“a graduate from the peculiar institution, with my diploma written on my back”
-Life and Times of Frederick Douglass
“a graduate from the peculiar institution, with my diploma written on my back”
-Life and Times of Frederick Douglass
“Every man must patiently bide his time. He must wait — not in listless idleness but in constant, steady, cheerful endeavors, always willing and fulfilling and accomplishing his task, that when the occasion comes he may be equal to the occasion.”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Etymology has always fascinated me. While teaching English in Japan I learned a few things about conflict, stereotypes, and language. A colleague educated me to the origin of two particular terms heavily tied to American conflicts in Asia that had become parts of our lexicon. The terms, “honcho” and the racial epithet “gook,” seemingly have nothing in common. However, the origins of their inclusion in American colloquial english and their port of entry into it – American exposure to Asian cultures during war time – illustrate the binding power of narrative construction, naming of the other, and imperial hubris.
Reading a book on Malthusian theory some time ago I was exposed to the idea that the act of making war was integral to Europe’s self preparation for the projects of colonialism and imperialism. The migration of peoples due to conflict was generally followed by disease, alterations to gene pools, and at times violent collisions between various cultures. This maelstrom of conflict built up immunity to diseases – many rolling plagues notwithstanding – codified various forms of societal behaviors, and lead to wide ranging alterations to culture and language. This milieu of military action, civil reorientation and language remain important even in today’s world. Terms like “nation building,” and “regime change,” are merely fancy markers used in place of the literal actions of invasion, coups, and colonialization, be it technological, economic or military in nature. The sharp end of colonialism, and this is in no way meant to diminish the pillage and plunder that are it’s stalwart accomplices, is actually its physically non-violent methods. As promoted by the USGovt brass in the latest series of desert excursion into foreign lands – Winning Hearts and Minds – the idea of soft power, HUMINT and psychological operations is the name of the game.
“I apply not my sword when my lash suffices, nor my lash when my tongue is enough.” -Muawiya
Framing the enemy in a certain light, usually that of some low cultured brute who, vis-à-vis an extended cultural attack on the part of their adversary, is always the first step in preparing the minds of a population for conflict. Dehumanization and stereotypical views of their opponent exist on ALL sides of any conflict and no nation or culture is free from having done so through the use of words and images. This essay is about two term used in the American lexicon to describe militarily colonized/subjugated populations and a history of their etymologies. In these cases we’ll see that the drive – conscious or otherwise – to describe the enemy in belittling racialized terms superseded the actual meaning of words.
As a kid I heard growing up in the 1980s, I was exposed to plenty of Westerns and the term “head honcho.” Admittedly the adventures of John Wayne and his clones were not my cup of tea, and the racial overtones of the entire genre were not lost on my young eyes. The head honcho was usually the boss of a Spanish gang of bandits, or occasionally an anglo character would use to describe himself.
Usually this implied an edge to their character seeing as it was a repurposing of the how the word was being promoted – as a way to describe the enemy. Inverting the term used to describe an enemy other on one’s self gave it a hint of darkness and added character to the hero narrative. Clint Eastwood saying he was the head honcho of an area usually meant someone was about to get sprayed. It wasn’t until later that I learned, like many others I had erred in thinking that “honcho” was a Spanish word. In fact it’s Japanese, “hancho”
Hancho in Japanese means “squad leader” and seemingly entered the American lexicon due to GI’s exposure to Japanese troops during the Pacific Campaigns. I found it interesting how something that came to be associated with gunslingers in the faux-Old West had it’s origins in eastern Asia. This also echoed the ideas from the book on Malthus on how the action of military actors was full of social consequences and culturally altering by-products. Via their physical presence in a foreign land the soldiers were exposed to new ideas and terms, usually they refashioned them in real time to fit their cultural sensibilities.
The other term, gook, is an epithet that was used in heavily up to 70s and 80s, and had been used to describe every racial group from Filipinos, to Koreans to the Vietnamese. The histories tell us this term inserted itself into the American GI lexicon in a major way during the Korean and Vietnam War, however its first recorded usages date back to the 1920s. My Japanese colleague was the one who alerted me to the history of this word. The story is actually somewhat amusing. The native Koreans used the term “Migook,” meaning America, to refer to the GIs and others. US soldiers apparently as the person saying they themselves were a gook. In fact the term was being used to delineate the American’s as non-Koreans and also as a matter of simple information but using their own assumptive cultural lens the world was refashioned in real time into an insult.
Reducing various Asian populations to a racial epithet undoubtedly hastened and affirmed their otherness and fostered soldiers seeing them as targeted for control and domination.
Also worthy of note is how a Korean term was repurposed to be used on any Asian encountered in the theater and undoubtedly facilitated the process of collectivizing and othering Asians in the minds of the US serviceman. Another source offers this version of the origin of the term,
“Although many have it originating in Korea either by referring Korea’s original name, “Hanguk”, or during the Korean War when Koreans would ask American GI’s “Mi Guk?” (“American?” in Korean) which sounded like they were saying “Me gook.” Was soon adopted for use in the Vietnam War. Technically this should only apply to Koreans, but the Vietnam War made it most popular when applied towards the Vietnamese.”
As to be expected the term made its way to the home-front and was applied to Asians in the US Armed Forces even while on American soil.
When David Oshiro, who is Okinawan American and grew up in Hawaii, lay wounded and bleeding in Vietnam, his fellow Americans were reluctant to put him on the helicopter.
“I had to whip out my dog tag and say, “I’m an American,’ ” he said. “They’ll get all the black and white guys before they get the Asians out.”
Oshiro, now 50 and a San Rafael resident, served in the elite Special Forces and said he had a good relationship with all the soldiers in his unit, but that soldiers from other units were not as enlightened.
“I’ve been called “gook’ more times than I care to think about,” he said.
While he was at basic training in Fort Ord, a sergeant asked him and several other Asian Americans to dress up in black pajamas, the get-up of the Viet Cong, to show recruits what the enemy looks like. Oshiro refused.
Adams said that was a common occurrence.
The import of this racialized term which only added to the bigotry already extant in many US soldiers exacerbated internecine conflicts within the US Armed Forces:
“Before I got to Vietnam, the disillusion started,” he said. “When I got to Vietnam, the disillusion was completely there.”
While still at basic training at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, he said he was picked on continually.
“I experienced a lot of rednecks,” he said. “It wasn’t only to blacks; the Asians took a lot of hits, for obvious reasons. We were in an Asian war.”
Once he got to Vietnam, he said one sergeant seemed to have it in for him, calling him racist slurs, threatening him with a gun, even waking him up in the middle of the night with a bayonet at his throat.
“I still have a lot of anger and rage toward whites who come off with that attitude, a lot of prejudiced attitude,” Luke said.
Adams said that many of the subjects in the study forged relationships with black soldiers.
“A lot of times, black soldiers took them in, protected them, made friends with them, versus people of other ethnic backgrounds who were not as understanding of what was going on,” she said.”
The parallels of Asian-American soldiers referred to as gooks by their own military brethren is instantly recognizable is related to the treatment of Blacks in the armed forces, especially during Vietnam. Due to the intense political climate in America at the time the Vietnam War was an extremely complex exercise in ‘racially’ fueled imperialism and the use of “conscripted forces.” My usage of conscripted forces in this case refers to the split in consciousness expressed by many Black soldiers concerning the nature and narrative of their participation in the Vietnam War.
For those who question the political activism of Blacks during the Vietnam War a brief reminder of the climate is all I will offer at the moment:
“The fledgling black American conscript was expected to endure the sight of the Confederate flag painted on Jeeps, tanks and helicopters, and sometimes encountered menacing graffiti, such as “I’d rather kill a nigger than a gook”, scrawled on the walls in the latrines of US bases. Other grisly practices, such as cross burnings, were uprooted from Alabama and Mississippi to the war theatre of Vietnam, and some commanders tolerated Ku Klux Klan “klaverns” on their bases.”
The same use of language to dehumanize Black Americans was applied to the Asian targets of imperial aggression. This modality was not lost on either side and lead to a war within a war as Black and White American soldiers engaged in physical, mental and “literary” conflicts with each other in the midst of a war on foreign soil:
“One black soldier, drained by the tense racial atmosphere in the enlisted men’s clubs, commented: “Chuck’s [euphemism for a white man] all right until he gets a beer under his belt and then it’s nigger this and nigger that, and besides, to be honest, Chuck ain’t too much fun, you dig?” Indeed, by the late 1960s in Vietnam, black and white soldiers were socialising in separate bars and clubs. In Saigon, the black servicemen congregated in the Khanh Hoi district and, sometimes, protected their preferred venues with signs that warned “No Rabbits [white soldiers] Allowed.”
On their end the Vietnamese were aware of the power of words and race during war and utilized the tensions which arose from this triumvirate as part of their psychological operations.
“Today, Wallace Terry recalls that, bizarrely, the Vietcong sometimes screamed, “Go home, soul man”, at the black soldiers during combat and Browne, who was interviewed in Terry’s Bloods, described how, “to play on the sympathy of the black soldier, the Vietcong would shoot at a white guy, then let the black guy behind him go through, then shoot at the next white guy”. Other black servicemen, including the deserter Whitmore, reported identical cases.
But the huge number of black soldiers killed in action and the maltreatment of black prisoners of war was ample proof that the Vietcong and the NVA were simply manipulating the racial discord within the American ranks.”
The effect of racist treatment couched in language upon the Asian Americans in the Vietnam War has even been studied and codified.
War, race and the language used to describe the enemy are inexorably linked. They feed into each other and are in fact required to facilitate the massaging of the public consciousness into a state capable to delivering violence upon the enemy. The words we choose to use and highlight reflect the culture we seek to create or maintain. These choices while not always conscious are not the results of accidents.
The history of race, language and conflict in America is a long one, and it continues today. As we can see in this excerpt from the film, “Full Metal Jacket (1987),” the desire to categorize the other and then save them from themselves is an integral part to the self-convincing methods employed by imperialist armies.
The ironic nature of honcho ending up in Westerns, and the term for American becoming a racial epithet against Asians is nearly comical, if not for the long history of racialized language being used to promote certain ideas about adversaries. Some more analysis could be done the meaning behind the sentiments expressed in the quote above and notions of civilizing the third world and ‘exporting democracy.’ Just as the Western literary tradition made arguments to convince itself that slavery was beneficial to the upliftment of black peoples, the fictional Pogue Colonel echoes such sentiments in his desire to “free” the American in every gook trying to get out.
“The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business…”
A Jack of all trades they say is a Master of None. But Masters of One can get served by Jacks in a variety of ways of which they know None..
We Americans love to live vicariously through athletic contests presented as television programming.
Welcome to Videodrome 2017…
Ideation has two modes of agency against extant ideas:
A new idea will be revolutionary by definition. It will shake up or wake up it’s adherents and alert it’s detractors a storm is coming. A responsive idea will contain remnants of the ideas it’s fighting against. Many time it’s a poisoning pill effect. One usually can’t defeat an adversary by aping their style. One can’t make a liar tell the truth by repurposing lies. The pitfalls pointed out by critical theories many time exist within them. Hence the constant revision. Which ends up being circular. A dash of philosophy in critical theory is a component that’s sorely missed. The theory may “tell” you something is true but is it right? Ideas chain together and are built on over time. Ideas are also co opted and their courses changed. Yet their origins matter. Conflicting consciousness in any sort of tribal based teleological framework is a sign the idea isn’t actual tribal. If a tribes ideas about itself aren’t entirely it’s own, then who’s are they? Do they make sense in the long run? Can they be stopped if they go astray? And importantly were those ideas ever meant to benefit “you…?” Ones hustle can be stopped physically or mentally and the mental battlefield actually leaves longer scars than even a physical contest do. The reason I mentioned philosophy within critical theory is that it can tend to showcase ones cultural perspectives. This leg of the theorizing would, or could, augment and/or squelch ideas which naturally spring from CT but aren’t advantageous to a group. Of course all of this only matters of the building or maintenance of a group or culture is the reason for your ideation. Ideas without focus are like autonomous cars. They can be safe and self directing. Or programmed to crash you into a wall you won’t see till it’s too late.
A bit of reflection on the current state of media in the U.S. is bound to unearth many contradictions. Especially if the analysis can be undertaken without falling victim to one ‘-ism’ or another, specifically the notions of altruism and cognitive dissonance about history. The rise of the term “fake news,” is actually quite astonishing coming from corporate news outlets and their billionaire backers. For the record, the above assertion is old news, and the capture of the public means of communication by financially empowered tycoons cum oligarchs is well known. One can truly be moved to the edge of their seat in laughter at the idea that the West has been completed snowed and beaten to the punch, namely if one has studied the history of the role of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Beginning in earnest during WWII the US Intelligence apparatus (USINT) has weathered the growing pains of losing many a battle to Soviet operatives during the Cold War. Choosing the power of management and technology over re-inventing the wheel of espionage, one of the oldest games on earth, the US has become a technological eye of Horus. Hovering both in the heavens and peering down and through the firmament electronically and sonically, looking to gain an edge on their adversaries. More powerful than anything has been the creation and promotion of narratives. This power is not controlled by one side. Narrative construction and management is a primary aim of any Intelligence agency working today.
We all know the tactic but don’t buck it. So isn’t that acceptance? Patriot act? Regime change. Fake news. All sorcery.
The “secret program to fund rebels” is their latest sigil. Even repeating that is a sign of brainwashing. They created mercenaries. The end
If your worldview comes from info and your own thoughts but you think in a method created to confuse and control you , well …
They get you debating the meaning of words like terrorism based on post modernist identity politics. Ask yourself, do They do that?
They don’t seem to run on the same inputs as the public for whom most inputs are provided even if they don’t know it.
Most countries still use names cast upon them by conquerers. Even knowing their past they didn’t reclaim it. Any good reasons for that?
You think you could invade & change the name of Spain or England ever, and if given the chance they wouldn’t change it back…?
Over time, the pen truly is mightier than the sword…
Nevertheless, I do not recommend bringing a ballpoint to a gunfight. Given a wide variety of reasons it can be seen as natural that two people might engage in conflict. History is full of conflicts – large and small – centered on resources, honor, perception, and desires. If we imagine a time of less complexity we can easily see two men from nameless tribes fighting over the remnants of a carcass during a drought. The need to feed one’s family and comrades takes precedent. There is a seemingly natural order of progression with human beings when life and limb are on the line. It follows a simple decision making equation
1. What is at stake?
2. How much is available?
3. Who deserves or needs it?
4. How to distribute the resource after it is under your control?
Over time this simple foundational schematic has expanded in complexity right along with the human world that was built upon it.
I. AM I MY BROTHER’S KEEPER?
Despite an innumerable amount of literature on the topic of human morality or utopian ideals, both religious and secular, we all inhabit a world brimming with clashes. These clashes are focused on race, politics, government, economics and ideologies. It is not without ample reason that any person could look at the world and global history and want for a viable explanation. History as presented is a collection of big personalities, heroes, villains, and outstanding miscellany. One of the most important features of history is wars, their causes, their execution and their results. The victors of course write history, and the histories we are in possession of are largely tales of conquest, control and preservation of one culture’s beliefs over the other. Said simply, human history is a history of conflict. What is the cause of humanity’s history of warfare, genocide and prejudice against other men and women? Is empathy real? I’d argue that in many ways the conflicts of the New World are based in its creation and a seemingly unacknowledged fact of human existence that ‘natural’ human bonds are tribal. They are not in fact global in scope or even as broad as a state such as California.
Technically speaking all notions that plug one’s beliefs into a massive network of similarly inclined peoples is not ‘real.’ Benedict Anderson called these constructs “imagined communities.” Anderson was referring to nations in his work, It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion… …Finally, it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings. (49 – 50) The argument I will make in this paper is that the entire New World is an imagined community . While being suspended in air by ideologies and various cultural beliefs, the foundation of the New World is starkly tribal. In the end people will fight and die, for and with, the people they consider to be their family or relatives. While idealism throughout human history has succeeded in people joining ever-larger imagined communities, the last stage being ‘citizen of the world,’ it is unable to sever the ties that actually bind: relation and proximity.
II. VIRTUAL REALITY IN REAL LIFE
Human civilization has multiple starting points through history, both in time and location. While globalized commerce and syncretic culture have existed in what many would call the primitive past (Greek trade with Egypt, era of the China’s Silk Road, and the age of European invasions and colonization’s) the New World is a place of a different sort. For convenience sake the New World’s birthdate in this essay will be the year 1500. At this point we’ve had expeditions into territories previously unseen by European man, interactions with the native inhabitants and even examples of cultures never before seen physically in Europe making their appearance. On the global stage at that time there were aristocratic Kingdoms, the Church, mercantile and feudalist political systems, hunter-gather cultures and smaller sects of tribes and nations sometimes operating under a banner (Native American tribes, Bantu’s, Ethiopia, Aztec Empire). As time went on and European colonialism began to reshape the world one by one we see wars of survival between human beings over language, culture, religion, physical resources, and life itself. Via the deep and wide swathes of institutions, practices, and world view that places like England, Spain, France, the Baltics, and Germany have spread across the world, the literature, ethos and soul of Europe has effectively been superimposed on top of global antiquity giving us the New World we inhabit today. Naturally this statement is not all-inclusive, nor is it meant to be. It serves as the jumping off point for the focus of this essay.
III. THE EARLY STATES OF NATIONS
The history of nation states and nationalism is only a couple of hundred years old. That development was preceded the cementing of perceived racial differences between men in literature, “science,” laws and in physical reality. Prior the New World a majority of the focus one had upon their “social avatar” was confined to religion. Passages delineating people as Catholics or Christian, Muslims or pagan, are replete before the 16th and 17th centuries. These labels are unabashedly signifiers of difference and serve to “other” people not a part of your tribe. As western religions were adopted and underwent influence from its new adherents more and more sects and tribes within the nation state formed. In the end the nation state served the purpose of sharpening the conflicts within various groups into a point called, ‘nationality’ by which the conflicts could be amalgamated into a new identity and continued. Racism as a concept is codified in the 16th -17th century using ideas from both the Enlightenment and Renaissance in Europe to create a myriad of social classes and fields of “study,” which were used to bolster the imperialist desires of their creators in Europe.
IV. REALITY: WHEN MAGICAL THINKING RUNS OUT OF STEAM
Predicting the actions of any individual person is nearly impossible. However the actions of large groups of people, especially those operating under some form of ideology or nationalism, offer themselves more readily to prediction. People in every nation on earth know the power of mob mentality. Whether it be a fully formed armed revolution, a drastic change in social mores, or pogrom, the mechanisms are similar. The actions of a collective mob are most times not ‘ordained’ by any power but rather ‘granted’ from within the body politic by a combination of the social environment and ideological priming. In Unpopular Essays, Bertrand Russell writes,
“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”
The mob that arises to alter a particular environment is merely the resurfacing of a form of the base’s tribalism. Mob uprisings traditionally are seen to arise when the circumstances have moved so far in one direction or the other that aggrieved peoples believe they have no other course of action other than changing the regime in power. Referring back to the original decision tree the mob has decided that their freedom or economic well being is at stake. The reason being the some group, invader or fellow native, that has caused their distress.
1. What is at stake?
2. How much is available?
3. Who deserves or needs it?
4. How to distribute the resource after it is under your control?
There are a few ways that humanity’s base tribalism comes to the surface and they all center on adversity. If your brother or mother is starving do you feed them before your cousin? Where does a recent acquaintance rate compared to a life long friend when life and limb are on the line? History seems to show us that divisions of ethnic, social or religious groups become enlarged and scapegoated as the resources in an area are running low. It must be noted that scarcity many times is merely an invention of those in power but the implication of scarcity can be enough to trigger the mechanisms which lead populations to internal conflicts.
“Sheep only need a single flock, but people need two: one to belong to and make them feel comfortable, and another to blame all of society’s problems on.” ― James Rozoff
Anderson, Benedict Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983)
(This is a short post just to jot down some thoughts about. It may be revised and updated in the future.)
It’s quite possible that our infatuation with the US presidential election is in part due to something we’re not discussing. What does the passing of a Torch to the New Generation actually look like? This ‘world,’ is the product of the efforts of the Baby Boomer generation and their parents. Out of the kiln of world conflicts this cohort attempted to, and succeeded in, creating a new world. At the pivot of the world has been nation of America, and at its helm are Baby Boomers of many different stripes. Yet, what that also displays is a dearth of new energy into the artifices which we rely on to run this nation. The Boomers have been somewhat greedy, for a lack of a better term. Most positions of real power in this country are held by people in their late 50s and 60s, as the median age of the country stands at less than 40 years old. It begs the question if ageism, or attempts to alter the social structure by focusing on age may not become a focus of social activism in the future.
The average age in Congress stands in the low 60s, the average age of CEOs is similar. Much of the collective power to run this world still remains firmly in the hands of the Boomers. Hillary Clinton is 68, Donald Trump is 70, and Bernie Sanders was 74. As we discuss the mental health of Mr. Trump, and the possible physical issues with Hillary, what are we actually alluding to? We are alluding to the possibility of one of the either becoming physically or mentally incapacitated, or expiring, while in office. This somber event would initiate a succession of leadership, which would take place according to standing law, as is the purpose of a Democracy. However, the issue at hand can be seen as referring to the passing of the torch to the generation after the Baby Boomers. As sobering as a thought as it may be, people alive today will witness a rare event, an actual generational ‘hand-off’ of the globe. The baby boomers will slowly dwindle down before our very eyes until it is the generation of their children who are in the ruling seats. How would that world look?
In addition, the revolving door of CEOs, politicians, presidents and judges are made from this Boomer cohort and in many cases have not “allowed” younger people to gain experience in leadership through traditional modes of power. Most of the young stars of the world have been entrepreneurs in the tech spaces and other avenues considered outside of the historic power structures. As we have seen during this campaign, issues such as police activity, patriotism, racism and the economy, continue to polarize America across age ranges. So there is a possibility this ‘shift’ in culture that most expect to come, never materializes, or in the end isn’t as different as expected. And more importantly as this nation moves deeper into the ‘Social Justice Era,’ its most important apparatus, the Supreme Court, has a media age of 67 with lifetime appointments.
There is an old proverb, “May you live in interesting times…,” I for one see the future of America as one of the most interesting times we’ve ever lived in.