Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Questions of Racial Formation and Military Service: Should We Cry For or With This Navajo American and World War 2 "Code Talker" Singing the Marine Corps Hymn?

I began our conversation about race, citizenship, and military service here.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for our First Nations brothers who fought in World War 2. The Navajo code talkers were key in defeating the racial fascism and militarism of the Japanese in the Pacific theater. 

They are great men who I hold in the highest and utmost of respect. The Navajo Code Talkers are men of steel and courage and duty. Legends.

However, when I think about how the United States has treated its indigenous peoples with nothing but the utmost disrespect, I am both made more impressed by how First Nations peoples have fought in the country's wars, and wonder how they can justify doing such a thing if citizenship and service and rewards in the polity are related to such deeds...and they have been so mistreated on that ledger sheet.

Politics is based on emotions. Most people are not rational actors, human calculators, gaming out the results and profits from their personal and civic choices before they make a decision. 

Could the great service given by our First Nations brothers to the United States military in World War 2 be "rational"--just like that of black and brown folks, more generally, but still "irrational" at the same time given how the colorline and white supremacy denied all people of color (to varying degrees) their rights?

I cry and also smile when I hear this honored elder singing the Marine Corps Hymn in Navajo. It is the same response I have to brother Bob Marley's song "Buffalo Soldier". The latter is a tragic reflection on black soldiers who served a country that hated them. Yet, they followed through on their service with honor. There is another connection as well. Black soldiers, "Buffalo Soldiers", were sent out West to hunt and kill First Nations brothers and sisters for White Empire. Black soldiers were also used in the Philippines to kill brown people who were fighting for their homeland and freedom.

Uncle Sam has extracted quite a butcher's bargain for sending his black and red and brown soldiers to do his killing. 

How do you locate the singing of the Marine Corps Hymn within a bigger story of race in American history and national identity? Should we cry with in honor, or cry for in sadness, this Navajo elder and United States Marine? 


atil79 said...

I have thought about this subject off and on for years. Why so many people of color fight and die for a nation that still oppresses them in so many ways. We are still second class citizens. Having a brown President is just another form of propaganda. I know many people regardless of race are brainwashed by the white media propaganda but if people of color actually took some time to think about the things they do and the real reasons they might realize that instead of fighting other people of color abroad they need to stand up and fight for our rights here.

edwardchamberlain said...

My theory is because black men can and do now have sexual intercourse with white women, their militancy has gone limp. The punani is a powerful drug, especially European punani.

Bryan Ortez said...

People are individuals. They are entitled to act as individuals and often people do want to participate in the society in any way that they can.

The Navajo have their own individual story within the American Tome, perhaps some of these fighters were less alienated from Americans than other nations.

Also, the Citizenship Act gave all Native Americans in the United States citizenship rights, thus they were subjected to the draft in the American military. They were also hit very hard by the Great Depression and the Navajo during the Dust Bowl saw most of their cattle slaughtered by the BIA because managing their cattle was getting difficult with resource scarcity and confinement to the reservation system.

Also from the BIA came direct land management from the federal government... their ownership of 'their' resources was strictly by proxy of the BIA..

DanF said...

The Navajo Nation might have profound issues with the United States government, but that doesn't mean that the individuals within the Navajo Nation didn't feel the WW II was a war that needed to be fought and that the United States was on the side that should win.

The code talkers bonded with the men in their unit through a hellish experience. He is proud of his service, proud of the people he fought with, and he expresses this through their shared experience of the USMC song. Remember, boot camp is designed to break you down and build you back up as a Marine or Army grunt. No different for a Navajo.

As for why get involved in the first place ... There were real-world punitive actions for refusing the draft and there was/is an economic incentive to join. In many ways the military has been more egalitarian since the Korean conflict than our civilian population (Downside, you may be asked to die for a country that doesn't fully accept you. Upside, while you're alive, you'll be treated with more respect and equality.).

I think there is also a tendency within individuals to believe that they can gain purchase/acceptance within the larger community if they show that they too are willing to sacrifice for the whole. And to be fair, it does change some hearts and minds - nowhere near the level of sacrifice, but some. Which reminds me of a classic Simpson line: “Well, Homer. I earned your respect. And all I had to do was save your life. Now, if every other gay person could save your life, we’d be set.”

Weird Beard said...

You could view this from the framework of the American empire and how it exploits its most marginalized while dangling the carrot of true full citizenship ever aloft and mercurially out of reach, yet in doing so you may miss the individual story from the perspective of the downtrodden. Being a warrior and fighting on behalf of this turtle island is a culturally consistent endeavor. It brings honor to the individual, the family, and the tribe. This is something widely promoted in most tribal communities. At times it seems there are few opportunities to simultaneously be culturally consistent and be considered successful in the white world, but this is one area that may overlap. Forgetting what it means in the white world, and forgetting what it means in relation to the empire, within the Native community this is an accepted and honorable practice inherently and as such looking solely through the Native lens it is good regardless of the rest. At the same time it is not unheard of to see the Amerikkkan flag hanging upside down on some rez's with slogans such as "this piece of shit stole my country" being attached to it on patches, shirts, and stickers. If as sovereign nations, warriors are to be sent, then they can be honored as serving the wishes of the sovereign nations/tribes they hail from. Don't know if this adds anything, but that's my two cents.

jesusio said...

From speaking with older generations of Natives who have had military service, it is understood that they are fighting for their land, not for the us govt. I disagree with the logic, but that was the answer I was given. Would I do it? Hell nah. Do I have friends and relatives who have done it? Sure do. But we still have an active and thriving warrior culture, and the only way to express that is through the us military. These people are still warriors once they get out, in our cultures anyway. So it's not so odd. A familiar parallel would be: are the Iraqis fighting the US because they love Saddam or because they love their land? If the Chinese invaded the US would I (Akimel O'Odtham) fight against the Chinese? Yes, because they are invading my land, not because I love the US govt.