Anti-Colonialism in Globe and Iraq
November 7, 2003, 10:00 a.m.
In the mountain mining town of Globe, Arizona, I stopped this past weekend for lunch at Judy's Cook House. It's a reasonable, unpretentious family restaurant on a small butte overlooking the US route 60 main drag through town.
Globe's copper industries have essentially disappeared, like in the neighboring town of Superior. The Phelps Dodge company continues operations in nearby Miami and at Morenci one county to the east, where the largest open-pit copper mine in North America sprawls out, but a post-9/11 collapse in copper prices has quieted or closed mines throughout the state. Here in Gila County, the copper mining industry has been in a downslide for years; only half as many miners and smelter workers are employed as a decade ago.
In Globe, there is the air of an economic funeral that came and left. Depressed residential neighborhoods are food for dry rot. A graveyard stakes out a conspicuously large territory on a rise in the middle of town. Environmental devastation, graded waste rock, and tailings piles surround the town. Low-end chain stores, fast-food pit stops along Route 60, and the Apache Gold casino operated by the San Carlos Apache tribe are the replacement economy.
At Judy's Cook House, the war is on. All the waitresses wear Support Our Troops T-shirts or some variant. The stars and stripes decorate windows and tables. In the middle of the restaurant, a sort of political shrine has been erected to support local soldiers in Iraq. Their pictures and letters alternate with patriotic paraphernalia tacked onto a notice board. A young marine, firm-jawed and in dress uniform, looks out from his photograph.
It could have as easily been a pub in a Welsh mining town a century ago, where a redundant labor force was siphoned off into the military forces for imperial adventures in Asia and Africa. Then too, Western capitalist thought had visions of new markets and economic progress based on global rationalization and cultivated native quasi-democracies that would emulate the legal and social organization of their colonial sponsors. The Victorian and twentieth-century history of anti-colonial revolts and colonial campaigns that links the Philippines, the Congo, Algeria, Vietnam and elsewhere equally traces a history of capital in search of resources, markets, and cheap labor.
A town like Globe, about 125 years old, emerged from that same early scramble for natural resources and capital investment opportunities. Late nineteenth-century military campaigns against the Apache and mining surveys went hand-in-hand. US army campaigns in the Pinal Mountains and their accompanying massacres — Camp Grant, Skull Cave, Cibecue — in the 1870s and 1880s, happened while silver miners poured into the Globe Mining District.
As mining operations expanded, Globe's Chicano population grew as companies hired cheap labor to operate pits at higher profit. The early labor battles of these Arizona mining towns were legendary, and colonial racism contributed heavily to their origin. In 1903, the Clifton-Morenci strike arose from Mexican-American miners protesting racial prejudice in the mines, and a dual-wage system that paid Mexican miners less than Anglos for the same work. Most of the miners arrested and deported during the IWW Bisbee strike of 1917 were Mexican-Americans. Nativism and racism flourished as means of enforcing Arizona's white supremacist and segregationist order: during the 1920s, Globe-Miami was a center of Ku Klux Klan activities in the state.
Local congressman J.D. Hayworth, who represented Gila County before redistricting, remains in Congress in the neighboring district, arguably competitive as the most nauseating far-right bombast-bully on the House floor. After a bizarre promotion of Iraqi-US football friendlies as a peace program, Hayworth has been at the forefront of attacks on antiwar protest. "The Bush haters are doing their best to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory simply because they want George W. Bush to fail, which coincidently won't happen unless America also fails," Hayworth wrote in a recent National Review edition. The project of the American nation, according to Hayworth, fails if the US leaves Iraq; to oppose the Bush administration and the war is to betray America.
Hayworth well represents the spirit of Judy's Cook House. Globe and its dominant politics amalgamate right-wing nationalism, economic depression, and xenophobia growling for its opportunity. Just as for the British Empire, however, working-class towns with unemployment and limited prospects become prime military recruiting grounds. The American Empire relies heavily on towns like Globe for its human raw material, and social gathering points like Judy's Cook House become cheerleaders for an imperial ideology that seeks to 'civilize' Iraq.
Civilization is not as complex a notion as it used to be, now that image consultants can condense its elements into rapid-fire graphics and sound bites. US political campaigns prefer simplified issues to complex systems. In the present campaign, Iraq is in the process of being reduced to basic slogans and catch-phrases. The Democratic opposition has not nearly begun to make wider connections and arguments, preferring rather to quibble over which part of Republican post-war policy is responsible for the current miserable state of affairs.
Unless one embraces Ann Coulter, J.D. Hayworth, and their cult of 'liberal treason,' it is acceptable for bien pensant Democratic presidential candidates to attack the Bush administration for poor planning. What is not yet acceptable in mainstream electoral language is to characterize the Iraq War as the product of far-right nationalistic militarism in league with crony capitalism, or as part of an open US rejection of international law and its constraints against state violence. Howard Dean, the putative candidate of antiwar choice, now discusses the responsibility that the United States has assumed in Iraq and proposes an occupation of some two years. With this ridiculously inadequate posture of opposition, it will be the rising body count and falling helicopters, not the Democrats, which will shape the antiwar voice.
Six months since the invasion and a year away from presidential elections in November 2004, the defining political issue for the Bush administration has become and for the foreseeable future will remain the Iraq War. Until that election day, the administration is stuck in a quagmire of its own ideology, tenaciously arguing that Iraq represents the forward position of its global war on terrorism and that retreat is impossible. Daily US military losses will continue in Iraq, punctuated by days and weeks of great bloodiness, until the presidential elections, at current rates most likely generating hundreds or thousands of US deaths and many thousands more serious casualties. And as has already happened, most notably in Falluja on April 28 when 13 residents were killed protesting the occupation of a local school, angry and frustrated US troops are entirely capable of killing large numbers of civilian demonstrators.
As observers with only modest knowledge of regional history, politics and culture realized perfectly well, while the US celebrated its military conquest of Baghdad as if that decided the contest, post-war Iraqi resistance would be far more effective and long-lasting. Iraq's historically fractious and violent politics guaranteed that every party and grouping would create its own armed underground, one that would shoot at foreign occupiers first and Iraqi opponents later — or maybe both together. It required ignorance, blithe disregard, or ideological hubris for US war strategists to fail to recognize that this would be a war of a duration defined only by the day the last US soldier departs Iraq, with the US-backed collaboration government in company or soon to follow.
Colonialists ever view themselves as liberators, and US culture has an exceedingly limited ability to recognize its own colonialism. Such repetitive misjudgments have created in Iraq what can only emerge as the major testing-field of anti-colonialism in a contest with a US-led global hegemony. Wide-open borders, ready availability of fighters and weapons, and popular hostility to foreign occupation have created the perfect storm for the American Empire. The issue at test is not whether the Bush administration will succeed in its Iraq policy, but rather how long it will take until its failure becomes absolute and catastrophic.
In Judy's Cook House they may continue to believe that someday Iraqis will appreciate what the US has done for them, and that "terrorists and Taliban and Saddam holdouts" — using the president's preferred characterization — are fully responsible for perpetuating the violence. Anti-colonial wars commonly involve reprehensible actors and tactics, and once-terrorists have a regular habit of ending up with day jobs as prime ministers. Yet delusions die hard, especially when Fox News manufactures them daily. In the United States, this is still a war for freedom and progress, not a high-tech colonial invasion.
It is this inability to recognize the features of an anti-colonial war that marks US politics with such singular and insular incomprehension. Current mainstream opposition in the United States operates on an investment in 'winning the peace' and patriotic premises not far different from those visible in Judy's Cook House. The simplicity of immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and the Middle East remains unthinkable, but the only peace to be won is by leaving Iraq now.
Joe Lockard is an assistant professor of American literature at Arizona State University and a member of the Bad Subjects Collective.