Sunday, February 19, 2006

Historians against the war
Panel highlights

Over the past weekend, my partner and I attended "Empire, Resistance and the War in Iraq," a conference put on by Historians against the War, at the University of Texas at Austin. The well-attended three-day event featured four keynoters, Andrea Smith, Howard Zinn, Irene Gendzier and Rashid Khalidi. I may write more about the conference and their presentations in the future.

In this post I'm just going to share a few highlights from some of the more thought provoking panelists. These are based on my notes and I may have erred in interpreting what I heard. You are reading here what I took away which I can only hope accurately portrays what the speakers said.

Alan Dawley, College of New Jersey. In U.S. history, three elements that have brought U.S. imperial wars to an end (short of annihilation of the "natives"); none of these factors have been sufficient to end wars, but all three taken together have ended our imperial adventures. They are:
  • 1)a favorable balance of power internationally, meaning real opposition from countries with some power;
  • 2) significant resistance within country attacked;
  • 3) rising US domestic resistance to the war.
As all these factors are present in relation to the Iraq war, he is mildly hopeful about ending the current adventure, though optimism is no reason for the U.S. antiwar movement to reduce its efforts. Nor does the failure of our regime's Iraq war preclude other imperial follies.

Magnus Bernhardsson, Williams College. After 2000 years, the U.S. invasion may have managed to kill off Iraqi Christianity. One of the oldest Christianities on earth, the faith community had survived isolation from both Rome and Constantinople (Eastern Orthodoxy), Islamic rule, the Ottoman empire, European colonialism, Ba'ath rule, and the xenophobia that the Israeli-Palestinian war has excited in the Arab world. But since the Bush administration's incursion, the Christian community is simply fleeing the insecurity that is contemporary Iraq.

Rahul Mahajan, New York University. In the 1980s the US stopped cementing its domination of weaker countries by imposing plutocratic dictators and turned instead to imposing "democracy." This democracy is a debased polity named by the scholar William Robinson "poliarchy." In poliarchy, democratic forms become a sort of play acting rather than an exercise of political power. Elites rule, enlisting the masses of people only as extras in their dramas. The U.S. is rapidly being reduced to a poliarchy itself. Because the people responsible for Bush's policies really believe they can (and should) implant this debased "democracy," they are genuinely surprised when its forms yield unexpected results such as an Islamic fundamentalist government in Iraq and a Hamas majority in Palestine.

Nada Shabout, an art historian, explored how "liberation" by the U.S. occupation is disconnecting Iraqis from their historical experiences. Though an exile herself from Saddam Hussein's tyranny, she is worried and angered that the ongoing project to destroy all monuments from the Ba'ath leader's era is tearing up vital historical memories for many families who lost children in the conscript armies that fought the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars. She speaks up for preserving some of the many cast bronze heads of Saddam that were such a feature of pre-invasion Iraq; "after all the Roman emperors were tyrants, but we are glad to have sculptures of their heads."

Walter Hixson, University of Akron. "There is no United States. Over and over the country has had to have its identity reaffirmed and recreated by wars. The U.S. historically has affirmed itself by naming some people the Other and killing them. Without our wars, we have no history." Within the country, war creates and maintains hierarchies; successive wars preclude reforms. "The nation state has got to go. The nation state is incompatible with a future."


Paramendra Bhagat said...

Complicated Iraq

Fr. John said...

I am particularly struck by Prof. Hixson's comment that the nation state has to go. What will replace it? A return to the local along bioregional lines, e.g. the Pacific Northwest from Portland to Vancouver as one such region? Or an increasingly centralized globalism? Something else?

janinsanfran said...

Just as I see contemporary fundamentalisms as responses to modernism (following Karen Armstrong), I view contemporary vigorous nationalisms as a response to the economic and technological realities of globalization.

I don't think globalization can be fought; we are forced to live our global interconnectedness. But people need to struggle over the meaning and implications of the global village for their cultures, communities, and for individual freedoms. It is not going to be easy to preserve and extend the humane values that are some of the better products of European-originated experience. But then, it never has been. And we'll get to live as well the products of other historical streams.

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