Friday, June 15, 2012

Occupied Okinawa #14: The "Right" Avengers

One of the most curious creatures that I’ve met as I’ve traveled to Okinawa, Japan and South Korea is a particular form of Rightist conservative. The majority of people whom I’ve interacted with during my research and solidarity trips over the past three years have all been leftists, albeit a variety of leftists. I talk and work with liberals, progressives, peace activists, decolonization and demilitarization activists and so the conversation usually sticks to a pretty familiar side of the ideological spectrum. But as I’ve travelled the other side, with its own diversity of opinion has always been there.

During my trip to Okinawa last month pro-military, rightist conservatives were always around the edges of my sphere of being, threatening to enter, but never really making a solid appearance. For example during a two day symposium at Okinawan International University on demilitarism and decolonization, a threat was called in to one of the organizers, stating that conservatives who support the presence of US bases in the island were planning to disrupt the event. We were on alert all day waiting for them, but they never showed up. The organizer who received the call explained that the week is busy with events dealing with the 40th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa from the US to Japan, and so they probably had too many options in terms of events they might want to interrupt.

Ed Alvarez and I were scheduled to give a presentation at the Ryukyu University on language and decolonization. When we arrived on campus we were told that the venue of our talk had been changed at the last minute due to a bomb threat. Apparently earlier in the day someone had placed a sign on the door of the venue indicating a bomb had been planted there. No bomb was found but by the time we arrived on campus parts of campus, including the venue were still closed off. It is unlikely that the bomb threat had anything to do with our talk, but the timing felt ominous.

Conservatives can be found in every community, every context and so in this post it isn’t them that I want to focus on. Instead I’m interested in talking about a unique type of conservative who embodies so much of that ideological position on the one hand, but unravels and diminishes it at the exact same time. What makes this position to interesting and so contradictory is the way it combines both a strong jingoistic and sinless ideological argument about their nation, but also an exuberant attachment to the US bases being in their lands and therefore grossly infringing on the sovereignty of their nation.

In most contexts the rightist nationalist conservative is the last, most stalwart defender of the nation. He will defend the nation with his dying breath. He will defend it with a spork and a rubber band if that is all he can muster. Every life is disposable compared to the continuation of the nation. Every friend can become a huge enemy should the patriot believe them to be a threat.

The hardest of hardcore rightist of right sees the world akin to Dick Cheney’s infamous 1% rule. Any threat, even something that you judge to be just a 1% threat, you must treat as if it is a certainty. Any affront, any stain and scuff should be treated as akin to a nuclear missile aimed at the original Constitution document.

If you watch Fox News for an hour or so, you will see this illustrated very vividly, repeatedly, almost constantly. For example, why does Fox News hold so much disdain for the UN? The UN barely does anything to the US and doesn’t threaten or challenge it in any actual way, but because of the perceived threat to American sovereignty and dominance, it is always discussed as something that must be vilified and destroyed. Was it so wrong that President Obama accepted a copy of Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez? Or how about the time when the President appeared to bow to a Muslim leader? Each of those instances is a moment where America’s sovereignty, its power is tarnished just slightly, but it is treated as it some horrific and inexcusable affront has taken place.

There is no purity here however, at least not in any mainstream sense. No media outlet can taken their discourse to this level and still be considered mainstream. To be mainstream you have to anchor yourself to certain things, the troops, capitalism, family, Republicans or Democrats and so on. But as a purist you recognize the fact that even things such as American pie or the troops can actually under some circumstances be considered dangerous to the country or that they might damage or threaten it. To be true to the defense of the nation you must be prepared to even destroy those things which you might have held dear just a moment ago.

But, if you don’t attach yourself to certain things, you run the risk of being schizophrenic or a soulless avenger. While you may want to cheer for a soulless avenger during the five minutes where he or she is destroying the bad guys and finally getting vengeance, watching more of the character beyond this can be very dicey sometimes. One of the reasons why this could be unwatchable is because you cannot feel the possibility of a permanent or stable relationships to that reality, to that figure. The avenger is not restrained by any attachments and can turn on your or what you hold dear at any moment.

In both Japan and South Korea I have seen examples of this type of Rightist rhetoric. What I have found interesting is the way those who attempt to occupy this position can valorize it on the one hand and then proceed to destroy it the next.

The trademark of this position is the primacy and supremacy of the nation. It, at the end of the day requires no help, no friends of any sort. Should it need any friends it is understood that they are not equals but always truly beneath the nation. In the run up to the 2nd Iraq War, the US formed a “coalition of the willing.” The awesomeness of the name aside it reflected perfectly this arrangement. In rhetoric they were all allies, equals, but in truth, a truth that everyone from every perspective knew, the US was in charge and to join meant to acknowledge their power, to kiss their ring, and accept a polite, almost pep rally like form of subordination. This is the only way a conservative, rightist ideologue can accept cooperation, if it is just an illusion, but their nation is firmly in charge.

But could the US conservative ever admit to being subordinate to another nation? Could the US acknowledge being indebted to another nation? Forced to be loyal and forced to accept being weaker than another? In both Japan and South Korea we have conservative elements who enthusiastically accept this weakness, feebleness and dependency while also asserting jingoistic and statist sentiment. While these conservatives may argue that their government is good, it must be more militaristic, must be more Hobbsian, and has never committed a sin and is strong and the bestest in the whole world, they make these claims about the superiority of their nation by placing it within the palm of the superiority of another. 

The usual conservative militaristic overtones that in other contexts in other countries that would insist upon the military prowess and aspirational dominance is not just tinged, but is soaked in the desperate need for a Big Brother, the US who must be allowed to do what they need to in order to ensure that they are able to save the day should anything happen. This is so contradictory it is almost beautiful to behold. The discursive thrust of conservative rhetoric is its attempt to purify or to keep something pure. Yet in this articulation the nation is tainted from the very start, it is tainted by the crippling need for someone else to take care of it, to save it. Because of that weakness the nation must give up land, money and lives in order to support this ally. The power of the patriotism is actually fed into the ally nation, who thus benefits from having citizens of a foreign country make their arguments for them about the need for their bases.

While I was in South Korea I wrote a post titled "Worst History Lesson...Ever," which also discussed this dynamic through a photo exhibit I saw in Seoul meant to commemorate the US intervention in saving South Korea in the Korean War. The exhibit featured a large banner that read "Thanks Runs Forever" implying that  South Korea will forever remain indebted in a way to the US for saving them. It was a strange experience walking through that exhibit, where you were surrounding with jingoistic messages about how the left in the country is anti-government, pro-communist and weakening the country, and then the ultimate message of the exhibit was a celebration and commemoration of weakness and a transformation of that weakness into a political argument for having US bases and interests dominate your country.

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