Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"Indian Country"

Ralph Peters is one of many commentators on Iraq who has shared experiences of U.S. troops in the war zone. In a column for the New York Post dated August 26, Peters describes part of an operation by Marines in al Anbar province.

What struck me about this column -- not for the first time in this war -- is the inappropriate connections conjured by the language employed -- in this instance, in the title: “Indian Country.”

It might not seem of any consequence to most of us and be simply another case of “politically correct” phraseology, but consider what is implied. In the American West, Indian Country was beyond the pale, beyond civilization, even beyond redemption. Its use to describe the areas in Iraq not controlled by U.S., coalition, or Iraqi security forces links the war against today’s terrorists to the Native American’s struggle against the invading Europeans and later against the U.S. Army. That is, Native Americans were terrorists in their day.

This is not new, and Ralph Peters is not the only one who, consciously or unconsciously, takes what is a long, historical encounter and makes it act as metaphor. Given the conduct of the more powerful Europeans and later the American settlers, one would think that today’s Army (Peters is a retired lieutenant-colonel) would not want to conjure a past that is less than admirable.

Does it really make any difference? It may, for one refrain from the White House and some members of Congress is that al-Qaeda and other terrorists read and listen to what Americans say. And if this is a contest over control of the world’s future ruling ideals and ideas, to remind the world of how shamefully Native Americans and other minority populations have been treated by descendents of European settlers seems to be handing al-Qaeda a free propaganda coup.


Blogger Rob said...

Isn’t dehumanizing the enemy a routine ideological tactic used to morally absolve combatants from feeling any reservations (no pun intended) about killing in times of war?

For European settlers, Native Americans were "brutes" and "savages".

For Iraqi's, U.S. soldiers are - "infidels".

For U.S. soldiers, Iraqi's are - "jihadists", "insurgents”, and "terrorists".

These terms only create more division, prejudice, hate, and a sense that what you’re shooting at is not a father, mother, son, husband, but an "evil-doer". Unfortunately, I suspect the process of dehumanization that accompanies violent conflict will continue as long as there are people on this earth that disagree with each other, and I’m certain that as long as there is a ruling elite, there will always be a dissenting faction ripe for a dehumanizing label from government officials, military analysts, and the press.

9:11 AM  

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