In late October of 2015 I heard a story on NPR. In it, the woman was telling the sad tale of a man who had made his way from El Salvador or Honduras or some other Central American country, through Mexico, and finally to the United States. At some point he was sent back, having to return or be taken all the way through Mexico until he got back to his homeland. Eventually, he arrived back at his own home. Within 24 hours of walking in his front door, the thugs that had threatened him in the first place and forced him to seek asylum in the North came and shot him in the head.
The woman telling the story then declared that he died as a result of this country’s policies.
Now, I didn’t get to hear the first part of the story, so I have no idea where she got this information. Somehow, she knew about this one guy who came all that way and had to go all that way back. Then, one solar day later, he was murdered by somebody for some reason. Pretty specific detail as well, seeing that she knew he was shot in the head.
Who was this guy? What had he done to piss off those thugs? Who were they? How did she find out about it? And her last statement might even raise up the possibility that this poor man’s murderer(s) might have been a US Marine, or a white police officer, or an ICE agent, or a covert operative from the CIA. After all, it was US, as in the U. S. that killed this poor fellow. My guess is, we killed him just by turning him away and that somebody local to him did the dirty work.
I dispute this claim. I believe, if this fellow’s neighborhood in El Salvador or Honduras is rife with thuggery of this nature, then it’s the fault of the local authorities for failing to properly police the situation. Unless she is suggesting that it’s the responsibility of the United States to make sure this fellow’s neighborhood be made safe. I suspect, however, that this same person telling the story would insist that it’s not the responsibility of the US to be the world’s policeman.
Actually, what she seems to be suggesting is that we ARE supposed to be the world’s policeman, so long as the world comes to this country. Unless, of course, she doesn’t believe we should police the people who come here illegally. I don’t know about you, but I’m confused.
One side of the debate insists on framing this as the other side being against immigration, conveniently forgetting all about the word “illegal.” Somehow, they’re not illegal, they’re just “undocumented.” That allows them to declare the other side as racists. I might be tempted to buy into this idea if that other side were also trying to drive out non-whites who were here legally. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, so the argument doesn’t stand up to logic. And even if they were (or are), it still doesn’t make what is now illegal legal.
Whether you call them illegal or undocumented, the fact is indisputable that they’re here without proper documentation, thereby making their presence here illegal. So why is it all right for those laws to be broken? If they’re bad laws, why don’t we change them?
The immigration laws, any immigration laws in any country, are based on two concepts; national sovereignty and citizenship. In most places, you are a citizen if you were born there. There’s some fluctuation in certain places, but generally if you were born in Greece, you’re Greek. Born in Japan, you’re Japanese. And so forth. Maybe you’re not racially Japanese, maybe your parents came there from Scotland but now live in Japan and you were born there. There might be room to think that you’re also British, or maybe just British, because of your parents. But if your parents came from Scotland and you were born in Japan, you’re not Brazilian. Are you still with me?
So the people we’re talking about didn’t acquire proper documentation, didn’t wait in line at the border, didn’t go through customs, didn’t show anybody a passport. Therefore, they are here – what’s the word? – ILLEGALLY!! Very good, class.
So, therefore, if you still think that’s all right for them to be here in spite of the fact that they broke the law in doing so, what is your solution? Should people not have to show passports or acquire visas to enter the United States? Should people from certain countries or certain economic strata or certain races be allowed to bypass those things? If so, then why don’t you hound some congressman to submit a bill making it … you must know the word by now … LEGAL? Then, the debate would be about whether or not such a thing should or should not be legal.
But while it’s illegal, law enforcement has a responsibility to enforce the law, does it not? If there was a law that everyone had to wear purple socks and you kept wearing green ones, you would probably fight for a law that said any color socks were fine, right? Sure beats paying all those fines, or being on the run. In green socks.
Bottom line is, either we should have borders and limitations on who can cross them, or not. It would be an interesting experiment to just declare that the United States of America no longer has borders. Anybody may come and go as they please. Who wants that? Let’s have a show of hands, please. Although, you’ve got to admit, we have some pretty plain and formidable natural borders. A big, wide river, two oceans, the Gulf of Mexico … just leaves that imaginary line to the North, I guess. What if Canada wanted a border, but we didn’t? And how about Alaska?
Which kind of brings us back around to the original point; that people from all over the place are coming here. How many people from here ever go there illegally? Hell, how many go there legally? Is there a big community of American expatriates in Honduras? I didn’t think so. Why is that?
Because this country is known for some interesting things that we’ve gained over the years. Things like peace, prosperity, security, equality, and freedom. All, very cool things. And at the same time, we tend to let people decide morality for themselves. Sounds like a great place to live. Can’t say that I blame anybody that wants to come here.
What would be REALLY cool would be if their countries were like that, too. Then, they wouldn’t have to come here. They could stay where they are, and be happy, healthy, prosperous, free, all that great stuff. So, how could their countries get a little closer to being like this country?
Let’s look at an example; Germany. After World War One, the rest of Europe (mostly England and France, really) wanted to stomp Germany into the ground. It’s kind of traditional. European countries have been doing that to each other for centuries. If it hadn’t been for Woodrow Wilson – a man much reviled by modern hard-line Conservatives, by the way – that’s probably exactly what they’d have done.
Instead, Wilson promoted the idea of a League of Nations, that would do the dirty work of helping countries resolve their differences. A noble idea, pretty badly flawed in some ways, and doomed by the refusal of the very country that Wilson was President of to join it themselves. But, it was an idea rooted in a very important and daring concept; compassion.
Remember that only twenty years earlier we had fought and won the Spanish-American war. We never sent troops to Spain, but we did kick theirs out of Central America once and for all. And the day-to-day operation of most of Central America and some of South America was taken over, not by the United States government … but by the United Fruit Company. Better known as Chiquita bananas. Some of the history can be seen in a Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiquita_Brands_International
This became a model for future international affairs, for good and for ill. The USA went to war, but followed a pattern of not behaving as conquerors. Instead, at the end of World War Two – which many scholars believe was a direct result of the way the Axis powers were treated after WWI – the US led the way toward a different relationship with the defeated Axis powers. This time, instead of putting the nations of Germany and Japan under their thumb, we helped them rebuild.
Japan wasn’t that difficult a project. Their leaders wisely surrendered before we could lay waste to their country. Something about being the first and only victims of nuclear weapons might have had a little to do with it. But Germany and the Nazi’s insisted on fighting literally right up to the door of Hitler’s bunker. Germany, and most of Europe, had been bombed back to the stone age.
In both cases, the losing country was handed a constitution and instructed to sign it without question. But Germany needed a lot more than redirected leadership. They needed homes, food, businesses. So President Truman and Secretary of State George Marshall came up with a bold, daring plan. The, er, Marshall plan. Much better at doing things than naming them, I guess.
This was all couched in language about American security, but really it was nothing more or less than an act of compassion. We broke it, we fixed it. Not that we didn’t have an excellent reason for breaking it, but broke it so thoroughly that they were left incapable of fixing it. In the end, responsibility for protecting themselves was taken over by us. Everything else was up to them, and since they signed the constitutions we handed them, that meant the will of the public held sway. Just like here, governments came and went, the people were represented, and a free market economy was allowed to prosper.
The end result is that both Japan and Germany grew to rival us as economic powers, a situation that we all enjoy today. And we only had to leave thousands of troops in these countries for … er, well, they’re still there, as a matter of fact. And nobody’s talking about taking them out any time in the foreseeable future. It’s given thousands of our people solid employment, maintains the peace in Europe and East Asia, holds the commies at bay, and frees up the Japanese and Germans to crank out Volkswagens and Hitachis. Looks like a win-win all the way around.
So why couldn’t we have done that in Afghanistan and Iraq? You mind the store and raise your kids, we’ll watch your backs. Call it conquered, or occupied, or whatever you like. It’s a proven system. You can suffer under our thumbs as much as the Germans and Japanese. And go ahead and be Muslim, or Sikh, or Zoroastrian if you like. You could do a hell of a lot worse, and have for millennia.
The only thing they’d really have to be leery of is getting sucked in by the infamous military-industrial complex. Remember Central America? It’s amazing how things like this swing back and forth. Used to be, the Marines would go in and settle a place down, and then a big company/companies like Chiquita would go in and manage the situation. Plantations, single-focus economy, all that sort of thing. Kinda what Haliburton continually gets accused of doing.
Around 1965, President Johnson sent Marines in to settle things down in the Dominican Republic. There was a huge cry of outrage over it, too. Accusations of a whole Chiquita-Halliburton-kind of thing, being warmongers just as the whole Vietnam protest was heating up. So Johnson and Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara (former CEO of Ford Motor Co.) helped develop a different plan; from then on, it was left largely to the corporations that wanted to control a place (and whatever it put out) to do their own dirty work. The government involvement was limited to diplomacy.
For a reference on this, I highly recommend a book by John Perkins, called “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.” Mr. Perkins is a native of Tilton, NH who spent much of his adult life working for a consulting firm based in Boston that few outside of the boardrooms have ever heard of.
His job was to go around and help decide things like who was going to win the next civil war or phony election or whatever. He did the sort of thing that was done in the semi-recent James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace.” After deciding he felt just terrible about it, he started a kind of New Age doohingy (Imagine whirled peas!) and wrote this book that nobody wants to admit exists, but your library or a decent book store might be able to get for you. Or just Google it. Amazon’s probably got it. I found out about it from a radio interview he did.
But my recommendation for Iraq and Afghanistan would be much closer to the Marshall plan. Say what you will, I got the impression those Iraqi people liked voting. How about all those blue fingers attached to smiling faces? And, fine, keep Halliburton out. Just have the Army corps of engineers rebuild the infrastructure. And a few big bases, with buildings built to last, as if we were going to stay for a very, very long time. Don’t worry, we’ll prosecute anyone that messes with your women. We’ll even help paint your mosque.
After all, that’s what we do. We are the one, single, solitary country in history that does that sort of thing. We don’t conquer people, we liberate them. Then, we do business with them. Clearly, nobody else can be trusted to do that. France? Hell, they were in bed up to their eyeballs with Saddam Hussein. Russia? Yeah, right. England? Check with the Irish on that. And isn’t that where the whole Balfour Directive came from, that created the current roster of “countries” in the Middle East?
Because where all these terrorists and suicide bombers and Isil (Isis? Al Quieda? New York Mets?) recruits come from is desperate people. Not the leaders, of course. The leaders are the ones who want the desperate people to slit somebody else’s throat besides theirs. No, no, not me!! Go get, er, um, the Americans! Yeah, the Americans. They’re the ones buying all the oil. They’re the oppressors, not us guys with our foot on your necks. Go get them rotten bastards. And bring me another iced tea before you go, wouldja?
As for the countries that we haven’t sent troops into, we should start applying serious pressure on their governments to change their ways. There’s too many fiefdoms and dictatorships in the Middle East and Central America, and there should be consequences. We should stop handing billions to people who mistreat their populations just so they’ll let us land planes there.
There is danger to that, of course. Many of these dictators, etc. won’t want to play along. They’ll go to Russia or Iran or somebody else less interested in being compassionate and let them land their planes there instead. Our response should be to make that as difficult as possible, working with the friends we already have.
To the Sheiks and El Presidentes and other tin-pot demi-gods, the path to friendship is simple. You want to be King? Fine, be King. England’s got a King. So do Norway and Denmark. Japan’s got an Emperor, even. They have no power, but they’ve got big, fat paychecks and fine houses and their faces on the coins and everything. They smile and open Parliament, and then go to the Summer house in the Hamptons and drink margaritas.
But let your people vote, and make things, and profit from the black stuff in the ground and the yellow stuff in the trees. Let them go from being destitute and poverty stricken to being fat, having cable TV, sitting in barcaloungers. Let them fight obesity instead of starvation. Let them drive their VW’s and Toyotas to the Mosque and hang in the parking lot after, talking about how good that chicken pie supper was last week and how their kids’ grades suck. Yeah, let them have schools, and stores, and all that good junk. Instead of suicide-bombing your armored caravan, they can hang at the mall.
To the wise rulers who take these risks, trusting their people and showing them compassion, the United States is prepared to be lavish in its support. Your country can be a shining beacon of prosperity and opportunity, which will really piss off your neighbors that went with the Russians. Their people will be looking longingly across the border at those BMW’s and blue fingers and ask each other why their Sheik is so damned stupid.
A friend of mine recently pointed out that the 9/11 terrorists weren’t desperate, malnourished people. I think he misses the point. They were radicalized in the same crucible, but they had the where-with-all to get here and do that. A lot of it was paid for by those people who wanted their disaffected starving brethren to slit somebody else’s throat.
Really, the only solid alternative to my recommendation above; modified Marshall plan, and diplomatic pressure; is the “Fortress America” concept suggested by Eisenhower Sec. of State John Foster Dulles. In that plan, we cut ourselves off from the rest of the world and start a free-trade, mutual defense pact with the rest of North and South America. We stay in our hemisphere, and your hemisphere can go wherever it wants in whatever hand basket you can find.
I’ll admit, there’s something to be said for the idea. But I prefer the one that has us reaching out in compassion and helping others achieve what we’ve got. It’s hard work, requiring constant vigilance. Or, at least a semi-interested occasional glance. Maybe helping the next poor Honduran from getting his head blown off won’t help this country, but it’s a good thing to do. And, it would keep that poor guy/gal/kid/trans-gender giraffe from having to swim the Rio Grande. It would actually make the world a better place. People wouldn't have to come here to escape squalor. Wouldn't that be better?
Let's face the fact, the very poorly kept secret; there are people in this country that benefit from illegal immigration, and it's NOT the illegal immigrants. It's businessmen who like having a large pool of workers who can't unionize and can't ask for even minimum wage. And these rich businessmen shovel money at both sides of the aisle. Do you seriously believe the Democrats ignore the logic of enforcing the immigration laws out of compassion? Or that the NOTHING that the Republicans have done since Reagan gave 3 million illegals amnesty is? No, it's so that Archer Daniels Midland and Wal-Mart and the other big money players can pay low-skilled laborers a starvation wage.
Twenty or so years ago, I supported NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. I believed that it would benefit the people of Mexico and other underprivileged countries. Turns out, the country most benefited by NAFTA was China. That's because we have restrictions on goods shipped from China. But because of NAFTA, we have no such restrictions on goods shipped from Mexico. So China sends ships to Mexico, loads cheap goods made by near-slave labor onto Mexican trucks, and sends them here. Think about that next time you go to Wal-Mart.
So I believe we need a major re-think on foreign policy. We need to push our government to pay attention to somebody besides the billionaires that fund their campaigns. We need to insist on a foreign policy that helps people, here and around the world, instead of lining the pockets of the arms makers and everybody else that profits from the status quo, at the expense of billions of people around the world.
And yes, we need to be strong, and we need to flex that muscle, but we should flex it in the name of that which helps people. We in this country are the product of a crazy experiment about republican democracy. It seems to work pretty well. When we declared our independence, just about every country in Europe was a monarchy. Now, even the ones that have monarchs are actually run by governments modeled after ours. But with so many making so much off the third world as it is today, who but us can lead the way to help them improve their lot?
We need to take a hard look at the countries where the illegal immigrants and terrorists are coming from. If they're right in looking to us, to join us or to hurt us, it's because we're not doing anything to help improve their lot right where they are. May I be bold enough to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we SHOULD be the world’s policeman? Or at least, our brother’s keeper?