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Occupation: our gift to the world
Or, How America Can Really Exploit the Falling Dollar
As a writer I never quite know where the conversations in my head leave off and the paper begins. The internet, moreover, has turned writing into one big conversation, kind of like hip hop, where writers bounce and riff off each others' stuff, constantly tinkering and flavoring their own lyric. Maybe that's just a lame introduction, or a way to excuse taking credit. Hey--it's not like I work for the New York Times or anything. At any rate, an article I read got me thinking. Actually, it wasn't really the article, so much as the conversation that led to someone sending me the article. Come to think of it, it wasn't really that conversation, but another one I remember from…oh well, you get the point. Like I said, I'm never really sure where one thing ends and another begins.
On the internet, though, I am free to promote as much synergy as I want through the power of hotlinks. The excerpt I read [here] was written by Egyptian writer Samir
Amin, probably unknown by most Americans. The excerpt led me to his original article
Ideology], which got me to thinking…or, like I said, kept my train of thought whizzing along.
I was thinking about the falling dollar and how this is all going to be great for American exports-or it would be if we had any to speak of. Okay, you got me again-actually I was thinking about Americans' refusal or inability to deconstruct the cowboy mythology. But when you think about it, it really is the most American of exports, from movies to fashion to world domination. See? I knew I could get you to free-associate with me. Just stay with me here It's not just Americans: even most of the world still uses the whole cowboy thing to refer to macho posturing, backslapping, the whole Marlboro-fratboy continuum. But of course this fundamentally misses the crucial point, as Amin eloquently points out. The logical antihero to the cowboy myth is not outlaws, farmers, the Law..etc.--but of course Indians. Just as with the wreckage of slavery, the displacement and extermination of the indigenous population is at the center of American development. The American "experiment" could not exist except for the European invasion, conquest, "settlement" and genocide of the original inhabitants of the American continent. Actually, this bit is what Amin might go so far as to call "common knowledge."
The part that is almost always missing is how these European settlers were destroyed by the experience, morphing into monsters that could OutNazi even the Nazis. The warping of this consciousness and the poisoning blindness it necessitates has infected the American perspective forever. By ignoring/rationalizing/"understanding"/pimping off of the sickest elements of this original crime, the heirs to this virus have been doomed to forever misunderstand and misjudge the obvious historical parallels in its wake.
Like it or not, we are stuck watching reruns of the same boring movie, but we are powerless to change the channel. So why not just admit, as Americans, that we are still good at something, and still have a few finely crafted exports to offer the world. George Carlin had a great bit after the first Gulf War about what America is good at, but he mostly stopped at "putting large holes in other peoples' countries." Of course, The Brits may whine about how they did it first and best, but the Yanks came up with a few homespun tricks along the way. Besides, the English stole most of their stuff from Rome and Greece and Genghis Khan or whoever, so Americans too can lay claim to their unique variant. All settler/colonization movements share at least some fundamental aspects of this same nauseating and transparently self-serving mythology. Land grabbers and the militarized outposts that protect them are lionized as "pioneers," noble adventurers who overcome hardships and flee religious persecution to "settle" (implying of course "taming" the savage natives) and conquer. The lands are invariably "empty" lands, "virgin lands," where human survival is in doubt--against the elements and against all odds--were it not for the incredible courage and perseverance of these hardy souls, who are equally invariably fulfilling some version of the European/American "manifest destiny": murder as contract labor for god, I guess.
Almost laughably (but not quite, because of all the blood) nobody who matters ever comments on the irony that the people being displaced seem to have survived quite nicely (are white people so fragile or ravenous, after all those cold European winters?) or that the "elements" from whom they need such protection are, more often than not, the indigenous people they just displaced The genocide victims are, again with such invariability as to produce tedium, demonized for the tactics to which they resort in asymmetrical warfare against the immensely superior military force of the conqueror. Stand Still and Be Shot is the Gentlemen's Rule which the Godly impose (again without irony) on the victims they (in every case) refuse to admit are even of equal humanity, let alone "Gentlemen."
This might be repulsive enough, except that, in an almost sadistic twist of the knife (or truth), it is also as often as not a flat-out lie. It was the European conquerors, for example, who invented scalping, not the Indians who were blamed for it. And the armies of the white "settlers" ("pioneers," "explorers"--you can call them whatever you want, since almost all of the quibblers are dead) were among the earliest purveyors of WMD. Their smallpox blankets put the Anthrax Mailer to shame--maybe Colin Powell should have brought one of them to the U.N. instead of his foolish little vial.
But smallpox is imprecise--the preferred method of the conquerors, after they are forced to admit that "empty lands" had people on them at all, of course, is to herd them into ghettos, reservations, bantustans, enclaves (here again the lexicon proliferates, like Inuit words for snow or something.) Then of course they starve, their access to life-giving resources is withheld or at least at the mercy of their occupiers. If you are lucky enough to win the occupiers' lottery, you can get a Tutsi or Mulatto caste to do most of the dirty work.
So listen up, world: with a few simple lessons, you too can conquer and occupy to your heart's content (check with us first, though-we'd hate to have to invade you, too…).If the latter is the case-let's call it the Outsource Model-you can sit back and cluck disapprovingly when your plan works like a charm, shake your head and shed crocodile tears about how these savages just can't stop their killing ways. As a bonus, you get to reoccupy with increased brutality each time, all the while reaping praise for "keeping the peace." [Hint: always install--err, I mean "elect" if absolutely necessary--the pettiest, most brutal and most corrupt elements to bolster the case you will inevitably need to make (and boost the benefits you will invariably reap).
The former case may seem trickier, but good students of history shouldn't have too much problem replicating the pattern. Don't worry--the bantustan approach will starve lots of them, whittling down the advantage those pesky birth rates always seem to confer on those mysteriously living in "empty lands" taken by conquest. And talk about synergy! There is a great benefit here too--but do it right or it will seem grotesque: later on, when most of them are dead, you can even make money by bringing tourists to visit the pens where a few of them are still living, pointing and clucking with more mock sadness on how they don't take care of themselves--and how they therefore benefit from your "benign" occupation.
Some tricks are so obvious that they almost need not be pointed out. But what the hell: don't forget the treaties! Remember that one of the most effective of your Big Lies is that you are civilizing the natives. Western law is always superior to whatever beads and trinkets they were using before you took their empty lands, so use it wisely. And this is all the sweeter because it messes with their minds as well. After loudly proclaiming that you are teaching them to behave you must get them to sign treaties that you have no intention of observing.
After all, you already know about the Rule of Law: like Orwell's party members who can decide when to break the rules, you are already too civilized to need the same type of training you are, with God's help, instilling in the natives. In fact, the more obvious it is that you will never observe an agreement, the more enthusiastic you must be about signing it. Whichever paradigm you choose (the Rule of Law, something called "Democracy" which favors the members of your invading group--or just white landowning men, the Free Market...whatever) always pretend that it is the noble cause for which your "pioneers" have sacrificed so much--you can even put a bow on it and call it a gift.
For some reason racism is not only incredibly helpful but mandatory. Melanin is like the anti-oil: the more of it you have, the less you are worth. Unfortunately, also like oil, it is not an ubiquitous commodity. By this reasoning it is perfectly logical that the Irish were symbolically darkened, rechristened the "Niggers of Europe" even though they are perhaps the Whitest People on Earth. West Africans report that in Britain they have sometimes been referred to as "Smoked Irishmen," which I guess kills two birds with one stone. Racist in-laws in my own family referred to an Irish Catholic as "a nigger turned inside out," and it was not even until after Emancipation (when white people were needed to offset all these new citizens) that Irish ceased to be classified by the census machinery in the U.S. as "non-white."
But I digress--or do I? No matter. Whether naturally dark or not, be sure to encourage the most corrupt of the indigenous leaders to mask the brutality of the invading forces. On his deathbed, segregationist George Wallace is said to have summoned Jesse Jackson to his bedside. Seeing his reformed populist agenda as perhaps no longer too far from Jackson's (or maybe just a repentant sinner trying to get into heaven...who knows?) he advised the reverend not to let his message get too complicated: "Keep the grass low, where the goats can get at it."
It's good advice. Always focus first (and only, if possible) on the petty details, the misdeeds of those who run your Bantustans, the latest outrage. Here Americans are at a bit of a loss, since we have often managed to farm out the brutality and lament the resulting ludicrously named "civil war," "interethnic strife," "black-on-black violence" (this last one is a gem. I am still bitter about my failure to get many to see the humor in my own lamenting of what I called the "white-on-white" violence in the Balkans...). But we can wing it: the point is not to let them focus on (or ever even mention, if you can get away with it) the underlying injustice. Don't let them get any big ideas--remember the only legitimate Big Ideas are your own (see Democracy etc. above); otherwise you get all sorts of pinkos coming in stirring up the natives.
In a pinch, this can be useful--but remember the American trick, at least as far as the original European conquest, was not to need such devices. And of course, God is sorting most of them out as we speak. The vestiges of slavery are related but more complex. If you for some reason you don't manage to kill enough of the indigenous people (this is becoming an increasing problem with modern imperialists, since new requirements usually force the invading armies to pretend there is such a thing as a "humane" occupation)--at any rate, if there are too many of them left, you should be able actually to use this to your advantage. Exploit, instigate or even concoct third party agitation--they won't find out for years, like "Stakeknife" in Northern Ireland--and you can always claim superiority by relying on regular troops shooting kids--hey, at least it's a real army, subject to the Rule of Law--even while your agents are working behind the scenes. I think it's important to write this stuff down now or it may be lost to history.
Like the Nazis were smart enough to do with Schliemann's loot from the Ancients, or the Russians did with the Hermitage--hey come to think of it, why weren't the Iraqis that smart? I mean, some of those treasures even came from their OWN country!). Is it just me or is this sort of thinking on the way out? I just thought I'd get it all down since the advice is nearing the end of its useful life. I mean, like Paul Simon said, "you can't expect to be bright and bon-vivant so far away from home..."
© 2003 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted.
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Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, USA,
with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The
Greenhouse School. Past articles are available online: index on request. He has appeared on radio
here] and his columns have been aired as well: those interested in rebroadcasting the audio may contact the author. Some columns are available in Spanish or French, and other translations are pending (translation help for more languages welcome). Welch speaks several languages and is available for recordings in French, German, Russian and Spanish, or, telephone interviews in the target language. See