Friday, February 25, 2011

The Soldier's Place

In class, after the Memmi Group Presentation, the discussion of the place of Memmi's argument in the Iraq situation at this moment came up. I would like to perhaps pretense this post by saying that I would like to compare the design of Memmi's argument to the complex role of the Soldier in today's society. Perhaps then, we can discuss how different and complex the roles of soldiers are from the roles of a colonizer.

First, Memmi defines the colonizer as an individual that moves to a new land to attain an easier life and gain personal profit. By gaining economic gain, the colonizer automatically has inevitable privilege which lets the colonizer throw out laws and rules with no remorse. Also the colonizer will take the natives belongings and be a usurper with little to no regard to the natives. Second, another point that Memmi brings up is that there can be a colonizer who refuses but they will only have two choices when they refuse to take part in the colonizing. The colonizer that refuses can either stay in the colony and accept their privileged position or they can leave the colony and not be a part of it at all. Also, we discussed in class how the colonizer is often, if not always, pushing the ideology of the natives out so that they can become the ideological majority. This would include religion, politics, and other cultural aspects. Also, keep in mind that an overarching theme is that the colonizer is finding a NEW HOME in the land that they are colonizing.

Now lets look at the U.S. military in Iraq. I would like to state that first and foremost the U.S. soldier's position is a job and within that job there are, like all other jobs, duties that are not up for question. Also, by having a job as a U.S. soldier it must be respected that if you were not to follow your duty the consequences are arguable far worse than most jobs. First, unlike the colonizer Memmi describes that moves to a new land to attain an easier life and gain personal profit is not like a soldier. A soldier has no goal of attaining an easier life in Iraq or living there for their lifetime. Also, a soldier does not gain personal profit from being over there. While granted a soldier does gain more profit being deployed than being stationed at home (e.g. on U.S. soil) it is not specific to Iraq. Soldiers deployed anywhere are more profitable economically, yet it must be realized that this is because they cannot benefit their dependents physical. Also, under the prime directives of the U.S. military, the military units that are serving active duty are not allowed to impose on the laws, cultures, and national pride of the natives. While some would argue that by with stating the Hussein government the U.S. military was imposing on the laws and political institutions Iraq, UN and international law states that in a corrupt government outside forcing are not imposing on nations if they are liberating the nation's people; which is what the U.S. military did in the end by forcing Saddam Hussein's government out of office. Also, while some may argue that the US military has privilege and power over the natives I must say that this is not true. In fact, the only place this argument has plausibility for would be the green zone. This is the only land where the U.S. military has jurisdiction for their people and their operations. Yet, before you jump to saying this is a colonized zone I would ask you to look at the embassies that are scattered across the nations of the world that technically belong to other nations.
Continuing, Memmi states that the Colonizer that refuses has two options, to leave or stay and deal basically. Soldiers do NOT have a choice like this. This lack of choice goes back to the duties of the job and the consequences of not doing these duties. If a soldier were to refuse active duty because "oh well I don't really agree with the pretenses for going to Iraq" he would most likely be charged with treason, dishonorably dismissed, tried in a military court, and sentenced for basically "not following the norm". While you may say well he still has a choice. Unlike the colonizer who could remain in the motherland and still have a life and livelihood and profit, a soldier does not have a choice to remain at home and retain that life, livelihood, or profit because all of those ride on the soldier completing his or her job.

My last point I would like to make is that a colonizer would go to the new land and establish a new HOME! A soldier, no matter where they are deployed to, and in this case Iraq, are going there for an extended yet limited period of time. They are taking no livelihood, no family, no personal items beside those that can fit in the standard military issued backpack and duffle after the required items are packed. The few morals and values that they are allowed to bring and practice they cannot pass on to create a more comfortable home-like environment. To sum it up, our Soldiers do NOT call Iraq HOME!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I think that you are right to want to distinguish between individual soldiers and larger military complex. This is an important distinction, and calling American intervention in Iraq or Afghanistant neo-colonialist or imperialist isn't a moral condemnation of individual soldiers, but rather a critique of the larger national enterprise. Appealing to sentimentality doesn't change the fact that there are larger imperialist patterns at work in our policy in Iraq, which are different in character than, for example, French colonial policy in Algeria. American soldiers, are of course, not settlers. Unlike 19th century colonialism, U.S. imperialism does not attempt to assimilate Iraq into the American nation. The manifestations of imperialism may be less obvious, but the interest in these regions, as was the case in earlier manifestations of colonialism, the economic and political motivations clearly outstripe any concerns with liberty of a people. The American ideology has a important role in these military interventions, but if these events were motivated primarily by the desire to "liberate a people" than the U.S. and the rest of the international communities ability would not take military actions to some oppressive regimes, while characterizing others equally oppressive regimes as as "moderate" and "stable".

    I think one of the larger implications of Memmi's work is that he illustrates the ways in which the colonial system degrades not only colonized people, but colonizers as well. If you want to contend that these wars are not imperialist in character, than you have to do so on the structural level, rather than focusing on individuals. Yes, U.S. soldier's do not call Iraq or Afghanistan home, but that shouldn't be way that we determine whether these wars are imperialistic. Rather we need to examine the larger forces which prompted and sustain these wars and the ways in which our military presence manifests itself beyond the obvious fact of U.S. soldier's presence.

  3. I think the discussion we had in class about the Iraq and Memmi's argument had valid points for both sides of the argument. After reading your post, I have come to agree with you. During class nI was on the fence, but I do think that the argument behind the term "home" is important. Our soldiers do not call Iraq home and that is a big difference when compared to Memmi.

  4. Chloe, I do not think people were trying to argue that the role of a "solider" and the role of a "colonizer" are the same. Rather, people were drawing irrefutable similarities between the war in Iraq and past colonization. I think it is naive to believe that the only reason we invaded Iraq was to "liberate" the people who were subjected to Hussein's dictatorship. Iraq's natural resources, mainly oil, had a huge influence on our decision to declare war on "terror," and isn't profit one of the primary goals for a "colonizer"? Furthermore, are we not imposing our democratic ideals on an entirely different culture? Although I do not flatly disagree with your opinion, I do think it is important to recognize both similarities and differences between the United States' invasion in Iraq and past invasions. We should be weary of our history so that we do not commit the same acts of brutality.

  5. In regards to your concluding remarks, I think that a soldier does in a way take the colonizer's role. The colonizer acts as a "hero" in the sense that he helps the colonized reach justice. The only way that the colonizer can fully accept this role as a hero is if he assimilates into the colonized. Many colonizer's don't want to fully assimilate into the colonized because they would have to strip themselves of their privileges and in a way lower themselves to the status of the colonized. THe soldiers could in fact move in, and stay living in Iraq. This would mean they would have to live in a place, and as one amongst the rest of the citizens without the freedoms they have in America. I do agree with you Chloe, but I think it would be easy for someone to prove the opposite case because Memmi's words can sometimes be interpreted in different ways.

  6. Chloe, I was originally writing a response to your post but it became too long to fit as a comment, so I'm going to submit it as a post. Thanks for such a compelling debate!

  7. First, in looking at Memmi's definition of colonization, I think it's clear that the US military involvement in Iraq is not colonization. The criteria of the colonizer are in no way being met by military personel. The one most important reason for a colonizer to move to, and reside in a colony if the the economic benefit; its because they can spend less and earn more from the colony through the exploitation of the locals. This motivation for colonization is wholly absent from the occupation of Iraq. Soldiers have no economic benefit from being in Iraq. Yes, soldiers believe the benefit of being employed, and they do receive bonuses for deployments, but these bonuses are received whether they deploy to Iraq, Guantanamo, Panama, or any number of other locations. They dynamic at work with the military involvement is the same as saying that we, America, is colonizing countries where our corporations set up offices, send American employees, and hire locals to make products for American consumers. Yes, I'm not naive in thinking that our involvement in Iraq has nothing to do with oil, because I am sure it absolutely has almost everything to do with oil, but to claim we are colonizing it is wrong. I have the feeling that the claim Iraq is being colonized has more to do with peoples' political motivations to disapprove then with diligent consideration of whether we are oppressing the locals, overthrowing their culture, and instituting ourselves as the highest order, all necessary episodes of Memmi's colonization situation. We are not. While we are bringing US ideology in the form of a political structure, that government is not being put into place to give American's more power and the local Iraqi's less. In fact, Iraqis are serving in the government positions. Our military presence is temporary. Yes, our American presence is likely permanent until the run out of oil (which is going to be a long while) but our presence in the Middle East has always been strong. If you want to talk about true colonization, consider the implementation of the Israeli state in Palestine lands. This is a stronger threat to sovereignty and clear presence of American and Western colonization then a military overthrow of an oppressive regime is.
    Whether I believe that we should have overthrown Saddam's regime or not, I think the arguments about whether we are colonizing need to made with a definition that is applied to all similar situations where military forces by the US or other sovereignty (i.e. the UN) are sent to bring 'peace' or order to a dangerous nations and find themselves 'peace-keeping' for decades after, such as happened in the Bosnian region.

  8. Proving that soldiers are different than Memmi's colonizers does not prove that American military invention is not neo-colonial. If you want to prove that the U.S. military occupations in the Middle East are not imperialistic, then find another argument.

  9. I must agree with trent.

    Colin I read your post as well. I am not naive in thinking that we did not go there for oil because we sure did! I'm also not saying that corporations don't benefit, because they do too.

    As for Iraq being colonial, yes the definition has changed since the 19th and 20th centuries, yet, we are still discussing memmi's requirements for colonial status and Iraq does not meet them. Also, the American military intervention is helping to play a key role in assisting the Iraqi people and government in rebuilding and remolding the structure of the country they are not taken over or enforcing ideals. This is because the US government is NOT crossing the line the decrees Iraq a sovereign nation. Once that line is crossed then the international political and humanitarian field will cry out and will force the US to pull back. Under the UNAMI the US is, for the time being, assisting, advising, and promoting what the Iraq government is trying to institute as the structure of the new Iraq government, and the constitution of the people. I say US hoping that there is an understanding that as one of the five permanent members of the security council of the UN and as one of the leading countries of humanitarian efforts, we often lead and make way for countries like Iraq to restructure and rebuild. If you read the UNAMI mandates, resolutions, and statements about the situation and growing movement in Iraq the ideals of democracy are pushed, yet not implicitly by the US. I'm not saying the US is not the father of democracy, but democracy has grown into it's own idea and form outside of the US. This can be seen throughout intl politics and therefore it cannot be said that the US military is forcing the US democratic ideals on Iraq and it's people.

    I will remain by the idea that the soldiers as individuals do not represent the colonizer that Memmi describes. I will also stand by the fact that the US military is not colonizing Iraq, even according to today's standards of colonization. I stand by this fact because if we look at the big picture, I would say there are many more players, factors, and things at work beside just the US military and Iraq.


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