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Militarizing the Border

The Real Mission of the Uniformed Ghost at the Border

by GREG MOSES

These three sentences prove why Generals are not paid to determine political policy:

"The border should not be militarized," said National Guard Chief Steven Blum at Thursday’s press conference in Austin. "We made a conscious choice not to use the National Guard as a police force. We should intervene to save lives, not to take them."

If the plain speaking General were paid to make policy, we would stop at the first sentence and scrap the deployment of National Guard to the border.

In the logical transition that Blum makes from police to military between sentences two and three, his propositions make it seem like the real function of a police force is to take lives not save them. Again, this kind of plain speaking would have policy consequences quite different from the ones being made by politicos. Especially if we add to the consequences of police work the entire network of jails and prisons, we could ask, are the police saving lives or taking them?

The third sentence on its own terms suggests sending the Guard to rescue people from the border desert, preventing the summer death toll from climbing with the heat. But as if to interrupt the startling revolution inaugurated by his logic, the General gives us three more sentences to hear.

"This is not a military mission," Blum said. "This is not militarizing. This is not an invasion."

Here, with his thrice repeated invocation of the great Hegelian "this", the General switches his propositions from universals to existentials, proving Hegel’s thesis that "this" can be anything, anywhere, anytime.

In "this" the General speaks just the facts: he is not commanding a military mission, his troops are not militarizing anything, and (presumably since the Guard will keep to this side of the Rio Bravo, etc.) this is not an invasion.

Is it the general’s fault that he is speaking exactly from where he has no real business being? And isn’t it only a matter of time before this happens to any other general in the USA?

Added Paul McHale, the Pentagon’s assistant defense secretary for Homeland Defense: "We would send the wrong message to our friends and neighbors to the south to have a large, visible buildup along the border."

Back to universals. A border buildup would send the wrong signal. You have to supply what follows. Are we not sending troops to the border? Yes we are. Are they not visible or large? In this question lies the crossroads to our logical challenge.

If the military force is visible and large, it will send the wrong signal to "our friends to the south." If we are not sending the wrong signal, "our friends" should try to see it as invisible and small (and there is a case to be made for this along a line that stretches a couple thousand miles.)

But the military deployment of 6,000 troops, half of whom will stand guard along the border, must be visible and large enough for something. Otherwise, why is the Pentagon’s man standing here? So let’s leave aside for now the likelihood that we are sending the wrong signals to our friends.

If the troops being deployed by the Pentagon are not police, and if they are not military, then what are they large and visible enough to accomplish? And however we answer the question, don’t we already have the marks of a demoralizing mission from a military point of view? Another nonmission with a nonpurpose that troops will be ordered to do?

In fact, the troops will be large and visible enough to stand as uniformed symbols of something. But what? What is being signified in this pure surface of a nonmission in uniform? Collective fear? State identity? Here we begin to see a psy-ops borderland where (in the language of Slavoj Zizek) the real meets reality right along the line where we make our existence into what we need to be.

To answer the question of what this mission is, one must ask the egos of the people for whom this signifying is taking place.

Which brings us to the saddest part nearly, because the saddest thing isn’t the need of millions to see this pure image of the uniform standing between self and the Other. One hardly expects to be free of "friends and neighbors" such as these, who know that they need it.

The saddest part is the indifference of millions for whom, even in times instructive as these, the haunting by this pure, uniformed symbol only serves to ask why we have failed to speak the truth: you’re dead, now go away!

Note: Thanks to Austin American-Statesman reporter Mark Lisheron for these quotes taken from the Friday paper. They echo KVUE’s live television report from Camp Mabry: the military is not militarizing.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.net.