A racist flag in a racist war
Racism an essential tool for the 1%
February 14, 2012
By Kevin Baker
The U.S. Marine Corps is in hot water once again over leaked images that give a glimpse into its inner workings.
Just like the recent release of a video showing Marines in Afghanistan urinating on the corpses of Afghan men, the new photo of Marines posing with a Nazi SS flag doesn’t shock me at all, either.
These two situations emerged in different times and locations in the country, but are completely bound together. They are bound with the racism, sense of superiority and sense of nationalism that the military itself embraces and promotes.
Racism is embraced, coddled and on full display by the top leaders of the U.S. military. We see it everywhere, in plain sight. In my time in the U.S. Army, I wore a patch on my shoulder of the 2nd Infantry Division, bearing the image of an “Indian head,” a racist image that Native Americans have fought for decades to have removed as an icon from sports teams, commercial products, and so forth. An image, ironically, once used to dehumanize the people who were being killed and colonized.
But the racism is far more brazen than that. Anyone who has served in the U.S. military knows that, despite the official line of its “Equal Opportunity Program” and official rules and regulations against racism, use of racist terms to dehumanize Muslims and the peoples of the Middle East and South Asia are so common they are part of the everyday vernacular.
Nazi paraphernalia is not uncommon
Many were shocked to see U.S. troops flying a Nazi flag, and there was the immediate excuse that “they didn’t know what it meant.” They must have only meant “Scout Snipers,” with no knowledge that it was a Nazi flag, or that it could be interpreted as such.
That is an absolute joke. In my time as an infantryman, I saw Nazi paraphernalia regularly. Soldiers complained to me that in the barracks of Ranger Regiment on Fort Lewis, Nazi flags being hung in soldiers’ rooms without repercussion. My first tour in Iraq was the first time I remember seeing the “Deaths Head” pin, a symbol of the Nazi SS, placed on the front of soldiers’ vests. It was not the last.
Especially in Special Operations units—such as the Marine snipers in the photo—Nazi symbolism is revered. Why? Quite simply because the Nazis are famous for mercilessly killing and terrorizing millions of people. It fits right in to the mentality expected of Spec Ops.
In fact, when the U.S. military was experiencing a recruiting shortfall in 2005, the Department of Defense changed its supposedly strict policy against allowing self-avowed Nazis to join, and adopted an official “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding members of neo-Nazi and white-supremacist organizations. They could get “moral waivers,” as long as they could “perform satisfactorily” in combat.
The Pentagon needs racism
As the Marine Corps denounced the leaked photo, they announced that there would be no disciplinary action for the Marines flying the Nazi flag, which is not surprising at all. Why would a military so reliant on racism punish racist behavior?
The reality is that U.S. troops have far more in common with the people we are sent to fight than the millionaire politicians who send us. We are told to fight people who also just want a decent life for their families; people who also needlessly suffer under bogus policies of corrupt governments; people who are doing the same thing we would be doing if we were in their shoes. The last thing the Pentagon wants is for rank-and-file troops to identify with the people we are sent to fight, relate to them as human beings, and correctly identify that they are not our enemies.
So in order for the Pentagon to continue sending poor people in the United States to kill and die fighting poor people in Afghanistan, all for the super-profits of a handful of billionaires, they need to wrap the mission in racism, national chauvinism and a sense of superiority.
This is why service members must take a strong stand against racism: it’s a barrier to unity within the ranks of the military, hindering our ability to collectively advocate for our interests, and it distorts who our real enemies are in the world.
A racist war
The rationale for the war rests on several racist assertions. On one hand, there are the assumptions that the people of Afghanistan are too backward or inferior to determine their own destiny; that they’re too helpless to survive without the U.S. occupation; that they need saviors from the West to teach them about democracy, human rights and modernity. On the other hand, there are the assumptions that the people of Afghanistan are somehow responsible for the 9/11 attacks and will launch more attacks; that it is a country of “terrorists” or people who “harbor terrorists”; that they are somehow the aggressors, motivated to fight by anti-American extremism and not by the daily misery and humiliation of life under foreign occupation.
The result is that the lives of the people of Afghanistan are seen as inferior. When Afghan civilians are killed—like the eight children massacred by a NATO aircraft revealed this week—it is supposed to be acceptable collateral damage, barely a footnote in the media. The tens of thousands of innocent people who have been buried, and the hundreds of thousands wounded and displaced, is considered acceptable. It is “acceptable” because we are told it is to somehow save American lives, which by implication are more valuable than Afghan lives.
Without racism and Islamophobia, the reality of the war in Afghanistan would be on full display: An unpopular war waged by millionaire politicians and incompetent generals, who tell us flat-out lies, aimed at nothing other than expanding the reach of Big Business in yet another resource-rich region of the world. Because people in the United States would never want to send their loved ones to die for such an absurd cause, and troops would never want to die for it either, racism becomes an indispensable tool for those who say we must continue to fight.
Those wanting a “kinder, gentler” war, where the troops do not urinate on dead bodies, kill innocent civilians or fly Nazi flags, will continue to be shocked and disappointed. This is an imperialist war. It does not get any “kinder and gentler” than this.
Similar leaks will continue to show—not examples of a few “bad apples”—but the real and inevitable manifestations of the core nature of U.S. foreign policy.