A Confluence of Hate

Hey, kids! Can you count the things wrong with this?

Hot on the heels of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report “Rage on the Right” comes the mechanized embodiment of that hatred. The license plate represents a missed opportunity on the part of the Virginia DMV, though to be fair, the symbology is rather obscure to normal people (and those who haven’t seen The West Wing):

The DMV agreed that the plate contains a coded message: The number 88 stands for the eighth letter of the alphabet, H, doubled to signify “Heil Hitler,” said CAIR’s Ibrahim Hooper. “CV” stands for “Confederate veteran” — the plate was a special model embossed with a Confederate flag, which Virginia makes available for a $10 fee to card-carrying members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And 14 is code for imprisoned white supremacist David Lane’s 14-word motto: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

Obviously one license plate on one pickup truck in one state of the Union is hardly emblematic of a coming tide of hate-based violence, but the brazenness with which it’s displayed is probably cause for concern. Hate and militia groups are on the rise, but unlike the paranoid groups of the Clinton years, these ones are openly carrying arms and declaring themselves in opposition to the United States government. The recent terrorism committed by Joe Stack and John Patrick Bedell are only the most obvious manifestations of the movement.

The DMV has since revoked the plates, but as one commenter asks, were they really the most inflammatory part?

Via Isegoria.

War in the Pacific

I, like just about everyone, am looking forward to HBO’s new miniseries The Pacific. I mean like, really, really psyched; it’s been much too long in the making. But I’m really liking the Hanks-Spielberg team as of late.

Semperpapa at David Bellavia has taken Hanks to town, though, for the latter’s comments on the ‘true’ meaning of war in the Pacific. I responded at the source, but I also think the arguments deserve a full presentation, so here are his, followed by mine:

I was somewhat disappointed by Tom Hank’s simplistic look at what WWII represented for our Nation, when, during an interview, he stated that the reason America wanted to kill the Japanese was because they were different. They looked different, they believed different.
[…]
I could even understand that Tom, as a good Liberal, would hold America responsible for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, because after all the American fleet was an “imperialistic” obstacle to the “legitimate” expansionist needs of Japan toward South Eat Asia.
[…]
In the interview, Hank points out his latest project wanted to honor the bravery of the American troops

“…but we also wanted to have people say, ‘we didn’t know our troops did that to Japanese people.’”…

I don’t know that Hanks’s opinions, overly simplistic as they are, can be blamed on his liberalism. There weren’t too many alternatives to what we did in either theater. Rather, his misinformation can be attributed to the general American ignorance about the Pacific theater.

Much of whatever vague impressions Americans get of the Pacific are from sources like Dr. Seuss’s wartime propaganda and the various posters attacking “yellow” “Japs.” Which if it’s all you’re getting, definitely paints a one-sided picture.

He’s also not entirely wrong. To a degree much more pronounced than in the ETO, the American war effort dehumanized the Japanese as both a race and a nationality. In Germany, we were fighting Hitler, but in the Pacific we were fighting the Japs. There was a distinct conflation of politics and racism there that was absent from Europe, or at least the western front in Europe. The Pacific shared a viciousness with that life-or-death struggle on the eastern front, where the choices were literally reduced to a binary: victory or death and enslavement.

But I don’t mean to condemn that brutality entirely. In most ways our response was a tit-for-tat regarding Japanese behavior. After enough incidents occurred when surrendering Japanese troops instead carried out the equivalent of a suicide bombing, we stopped taking prisoners. As a tactical solution it was entirely justified. We took no prisoners – but with good reason. See John Dower’s War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War for a fairly deep analysis of the course of the Pacific theater.

Basically, the dehumanization we carried out in the press and other media is being misattributed by Hanks to a cause of the war, rather than the fairly standard wartime practice and response to in-theater events that it was.

And of course, the Japanese behavior speaks for itself.

For Love of Country, Part V

Part 5 of a 5-part series.

On behalf of France, La Coloniale and the Armée d’Afrique performed admirably in both combat and occupation duties during World War I.

The French Africans who served in Europe came from all across the empire—Tirailleurs from Senegal, spahis from Tunisia and Algeria, and goums from Morocco, 175,000 in all. Other local regiments of Tirailleurs from equatorial French Africa were in turn deployed to the French colonial possessions in North Africa, and many others (about 160,000 in total) joined the Armée Métropolitaine in France on an ad hoc basis.

Moroccan goums, 1914.

In combat, the colonial troops proved themselves beyond a shadow of a doubt. Many succumbed to the illnesses brought on by the radical change of climate, and for the most part, the harsh European winters meant that the African units would winter in the south of France. To some, this was reason enough to doubt the effectiveness of Africans in combat, but it was always ignored that these ‘deficiencies’ had nothing to do with the fighting skill of men from the tropics.

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For Love of Country, Part IV

Part 4 of a 5-part series.

World War I was more global in scope than is often realized.

World War I belligerents; Allies are green, Central Powers orange, and non-aligned are gray.

The colonial forces of both Britain and France were tried and tested in theaters throughout the globe, perhaps most surprisingly in India itself. Thanks to the Anglo-Japanese Pact of 1902 there was no direct threat across the frontier – as the Japanese would pose in World War II – but the fighting in the  Middle Eastern theater often spilled over in the Punjab, and nationalist revolts there and in Bengal threatened to destabilize the Raj. In Mesopotamia, there were three mutinies by Muslim soldiers unwilling to fight their fellow believers, but for the most part native troops remained unwaveringly loyal. Even the horrific casualties in the various African campaigns did not dissuade colonial troops from fighting alongside their occupiers and preserving their own subjugation.

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For Love of Country, Part III

Part 3 of a 5-part series.

In the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny, whether the Indian Army was exclusively for garrison purposes (at its furthest extent, the invasion of bordering states), or if it could be deployed overseas was a matter of some concern.

The British Expeditionary Force towing artillery across Ethiopia, 1868

Trust in the native infantry regiments reached its nadir in the wake of the Sepoy Rebellion, but when the Emperor Tewodros of Abyssinia began holding British nationals hostage in 1866, they were the nearest available option for the British to deploy. Thanks to the telegraph, a force of 13,000 led by Lieutenant General Robert Napier that included four Native Cavalry regiments and ten Native Infantry regiments (with only a single cavalry squadron and the artillery fully manned by Britons) arrived within two months of receiving Queen Victoria’s orders.

After a brutal three-month, 400-mile trek through mountainous jungle and desert, the expedition reached Tewodros’ stronghold. The brief battle of two hours resulted in 700 Abyssinian deaths and 1,200 more wounded. The British (including native troops) suffered twenty wounded. Not one was killed. The Indian Army had proven itself more than capable of serving outside the provinces from where it was raised.

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For Love of Country, Part II

Part 2 of a 5-part series.

The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 can be attributed to many factors, but foremost was the British persistence in attempting to alter the traditional culture of India, particularly the ‘civilizing’ efforts of modernizers and evangelical Christian missionaries.

Sati (Suttee) in practice

The three practices of female infanticide, thagi (a supposed cult of assassin-priest highwaymen), and sati (ritual self-immolation by a widow) were the most heinous in the eyes of British. While these attempts at eradication did not even enjoy the pretense of East India Company legitimacy, it was nevertheless believed by many Indians that every Briton had come to stamp out Hinduism and Islam alike.

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For Love of Country, Part I

Part 1 of 5. Adapted from “For Love of Country? Britain, France, and the Imperial Multiethnic Army, 1815-1919.”

The British and French Empires at their greatest territorial extents (British in red, French in blue).

AT THE HEIGHT OF EMPIRE, nearly thirty percent of the peoples of the world and more than a third of its surface area were controlled by only two nations. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ruled a quarter of the earth’s population and a quarter of its landmass. As the saying went, “the sun never sets on the British Empire,” and indeed, for nearly two hundred years it never did.

By far the most expansive and successful empire in history, Britain consolidated and expanded its holdings through wars of conquest and a military might unmatched by any other power on the planet. Britain was not the only globe-spanning empire, though. France controlled much of Africa (to an even greater extent than Britain), as well as holdings in Indochina, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.

French and British Empires alike were kept in power by the violent repression of rebellions, mutinies, and ‘uprisings’. In large part, however, the armies participating in the repression were not composed of all-white formations. The sheer size and scope of the global empires required the imperial powers to recruit heavily from among local populations, and the manpower demands of the two world wars necessitated their deployment to the Western Front.

In many cases, the colonial troops performed even better than their European counterparts. The French Tirailleurs Sénégalaise in particular enjoyed a widespread reputation after the war as both peaceful and respected occupation forces, and as daring and highly successful soldiers. Many other French colonial troops garnered equal praise. The British ANZAC and colonial troops also earned warm words for their bravery (Erwin Rommel was quoted as saying, “If I had to take Hell, I would use the Australians to take it and the New Zealanders to hold it”).

It is no exaggeration to state that both French and British Empires alike were founded on the backs of the native populations. But this went beyond local labor forces and resource extraction.

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Why They Fight

They hate us because we don’t know why they hate us.” The perceived ignorance of Americans as to the wider world around them was often cited as a compelling reason for the mass murder of several thousand citizens on September 11, 2001. Low scores on math and science, and the inability of two-thirds of Americans between eighteen and twenty-four years old to locate Iraq on a map in 2006 merely perpetuated this claim; that somehow American geographical ignorance is responsible for jihadists and regional strife around the world.

This is of course not the only suggested explanation for conflict in the developing world. Essentially, all the arguments put forth can be summarized as pertaining to ‘greed’, or monetary and personal gain, and ‘grievance’, i.e., ideological and cultural clashes. Abridging the vast array of motives to these two is oversimplifying the matter to begin with; further choosing one of the two as the sole factor would be downright spurious. Complicating matters is the tendency to use the ‘pre-modern’ character of third world conflicts to build an intellectual bridge back to the very beginning of history. Continue reading