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imperialism & war | political theory

"Fighting terrorism since 1492": Perpetual War vs Restorative Justice

The United States faces a stark choice.
I started noticing t-shirts and bumper stickers lately with the piquant slogan "Homeland Security: Fighting terrorism since 1492," the caption appearing beneath a picture of a group of turn-of-the-century American Indian warriors holding rifles and looking like they mean business. Amused and heartened by such a pithy detournement, I did a google search. The results were interesting. Compare and contrast these two:


If I had to point at a "typical American" response to this t-shirt slogan, one that most closely represents the attitudes of white, middle-class US society towards imperialism at this point in history, it seems to me that the first one would be hard to improve on.

Leaving aside the truth or falsehood of the statements in the first article, it's more interesting and useful to analyze the internal contradictions that fairly jump out at the reader from it.

On the one hand, the author concludes with what one can only assume is a heartfelt, prayerful wish, "A hundred years from now I would hope people in this country no longer have a need for wearing T-shirts that talk about homeland security, and that the fight is finally over to stop aggression against the United States and all of its people, Native American or otherwise."

On the other hand, the author protests against the obvious implications of the t-shirt slogan and its accusations about Euro-American civilization's behavior towards indigenous peoples with "[the Europeans] were really no different than native Americans in the art of trying to dominate their fellowman." He cites examples of wars among Indian tribes presumably predating European settlement.

The author sees this as "the way of the world." "[O]nly the strong survive," he says. The author celebrates the accomplishments of American civilization, but laments the threats he believes it faces:

"[Euro-Americans] eventually turned this part of the world into the most advanced and desirable piece of real estate on earth. The problem is somebody else wants a current piece of the action. Aggression against the US and its interests outside our borders is at a very dangerous level. European Americans are presently experiencing first hand what Native Americans have lived with perpetually."

In sum, within the limits of the author's vision of history and human existence, there is only one possible outcome: perpetual warfare. While he may offer moral excuses for the sort of American behavior towards indigenous people and others that could fairly be described as "terrorism" in the words of the t-shirt ("[their behavior was] really no different than Native Americans", "[Americans] turned this part of the world in the most advanced and desirable..."), he cannot avoid the obvious conclusion. For if "only the strong survive" then why should someone else NOT decide to turn the tables?

It only stands to reason that Americans such as the author of the first article, if they sincerely believe such things, are bound to project such motivations and intentions on the rest of the world. Never mind if Bin Laden says things like "If Bush declares that 'we hate your freedom,' let him tell us then, 'Why did we not attack Sweden?'" (Of course, this could be just as easily changed to "if we envy you and want your stuff..".) But a person who accepts as a truism that "might makes right" does not need to ask such questions. In fact, cannot ask such questions. Because so long as "only the strong survive" and no possibility of revisiting one's own past conduct exists, then one must inevitably be on the lookout for "somebody who wants a current piece of the action." No thief, no matter how clever or powerful, can ever be fully confident in the safety of his own possessions. His own outlook on the world will always be fearful and project enemies and dangers even where none exist. In fact, such enemies and such dangers will become self-fulfilling prophecies. How many people have observed that American atrocities against the people of Iraq are "creating 'terrorists' faster than they can be killed"?

So the contradictions between the author's fervent and prayerful conclusion and his views of his own country's place in the world are logically irreconcilable, whatever the motivations of others may be.

I know that the quoted author's attitudes are not novel in any way, but are actually characteristic of the foundational ideology of this country, because this comes out in many places and many ways. I'm reminded, for example, of the first US Chief Justice John Marshall's rulings against Indian tribes challenging the abrogation of their treaty rights. He essentially ruled that the will of Congress could not be challenged, because to do so would imperil the legitimacy of the country itself, and that the original fact of European "discovery" of the Americas (read, "conquest") must never be challenged. (See, for example, "Conquest by Law"). Or of William F. Buckley's quick and dirty final response one time to arguments made by advocates for the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation, when faced with logical and moral arguments, backed by international law, that he could not evade. He said, and I paraphrase, "Well, that's just the way of history. The Palestinians are just rediscovering what the Native Americans did before them: the price you pay for fighting a war and losing."

There is only one way to resolve the contradictions inherent in Euro-American civilization (a desire for peace, coupled with an overwhelming fear of attack and loss at the hands of "hostile natives" of whatever stripe, whether they be the American Indians of yesteryear, or the "Mideast terrorists" of today). It will require Restorative Justice, which has to eventually involve acknowledgement, and sincere contrition.

Like its counterpart currently in vogue in the formal legal system, the notion of "Restorative Justice" in this context would deemphasize retribution and blame. Instead, it requires the full participation of all parties to a dispute, to try to find a common ground that can restore a sense of justice and fairness in the outcome to all parties. But unlike the Restorative Justice of the formal legal system, the "defendant" in this case who has to make most of the concessions, and has the most work to do in order to learn how to feel and express contrition for his behavior, is not faced by the weight of the dominant society compelling him to participate in such a process. In this case, the restorative justice process requires the willing participation of the dominant members of the world society themselves. They will have to make a leap of imagination, in order to end the cycle of violence. And right now, unfortunately, they have only the unpleasant pressure of "perpetual warfare" and the perpetual insecurity that it imposes on all of us, the dominant and the dominated alike, to goad them towards such an effort.

beyond the dominance: struggle 01.Dec.2005 18:32

one of many

The Terror Spectacle, see url:


"The spectators, under the impression that they are expressing their own considered views, parrot the catch phrases and debate the pseudoissues that the spectacle has instilled in them day after day, and as in any other spectator sport loyally "support" the home team in the desert by rooting for it. Even the less aggressive spectator is given the chance to support the war while opposing it by 'supporting the troops.' "

psychology of fear 01.Dec.2005 20:20


I agree that the Debord "Society of the Spectacle" analysis is relevant and important. Another thing, though, that I think is fundamental is the basic outlook one has on the universe. Is the universe fundamentally hostile, full of deadly risks and evils and forces seen and unseen, conspiring against us? Or is it basically benign? Those of us who believe in the universe as "hostile conspiracy" will tend to put our hopes in authority figures, who can negotiate the fearful path ahead of us for us.

This observation can apply to leftwing authoritarian politics as well as rightwing politics -- though currently the power is all on the right at the moment, of course. And it's also the case that people who believe in Conspiracies of Evil (e.g., Bush's famous "Axis," or the putative monolithic "Al Qaeda network," or "Islamofascism," or the Red Scare before that, etc, etc) are also more likely to favor conspiracies themselves. "Fight fire with fire." If the universe is so dangerous and fraught with peril, then one can never be too sure about who can be trusted. One must then operate in secret councils, accountable to no one but one's own inner, trusted clique -- the very picture of current standard operating procedure under the Bush regime's Kremlinological rule.

Arguably, one cannot "fight fire with fire." An oppositional so

Not surprizing Too me 01.Dec.2005 21:33


American Indian Homeland Security "Fighting Terrorism Since 1492"
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