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#1534: This Week in Haiti 17:39 12/15/99 (fwd)

 "This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
  newsweekly. For information on other news in French and Creole,
  please contact the paper at (tel) 718-434-8100, (fax)
  718-434-5551 or e-mail at <editor@haiti-progres.com>.
  Also visit our website at <www.haiti-progres.com>.

                             HAITI PROGRES
                "Le journal qui offre une alternative"

                        * THIS WEEK IN HAITI *

                        December 15 - 21, 1999
                            Vol. 17, No. 39

  by Stan Goff

  I put off reading The Immaculate Invasion, Bob Shacochis's
  account of the 1994 U.S. military intervention in Haiti, for
  the same reasons I avoid reading books about Vietnam.  I
  don't like stirring up past and painful emotions.

  The book jacket synopsis reads: "Based on eighteen months in
  the field in Haiti - where he bunked, ate, and dodged
  bullets as a non-combatant with a team of Special Forces
  commandos - Shacochis's book brings us the stories of the
  'new military.' Here are the most highly trained and
  sophisticated warriors in history, deployed in a surreal war
  zone 'where there are no friends and no enemies, no front or
  rear, non victories and, likewise, no defeats, and no true
  endings.' With the eye of a novelist, Shacochis captures the
  exploits and frustrations, the inner lives, and the heroic
  deeds of young Americans as they struggle to bring democracy
  to a country ravaged by tyranny. This is what it is like to
  be a soldier in a military environment in which 'acceptable
  losses' has evolved to mean 'no losses whatsoever.'"

  I was one of those soldiers, the operations chief for a
  Special Forces (SF) team. I had an "on the ground" view of
  the "immaculate" invasion, but my movements were limited.
  Shacochis, however, was able to move around freely, in and
  between the moving parts of the operations. Thus, his
  narrative and anecdotes felt like a complement to and
  expansion of my own experience, and it resolved several
  mysteries for me about just what in the hell was going on at
  headquarters. I appreciated that aspect of the book.

  But in other areas I was disappointed. Shacochis almost gets
  Haiti right. He almost gets U.S. foreign policy.  And he
  almost gets the military. The problem - as we used to say in
  the Army - is that "close" only counts in horseshoes and
  hand grenades. It's what he misses or avoids, or denies,
  that most needs to be said. And in not saying it, he
  collaborates in Haiti's isolation and oppression. He
  collaborates in the deeply racist characterization of Haiti
  as deviant and incapable of self-governance. And finally he
  collaborates in justifying U.S. foreign policy and in
  perpetuating the pathological U.S. ideology of militarism.

  "In a country as fucked up as Haiti," he begins on the first
  page, "you had to wrap your hands around the throat of
  everything - the language, the music, especially the songs
  and potent rhythms of the songs, because in the people's
  centuries-old war against the tyrants, drums were weapons,
  words were deadly ammunition."

  At other points in the book, the reader feels that the
  heavies are not just Haitian tyrants, but the Haitian people
  themselves.  The masses of Haitian townspeople and peasants
  become the exotic backdrop for Shacochis's adventure.
  What's on display is the intrepid journalist and his
  facility with the English language. What's not on display is
  the dominant U.S. role in Haitian economic, political, and
  social life since the turn of the century. The U.S. is

  I will grant that Shacochis catches the cadence and the
  idiom of Creole and culture. He also took the trouble to
  learn something about military organization, protocol,
  procedure, and policy - something I have noted over the
  years that the vast majority of journalists get way wrong.
  He gives wonderful descriptions of the markets, the slums,
  the countryside, the roads, the music, the bourgeois bars.
  His scenes are detailed and amplified by his poetry to the
  point of being almost rococo.  But in all his devoted
  attention to the trees, he fails to see the forest.
  Furthermore, by emphasizing all that is dramatic in Haiti,
  he obscures the more pedestrian evidence - economic and
  historical evidence - that renders Haiti and its people more
  like us, his North American readers, more comprehensible,
  less exotic, less "the other."

  "In a country as fucked up as Haiti...",  "How the Haitians
  seemed to accept fucked-upness as an essential condition."
  The theme is repeated again and again. Haitians as exotic.
  Haitians as perverse. Haitians as incompetent. Let's dissect
  just one passage. On leaving Haiti, Shacochis writes that
  "the nation was in a shambles, and what was there to hope
  for now?  People were beginning to say, Maybe the price of
  democracy is too high. Haiti had no jobs to give its sons
  and daughters." In other words, Haitians don't seem ready
  for "democracy" or to feed themselves. The reality, which
  Shacochis misses, is that the U.S. mission was never to
  "Restore Democracy" nor bring economic development but only
  to stabilize existing class relations, with a co-opted
  Aristide to provide a nationalist-democratic facade. He
  never understood that the US was calling the shots before,
  during, and after the invasion.

  "The government had proved incapable of either reforming or
  privatizing its corrupt monopolies." First, the state
  "monopolies" are not inherently corrupt, as the first 7
  months of Lavalas administration demonstrated. Secondly, it
  wasn't that the government was "incapable" of "reforming or
  privatizing" them. It was that the Haitian people have
  fought tooth and nail against the "improvements" Shacochis

  "Lavalas has divided like an amoeba, each cell at the
  other's throat." A colorful metaphor, but hardly
  enlightening about a complex political struggle. It equates
  the antagonists and suggests Haitians are innately divisive.

  And then there is Shacochis, the agnostic. "[A]n epidemic of
  assassinations had been orchestrated by - depending on who
  was raking through the evidence - Aristide, the oligarchic
  families on the mountaintop, or the CIA." You see, Shacochis
  is really not sure who is the aggressor and who is the
  victim. He shrugs when asked to decide who is behind Haiti's
  current "insecurity": Aristide or the CIA. This is how he
  cleverly defends the U.S. low intensity war against Haiti.
  While posturing as a critic, in reality he defends the

  Shacochis was taken in by a Special Forces (SF) detachment,
  literally and figuratively.  He was "saved" from the angry
  masses (when he was unwisely hanging out inside a hated FAdH
  caserne with de facto criminals) by ODA 311 (the SF team),
  so he repaid them-and all of SF-by papering over their ugly
  side and accentuating their perceived "professionalism and

  ODA 311 allowed him to encamp with them at the Limbé
  caserne.  They obviously sensed his profound paranoia about
  Haitian crowds and his inexperience with combat.  They fed
  his paranoia with dramatics I could spot even in a second-
  hand account. They were both playing with him and doing the
  Special Forces macho-narcissistic strut. He bought it, and
  the book became an apology for SF. This latent Tom Clancy
  tendency contaminates the entire read. It becomes an awful
  nod to militarism and chauvinism, the flip side of his
  irrational fear of and contempt for the Haitians, for whom
  he simultaneously declares his compassion.

  His portrait of ODA 311 is not without value. His
  humanization of the team members is important.  People who
  oppose the military, for whatever reason, tend to stereotype
  military life and service members, and this polemical bent
  hurts their credibility and their ability to understand how
  things actually work.

  Shacochis also gives a true picture of the fundamental
  incompetence of General David Meade, the conventional
  commander who was placed at our head to torment us during
  Operation Uphold Democracy; of the ersatz brilliance and
  idiosyncratic millenarianism of Colonel Mark Boyatt, the
  Special Forces commander; and of the collective personality
  of an A-Detachment.  But he never asks the question, why SF?

  Special Forces are designed for deployment into "politically
  sensitive" environments. They are older than regular troops.
  They hold higher security clearances.  They are accustomed
  to working in concert with agencies like the State
  Department and their CIA-controlled political sections. You
  can put them at the end of a rope, then jerk the rope
  around, and they keep to themselves. They don't freak out
  and shoot people as readily as young soldiers, so they are
  less apt to create "incidents."

  His love for the men of Special Forces and his apologetic
  tendency on their behalf lead Shacochis to conclusions that
  are spookily reminiscent of right-wing critiques of the
  Vietnam invasion. The military, he seems to say, was being
  hobbled on a righteous mission by the in-fighting and
  maneuvering of politicians.  Historical myopia, I suppose.
  The people in the military need their rationalizations, too.
  It's the only way they can continue to do what they do -
  which has never in U.S. history had anything to do with
  guaranteeing democracy or human rights, and has always had
  to do with the business of defending business interests. The
  uniform that I wore and that Shacochis's friends wore is
  given an outrageous and unearned prestige to keep people in
  it. Sometimes we are asked to murder. Sometimes we are asked
  to die. But the role of the military as an institution is to
  enforce the will of the dominant class in the U.S. and to
  continue bankrolling the bloated trade in military hardware.

  He ascribes the apparent stasis of the operation to
  competing tensions, to the unrelenting impasse of
  competitive politics, civil and military.  But the truth is,
  the operation went exactly as it was supposed to. It was a
  tightrope walk to re-install a co-opted, defanged Aristide.
  We were pawns, and our mission - the one truly consistent
  mission - was not democracy, but stability.

  To his credit, Shacochis did recognize the hypocrisy of the
  U.S. mission with regard to FRAPH, and he did make the
  connections.  He was rightly enraged by Task Force Commander
  Admiral Miller's minimizing the FRAPH attack on a crowd of
  pro-Aristide demonstrators, September 30, in Port-au-Prince.
  Shacochis spotted the dissembling of the U.S. Embassy.  He
  was bowled over by the official military policy - which was
  handed down to me and with which I never complied, leading
  to my expulsion - that FRAPH was to be treated as the
  "legitimate political opposition."

  Shacochis can't see that this directive made perfect sense.
  The mission was never to restore popular power.  It was to
  put Aristide's face on a neoliberal fraud.  Lavalas was a
  movement with real potential to be mobilized, and the U.S.
  could not provide the counter-balance even with its
  monstrous military forces. Bad publicity. Huge political
  minefield. But by rehabilitating the FRAPH and giving them a
  little slack in their leash, the U.S. could blunt the power
  of Lavalas... and eventually split it.

  The author seemed surprised when he learned that the
  directive to define FRAPH as a "political party" came to
  Special Forces directly from Clinton's staff at an embassy
  briefing. If he'd have drifted past Fort Liberté for a chat,
  I would have told him that straight up. My own men protested
  when I began telling Haitians in our sector that this was
  clearly a ploy by the U.S. government and that it stank of
  CIA.  But I had worked out of embassies before -  in
  Guatemala in '83 and El Salvador in '85 - and this was not
  some new maneuver. My own warnings to the Haitians were
  characterized during the investigation the Army launched
  against me as "seditious."

  The teams were in on it, too. Bob Shacochis fell so in love
  with his team that he began omitting and ignoring things
  about them that would portray them as less heroic. I have
  seen copies of letters from team sergeants, contacting the
  local FRAPH, soliciting and offering assistance in
  identifying and rooting out the "Lavalas communists." Here
  were some team sergeants and team leaders who really
  understood their mission, who had read between the lines.

  The description of ODA 311 dumping a mentally ill man in the
  country just to be rid of him in town is harrowing.
  Shacochis inadvertently exposes his heroes here. Did he
  realize the team would not have done the same thing to a
  white man?  The essential colonial cruelty of several SF
  members comes through starkly, but Shacochis whitewashes it
  with pro-American pathos.

  His own presence and the fairly unusual presence of an
  African-American team member served to drive the racism of
  the white team members underground. But it's there. Racism
  is SF's dirty little secret. SF members often see themselves
  as the last bastion of white male supremacy.  He de-
  racialized the SF contempt for Haitians as a group, just as
  - sadly, I think - he does with his own contempt for
  Haitians. He actually repeats the epithet "boukie," in his
  narrative, never understanding that this is how it begins.
  We have to dehumanize "them."  It was "gooks" in Korea and
  Vietnam.  It was "ragheads" in Iraq.  It was "the skinnies"
  in Somalia.

  After reviewing an incident when I'd gone off on one of my
  team members for using the term "nigger-rigged," Army's
  investigators looking into my activity in Haiti asked if I
  really thought SF was a racist organization. I did. I still
  do. My own experience leads me to believe that two-thirds of
  the organization's members harbor clearly white supremacist
  beliefs. The major who was interrogating me asked if I
  thought it was racist when soldiers referred to the Haitians
  not as "niggers" but as "the fucking Haitians."  He was
  looking for an out for himself and a hook for me.

  "What do you think, sir?" I responded.  He answered at
  length, with paragraph after paragraph of adjustment and
  explanation, that of course it wasn't racist.  For a moment,
  at least, I was the skilled interrogator.

  But Shacochis seems oblivious. He gives a very sympathetic
  account of ODA 344, Master Sergeant Frank Norbury's team. I
  knew Norbury and his team. Our team rooms at Fort Bragg were
  25 feet apart. We were both Military Free Fall parachute
  teams, and we jumped together. Back in Bragg, ODA 344 had
  its own T-shirts. The "344" was written with the two 4's as
  SS lightening bolts.  Shacochis probably never saw the T-
  shirts, but if he went to the team house in St. Marc, as he
  said he did, then he couldn't help but notice the same Nazi
  "344" carved prominently in the wooden support column at the
  front of the house. Given Shacochis's keen eye for detail,
  his failure to mention this in his narrative is very
  curious. Was it an oversight, or did this fascist graffiti
  not "fit" into his portrait?

  I was back in Haiti in December 1995, on leave, and dropped
  by 344's team house in St. Marc. Frank had taken to
  entertaining himself by shooting neighbors' cats, dogs, and
  chickens with a pellet pistol. Their team had been the first
  to train Haiti's new Palace Guard, and they all agreed
  proudly that their "boys" would be in charge of the next
  coup. But I guess they talk and act differently toward one
  of their own than they do with a reporter. My own expulsion
  had been buried, and the word wasn't out yet that I had
  become politically unreliable.

  "Fuckin' boukies!" I'd hear time and again from 344. Again,
  they were stripping the Haitians of their humanity.  The
  population had to be redefined as "the other." But Shacochis
  may understand, because in my opinion, he erected the same
  barrier, albeit with a compassionate facade.

  The author took an emotional nose dive when ODA 311, at the
  behest of commanders, eagerly initiated an operation that
  rousted the entire population of Limbé as retribution for
  the murder of a FAdH lieutenant.  His dismay, combined with
  his blind allegiance to the standard lines - about
  democracy, about SF, and about Haiti - threw him into a
  funk.  His liberal, moral universe broke down. Sometimes
  reconciliation and justice just can't co-exist. Sometimes
  the only solution left to people is revolutionary violence.
  And revolutionary solutions cannot be attained within the
  convenient and fundamentally anti-revolutionary boundaries
  of existing orders.

  This is the fundamental point Shacochis never gets. Our
  mission in Haiti was to stop a revolution, not a coup
  d'état. The Immaculate Invasion obscures this, and that is
  my main problem with the book. We were deployed to Haiti not
  to protect or restore democracy, but to protect class
  privilege and to prevent the inevitable popular uprising
  that would have come in the invasion's stead. Bill Clinton
  and the technocratic global economic elite he represents
  wanted to fold Haiti into the New Economic World Order. So
  far they have failed, not due to Haitian exoticism, fucked-
  upness, ignorance of democracy, emotionalism, nor government
  incompetence. It is due to popular resistance... democratic

  (Stan Goff is the author of Like to a Little Kingdom, an
  account of his experiences as a U.S. soldier in Haiti and
  other world theaters. The book is presently available in
  serialized form at  www.fatbrain.com/ematter).

  All articles copyrighted Haiti Progres, Ltd. REPRINTS
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