Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Looking at Kings


Another old re-post from BT and dKos: I've said it before, but this one probably is the last or close to the last in any case. At present I'm once again looking at glass and wrestling with writer's block, which from memory was what was going on when I wrote this. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose and all that. And 'supporting the troops' continues to be the last thing on my mind. So it's sort of apropos, even though in the interim I have drawn the conclusion that allusions, anecdotes and vignettes are no more nor less, but exactly and precisely as effective as blunt words in terms of their general audibility to imperialists. Took my sweet time about it, but there's little that can be done about that now.

Looking at Kings

I've not been writing much lately. That's for a couple of reasons. One is that I've been looking at glass and canals with an over-interested eye lately. The other rather more serious reason is that I've been trying to think about what a colonial subject might say to her imperial masters. Even a cat can look at a King.

DuctapeFatwa recently wrote of colonialism as a religion

"You can no more convince a colonialist that the world is not the property of the west, specifically the US, than you can convince a Christian that Jesus was not crucified or a Muslim that the Angel Gabriel did not visit Mohammed."

Which got me thinking. Never a good sign.

And a few days ago, I saw a diary over at dKos about sending presents to U.S. soldiers in Iraq and what a wonderful idea it was. Which got me thinking some more.

One of the things it got me thinking about was the difficulty of having honest conversations with colonialists - on whom, I might add, the Republican Party has no monopoly. Imperialism is a thoroughly bi-partisan policy: its flavour may change, but not its substance. Though from where I stand, it always tastes bitter. The difficulty proceeds, I think, not so much from the desire to keep the peace by keeping one's peace, but from a gap where words fail. Oh - the words can be spoken plainly enough, but their utterance would render my imperial masters deaf to the speaker.

Hence my silence.

When I was in New Zealand, one of my lecturers was a recent Russian émigré. He was far from my favourite person, but I remember one of the things he said well enough to paraphrase it. "You will no longer find," he said, "great composers in Russia. Now that anything can be said freely, nothing will be said of substance." What he meant, I think, was that political constraint can result in the production of a musical language that is subtle, rich in allusion and veiled political meaning. I suspect his fears for Russian music were misplaced: evidently he did not foresee Putin.

So let me try to accomplish with allusion, anecdote and vignette what I fear blunt words will not convey.


If you're a U.S. citizen, your military used the first city I lived in as a supply base for the land it occupied in the frozen South - though it's not so frozen now, is it? Your nuclear ships (though your military coyly declined to confirm or deny whether they carried nuclear weapons) moored in the great volcano crater that is Diamond Harbour. Sometimes I'd see your soldiers on the bus. Indeed, my brother married the daughter of one of your ex-soldiers, formerly stationed there in that wild and woolly colony at the end of the earth, until he grew too accustomed to Southern skies to return to the homeland. As colonists from more than one empire had done before him.


In a world where geography so often defines destiny, my brother and I both made what used to be termed `good marriages' by the cynical - or perhaps they were just intensely practical. But the dowries and settlements we brought to our nuptials concerned the currency of citizenship.


In the 1980s, the colony where I grew up staged something akin to a populist, non-violent revolt against its imperial masters. I wouldn't say it managed to get out of the imperial bedchamber, but it certainly threw the bedcovers about a bit and complained vigorously about having a terrible headache. It got off pretty lightly. Frankly, I put that down to most of the inhabitants having white skin. Had the country had the same demographics as Grenada, I suspect the fallout may have been rather different. But my imperial masters graciously confined themselves to threatening to assassinate the then Prime Minister David Lange (admittedly your Vice-President's threats were perceived at the time as having about the same level of credibility as the subsequent denials that they were ever made). Various imperial officials announced in peeved tones: "We're not talking to you any more." N.Z. was suspended from ANZUS - though this was hardly a punishment -- everyone I knew considered it proof positive that every silver lining has a silver lining. From the sidelines, Bob Dole twittered about imposing economic sanctions -- but unlike Iraq, N.Z. has no new graveyards filled with infants' bodies. More recently, a refusal to creep back under the imperial duvet scuppered a free trade agreement between the U.S. and New Zealand. Like I said, the colony I grew up in got off pretty lightly. It's still just a colony though, with limited Home Rule.


I moved to the heart of the empire.

I went out with a bunch of (U.S.) grad students to celebrate my flatmate's birthday.
Being politically inclined, we started talking about U.S. foreign policy and bashing Bush. I contributed some uncharitable remarks about Clinton and the bombing of Sudan's pharmaceutical factory. (Apparently Christopher Hitchens was experiencing a welcome remission of popinjayitis when he wrote this back in '98). Most likely, I also waxed lyrical about Madeleine Albright. In a fairly stunning non sequitur, I was told that, "You're just jealous because New Zealand didn't fight in World War II."

The woman who said that was kind and intelligent and would certainly consider herself liberal - possibly even leftist. She hated Bush and I wouldn't be at all surprised if she was been out there campaigning for Kerry last November. But imperialism is a power relation that promotes asymmetric information.


A friend of mine is at a union meeting. In his first and only language, he explains, patiently and painstakingly to an uncomprehending room, that since the British colonised the country that he came from, he has as much claim on the English language as anybody else. He passes around a copy of his immigration documentation, which is marked "Subject does not speak English. Instruction will be provided upon arrival." He explains how he was required to attend 'English language instruction' classes before being permitted to teach. "But __" someone says, "we don't mean you. You speak English fine - hell, you speak English better than me! But you've got to understand that we've got a duty to protect our students."

Words failed.


Well - if you've made it this far through my self-indulgent rant, let me close by telling you something about me. I took the nickname dove some years ago now - it's one I've used in a few different contexts. It's kind of a reminder. I wouldn't describe myself as a naturally peaceful, or non-violent, or particularly compassionate person. I tend to favour a cold fury over sorrow. But growing up red (or at least, deeply pink) in a post-Stalin world provided a fairly compelling reason to think carefully about the proper relationship between means and ends. And that led me to non-violence.

So I oppose the war and I'm committed to non-violence.

And here's another place where I think words often fail. For many, opposing the war and being non-violent means `supporting the troops by bringing them home.' That's not what it means for me. `Supporting the troops' is the last thing on my mind.


Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

This is one of my favorites, Miss dove, and not because you honor me in it :)

I have a strong preference for non-violence, but at this time peace for me means supporting the Resistance.

So, I guess I do "support the troops," after all.

I just happen to support different troops than are so often referenced on BooMan Tribune.

8/10/2006 9:07 am  
Blogger catnip said...

Well written. I have too much of a headache to say much more right now but I wanted to let you know that I read it.

8/10/2006 11:26 pm  
Blogger dove said...

You and Sartre both, I suspect, certainly with respect to your choice of troops.

And certainly you've named one of my temptations, just as you articulated another over at Manny's recently.

But. To the extent that I grew up, I grew up reddish in a post-Stalin world. If nothing else, that vast and horrific gulf between what Marx et al envisioned and what Stalin et al delivered did convince me that picking up a gun (certainly picking up a weapon as part of an organisation, state-based or otherwise) does not generally end empires. More often it replaces one form of imperialism with another. The means used precluded the desired ends.

That's not too surprising: if revolution or successful resistance depends on militarisation, militaries and those who supply them will ensure that there continues to be a pecking order and that they remain near the top of it.

Hmm. This is an unfinished (increasingly incoherent) thought, and it speaks primarily to organised violence, rather than, for example, individual attempts at self-defence. But Nanette has said things in the last couple of posts that tie in with this I think.

8/11/2006 1:16 am  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

Yes, it invariably leads to a discussion which exposes us as having evolved little, if at all, since caveman days.

Which makes the inevitable outcome of the Situation appropriate, I guess, in a Sartre-like sort of way. :)

Still, it is a sad time...

8/11/2006 1:45 pm  
Blogger Nanette said...

dove, you've helped clear some thoughts up in my mind.

When I was a kid I used to stay up to watch the "Late Late Show" (I think it was called), which showed old movies, usually in black and white and many of them British in origin. I had a steady diet of white feathers, foreign legions and spies of various sorts - and David Niven was absolutely everywhere, too.

Anyway, I tell that because I think it was in one of those movies that they had this dance - and remember, I was very young so I've probably gotten some of the details and sequence wrong, but it went something like this:

A ballroom full of people in gorgeous dress, women with powdered heads and men with satin or whatever, standing in couples... the music would start and the couples would dance and then stop for a moment, almost as if posing... and then everyone would move to another partner and start the dance again, stopping, posing and then switching partners over and over, til the end of the music. Might be a minuet.

That's what this current situation reminds me of. I was thinking the other day about the Israeli lore of being a scrappy little country that has taken on all its huge neighbors (and the Brits) and won, time after time, and other legends (most of which, like most legends, ignore many factors but that's neither here nor there). Sort of like the US revolution story that is also often told.

Then I thought, well Hezbollah has taken their place in that story now - a scrappy, rag tag group of people, not even a standing army, fighting against their more powerful neighbor who has the might of the mightiest country in the world behind them, and winning by staying standing if by nothing else. Rah, rah them. This, of course, brought me up short when I realized the direction my thoughts were taking, along the long prescribed paths.

This is the stuff legends are made of and dreams and revolutions - I'm sure others will be looking at their methods and inviting them to teach at schools of guerilla fighting (whether they have a standing military or not), but what has really happened other than that, after the pose, the partners have changed?

Not that I don't think Lebanon has a right to defend itself, especially when ones home and national family is being bombed to smithereens. It is just unimaginable to one day be going about your life, loving your children, building for your future and then the next have bombs raining down on you, killing your family, flattening your neighborhoods and terrorizing your country. This is inexcusable and completely unjustifiable. Then again, when is something like this justifiable? There needs to be an immediate cessation of the killing, but I don't have many hopes of that.

I guess it's more that, not having a dog in this fight (or, more accurately it seems, not owning a dog at all) I'm also inclined to wonder when the music will stop (which will not necessarily happen at the same time the bombs stop) and what happens then.

As dove mentions above, and as events have shown in many places, it's often a matter of just replacing one form of imperialism for another. "I have fought for you, defended you, and won you and now you are mine, and everything you are is a result of what my power allows you to be".

This is certainly the theme used by military supporters here in the US, as we know. It's even tried on non USA'uns ("without us, the world would be speaking German!") And I'm pretty sure some version of it is used by every successful militarily (state sanctioned or not) won country.

Anyway, I don't know where I am going with this. I guess it's that while I support people in imminent danger defending themselves, I can't bring myself to "support the troops" because of all that spreads from that, and my belief that we have to somehow figure out a way to change the record and that that can't be done by dancing the same dance to the same old music.

(I think I've stretched that metaphhor wayyyyy beyond the breaking point, but still.)

8/11/2006 5:35 pm  
Blogger Nanette said...

I am just very yappy today (and thinking of music!)

In one of the "UN:10" diaries at booman, I realized something I'd been missing about "music for the people". I will post part of the comment:

This (and other of the highlighted stories) reminds me of a George Bernard Shaw quote I first heard from dove, in one of her essays, which has stayed with me:

"What we want is not music for the people, but bread for the people, rest for the people, immunity from robbery and scorn for the people, hope for them, enjoyment, equal respect and consideration, life and aspiration, instead of drudgery and despair. When we get that I imagine the people will make tolerable music for themselves, even if all Beethoven's scores perish in the interim."

"Democracy"... elections, states, borders and so on often seems to me to be like 'music for the people'. The end goal some feel will make everything better, although little or nothing is done to address the other issues such as bread for the people, hope for the people and so on... and so not necessarily democratic agents who do come in and promise these things (and provide them, in some measure) gain popularity.

Unfortunately, it seems most of these sorts of people find themselves on the wrong side of "major powers", including the UN, (and sometimes for very good reason), and so the people wind up suffering even more.

I don't think that will stop it from happening in many more places around the world, though.

"Democracy and elections" is the new symphony, the new music for the people.

8/12/2006 12:42 am  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

Miss Nanette, you have inspired a blogrant


8/12/2006 7:23 pm  
Blogger Nanette said...

lol Ductape, I just love being inspirational ;)

And that's an excellent rant, too. Hezbollah is definitely a symbol in much of the world now, and I think is sort of becoming one here in the US as well, although sometimes rather a different one.

I am gathering articles and information for the next HB issue, on who Hezbollah is (because I still don't know, even tho we are all Hezbollah now), as well as other aspects. I wish you would post one or another of your recent rants there.

I didn't know that I'd (or no one else on the blogs) had said yet that Lebanon has a right to defend itself! I think actually that there are more that believe that than not, (of the blogs I tend to read, such as marisacat's and madman in the marketplace's and so on) but I guess the focus is more on the injustice of Israel's actions (and by extension, the US's), rather than the justice of Lebanon's.

And, most likely, that also is due to our training and nation centric point of view (even when we try not to have one, or think we don't), thus everything circles back to [the] US. Sigh!

I still don't "support the troops" though, although I do support the right of people to resist invasion and bombing, to have bread, peace, safe spaces for their children and so on.

I don't think it much matters that I do or do not support troops though, as I think things are going to get a lot worse in a lot more places, western and eastern and otherwise, before they get better, unfortunately.

Too many curtains have been (and are still being) pulled back for the show to be allowed to go on as usual.

8/12/2006 10:47 pm  
Blogger dove said...


I shall observe that 1) haloscan on your site still dislikes me and 2) there has not been a new post here for some days and 3) that Nanette's comment about cp-ing could be framed more generally. (That was an unsubtle hint BTW which I have just stripped of any remaining claim to subtlety that it had ;) )

To my way of thinking Hezbollah now inhabits a location analogous (albeit with all my usual caveats about analogy) to that of the armed French Resistance -- that strikes me as its position within this particular dance.

Or perhaps more hopefully the A.N.C., though again I think that analogy might work well in some ways while being strained in others.

I think Nanette has captured much of what I think on this, especially in her first post.

8/13/2006 12:29 am  

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