There has always been a certain dissonance at play with America’s response to imperialism. While the United States routinely criticized European power land grabs around the world during the 19th and 20th century, as long as Europe stayed out of the Western hemisphere, Americans did not meddle. With the coming of the Cold War, however, America found itself awkwardly confronted by a necessity: while they rejected imperialism they also feared the expansion of communism. Consequently, the liberation of European colonies, while desirable at the level of principle, proved practically difficult as many were ripe for communist intervention. National security and national principles existed in an uneasy tension.
In the aftermath of that dicey and often contradictory time, it remains fashionable among members of the left to excoriate European imperialism and America’s complicity with it. The irony is that left wing attacks upon America’s past actions miss the fact that the left itself propagates a cultural imperialism in the developing world.
Years ago I walked into a Palestinian barbershop in the Old City of Jerusalem and came across pictures of Yasser Arafat and Elvis pinned to the same wall—a terrorist-freedom fighter and an American rockstar.
Travelling has a way of jolting assumptions and categories and lending perspective to global situations often processed for us by the mainstream media.
So I’d like to introduce a friend that has agreed to share his travelogue with us. We’ll call him Argos.
Argos has a new job in which he jets about the globe as an adviser to his organization’s regional leaders and gathers information for corporate. It’s a sweet gig if you can handle the flying.
Whenever he gets back stateside he’s going to give me a call to share his observations and some of the conversations he had with the locals about politics and culture. Consequently, this will be a reoccurring column at feralyawp. That said, while we’re well aware that Argos’ insights are anecdotal, they are nevertheless suggestive and possibly insightful.
Argos first trip took him to Belgium.
At the beginning of summer I picked up David Halberstam’s The Fifties. Halberstam, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his journalism in Vietnam, put his research skills to work during the next four decades of his life writing books on history. The Fifties puts his talents on display as he effortlessly and colorfully takes us on a fantastic trip through one of America’s most storied decades. It’s a joy to read a work that is not only well-researched but well-written.
One thing about good history is that it has a tendency to surprise you. When a writer inhabits the past fully, leaving behind his 21st century prejudices, unique and unexpected things begin to pop out of the woodwork. One particular historical nugget caught my eye in Halberstam’s work: his account of Earl Warren. And then I thought of my whipping boy, Howard Zinn, and couldn’t resist taking him to task yet again.
Back in August, John Ellis Bush gave a speech at the Reagan Presidential Library where he addressed foreign policy and the growing threat of terror from ISIS. The language was cushy, and focused on “support,” “international aid,” and “diplomacy” as solutions to halt ISIS and remove Assad. Apart from a few fun memes about ISIS recruiters on Twitter, and the tragic thought of ISIS’ black flag rising from Iraqi cities where American soldiers once died, the speech was an utter bore, which seems to be Bush’s norm: boring, boring, boring. In one of the United States’ most predictable (and fascinating, depending on how you look at it, and depending on whether Russ Baker’s book is factual) first-families, Jeb somehow finds a way to be the worst of the entire lot.
With a father and brother whose administrations were primarily defined by an obsession with all things IRAQ, Jeb seeks to straddle two drifting positions. On the one hand, family ties and allegiance to neo-conservative hawks encourages delicate caressing of the IRAQ invasion, and the expansion of U.S. interest abroad. On the other hand, Bush seeks a Reagan-man reinvention in the hopes that he will be seen as a peace-broker: someone to tear down walls and bring about international calm — “peace through strength; trust but verify.” With unanimity across parties on the failure of the Iraq War, Jeb acts like there is little left in the Bush foreign policy coffers, when the polls say something quite different.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
― George Orwell, Animal Farm
As a huge fan of irony, the shutdown of Bernie Sanders attempt to speak at a Seattle event last month was simply delicious. The fact that he started off by saying “Thank you, Seattle, for being one of the most progressive cities in the United States of America,” only to have the microphone commandeered seconds later, was simply too perfect. I highly doubt Bernie recognized the connection between his statement and the following events which left him standing impotent, lost, and confused in the background as his ridiculous fedora-wearing goon engaged in a shouting match. This the kind of interaction which likely happens most often in the playgrounds of America’s schools. Replace the microphone with a shiny red bouncy ball and the picture becomes clearer. I’m sure this is old news for many people but I don’t really prescribe to the media news cycle. I laughed repeatedly while rolling the video back and re-watching the mayhem unfold. Sanders, the champion of every little guy and gal was finding himself on the receiving end of “sticking it to the man”, and it simply could not compute. How could the most progressive candidate for president be the enemy of minorities and the downtrodden? The answer is simple: if people choose to identify as victims, then there is no limit to whom they will ascribe to title of victimizer. There is no clear line in the sand, and that’s the mistake that many progressives make: assuming they are off limits.
I had forgotten it was 9/11 today until a student wanted to know if we would have a shortened day. She was hoping the tragedy carried a holiday status. I found this rather disturbing: thousands of dead Americans and a Chinese student hoping to get time off school. But she’s a kid, so I cut her some slack.
I do not for a second, though, cut the American government slack for its actions post-9/11. This is the day that many will opine about the tragedy of that day, and while there is no doubt such reflection is well-deserved, it can easily blind us to the greater tragedy: what America has inflicted upon the world in the aftermath of 9/11.
I recently subscribed to Foreign Policy and just the other day got the first print edition. There is something pleasant and old-fashioned about getting a journal in hardcopy. Unfortunately this month’s issue isn’t online yet for some inexplicable reason, which is unfortunate because I was frankly startled and encouraged by an exchange between Joshua Oppenheimer and David Rieff. Both men have done work on the subject of genocide, international affairs, and humanitarian aid. While Rieff has written some books, Oppenheimer may be the better known of the two as his chilling documentary The Act of Killing was nominated for Best Documentary in 2012. All that to say, here’s some excerpts and thoughts from an exchange between Oppenheimer and Rieff.
Joshua Oppenheimer: The task of cinema in intervening in and exploring theses issues is to actually immerse us in these problems… Most human rights documentaries… replicate that most basic form of narrative escapism, dividing the world into good guys and bad guys. That is reassuring because we inevitably identify with the good guys. But it’s problematic because it makes it difficult to understand—not in the sense to excuse, but to understand how human being do these sort of things to each other … If we don’t accept the uncomfortable proposition that every perpetrator of virtually every act of evil in our history has been a human being like us, then we actually foreclose the possibility of understanding how we do this to one another and therefore make it impossible to figure out we might prevent these things.