Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Book Review - Live From Tokyo

Alexander St. John, writing from Tokyo, has some book recommendations:

In view of what's come to light in Iraq over the past few weeks, there are a few books that might be of interest. First, "Jarhead", about Marines in the First Gulf War, written by a jarhead himself, provides insight into the sickening behavior exhibited by the MPs at the prison. Sadly, the military breeds a culture of dehumanization which is difficult to undue, especially when buzzwords like "camel jockeys," "terrorists," "evil doers," "ragheads" and the like become the nouns of choice for personnel 'liberating' Iraq.

As much as these soldiers would like to lay all of the blame at the feet of military intelligence, and the influence of clandestine operations originating in the Pentagon, suspect that they received a great deal of pleasure from the power they felt from their actions (judging from the gleeful expression on the face of England herself, her statement that she posed in that picture against her will was the only thing funny about this incident).

The sad thing about this event and so many other events I see going on in Iraq, is that it confirms what so many have suspected: that the majority of Americans, on some level, believe that they are superior to all other races and cultures and that people of color are in some way inferior. This is the same mentality that the British fostered as they 'indirectly ruled' much of the world during the peak of the British Empire. These 'brown cultures' are children, incapable of governing themselves, liberating themselves or doing much of anything else. At the very least, it is easier to dehumanize a military foe that is of different ethnicity and appearance, and dehumanization leads to brutality, abuse and disrespect.

As evidence of this lack of respect and regard, we only tally up our own war dead and not the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis that are being killed. To put this in perspective, approximately 3,000 innocent Americans were tragically killed on 9/11. In Iraq, estimates of innocent civilian casualties range from 10,000 - 20,000.

This lack of cultural respect and sensitivity has also colored many of the military's tactics that have proved most offensive to Iraqis, including invasive home searches and the rough treatment of women. In addition, Iraqis themselves were largely shut out of the reconstruction process, with the lucrative contracts being awarded to American and European firms instead, despite the extensive experience that Iraqis have in rebuilding their country after war (they have done it before after all). Iraqis were left to fight over sub-contracts and small time work orders, that amounted to little in terms of work or compensation. The lack of work and involvement in the reconstruction has increased the mistrust and suspicion that Iraqis have for the U.S. occupation authority.

For incredible reading in this vein of thought, I recommend John Dower's "War Without Mercy", an incredible account of the role of race in the war between the U.S. and Japan during WWII. Additionally, "Empire and the English Character," by Kathryn Tidrick, provides some interesting historical views of British mentality towards governing foreign peoples - much of it being seen again in the current situation with Bush and Iraq.

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