arch/ive/ief (2000 - 2005)

Racism, Complicity, and Rhetorics of War
by Melissa Hasbrook Monday, Feb. 21, 2005 at 3:25 PM

Speech during the protest marathon at The Beurrsschouwburg.

I am a peace activist (Rhetoricians for Peace) finishing my doctorate in rhetoric from Michigan State University and currently am an international scholar at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven). I gave this speech during the protest marathon at The Beursschouwburg, part of the “Bush NOT Welcome” event organized by The BRussels Tribune on 20 Feburary, 2005.[1]

Greetings, Sisters and Brothers, from many tribes and nations. I am descended from the First Americans, a scholar trained in rhetoric, an activist, and a writer. I express gratitude to my teachers, elders, and Creator for giving me words to share, and to you for listening. I was requested to give a scholarly address on rhetorics of war.

I look to an ancient Athenian named Isocrates, in his time, an advocate of internationalism and peace; and to Americans descended from indigenous peoples—Cherríe Moraga and the late Gloria Anzaldúa, both lesbian activist-writers, and Professor Ward Churchill of the Keetoowah Band Cherokee.

They tell us that rhetorics of war campaign a way of life dependent on causing death, justify on-going military combat to end alleged threats of violence, demand patriotism without question, and profit from perpetuation. And they remind us that rhetorics of war have a long tawdry tradition: Ancient Athenians who violated the sovereignty of Hellenic peoples during The Social War, a campaign simultaneous to Rome’s ascension over Greece;
European colonial settlers and governments of the US who violated—and who continue to violate—the sovereignty of indigenous Americans;
present-day imperialists who invaded and continue to occupy the land of Iraq, under the leadership of US President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, in concert with profiteers like Halliburton and privatizers of Iraqi resources like the former president of my U.S. university Peter McPherson;
and the state of Israel in its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, decades violating the self-determination of Palestinians.

Anzaldúa and Moraga remind us that rhetorics of war are racist and xenophobic, evoking fear of the Other. We hear this in the repeated phrases “the uncivilized,” “Muslim extremists,” and “evildoers.” It’s a reminder of what the late Edward Said taught us, that Orientalism is racist, a racism echoed by Bush as he collapses North Korea, Iran, and Iraq into “the Axis of Evil.”

Moraga puts this racism in historic-immediate terms. In her essay “From Inside the First World,” she speaks plainly about our post-9/11 context as an indigenous person, a lesbian, a feminist.[2] She writes, “the conditions of invasion, war and terrorism have existed for people of color in this hemisphere since the mistaken arrival of Columbus to our shores.”[3] Admitting “to be a traitor to the geopolitical borders that divide nations of people,” she asks “Who are truly my allies?” then answers, “Certainly not those US leaders (white or white-minded) who exercise genocide in my name.”[4]

And Anzaldúa traces how these racist rhetorics create militarized borders. In her book Borderlands/ La Frontera,[5] she writes as a tejana—a person of Mexican descent raised in the US state now called Texas on land stolen from Mexico—and as una atravesada—a person existing in a borderland, in her words one of “the squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulato, the half-breed, the half dead.”[6] Creating the US-Mexican border through invasion, occupation, the coerced secession of land, and broken treaties, Anzaldúa explains, “The Gringo, locked into the fiction of white superiority, seized complete political power, stripping Indians and Mexicans of their land while their feet were still rooted in it.”[7]

We must understand rhetorics of war and their racist xenophobic premises as a means to an end: our collective and individual action to end the occupation of Iraq, an action in solidarity with upholding peoples’ sovereignty from Palestine to the Americas. Tempting as it may be to focus on opposing Bush, we must expose the web of complicity that enables The War on Terror and immobilize the web’s reach—from legislatures and courts, to powerful individuals who block the prosecution of war crimes, and to the publics who elect politicians like Bush and Blair.

Isocrates’ fictional address “On the Peace” exposes this web of complicity during The Social War, an imperialist campaign that parallels the Iraq War.[8] His political pamphlet countered the nearing resolution of peace negotiations, which were incapable of achieving what he terms “a lasting peace.”[9] Faulting the Athenian public for supporting a hypocritical foreign policy based on despotism not democracy,[10] he analyzes blow-by-blow how war profits at the expense of peoples’ lives.[11]

And today Professor Churchill calls for reflection on the complicity of the US public that led to the 9/11 attacks. His essay “Some People Push Back,”[12] written soon after the attacks, is an accurate account of past and present acts of aggression committed by US governments, which have been enabled by their publics, particularly those whom Moraga identifies as the “white and white-minded.” Churchill calls out the economically comfortable and politically apathetic for their lack of reaction to the murder of Iraqi children from the Gulf War bombings to sanctions, which Dennis Holliday describes as “a systematic program…of deliberate genocide.”[13] And Churchill takes to task activists who risk little, in his words, who “contented themselves with signing petitions and conducting candle-lit prayer vigils, bearing ‘moral witness’ as vast legions of brown-skinned five-year-olds sat shivering in the dark, wide-eyed in horror, whimpering as they expired in the most agonizing ways imaginable.”

Churchill in the company of Anzaldúa and Moraga are carrying out Isocrates’ call to action “to speak and write the kind of discourses…[to] turn the greatest states—those which have been wont to oppress the rest—into the paths of virtue and justice.”[14] Such a call moves us from confronting hegemony to imagining and creating a just and equitable world. As Anzaldúa writes, “it is not enough to stand on the opposite river bank, shouting questions, challenging patriarchal, white conventions. A counterstance locks one into a duel of oppressor and oppressed; locked into mortal combat, like the cop and the criminal, both are reduced to a common denominator of violence.” She continues, “At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once and, at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes.”[15]

In closing, I share a personal message for George Bush.

Mr. President:

I am descended from the First Americans,
and you should know:
What you call a mandate
is The White Man’s Dance,
a maddening dance,
in the footsteps
of your founding fathers.

Your mask called
“Project for the New American Century”
is fashioned after
old Manifest Destiny,
infesting lands
with lies and genocide.

Your war cry sounds
“Pre-emptive Strike!”
and chills my soul,
because I remember
The Trail of Tears,
burned villages,
broken promises.

Allied today, here,
with many tribes,
brothers and sisters unified,
we dance around you,
encircle you,
expose you.

And when you leave Brussels
by way of The White Man’s Dance,
you should know:
Our feet are strong,
our numbers many,
our circle wide,
and truth is on our side.

[1] This address is preceded by my essay “Intervention and Rhetorics of War: Classical Insights for Contemporary Activists” from a forthcoming collection edited by Seth Khan and Jong-Hwa Lee titled Rhetorical Activists and Activist Rhetoricians: How Rhetoric Contributes to Democracy
[2] The essay is from the third edition of a collection co-edited with Gloria Anzaldúa titled This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, published by Third Women Press in 2002.
[3] See page xv.
[4] See page xxvi. Emphasis from the original text.
[5] I reference the second edition of Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza, published by Aunt Lute Books in 1999.
[6] See page 25.
[7] See page 29.
[8] I consulted a collection of addresses translated by George Norlin titled Isocrates, published by Heinemann in 1962.
[9] See Line 71.
[10] See Line 91.
[11] See Lines 124 to 127.
[12] This essay is available on-line:
[13] As quoted by Churchill.
[14] See Line 145 of “On the Peace.”
[15] See page 100 of Borderlands/ La Frontera.

I Admitt, Less Than Rhetoric
by Art H. Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2005 at 2:58 AM

I write this response to a so-called American acting out against understanding amongst our two nations. I too have ties to a native tribe, the Cherokee. More over, I have blood lines from each divided land encompassing the Isle-of-Man to Germania-of-old. I know not of a single race that would take me in as there own but a drunken cousin from mother lands or the United States of America. Not even the Cherokee would take me as my grandmother was only one quarter relative.

I claim neither scholarly prestige nor any fellowship to deride. I have not even read of George Norlin before. With my limited knowledge I doubt Isocrates was right to side against the Sophists. I unsure a student of Socrates would inhibit great ideals of peace, because I detest the Socratic view of infanticide and class systems. I plainly see people of all times having sought out peace and prosperity; it can be relished together, but is naturally without all tact. However Isocrates did speak of uniting to rise up against the Persians.

In all my lack of vision I wrote a lackluster paper about “The Terror of Saddam” before his baulking at United Nations turned to war in press. There is no doubt the Iraqi people were rapped and terrorized by the Régime. There is no doubt that a lack of support by the United Nations now is unjust to these newly freed people. The phrase “nuit gravement aux droits humains” evokes my thought of free men ignoring a suppressed people and perilous tyrants.

I do not dance for rain, nor prior war, nor to taunt, never will I dance to mock my ancestor’s despite my country’s choices. I may dance to celebrate brotherhood when more free men stand up against terrorizing of the innocent. Remember who hide behind those shivering children, who has took bullets and shrapnel to hold peace, and now trains their rightful protectors.

I do not mask my whiteness nor claim any party. I try to make informed choices in consciousness. My consciousness is heeded by altruistic meditation. President G.W. Bush has not dubbed any people axis; it was titling the wickedness of their authority.

“Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.”
Albert Einstein: The Great Quotations, compiled by George Seldes 1967 U.S.A.

“I am liberating man from the degrading chimera known as conscience.”
Adolf Hitler: The Great Quotations, compiled by George Seldes 1967 U.S.A.

Please ask yourself what conscience betrays those under a Régime, what chimera is a collective nation that stands aside while terror reigns. While violence is never a best choice strategy is needed lest the evil of the world will run us all to heaven, hell or dust. My hope is to remain in the light of my Lord rather then the shadow of his creations —including tyrants—, and I feel a responsibility to share that freedom when another is suppressed.