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Saturday, February 21, 2009

(Video) The foul language of empire

I can hardly think of anything more illustrative of the condescension and disrespect of the US military towards the Iraqi people than this soldier's "motivational" speech to some Iraqi police. Here we see democracy promotion and nation building in action -- a sure way to win hearts and minds.

Be forewarned, also on display is the foul language of empire:

(h/t James Edwards)

Posted by Kalim Kassam on February 21, 2009 | Permalink


America, fuck yeah!

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-02-21 8:07:02 PM

The purpose of language is to communicate, not to impress. What is evident is this American's frustration with these Iraqi police who cannot grasp the notion of nationhood. For them, it does not exist. America is founded on English common law. English common law is based upon non-kinship based reciprocity. In other words it creates a nation of strangers. If that structure is removed, protection can only be guaranteed by extended families, like a mafia, which is the Iraqi experience. It is unlikely the concept of non-kinship based reciprocity will arise anytime soon in Iraq. Hence, the frustration.

Posted by: DJ | 2009-02-21 9:22:57 PM

DJ, I think you are right.

His language is probably no different than what he was trained with. At least that's the way it's done in the movies.

Posted by: TM | 2009-02-21 10:52:43 PM

Interesting analysis, DJ.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-02-21 11:13:46 PM

Mill said it much better.

"The only test possessing any real value, of a
people's having become fit for popular institutions, is that they, or a sufficient portion of them to prevail in the contest, are willing to brave labour and danger for their liberation. I know all that may be said. I
know it may be urged that the virtues of freemen cannot be learned in the school of slavery, and that if a people are not fit for freedom, to
have any chance of becoming so they must first be free. And this would be conclusive, if the intervention recommended would really
give them freedom. But the evil is, that if they have not sufficient love of liberty to be able to wrest it from merely domestic oppressors, the
liberty which is bestowed on them by other hands than their own, will have nothing real, nothing permanent. No people ever was and remained free, but because it was determined to be so; because neither its rulers nor any other party in the nation could compel it to be otherwise. If a people - especially one who freedom has not yet become prescriptive - does not value it sufficiently to fight for it, and maintain it against any force which can be mustered within the country, even by those who have the command of the public revenue, it is only a question of how few years or months that people will be

Posted by: DJ | 2009-02-22 12:01:21 AM

Kalim - this is hardly representative of the American view of Iraq. Does it mean nothing to you that the Iraqis are now free of Saddam? Why harp on something like this?

Posted by: Craig | 2009-02-22 12:18:37 AM


Many Iraqis and their neighbours are doubtless much better off without Saddam, but his ouster did come at a high price. Tens of thousands of Iraqis are dead, and millions have been displaced.

For the Americans, the Iraqi invasion was one of choice. Saddam was not a security threat and looking at the present economic situation, I think it's clear that the financial cost of the invasion/occupation was more than could be borne (to say nothing of the 4200 American service people dead and 31000 wounded).

I don't say that this video is representative of the "American view of Iraq", but from what I've observed it does reflect the prevalent attitudes among members of the US military towards "hajis".

Aside from the pragmatic realist reasons alluded to above why I opposed the invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq, my disposition towards a largely non-interventionist foreign policy has much to do with the adverse effects that aggressive war, militarization, and empire have on a culture and national character domestically. It is for this reason that I mentioned (or did I "harp on"?) the "foul language of empire."

As TM notes, this soldier is probably talking to these Iraqis in a manner not altogether dissimilar to how he was spoken to by his superiors, I don't find anything surprising about that and I'm open to the idea that this sort of thing is essential to the proper workings of the military. What I do find extremely troubling is the fact that this young man (like so many others) is being payed to stand in the middle of the Mesopotamian desert, treating his Iraqi charges like shit in pursuit of an objective that he seems to have neither the circumstances, tools nor ability to reach -- instead of back home with his own family and community, as a contributing member of society and with a chance to be a decent person.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-02-22 2:08:05 AM

After some thought, my impression, as an American and veteran, is that the original post showed lack of understanding of Iraqi culture, and an even greater lack of understanding of American culture. That harangue would play very differently to an Iraqi hearing it.

Posted by: Tregonsee | 2009-02-22 6:23:53 AM

When I was trained in the Royal Canadian Navy, there was none of the vulgarities present in this video. Yes, we were given a hard time but respect for our abilities was always present. In later years when I worked with the army, threats of prison were commonplace. The idea was to break the individual down and then to rebuild him to prevailing military standards. You are hearing the language of the street as that is what the instructor understands. To appeal to the manhood of one who is more afraid of his neighbours than he is of being embarrassed is not going to work. Tregonsee is correct. If you can't show the policeman why it is more than a job and why it is in his best interests to do it well, you have lost the battle.

Posted by: DML | 2009-02-22 11:06:11 PM

What is your evidence that his behavior is representative of the way US troops treat Iraqis? My sense from reading the coverage of the surge was that there was a real alliance between the US forces and the Iraqi army when they took on the jihadis (with the help of local Sunnis). And I've read lots of news stories about and interviews with US troops who do see their mission as removing a dictator and who developed ties with the Iraqis they worked with and fought alongside.

Second, I don't know why you see the removal of a brutal dictator as some sort of distraction from the useful work that US troops should be doing back home. They are, after all, soldiers not used car salesmen.

I am sympathetic to realist arguments against the invasion of Iraq. But the fact that you posted about this, and not, say, about far more important events like last month's free and peaceful election indicates to me that your anti-imperialism renders you incapable of celebrating a real advance in human liberty.

Posted by: Craig | 2009-02-24 6:33:11 PM

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