed of all the land and livestock that was their way of life and their lifeline. “For the colonists to be able to rule over us, they had to introduce an education system that demonized our (own) education system. They brought in a new concept. The “I” – “me” – “myself” – kind of stuff. That’s the first thing.”
He has personal experience of the religious impact of the belief borne in Manifest Destiny, “If it was not for the church, the world would not have been colonized. I am a living example. I was doing my masters at the University of Leeds in the UK. I wrote a story about how the church marginalized me as a Massai. They came with a gun in one hand to rule and a bible in the other to close my eyes. I blame the church wholly for what we are. They discontinued me from my masters at Leeds. They discontinued me from my education just because I said the truth.”
Koissaba explains to us how the spirituality of his people differs completely from that of most mainstream Christians in the United States, “Ours was not a Sunday God. For the Massai, God was everything. The first milk from the cows is thrown to the East, West, North and South. You sacrifice that. When you look at the sky you see God. When you look at the ground you see God.”
Western missionaries used the double-pronged fork of Christian education to rob the Massai of their religion so that their resources could be robbed. “Some of our best schools are missionary schools. As a way of colonizing our minds they had to put us in these institutions. They skin us, they remove what we are, they put us in some new thing so we sing their tune.”
The term Manifest Destiny ceased to be used in a political context in the early 20th century. However it would seem that the idea continues to impact political actions overseas in the 21st century, if nothing else, to camouflage serious economic and political violations that the United States indulges in, across the globe.
Historian William E. Weeks noted three key themes that the advocates of Manifest Destiny emphasized at the time. These themes are just as applicable today for supporters of the US Empire and corporate globalization:
1. The virtue of the American people and their institutions; 2. The mission to spread these institutions, thereby redeeming and remaking the world in the image of the US. 3. The destiny under God to accomplish this work.
On reading an article posted earlier on Truthout about the cultural impacts of the Iraqi occupation, Commander Edward C. Robison, of the U.S Navy told us in an email, “I read your article and agree with it strongly. It was my experience that the Army was working directly as a point of doctrine to defeat the Iraqi culture and history as a major component of their strategy to fight the insurgency.”
His experience in Iraq from February 2007 until August 2007 only underscores the impression that the concept of Manifest Destiny remains embedded in the minds of many Western colonists: “I was assigned to the II MEF Forward as a Reconstruction Officer under the G5 directorate. I was detailed to Al-Asad to work with RCT2 in western Al Anbar province. Because of this I travelled throughout the province and dealt with a large variety of Iraqis and the full spectrum of the Iraqi Government. I worked closely with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to stand it up and get it functioning.
“In my work I tried hard to emphasize using Iraqi solutions, working within the Iraqi culture and social structure. This concept seemed very novel to those above me, but they saw the success it was achieving. I argued with the State Department “experts” about how to get agriculture functioning again. They said we needed to teach the farmers how to use irrigation, and I reminded them that irrigation was invented in Iraq. There was a very strong attitude in the Bush State Department and military that anything Iraqi or Arab was inherently inferior and had to be replaced.
“I heard repeatedly from ‘experts’ that never went into the field about all the cultural problems about Iraqis. How they were lazy, poorly educated, won’t mainta?n anything, can’t be trusted and much more. There was a continuous diatribe against the culture from people detailed there to help them. They had no appreciation of the culture and most hated the Iraqi people and saw them as enemies.
“There were only a few of us that saw the Iraqis as intelligent, creative and capable. I found that like people here the Iraqis lived up to our expectations. If we expected them to accomplish something, they did. When the expectation was failure, it usually failed. I have believed for a long time that the best thing was for us to pull out completely and allow an Iraqi solution to occur. There may be an increase in violence for a short time, but in the end things will be better than they are now.”
For this hope to bear fruit, a strong collective force of similar American voices will have to rise and thwart the destructive march of American Manifest Destiny on the planet.
(Bhaswati Sengupta also contributed to this report.)
Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist and author of two books: “Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq” and the recently released “The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Jason Coppola is the director and producer of the documentary film “Justify My War,” which explores the rationalization of war in American culture, comparing the siege of Fallujah with the massacre at Wounded Knee. Coppola has worked in Iraq as well as on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
July 28, 2002
By MICHAEL IGNATIEFF
Published: July 28, 2002
The bulky American in combat camouflage, sleeveless pocket vest, wraparound sunglasses and floppy fishing hat is not going to talk to me. He may be C.I.A. or Special Forces, but either way, I’m not going to find out. These people don’t talk to reporters. But in Mazar-i-Sharif, second city of Afghanistan, in this warlord’s compound, with a Lexus and an Audi purring in the driveway, armed mujahedeen milling by the gate and musclemen standing guard in tight black T-shirts and flak jackets and sporting the latest semiautomatic weapons, the heavyset American is the one who matters. He comes with a team that includes a forward air controller, who can call in airstrikes from the big planes doing Daytona 500 loops high in the sky. No one knows how many C.I.A. agents and Special Forces troops there are in country. The number is small — perhaps as few as 350 — but with up-links to air power and precision weapons, who needs regiments of ground troops? When you ask the carpet sellers in Mazar why there has been peace in the city, they point up into the air. Only America, the carpet sellers say, puts its peacekeepers in the sky.
The biggest warlords in northern Afghanistan, Big D (Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum) and Teacher Atta (Gen. Ostad Atta Muhammad), are inside this compound, with a United Nations mediator who wants them to pull their tanks back from the city. In Mazar’s main square, eyeing one another from the backs of their dusty Pajero pickups, equipped with roll bars, fog lights and plastic flowers on the dashboards, are about 50 fighters from each side, fingers on the triggers of rocket-propelled grenade launchers, Kalashnikovs and machine guns. In the past weeks, the militias have been dueling. The fighting has been so bad that the Red Cross hasn’t been able to leave Mazar for the central highlands, where as many as 1.2 million people may be starving.
The presence of the American in the warlord’s compound is something of a puzzle. Bush ran for the presidency saying he was opposed to using American soldiers for nation-building. The Pentagon doesn’t want its warriors turned into cops. Congress is uneasy about American soldiers in open-ended peacekeeping commitments that expose them as terrorist targets. And deep in the background, there still lurks the memory of Vietnam, America’s last full-scale attempt at imperial nation-building. But here in Mazar, Americans are once again doing what looks like nation-building: bringing peace to a city most Americans couldn’t have found on a map a year ago.
Yet the Special Forces aren’t social workers. They are an imperial detachment, advancing American power and interests in Central Asia. Call it peacekeeping or nation-building, call it what you like — imperial policing is what is going on in Mazar. In fact, America’s entire war on terror is an exercise in imperialism. This may come as a shock to Americans, who don’t like to think of their country as an empire. But what else can you call America’s legions of soldiers, spooks and Special Forces straddling the globe?
These garrisons are by no means temporary. Terror can’t be controlled unless order is built in the anarchic zones where terrorists find shelter. In Afghanistan, this means nation-building, creating a state strong enough to keep Al Qaeda from returning. But the Bush administration wants to do this on the cheap, at the lowest level of investment and risk. In Washington they call this nation-building lite. But empires don’t come lite. They come heavy, or they do not last. And neither does the peace they are meant to preserve.
Peace in Mazar, it should be understood, is a strictly relative term. The dusty streets are full of turbaned adolescents with Kalashnikovs slung on their shoulders, and firefights are not uncommon. But the American in the floppy hat is not about to call in airstrikes to stop a militia shootout. He’s there to deter the bigger kind of trouble — tank battles or artillery duels. The question is whether the American presence is sufficient to keep Afghanistan from sliding back into civil war. Senators Richard Lugar and Joe Biden have warned that nation-building will fail here unless the force of 4,500 foreign peacekeepers, currently patrolling in Kabul, is expanded and extended to cities like Mazar. They are undoubtedly right, but the Europeans aren’t likely to back fine talk with actual soldiers, the Pentagon doesn’t want to put peacekeepers on the ground and the Bush administration needs all the legions at its disposal for a potential operation against Iraq. For the time being, it’s American peacekeeping in the air or nothing.
In the vacuum where an Afghan state ought to be, there are warlords like Dostum and Atta. They are the chief obstacle to nation-building, but not because they are feudal throwbacks or old-style bandits in uniform. The warlords in the Mazar negotiations are late-modern creations of the American and Soviet duel for influence in Central Asia. Now that the Americans are ascendant, each warlord has a press officer who speaks good English and lines up interviews with the foreign press.
They are also building a political constituency at home. Dostum has his own local TV station, and its cameras are in the courtyard waiting to put him on the evening news. While their power comes out of the barrel of a gun, they also see themselves as businessmen, tax collectors, tribal authorities and clan leaders. Big D actually began life working in the local gas plant. Both he and Teacher Atta prefer to be known as commanders. A warlord, they explain, preys on his people. A commander protects them. Warlords build schools, repair a road or two and make the occasional grand public gesture.
Big D, for example, has placed a plaque near the entrance to the exquisite blue-green 16th-century mosque in the center of Mazar, letting foreign visitors know — in English — that he paid to have the place rewired and the gardens replanted with box hedges and roses. Big D does not attend to the city’s more banal needs, like sewers, garbage collection or hospitals. These have languished for 25 years. Children with legs ripped apart by mines push themselves along in the dust on homemade carts. But such distress is beneath a warlord’s notice. Holding power in Afghanistan is not an exercise in public service.
Nor is Big D’s newfound attention to the foreign press a sign of a change of heart. About 50 miles away in Sheberghan — inside a palace decorated with baby pink and blue tiles and surrounded by a rose garden and peacocks — he runs a foul and dilapidated prison where he kept about 800 Pakistani Taliban fighters captured in the battle for Kunduz last November. When representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited the prison, they discovered that Dostum was letting the inmates starve to death.
When the local I.C.R.C. delegate reminded the general of his responsibilities, he denied that he had any. Go talk to Karzai in Kabul, he growled. The Red Cross had to step in and put the prisoners on an emergency feeding program like one used in a famine. No sooner had the I.C.R.C. restored the prisoners to health than the good general traded them back to the Pakistanis in a gesture of reconciliation. This is how an upper-level warlord plays the new political game in Afghanistan: by forcing international aid agencies to shoulder responsibilities that are actually his own and then making sure he gets the political credit.
During a break in the negotiations, Big D saunters out into the courtyard. He is a burly figure with short, spiky salt-and-pepper hair that comes down low above his brow, giving him the appearance of an irritable bear. While his bodyguards take up protective positions around him, he makes calls on the latest in satellite phones, a Thuraya. He’s trying to turn himself into a politician, so he dresses like a civilian in a white shirt and slacks. Teacher Atta, when he appears, is wearing a shiny gray suit and carrying a businessman’s diary.
Dostum represents Jumbesh, a military and political faction based in the Uzbek ethnic minority, while Atta represents Jamiat, a more religiously flavored group based among the Tajiks. They are fighting over who will rule Mazar, its blue-green mosque, a population of several million people and a hinterland of well-irrigated fields and some useful natural-gas deposits. But they are also waging a personal vendetta. When I talk to Atta, a tall, gaunt man with deep-set eyes and the intensity of a genuine religious warrior, he says scornfully that while he fought for his country against the Soviet invaders, that low intriguer Dostum was sidling up to the Soviets and keeping out of the fight. As Atta says this, he flicks his white worry beads to and fro like a lion flicking its tail.
Afghanistan has existed as one country since 1919. Although there is a rich heritage of interethnic hatred, most Afghans feel they are Afghans first and Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks or Pashtuns second. This isn’t Bosnia, where the country didn’t exist until 1992, and Croats and Serbs fought a war to annex their parts of Bosnia to Croatia and Serbia. While the Afghan warlords do get their cash and guns from neighboring countries like Iran, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, none of them actually want to dismember the country. The warlords don’t threaten the cohesion of Afghanistan as a nation. They threaten its existence as a state.
According to the great German sociologist Max Weber, states are institutions that exert a monopoly over the legitimate means of violence in a given territory. By that rule of thumb there hasn’t been a state in Afghanistan since the Soviet Union invaded in 1979 and the war of resistance began. Because the warlords have the guns, they also hold the reins of power. The essence of nation-building is getting the guns out of the warlords’ hands and opening up space for political competition free of violence. But this isn’t easy in a country where there is no actual difference between a political party and a militia.
It will take years before the national government in Kabul accumulates enough revenue, international prestige and armed force to draw power away from the warlords. But Bosnia shows it can be done. Six years after the war, the Muslim, Croat and Serb armies are rusting away, the old warlords have gone into politics or business and a small national army of Bosnia is slowly coming into existence. The problem in Bosnia is corruption, and that is a better problem to have than war.
In Afghanistan, the Americans are currently beginning training for what they hope will be an 80,000-man army, air force and border police force for the Karzai government. But most of its manpower will come from one ethnic group, the Tajiks from the Panjshir Valley. Unless more Pashtuns, Uzbeks and Hazaras can be recruited quickly, the national army is going to become just another ethnic militia, albeit one financed by the American taxpayer.
While Karzai waits to take charge of his army, his only option with the warlords is to co-opt them, as he has tried to do with Dostum by appointing him to the grand but empty title of deputy minister of national defense. This means that Dostum’s militia is nominally a part of the national army. However, on the road between Mazar and Sheberghan, the barracks, tank parks and checkpoints are decorated not with Karzai’s picture but with Dostum’s. In the north, at least, Karzai looks like nothing more than mayor of Kabul and vice president for public relations.
It would be as foolish to be discouraged about this as it would be to suppose that American power can change it quickly. History suggests that nation-building is a slow process. America’s own nation-building experience — reconstructing the South after the Civil War — lasted a full century, until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Overseas, it was the blood and fire of an imposed unconditional surrender in 1945 that enabled America to help rebuild Germany and Japan as liberal democracies. The shattered European states were fully formed to begin with, so the Marshall Plan built on firm foundations. In Bosnia, by contrast, nation-building has been slow because the political institutions left behind by Tito’s Yugoslavia were weak. None of the ethnic groups had any experience in making democracy work.
The American capacity to shape outcomes in Afghanistan, still less to create a state, is constrained by the way it won the war against the Taliban. Its military success last November was victory lite. The winning strategy paired Special Forces teams and air power with local commanders and their militias. When victory came, America thought it had won the war, but the warlords in the Northern Alliance thought they had. Now they dominate the Kabul government and insist that they, rather than the Americans, should shape the peace.
But even they don’t control the Pashtun-dominated south. There, in the valleys and passes bordering Pakistan, nation-building is taking place in the middle of a continuing campaign against Al Qaeda. The only people who know where to find Qaeda fighters are the local warlords, and they won’t go looking unless the United States pays them handsomely and provides them with weapons. Some Washington policy makers profess to be untroubled about this: paying the warlords to hunt Al Qaeda keeps them busy, and keeps them under the control of the Special Forces. Yet the essential contradiction in American efforts to stabilize Afghanistan is that in the south, at least, winning the war on terrorism means consolidating the power of the very warlords who are the chief obstacle to state-building.
Moreover, the question of who is using whom is not easy to answer. Ever since the days of the British North-West Frontier, Afghan tribal leaders have been experts at exploiting imperial troops for their own purposes. It’s no different now. In December, a southern warlord informed a Special Forces unit that a Qaeda detachment was on the road nearby. The detachment was duly hit from the air, only for the Americans to discover that the dead were just some of their warlord’s rivals heading off to Kabul. Instead of controlling its warlord proxies, Washington is discovering that it can be manipulated by them.
he parlay in the compound at Mazar goes on until 7 in the evening. Oncoming darkness concentrates minds — it is not safe, even for warlords, to be on the roads at night, and both Dostum and Atta live outside the city in their own walled enclaves. So at dusk, with the Mazar swallows wheeling in the sky, Big D and Teacher Atta emerge — a deal has obviously been struck — and jump into their black Audi and black Lexus. With their bodyguards clambering aboard backup cars, and the warriors in the Pajero flatbeds falling in behind, the two columns of fighters roar out of the city in a plume of exhaust and dust.
The United Nations negotiators — Mervyn Patterson, a frenetic Northern Irelander, and Jean Arnault, a suave Frenchman — later explain the terms of the deal they have negotiated. ”In the name of Allah, the compassionate and merciful,” the document commits the warlords to withdraw their tanks 100 kilometers from Mazar, to ban heavy weapons and machine guns from the city and to contribute 600 fighters to form a city police force. The negotiators acknowledge that they have no troops to enforce the deal. But they can call on a powerful friend. Throughout the talks, the American with the floppy hat has stood silently in the room.
Imperial presence is the glue that holds Afghan deals together, but there is precious little of it to go around. By comparison, Bosnia, which would fit easily into a couple of Afghanistan’s 30 provinces, has 18,000 peacekeepers. But there are none outside Kabul in a country the size of France. The United States wants a presence here, but not an occupation. Afghanistan has been an imperial plaything since the 19th century, and nothing makes an Afghan reach for his rifle faster than the presence of an occupying foreign power. So in Mazar, indeed anywhere outside Kabul, the imperial presence is a nebulous thing — a Special Forces detachment here, a plane overhead there.
The day after the deal is done, in the Mazar stadium, a dust-blown space usually used for the chaotic Afghan polo known as buzkashi , 600 mujahedeen, stripped of their Afghan dress and now wearing ill-fitting, hot gray uniforms, straggle out onto the parade ground. As their old militia commanders watch from a shaded reviewing stand, sipping cups of tea, the new police force squares off for its first parade. Peace in Afghanistan depends on whether the warlord militias can be lured into policing or other civilian lines of work, and the only people determined to make this transition happen are a silent quartet from Special Forces, watching from the reviewing stand, just behind the warlords’ adjutants.
Nation-building lite looks too lite in Mazar to be credible for long. Authority relies on awe as much as on force, and where awe is missing, as it was in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, Americans die. The British imperialists understood the power of awe. They governed huge tracts of Africa, and populations numbering in the millions, with no more than a couple of administrators for every thousand square miles. In Afghanistan, awe is maintained not by the size of the American presence but by the timeliness and destructiveness of American air power. What the Afghan warlords saw being inflicted on their Taliban opponents, they know can be visited upon them. For the moment, this keeps the peace.
However, awe can be sustained only if force is just — that is, accurate. When American planes pulverize an innocent wedding party, as they did earlier this month, just because some of the more exuberant partygoers were firing into the air, Afghan style, the planners back in Tampa, Fla., will tell you it was just a mistake. But it is more than a mistake: it is a major political error, and the more errors there are, the less awe and the more resistance American power will awaken.
Effective imperial power also requires controlling the subject people’s sense of time, convincing them that they will be ruled forever. The illusion of permanence was one secret of the British Empire’s long survival. Empires cannot be maintained and national interests cannot be secured over the long term by a people always looking for the exit.
American power has a reputation for fickleness. C.I.A. agents mysteriously appeared in Afghanistan in the mid-1980′s and supplied the mujahedeen with Stinger missiles. Once the Soviets were in flight, the Americans went home, leaving Afghanistan to the mercy of the warlords. Years of devastation and war ensued. Afghans have no problem with the idea of a limited American imperial presence, provided that it brings peace and chases away the foreign terrorists from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Chechnya. But Afghans look at these American imperialists and wonder, How long will they stay? If, as the rumors go, war against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein is next, will the man in the floppy hat with his communications team still be here in the fall?
Back in Kabul, past the Marine security cordon at the fortress-style American Embassy, Elisabeth Kvitashvili, the head of programs in Afghanistan for the United States Agency for International Development, will remind you bluntly: ”We’re not here because of the drought and the famine and the condition of women. We’re here because of 9/11. We’re here because of Osama bin Laden.” U.S.A.I.D. was spending $174 million in Afghanistan before 9/11, feeding a people abandoned by the Taliban government. But that figure doubled after 9/11, as languishing humanitarian motive found itself reinforced by the national interest of making Afghanistan safe from terrorism.
In reality, rebuilding failed states will never guarantee American security against the risk of terror. Even well-run states, like Britain and Spain, can find themselves unwilling harbors for terrorist groups. Rebuilding Afghanistan’s institutions won’t necessarily keep Al Qaeda from creeping back into the country’s mountain passes and caves. Nor will fixing Afghanistan banish terror from the region. It is just driving Al Qaeda south into the frontier provinces of Pakistan.
Given how difficult it is to police the North-West Frontier, America will be tempted to declare victory early and go home. Already, uncertainty about American intentions is causing insecurity. The recent assassination of Hajji Abdul Qadir, a vice president and one of the few ethnic Pashtuns to join the Karzai government, is not just the normal turbulence of Afghan politics. It is an attempt to bring down the government, and if it did collapse and civil wars were to start again, as in 1992, the United States could not walk away as easily as it did last time. This time the disgrace would stick. Al Qaeda would conclude that if it can topple Karzai, why not topple President Musharraf in Pakistan? Actual defeat, in other words, is a possibility. To avoid it, Washington will have to help Karzai, and the only help that counts in Afghanistan is troops.
Even with American help, the best Karzai and his Kabul government can hope for is to appoint the least-bad warlords as civilian governors to keep a rough-and-ready peace and collect some taxes. This sort of ordered anarchy, among loosely controlled regional fiefs, would provide ordinary Afghans with basic security. This may be all that is possible, and it may be all that American interests require. Keeping expectations realistic is the key to staying the course there. Understanding what’s at stake is just as important. America could still lose here. If it did, Al Qaeda would secure a victory as large as it achieved on 9/11.
Since the end of the cold war, nation-building has become a multibillion-dollar business. This is not because rich nations have been seized by a new tenderness of heart toward poor and failing ones. The percentage of Western budgets devoted to foreign aid fell steadily in the post-cold-war period. At a recent conference in Mexico, rich countries promised to do better. But still, with the exception of tiny Denmark, which just scraped by, there isn’t a country in the world that devotes even 1 percent of its gross domestic product to helping poor countries. The United States is nearly at the bottom of the pile, spending a derisory 0.1 percent of G.D.P.
Still, small sums eventually add up, and when you figure in all the checks and credit-card donations from ordinary people flowing into nongovernmental development charities, the money for nation-building aid rises into scores of billions of dollars every year. The new mantra of this industry is governance. Economic development is impossible, and humanitarian aid is a waste of time, so the theory goes, unless the country in question has effective governance: rule of law, fire walls against corruption, democracy and a free press. Since most of the countries that need help have none of these things, nation-building programs to create them have become the chief beneficiaries of government aid budgets.
Nation-building has become the cure of choice for the epidemic of ethnic civil war and state failure that has convulsed the developing world since the end of the long imperial peace of the cold war. The nation-building caravan has moved from Cambodia in 1993, where the United Nations supervised an election; to Angola, where it failed to secure a peace in 1994; to Sarajevo, where it was supposed to create multiethnic democracy; to Pristina, where it was supposed to stop the victorious Kosovars from killing all the remaining Serbs; to Dili, in East Timor, where it tried to create a government for a country left devastated by the departing Indonesian militias. Wherever the traveling caravan of nation-builders settles, it creates an instant boomtown, living on foreign money and hope. But boomtowns inevitably go bust. In Sarajevo, for example, the internationals arrived in 1996 after Dayton with $6 billion to spend. Now, six years later, the money is all but gone, and the caravan is moving on to Kabul.
Kabul is the Klondike of the new century, a place where a young person can make, if not a fortune, then a stellar career riding the tide of international money that is flooding in with every United Nations flight from Islamabad. It’s one of the few places where a bright spark just out of college can end up in a job that comes with a servant and a driver. So Kabul has the social attractions of a colonial outpost joined to the feverish excitement of a boomtown. But unlike the Klondike, this gold rush is being paid for not by speculators and panhandlers but by rich Western governments.
Empire means big government. One paradox of the new American empire is that it is being constructed by a Republican administration that hates big government. Its way around this contradiction is to get its allies to shoulder the burdens it won’t take on itself. In the new imperial division of labor on display in Afghanistan, the Americans do most of the fighting while the Europeans, who have no ideological problems with big government but don’t like fighting, are only too happy to take on the soft sides of nation-building: roads, schools, sanitation and water.
Rebuilding Afghanistan altogether is projected to cost between $14 and $18 billion over the next decade. In Tokyo in January, promises were made of $1.8 billion for reconstruction this year. The Afghans heard the promises. Now they’re waiting for the money. In anticipation, Kabul landlords have jacked their rents sky-high — a decent four-bedroom villa that rented for $1,000 a month only a year ago now commands as much as $10,000.
In the Kabul bazaars, the booksellers are doing a brisk business in English dictionaries and phrase books. All young Afghans want to learn English, the magic code that opens the door to salaries as drivers, translators, secretaries and cleaners. The car-repair shops, located in rusting freight containers, now hang out hopeful signs — Ponctur Repair,” ”Fix Foraing Engin” — in the hope of snagging one of the passing white Toyota Land Cruisers. Another sign proclaims ”The Golden Lotos Hotel and Restaurant Is Ready Again to Serve You Each Kind of Internal and External Delicious Foods.”
Nation-building isn’t supposed to be an exercise in colonialism, but the relationship between the locals and the internationals is inherently colonial. The locals do the translating, cleaning and driving while the internationals do the grand imperial planning. The locals complain that the internationals don’t understand anything, not even the local languages. Behind one prominent U.N. bureaucrat’s desk in Kabul there is a furtive crib sheet in Dari, Pashto and English: Stop, Go, Left, Right, Please, Thank You. The internationals may be ignorant — may even arrive believing that the Taliban invented the burka and that women’s oppression began with the Taliban seizure of Kabul in 1996 — but ignorance does not stop them from sighing about the corruption, complacency and confusion of the locals.
In nation-building contexts, however, the international lament is complicated by guilt. Every international in Sarajevo knew that his government could have stopped the Bosnian war. In Kabul, everyone knows that the martyrdom of the city, between 1992 and 1996, when dueling warlords reduced large swaths of it to rubble, could have been stopped had the big powers not abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. So any smart local will exploit international guilt, while any smart international will blame the locals.
These are the colonial continuities in nation-building, but Afghanistan is at least supposed to be different. Such is the gospel according to Lakhdar Brahimi, the wily Algerian diplomat who is the boss of the 500-plus U.N. staff members already in place. Brahimi’s engagement with Afghanistan dates to 1997, when he first tried to broker cease-fires among the warlords. When I ask him what is different this time, he plays with his worry beads and says that all the warlords assure him that they have learned a lesson. They don’t want to repeat the brutal factional fighting of 1992. But he freely admits that the fighting between Dostum and Atta in Mazar suggests that all the talk of a change of heart may be just talk.
Brahimi has no influence over the American presence in Afghanistan or over its war on terror in the southern provinces. But he worries at the way they are arming warlords in the south. ”I tell the Americans: Why do your planes fly at night here? Because you are afraid of Stinger missiles. And who, may I remind you, brought these missiles to Afghanistan?” Whether Stingers are actually being turned against the Americans, the point remains: if you feed a snake, it may return to bite you.
Brahimi has fought the United Nations bureaucracy in New York to keep the Afghan operation from being flooded with out-of-work nation-builders from the downsizing operations in Kosovo, Bosnia and East Timor. He has also insisted on coordinating the warring U.N. agencies: ”We want to be sure that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.” As United Nations boss, he has resisted playing the role of imperial proconsul, insisting that ”the Afghan government is in the driving seat.”
The theory is that Brahimi’s people will force the ”U.N. family” and what is laughingly called ”the international community” to work in harmony. The reality, as in all nation-building cities, is ferocious competition among donors, United Nations agencies and nongovernmental organizations for a market share in money and misery.
The U.N. nation-builders all repeat the mantra that they are here to ”build capacity” and to ”empower local people.” This is the authentic vocabulary of the new imperialism, only it isn’t as new as it sounds. The British called it ”indirect rule.” Local agents ran the day-to-day administration; local potentates exercised some power, while real decisions were made back in imperial capitals. Indirect rule is the pattern in Afghanistan: the illusion of self-government joined to the reality of imperial tutelage.
The white Land Cruisers, the satellite dishes beaming e-mail messages skyward, the banks of computers inside all the U.N. compounds, offer a drastic contrast with Afghan government offices, where groups of men sit around drinking tea, without a computer in sight. At the Afghan Assistance Coordination Authority, the Afghan and international officials trying to coordinate reconstruction believe that as much as $700 million of the money pledged at Tokyo has so far gone to U.N. agencies, while only $100 million or so has gone to the Afghan administration itself.
The easy talk about helping Afghanistan stand on its own two feet does not square with the hard interest that each Western government has in financing not the Afghans, but its own national relief organizations. These fly a nation’s flags over some road or school that a politician back home can take credit for. American foreign assistance concentrates on food aid in part because it sops up U.S. farm surpluses. The unpleasant underside of nation-building is that the internationals’ first priority is building their own capacity — increasing their budgets and giving themselves good jobs. The last priority is financing the Afghan government.
Admittedly, the capacity of this government is limited. After the new Afghan cabinet ministers came to work in January, there wasn’t a fax machine, telephone, desk or chair in their offices until the United Nations shipped them a planeload of office supplies. Now most of the available chairs are occupied by redundant bureaucrats. The Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, confesses that the only way to get anything done in the ministries is to identify an ”implementation cell” of 5 to 40 competent people and to pension off the rest.
But the administrative weakness of the Afghan government is also an excuse to keep it enfeebled. How else can a state be created, unless it is given the initial capacity to deliver services and raise its own taxes? It’s a colonialist fallacy to suppose that Afghanistan need remain a basket case. Until the Soviet invasion and the civil war that followed, it exported dried fruit, vegetables, precious stones and natural gas. A ”Made in Afghanistan” label could support a big export industry in carpets and luxury clothing. Yet all of these bright prospects will remain a gleam in a few Afghan economists’ eyes unless Western governments can provide the Karzai administration with enough operating revenue to get through the first years.
Ashraf Ghani, the worldly and exhausted former World Bank official who is now the government’s minister of finance, sits in a wood-paneled office in the prime minister’s compound and directs his ire at the condescension of the U.N. bureaucracy and Western governments. Not a single one of the more than 350 projects submitted by international organizations and N.G.O.’s, Ghani says, actually promised to consult the Afghan interim administration. ”This government is asking for accountability,” he says.
Ghani is the most senior example of a trend: the return of the Afghan elite from exile. These returning exiles are not always popular. They are in a hurry, and exile makes them impatient with the old ways at home. Still, the Afghan diaspora, estimated at more than four million people worldwide, is going to be the country’s chief source of expertise and investment in the years ahead.
There is growing fury, just visible beneath Ghani’s veneer of calm, at the contrast between the high-sounding language of capacity-building and the reality of capacity confiscation. How is Afghanistan to build up its own civil service if the government can pay senior officials only $150 a month and any international N.G.O. or newspaper can pay its drivers $1,000? How can the Afghan government coordinate reconstruction when every day N.G.O.’s arrive, fan out into the countryside and find a school to rebuild, an orphanage to establish or an orthopedic center to reconstruct, all without telling the Kabul government anything?
Ghani and his staff have put together a national development framework, and in a country where almost everything is broken — roads, schools, agriculture, electric power — it establishes what has to be fixed first. But how do you get foreign agencies to follow the plan, and how do you build accountability between a penniless government and rich donors who don’t trust the Afghans to spend it wisely?
Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor led the internationals to believe that most of the aid that deluges these countries gets siphoned off into corrupt pockets. In Bosnia, the entire criminal and civil justice system was staffed with corrupt leftovers from the Communist era. The internationals ignored this and insisted on early elections, believing that democracy would throw out the crooks. Six years on, Bosnia has had four elections, it still has the same leadership and there hasn’t been a single conviction for bribes in a Bosnian court.
This failure to grasp that democracy works only when it goes hand in hand with the rule of law has been the costliest mistake in the Balkans. Instead of creating fire walls against the abuse of power, nation-building exercises usually take the form of funneling all resources into the hands of a few designated locals whom the internationals deign to trust. When these designated locals begin skimming, the internationals throw up their hands in disillusion. The right strategy, at least if the Balkans is anything to go by, is to build in checks and balances from the start, by helping the Afghans to rewrite the criminal and civil code and train a new generation of lawyers, prosecutors, judges and criminal investigators. Without these legal foundations, no country can make the transition from a war economy to a peace economy.
Currently, the war economy in Afghanistan, the one run by the warlords, depends heavily on the poppy economy. War and drugs will strangle the honest economy if they can’t be brought under control. All the money flowing in from international donors and N.G.O.’s will sustain the city of Kabul alone and will probably tail off within five years. That leaves the agricultural economy as the backbone of the country: the lovingly irrigated mulberry orchards of Gulbahar, the expanse of vines in the Shamali Plain, the rice and wheat fields on the plains between Mazar and Sheberghan. Afghanistan may be a poor country, but there is no reason, if the war and drug economies can be controlled, that it cannot feed itself.
For 25 years, Afghan resources have been siphoned into buying weapons. Changing these priorities will take more than turning warlords into politicians. Local revenues will flow to desperately needed projects like rebuilding villages, putting sewers in towns and collecting the garbage only after ordinary people, especially women, get some way to make their voices heard.
The problem is that most people, especially women, have no institutions of their own. The traditional Afghan jirgas are occasional assemblies convened only for emergencies; the village shura is the preserve of older men and is often dominated by local commanders. Since 1994, Samantha Reynolds, an intense British woman in her 30′s who runs the U.N.’s urban regeneration program, has been convening community forums in urban areas to bring together neighborhood residents — at first with men and then, as confidence builds, with women as well — to demand basic services, like garbage collection, electricity, sewers and schools. When the municipal officials or local commanders fail to respond, these groups tax themselves to provide them. The Afghan government is currently considering the expansion of the community forums nationwide. They would work out what towns and villages need, apply directly to a World Bank fund and then set about implementing them. It’s a grass-roots strategy for building up local leadership, as well as undercutting local commanders and busy-body internationals alike.
In the 50′s and the 60′s, thanks to Soviet and American engineers, Afghanistan had some of the best roads in Asia. Nancy Hatch Dupree’s old guidebook, published in 1971, and now remaindered on the stalls of Kabul’s book market, says that you can get from Kabul to Jalalabad in a couple of hours, and Kabul to Mazar in six. No more. Like those in all failed states, Afghanistan’s roads give out when you leave the capital. So do electric power and telephones. It’s hard not to think that the place needs fewer humanitarian bureaucrats and more civil and electrical engineers.
All the same, infrastructure can’t create a nation. Bosnia now has the roads and schools it needs, yet its ethnic groups remain as divided as ever. But it’s true that Afghanistan won’t have a functioning economy until the farmers can get their fruit and vegetables to market and the big truckers from Pakistan and Iran can get goods up to the northern towns. Here the Afghans do need international investment. They can mobilize the construction crews — everybody’s idea for weakening the warlords is to create construction jobs for the militiamen — but they need the big lenders to come through with money for the surveys, the engineers and the heavy equipment.
The Afghans are still waiting for delivery on almost all the promises the internationals have made. The overriding fact about reconstruction, at least in the first year, is that the pace set by Afghans has been faster than the internationals can cope with. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expected the refugee return to be rather like it was in Bosnia — slow and cautious. Instead, it came in a flood that overwhelmed its resources. By the end of the year, an astonishing 1.6 million refugees are expected to return.
At the beginning, the group was able to provide each family that arrived at its reception center in Pul-i-Charki, on the outskirts of Kabul, with 150 kilograms — more than 300 pounds — of wheat, together with a full medical examination and payment to Pakistani truckers to take them to their villages. Now the big government donors are telling U.N.H.C.R. that they can’t fully finance the program, and the organization is cutting back the food ration and the medical assistance.
In March, Unicef, the U.N. children’s fund, handed every school-age child a plastic bag containing a basic reader, purged of references to guns or warlords, together with a pencil and a writing book. The schools opened, and since then attendance has risen from 5 percent of the school-age population to 35 percent. Now, in the hot summer days, by the roadsides you see files of barefoot, scrofulous but cheerful children — and girls, too — walking to school, carrying their Unicef bags. But the numbers are not likely to climb above 35 percent, because donors have given Unicef only 60 percent of what it has asked for in its Afghan appeals.
Unless these gaps in financing can be filled, there is going to be trouble. When the refugees get home, they discover that their fields are still full of mines and that the de-miners can’t do the work fast enough. The irrigation systems that used to water their fields have been blown up, and the international experts are still walking around doing exploratory studies of how to reconnect them. The villages in the Shamali Plain, where the front lines were, are still flattened. So the families camp in the ruins, with their U.N.H.C.R. tarpaulins as tent material, and try to get a kitchen garden going. Each refugee who returns without a field to till or a home to live in is another potential recruit for the warlords’ militias. Afghanistan doesn’t need to be on life support forever, but if it doesn’t get sustained assistance for the first three years it may not escape its demons.
The Brick Maker
Imperialism used to be the white man’s burden. This gave it a bad reputation. But imperialism doesn’t stop being necessary just because it becomes politically incorrect. Nations sometimes fail, and when they do, only outside help — imperial power — can get them back on their feet. Nation-building is the kind of imperialism you get in a human rights era, a time when great powers believe simultaneously in the right of small nations to govern themselves and in their own right to rule the world. Nation-building lite is supposed to reconcile these principles: to safeguard American interests in Central Asia at the lowest possible cost and to give Afghanistan back a stable government of its own choosing. These principles of imperial power and self-determination are not easy to reconcile. The empire wants quick results, and that means an early exit. The Afghans want us to protect them, and at the same time help them back on their feet. That means sticking around for a while.
Washington had better decide what it wants. If it won’t sustain and increase its military presence here, the other internationals will start heading for the exit. If that occurs, there is little to stop Afghanistan from becoming, once again, the terror and heroin capital of the world. There is no reason that this needs to happen. Afghans themselves know they have only one more chance. They understand the difficult truth that their best hope of freedom lies in a temporary experience of imperial rule.
They are ready to seize the moment. It is easy to be cynical about the imperial outsiders, however necessary they may be, but it is hard not to be moved by the Afghans themselves. The nation-builders to bet on are those refugee families piled onto the brightly painted Pakistani trucks moving up the dusty roads, the children perched on the mattresses, like Mowgli astride the head of an elephant, gazing toward home.
The nation-builders to invest in are the teachers, especially the women who taught girls in secret during the Taliban years. I met one in an open-air school right in the middle of Kabul’s most destroyed neighborhood. She wrote her name in a firm, bold hand in my notebook, and she knew exactly what she needed: chalk, blackboards, desks, a roof and, God willing, a generation of peace. At her feet, on squares of U.N.H.C.R. sheeting, sat her class, 20 upturned faces, all female, having the first reading lesson of their lives.
Finally, you could believe in the brick maker, alone with his 5-year-old son, in the middle of an expanse of desolate ruins in downtown Kabul. After the militia fighting in 1992, nobody bothered to make bricks. What was the point? The shelling might start all over again. But now the brick maker had his wooden form in his hands, pressing it down into a mixture of straw and mud that has served to make bricks since the time of the Prophet. Behind him, a hundred neat brown bricks were drying in the last dusty light of the day. The brick maker had a beard, a dirty caftan and a cap on his head. All he had ever known was war. When I asked him why he thought it was time to make bricks again, he said: ”We have a government now. People need houses.” He didn’t have time to talk more. He was too busy making bricks.
It would be too much to say that the brick maker wants us infidels here, exactly, but I would venture that he knows he needs us. With us here he is able to gamble. But without the Americans in floppy hats nobody is going to feel safe enough to start building a house with his bricks.
Michael Ignatieff, a frequent contributor to the magazine, is the Carr Professor of Human Rights Policy and director of the Carr Center at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.