Sunday, May 30, 2004

Stealing Images of the "Good Fight"

Geoffrey M. White, professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i and senior fellow at the East-West Center, writes that "the 'new' American patriotism being produced in the post-9-11 era frequently invokes earlier forms of patriotism, especially in images of World War II, the 'good war'" ("Pearl Harbor and September 11: War Memory and American Patriotism in the 9-11 Era," Japan Focus). As White notes, "Pearl Harbor quickly became a reference point for American interpretations of September 11" ("Pearl Harbor and September 11: War Memory and American Patriotism in the 9-11 Era"). Beyond explicit references to Pearl Harbor, the verbal and visual rhetoric of American political discourse became full of allusions to World War II: "the term 'infamy' or 'day of infamy' also appeared in many accounts, redeploying the phrase first used by Franklin Roosevelt in his declaration of war speech the day after Pearl Harbor (when his reference was actually 'date that will live in infamy')" ("Pearl Harbor and September 11: War Memory and American Patriotism in the 9-11 Era"), says White, using as illustration the Time magazine's special issue on the September 11th attacks:
To take another example, "A photograph of firemen raising an American flag on a tilting pole in the middle of debris from the collapsed towers quickly became a signature image for the World Trade Center attacks," echoing "the most circulated image from the Pacific War: that of U.S. Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima" ("Pearl Harbor and September 11: War Memory and American Patriotism in the 9-11 Era"):
It is not the right-wing politicians and corporate media alone that have tried to mobilize Americans by exploiting the images of the "good fight." Some liberals and leftists, too, have resorted to a misleading analogy to seduce activists for the agenda of electing John Kerry. What they seek to appropriate, however, is not the images of Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima but the rhetoric of the Popular Front. Take, for instance, a liberal blogger Billmon's Whisky Bar. Near the top right corner of the front page of the Whisky Bar, you can see a reproduction of a poster from the Spanish Civil War, below which Billmon's caption reads: "Stop Bush" -- "Support The Popular Front." See the poster in question below (courtesy of The Visual Front: Posters of the Spanish Civil War from UCSD's Southworth Collection curated by Alexander Vergara):
The poster itself says, "Votad al Frente Popular -- Amnistía," with an image of a male prisoner behind bars, toward whom a woman with a crying daughter looks while casting her vote. The poster was for the 1936 electoral campaign of the Popular Front -- a coalition of socialists, Communists, republicans, and Catalan nationalists in Spain -- which promised, among other reforms, amnesty for nearly 30,000 political prisoners. No promise of such a sweeping reform is forthcoming from John Kerry: "Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, voted for the Patriot Act in 2001 and still supports major parts of it" (Ann McFeatters and Karen MacPherson, "Revisiting the USA Patriot Act," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 27, 2004). Having zigged to court civil libertarians displeased with his vote for the Patriot Act and "promised to eliminate 'sneak and peek' searches and 'fishing expeditions into people's library and business records'" (McFeatters and MacPherson, April 27, 2004), Kerry has zagged back again, trying to portray himself as the candidate "who brings the most muscular view of the Patriot Act to the race":
After Bush used his weekend radio address recently to urge a continuation of the Patriot Act, Kerry issued a written statement listing ideas for "improving" and "fixing" the law by strengthening provisions on money laundering, cracking down on terrorists' assets, improving information-sharing policies and enhancing other sections that specifically target terrorists.

A Kerry spokesman insisted later that the candidate's message has not changed, arguing that it is the challenger, not the president, who brings the most muscular view of the Patriot Act to the race.

"The president is misleading America into thinking that the current law is doing all it needs to do," said Phil Singer, a Kerry spokesman. "The fact is that it's failed to address many of the problems that were exposed by 9/11, including the intelligence sharing problems that continue to plague the FBI, CIA and other security agencies."

Some who agreed with Kerry's early tough stands against the law's potential intrusions on civil liberties now say they are not quite sure where the senator stands.

"I'm concerned where Kerry will ultimately come down," said Laura Murphy, director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union. . . . (Peter Wallsten, "Politics of Patriot Act Turn Right for Bush ," Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2004)
Neither Kerry's initial support for the Patriot Act nor his subsequent changing positions on it suggest that the Kerry administration will roll back, much less abolish, "a worldwide constellation of detention centers" (Dana Priest and Joe Stephens, "Secret World of U.S. Interrogation: Long History of Tactics in Overseas Prisons Is Coming to Light," Washington Post, May 11, 2004, p. A01) that Washington has created.

Moreover, "In a given year, about 150,000 people pass through the detention system, according to INS estimates, and about 21,000 people remain in detention camp limbo," writes Tram Nguyen, and "The present detention crisis has its roots in an expansion of enforcement policies toward immigrants that began long before September 2001":
A pair of laws in 1996 buttressed the framework that equated immigration law with criminal law. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) re-established guilt by association for anyone supporting even lawful political or humanitarian activities of any foreign group designated by the Secretary of State as terrorist. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) established mandatory detention for noncitizens with criminal convictions, expanding the list of offenses that made legal residents deportable to more than 50 categories of crimes. Selling marijuana, gambling, prostitution, and drunk driving are some of the crimes that count for deportation.

Together, these laws provided the underpinnings for the use of secret evidence, mandatory and indefinite detention, and toughening of criminal provisions that radically increased the number of noncitizens subject to detention and would have far-reaching implications for immigrant communities. ("Detained or Disappeared?" ColorLines 5.2, Summer 2002)
It is the bipartisan consensus responsible for the birth and growth of the prison empire, as well as the bipartisan consensus for liberal imperialism in general, that the stolen images of the "good fight" -- the Popular Front on the left, Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima on the right -- are meant to conceal.

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