Abu Ghraib

I had heard of Abu Ghraib before taking this class, but didn’t really know what it was, and wasn’t privy to the details of the atrocities that took place. Watching the documentary Standard Operating Procedure was a horrifyingly eye-opening experience. I still can’t fathom the actuality of the scandal, even now, having researched the incident in depth. On the other hand, it is easily fathomable that these inhumane and disgusting practices took place in the wake of the September 11th attacks and the US initialization of the war on terror.

Wartime inhumanity is not a newfound concept. Conflicts since the beginning of recorded history have spurred states to turn to inhumanity in order to gather crucial information about the strategy and origination of combatant enemy establishments. Torture and humiliation have been used as interrogation tactics since pre-medieval times. They have also been employed as recently as WWI and WWII and throughout many other respectively recent wars and conflicts. In WWII, the deciphering of foreign codes and other means of surreptitious communication proved to be integral tidbits of information regarding enemy strategy, and led traceably to turning points allowing allied victory over axis powers. Those integral tidbits of information came from two sources: double crossing spies and interrogated prisoners of war. Unlike the modern day, however, these practices were often successfully kept secret to the general public because of the lack of media attention and general awareness. In this light, it is verifiably effective to subject enemies to inhumane interrogation techniques. It is wrong, but it is still done, and has been done, since the beginning of human history.

The one part of the story that allows my heart to rest easier is to know that many of those Americans who participated in these atrocities were convicted of their crimes and served prison sentences for their horrendous acts. While I have no doubt that the parts of the US Government were fully aware of what was going on in Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, it is reassuring that those immediately involved in the scandal were sentenced for their crimes. The negative attention that this illegal and inhumane prison spurred in the news media (information was leaked to news media about Abu Grabe in 2004) leads me to believe that in the future, especially now as our world has become so interconnected, the US and other states who are tempted to participate in this inhumanity may think twice before stooping to that level barbarity.

What I took away from this is, disappointingly, that nothing ever changes with us humans. But then again, I have hope that everything may change with morally erect leadership and the widespread public recognition of inhumanity as it is in any form—atrocious.

Climate Everywhere

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As it would be, my copy of Weizman and Shiekh’s book came in today, a day late. Taking a look at the photographs, just flipping through, I noted that the land is eerily vacant. All the scenery is from aerial view, very arid with slight outlines dancing on the sand, phantom remnants of what once was. I was almost saddened by the captions, to read what the Author asserts was once there, and then to see what remains, was depressing. If the Bedouins, nomadic peoples of the Negev desert and elsewhere, really did inhabit the deserts at first in mobile and then stationary settlements, it is a disconcerting premonition to believe that those people suffered forced assimilation into non-Bedouin cultures and the encroachment of their unsovereign desert lands. To consider that they were pressured to abandon their historically occupied lands due to encroachment by states working to ‘make the desert bloom’ is appalling. Those states using intentional climate change as a means to a greedy end is dastardly, and yet it invokes such complacency  from the people because of the ingrained humanistic acceptance of restructuring the land around us.

The way that the Levant region expresses physical evidence of climate change mirrors my current understanding of the climate crisis of the southwestern United States. The southernmost parts of California and Arizona are currently experiencing a severe drought. The mighty Colorado River, the 6th longest river in the United States of America, runs dry before ever reaching the Gulf of California. The problem here is clear: humans are overdrawing from the water table to the point which it cannot naturally recover. The solution, as well, is clear: remove the humans. In this we find the overlying issue: the southwestern continental US has a very high population density, especially surrounding the Colorado River and its mouth. This is remedied through tighter restrictions on water use in this region. Recent legislation has forced citizens to be water-conscious consumers. However, if you look at where the allocation of water resources is distributed, you would see that businesses in this region are the culprits for the real damage to the water table. Beef and milk producing cattle farms are prevalent in this area, and use a hefty amount of the water to maintain their businesses. Farms, in total, are allocated 40% of the water resources in California. To compound this issue even further, because it is the best environment to raise cows, most of the beef and milk produced in the United States comes from this region. The cute little cow from the Real California Milk Corporation commercial is squandering all the water in the southwestern US. *slurp slurp*

These connections go full circle when considering the similarities in the ways we have altered and overdrawn our environment to support our livelihoods and industries in comparison to the ecological encroachment of Bedouin-inhabited desert regions by outsiders hoping to extend their national boundaries. The regions have similar qualities as biomes, chaparral and desert often occur close to each other geographically. Both regions are sunny and dry most of the year, and distributing water and other resources across these regions irrevocably disrupts the naturally occurring biome. The cases are too similar to discount the adverse effects of human intervention in ecological systems in both cases.

War without end

As a species, we were given the perfect evolutionary tool belt to thrive, leaps and bounds beyond what could be accomplished by any other population on this earth. We are efficient, intuitive, creative, and manipulative. We sculpt our environment to better serve our needs by creating infrastructure which constitutes the habitats we inhabit. War only undermines our ability thrive. No matter who is the war monger, the victim, or the unlucky intermediary agent, we all suffer because of the destruction we impart on our habitats.

War is inefficient. The destruction it causes not only lays waste to our infrastructure, but leaves behind barren ruins. A wasteful pile of once useful rubble—once inhabitable land area. It can never be wholly mended or rehabilitated. Resources which at one point had use value are stripped of purpose by war and destruction.

What is worse is that we create infrastructure solely for the purpose of warfare. It is a detrimental positive feedback loop. We build infrastructure and manufacture resources into mechanisms of war, sowing the seeds of war where ever we stride into conflict.

We can and will bomb ourselves into oblivion, turning our green, fertile Earth into a heap of unproductive resources until we are cornered onto what little productive green land we have left, where we will await our demise.

I am convinced the human race will delve ever deeper into this crater of warfare, convinced that some promise of a worthy, justified outcome may result from our endeavors. Every society and culture has a different end game, but what can we do with success in war when there is no peace left to enjoy?

Bryce Elliott

Before reading Ania Loomba’s chapter about colonialism versus post-colonialism, I had only considered the interactions between the colonists and the natives within a region at surface level. Loomba expanded my view on the ways in which interaction between peoples of different cultures, backgrounds, values, and political structures, irrevocably and fundamentally changes the mechanics that keep a society intact.

Most interesting to me is Loomba’s distinguishing between imperialism and colonialism (terms which I had once considered to be virtually synonymous) and identifying the ways in which these terms’ definitions have changed over time. This allowed me to understand the different types of interaction and oppression experienced by the natives, and how this led to different cultural views on colonialism.

The ways in which the economies of the motherland and her settlements were reliant on one another economically becomes the distinguishing factor between what Loomba calls imperialism and colonization.

Loomba assesses the interaction between a mother country and it’s colony as colonial when the resources and labor force of the new land are necessary to retain the colony, and uninterrupted trade between the mother country and the new settlement is essential to both counterparts’ success. Colonies were essential for European nations to grow in capitol through trade and industry, because the labor force and natural resources of the motherland were limited. On the other hand, an empire is more concerned with spreading the religion, cultural practices, and language of the mother country. She points out the capitalism is regarded as the tipping point between the two alternatives. The interaction is empirical if the native people are free to trade resources and labor with settlers and receive fair compensation according to their individual system of values. Any degree of subjugation to further the economic prosperity of the mother country would constitute a colony.

In colonized regions of world, such as South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, the native people and the settlers felt more estranged from one another, and were more reluctant to intermingle. Conflicts between colonists and natives both caused and furthered this estrangement, leading to even more mistrust among peoples. In many cases, natives were victims of slavery, disease, inferior technology, and inadequate ability to fight against the belligerent colonizers, who came prepared to encounter resistance against their colonization.

Even though the economic prosperity of the motherland was a drive for settling new lands, the Spanish peoples’ practice of intermingling cultures among the native people of their newly settled lands led to a more sanguine interrelationship among vastly different people. By intermarrying and trading with natives, the Spanish fostered more positive relationships. The Mestizo posterity of the people who had initial contact built strong relationships with natives by embracing cultural practices of the separate religions, political systems, and values. However, the Elitist progeny still retained a strong sense of white supremacy, and the culturally suppressed native progeny retained a sense of subjugation, despite the generally peaceful relations between the two cultures.

I can think of very few cases where the intermingling of cultures could be considered exclusively colonial or empirical. The two types of interaction are more of a spectrum than a drawn line, and the distinguishing factors between post-colonialism and neo-colonialism are even harder to discern. One thing I am sure of, however, is that, when two cultures intersect, with any degree of capitalism or subjugation, it changes the way the newly united cultures evolve from that point forward, and the fruits of the interaction can never be taken back or erased from the minds of the people whose ancestors experienced it. It ingrains a new sense of cultural identity into the people of a region according to the cultural exchanges that take place.