THE REACHES OF EMPIRE: THE U.S.’S FORGOTTEN NATIONAL TERRITORIES

By Ariana Criste
Staff Writer

Many residents of the continental United States lack a general awareness of the U.S.’s intricate colonial history and the people who continue to live under this specter of neocolonialism. This targets the peoples of the five inhabited national territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. For the peoples of these national territories, their life directions continue to be shaped by a series of 115-year-old cases known as the Insular Cases. At the turn of the 20th century, the U.S. acquired new land possessions during its imperial pursuits and the question of what role these new territories would play remained unanswered. In the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court established that they would only be granted the most basic of rights because these “alien races” would not be able to understand Anglo-Saxon principles of law and society. For the “incorporated territories,” such as Arizona, that were still on the path to statehood, the Constitution applied in its entirety. For the “unincorporated territories,” however, these protections would not be extended largely in part because of their ethnoracial compositions. The patronizing and racist undertones of these decisions would set the tone for the U.S.’s historical and contemporary interactions with its territories.

Today, these populations lack visibility and still have not been truly incorporated into the United States. They can send delegates to the nominating conventions for the Democratic and Republican parties as well as participate in the presidential primary elections. They cannot, however, participate in the electoral college or general election. Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands all elect delegates to represent them in the House of Representative, but they are nonvoting members. These delegates only serve a symbolic purpose as nonvoting members of congress, so 4.1 million people are effectively barred from any real means of political representation. The blatantly prejudiced Insular Cases continue to reinforce the relations between the U.S. and these territories today.

The same judge that established the infamous “separate but equal” doctrine of racial separation in the Brown v. Board of Education delivered the decision in the first of the Insular Cases. While Brown v. Board would eventually be struck down with Plessy v. Ferguson, the Insular Cases continue to hold and have been cited in recent fights against the peculiar legal position of the U.S. territories. Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands all have birthright citizenship, but lack political representation. This is because from 1917 to 1986, U.S. congress passed individual measures which slowly conferred birthright citizenship onto the four other national territories, but American Samoans remain denied birthright citizenship. American Samoans are conferred with the legal status of “U.S. nationals” at birth and are barred from many career types and from political representation, as such. Earlier this year, five American Samoans brought a case for birthright citizenship against the United States to the US Court of Appeals where it was ruled that birthright citizenship does not extend to U.S. island territories, effectively expanding the antiquated, racially-biased case precedent of the Insular Cases. They filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court and many legal scholars are hoping that the SCOTUS grants this writ. If it is granted, the SCOTUS will order the lower court to send up the documents for judicial review. It is uncertain, however, at this point whether the Supreme Court will choose to take on this case because of its widespread implications for the interpretation of the 14th amendment in a political landscape, with a growing body advocating that the U.S. end birthright citizenship. The 14th amendment’s grant of birthright citizenship has slowly been expanded to the other national territories. Any new congressional or judicial orders regarding citizenship for American Samoans would be pushing against a political current that is slowly moving against the 14th amendment’s grant of citizenship to anyone born in U.S. soil or to U.S. citizen parents. The political salience of the citizenship debate is primarily fueled by anti-immigrant anxieties directed at the growing Hispanic/Latino population in the continental United States.

Still, the plights of those within the unincorporated territories demonstrates the ways in which neocolonialism continues to impact the lives of many people within the U.S. empire. With the Obama administration’s foreign policy “Pivot to Asia,” U.S. military presence in the region is growing and many old bases of our imperial past are re-opened and new bases are created. The pacific nations of our unincorporated territories have historically and contemporarily served as strategic geopolitical points in our military pursuits. The U.S. military occupies over 27 percent of Guam’s land mass. Both Guam and American Samoa “contribute a disproportionate share of military recruits but don’t receive veteran assistance commensurate with that effort.” Despite their more than even share within American expansionary and military efforts, these people continue to be denied even the most basic protections of citizenship. This sharply contrasts with the situations of many Filipino-Americans who gained citizenship or whose families gained citizenship through their military service. Paths to citizenship have been carved out or legislated on for many Asian and Pacific-Islander groups historically, but American Samoans continue to be relegated to the status of U.S. nationals, not citizens. As politically dispossessed peoples, the national territories continue to remain subjugated in the long-standing power dynamics. While we are supposedly gearing up to celebrate our shared history with the Asia-Pacific region and increase our geopolitical presence, will we continue to ignore those caught within the webs of our own imperialist past and present?

Image By Ben Miller

European Indians: Germany’s Fetishization of Native American Culture

European Indians: Germany’s Fetishization of Native American Culture

By Nick Vacchio
Staff Writer

When Berlin was liberated at the end of World War II, American soldiers were surprised to find German children familiar with concepts of the Old West. Just like American boys and girls back home, German children could be seen playing imaginative games dressed as Native Americans in deer skin and feathers (“Ich Bin”). Today, the practice continues on an even grander scale with Wild West clubs, festivals, plays and museums dedicated to indigenous American Indian culture captivating the interest of Germans and other Europeans of all ages. It seems strange to think of Europeans being so engulfed and captivated by a particular period of history in which they played no part. The Old West’s past is filled with unique tales and folklore specific to its country of origin: The United States. How Germany became obsessed over a culture they have no connection with whatsoever is a compelling tale with modern ties.

European interest for Indigenous American culture stems from the works of German author, Karl May. Influenced by James Fenimore Cooper’s famous novel The Last of the Mohicans, which depicted the events of the French and Indian War in 1757, May occasionally spent time in prison reading about the Wild West and soon began to pen his own stories. When he was released from prison, May desired to move to America but instead became an editor and eventually the most popular author in German history (Haircrow). His most famous works revolved around an inexperienced German explorer named Old Shatterhand who moved to America and befriended a fictional Apache warrior named Winnetou. May wrote several well-read novels about the duo’s heroic adventures across the Wild West. This helped to support Germanic conceptions of their national identity as well as carve a specific place in their hearts for Native American peoples and their customs (“Ich Bin”).

May’s western stories were all purely fictional. The most ‘western’ place he ever physically set foot in was Buffalo, New York. This is in no way close to his imagined setting of the Great Plains (“Ich Bin”). Despite the lack of historical accuracy, May’s works found their way into the lives of a German people desperate for a role model. Up until his first Winnetou novel was published in the late 1880’s, Germany lacked home-grown literary characters it could identify with and be proud of. During this time, Europe was developing into an industrial capitalist machine. May’s books provided a form of escape from this lifestyle and had significant influence on both Albert Einstein as well as Adolf Hitler (“Ich Bin”). In 1987, Author Frederic Morton summed up the famous writer’s impact stating, “The legendary in Karl May’s books saturated (and still saturates) just about every Central European boyhood,” (Morton).

Today, May’s works continue to leave their impact on central European culture. Ever since the 1950s, the Karl May Festival has taken place in the town of Bad Segeberg. The festival lasts for the course of the summer and includes a fantasized Indian village set in the era when May’s stories take place. The real draw to the festival though is the yearly play which is derived from one of May’s many stories about Old Shatterhand and Winnetou. Last years festival season brought in a total of 346,677 people which set a record for the third consecutive year (“Treasure of Silver Lake”). But May’s posthumously successful festival is not the only place where Germany celebrates the Native American way of life.

Many Germans are participants in this imagined and fetishized Native American lifestyle. There are Wild West theme parks such as El Dorado which are popular vacation spots complete with saloon, Indian village, wooden fort, and everything else that comes to mind when thinking about the traditional imagery associated with cowboys and Indians. For those who are more serious about getting in touch with their “inner Native American,” there are over 400 clubs where members pay dues so they can pretend to be American Indians. Pow-wows are hosted throughout the year by Caucasians in native dress and some people even take up the art of making leather gifts and additional knick knacks. Others learn to shoot a bow and arrow, ride horses, play drums, and dance in the way they imagine Natives did hundreds of years ago. Participants in these activities sometimes refer to themselves as rote Indianer or red Indians and give one another traditional fantasized names like White Wolf or Old Bull. Some even go one step further and head out into the countryside for the weekend to set up a tipi campground. There, they adorn themselves in the furs of various animals, cook meals on an open flame, and discuss what it truly means to be Native American (Haircrow). They are, of course, not actually Native Americans, which has left more than a few members of indigenous tribes in the United States and Canada offended.

Some German Indian hobbyists believe that they are keeping the true spirit of Native American culture alive. They look down on the actual Natives who struggle with poverty or alcoholism and do not seem to appreciate their own unique customs (Haircrow). However, as part Apache and Cherokee, Red Haircrow notes that this harmless fantasization is anything but:

They have not lived with the centuries of oppression, racism and genocide, part of which is still on-going for Native Americans, and the others we are still trying to recover from. Fantasize about being raped, murdered or having your family, your children raped and murdered in front of you. Losing your homes, your land. Being taken away from your family. (“Pretendians”)

Essentially, it is unfair for a group to embrace the positive aspects of a particular culture without experiencing the pain and misery that also come through being a member of that particular culture. You cannot have the good without the bad. It is also hurtful in a further sense because the genocide of Native Americans came at the hands of the white man.

Despite these negative opinions, not everyone thinks that this cultural appropriation is harmful. Some Natives living in Germany as well as North America find the deep interest in themselves and their culture flattering. This profound intrigue into Native American culture has led tribes to get in touch with some of their fans overseas. Groups like the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association promote and educate receptive audiences in their customs including history, art, food, and dance (Haircrow). Central Europeans are desperate to hear authentic stories from real Natives instead of the books, plays, and movies cemented in a time no longer relevant to modernity.

Whether one sees Indian hobbyists in Europe as offensive and distorting the image of what it means to truly be Native American or as a benign practice and surprising blend of two distinct cultures is a debate that is not going away anytime soon. However, there should be a consensus that it is healthy and beneficial to get away from industrial, commercialized and capitalistic society every now and again to get back to our roots as a global population. Attempting to connect deeper spiritually, taking care of the environment, forming close bonds within a community and appreciating what it truly means to be a human being on this planet are things that seem to be easily forgotten in our fast-paced and disconnected modern society. These core pillars are still prevalent in Native American culture and it might be wise that we explore them more deeply.

Works Cited

Haircrow, Red. “Germany’s Obsession with American Indians is Touching – And Occasionally Surreal.” Indian Country. Todaymedianetwork.com, 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

“Ich Bin Ein Cowboy.” The Economist. People.uwec.edu, 24 May 2001. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

Morton, Frederic. “Tales of the Grand Teutons: Karl May Among the Indians.” The New York Times. Nytimes.com, 4 Jan. 1987. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

“Pretendians: Why Offensive to Indigenous as a Whole.” Songs of the Universal Vagabond. Redhaircrow.com, 7 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

“Treasure of Silver Lake.” Karl May Spiele. Karl-may-speile.de, 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

Image by Julius Beckmann

UKRAINE: A WESTERN DIVIDE IN THE EAST

By Marvin Andrade
Staff Writer

Many old tensions from the Cold War have resurfaced in the current Ukrainian security dilemma as the Iron Curtain is redrawn across Europe. The conflict in Ukraine has instilled deep concern in all parties involved since violence erupted during protests in 2013. The protests are the result of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to cancel preparations to sign an association agreement with the European Union (EU). This agreement would have continued an ongoing process of Ukrainian integration with the EU by opening Ukraine to more trade from the EU and setting a foundation for more freedom of movement across EU member nations. Russia, a former global hegemon, feared further encirclement as Ukraine began to tilt toward Western Europe. Unsurprisingly, Russia took actions to prevent this process and secure strategic interests, such as Crimea which housed the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The eastwards movement of western institutions is a process that Russian leaders have frequently witnessed since the end of the Cold War. During negotiations in 1999, 2004 and 2009, former Russian satellite nations and allies were incorporated into NATO. This goes against several high level discussions near the end of the Cold War. NATO claims, however, that there have “never been political or legally binding commitments” that NATO would not expand eastward.

The parliamentary ousting of president Viktor Yanukovych, which had resulted from the pressure protesters placed on lawmakers, was viewed as a “bandit coup” by Russian leaders that had favorable relations with the Ukrainian president. Leaders from the EU and the United States are concerned, however, about further Russian aggression due to the violence that has transpired during this civil and international conflict. Ukraine now stands deadlocked between two opposing sides that have divided the country. In the east, rebels supported by the Russian government find themselves in open conflict with those that want to side with the West. The Ukrainian government faces incredible hurdles in order to re-assert its sovereignty and maintain its original borders; Ukraine must negotiate with newly independent regions in East Ukraine and Russia for Crimea. The strongest supporters of restoring Ukraine’s borders, the United States and the European Union are divided over how to achieve this objective.

For much of this crisis, the United States and Europe have attempted to cooperate in order to form a strategy that unites Ukraine under democratic principles that would allow progress toward closer integration with the West. The United States has the ability to construct a coherent strategy to combat Eastern separatists in Ukraine through the use of very strong sanctions and military support. In the EU, however, there is a lack of policy coherence due to the fact that the EU is not unified in its response to the crisis. While the member nations of the EU can choose to act unilaterally, a combined response from the entire EU would produce an outcome that would signal strength and solidarity to Russia. This lack of cohesion has enabled the Russian government to strategically pull smaller European states away from action in Ukraine that would harm Russian interests. For example, in late January, the new Greek government showcased its ties with Russia in order to gain more bargaining leverage in upcoming debt talks. The Greek case is one among many others where EU member nations have opted to take less punitive measures for Russian involvement in Ukraine. The lack of unified action from the EU comes from how it makes its decisions. The EU must make decisions through a combination of supranational and intergovernmental institutions consisting of the Council of Ministers, European Commission, and the European Parliament. Since little consensus exists among EU member states, the EU is gridlocked over the security decisions it will take to confront Russian aggression.

The current situation in Ukraine begs the question as to whether or not the EU still gains economic or political advantages from pursuing intervention in this conflict. Prior to Russian intervention, Europe’s benefits of gaining Ukraine as a trading partner were minimal compared to now. Prior to Russian intervention, the EU would have needed to make marginally small investments into infrastructure that could facilitate trade and decrease corruption. However, due to recent military actions, costs have risen significantly. In times of conflict, nations have several considerations when deciding how to respond to aggression. Building defenses or training and arming individuals in Ukraine is costly and increases the risks of confrontation with Russia, a catastrophically high cost in and of itself. By arming rebels in Ukraine, Russia is implementing a strategy with a higher risk of war, but the gains that have been made since late 2013 are clear. Russia now holds Crimea and is in a good position to maintain a buffer from the West through rebel-held regions in Eastern Ukraine. On the other hand, if Europe and its allies wish to help Ukraine reclaim sovereignty, significant amounts of money would need to go into military spending. Given an expected 12% contraction of the economy this year alone, additional spending would also need to be made for reconstruction to make Ukraine viable again. Given how the EU’s cost expectations for closer association with Ukraine have increased significantly, the West is walking through a proverbial minefield as it makes future decisions. Despite sanctions, which have contributed to the devaluation of the Russian Ruble by more than half and produced a 3 percent contraction of the Russian economy in the last 12 months, many member nations are now questioning whether further sanctions would actually have any effect in curtailing Russian aggression. Putin’s approval ratings were at 85% at the start of the year. With this information, EU nations are skeptical that sanctions will have any effect in the current situation.

The question of deploying EU ground personnel in Ukraine is an entirely different matter altogether. Many have asked the European Commission to strengthen the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) mandate in Ukraine. With some hesitation, the OSCE’s mission in Ukraine was extended for an additional 6 months in March. The mission calls for monitoring of the situation as well as facilitating talks between parties in Ukraine. The OSCE mission is to go in tandem with the second Minsk Agreement that was signed in February that called for a ceasefire in Ukraine. Few nations are willing to strengthen the mandate to go beyond monitoring and observation.

Since the start of hostilities in Ukraine, NATO was quick to respond with missions spearheaded by the United States. Given the United State’s military contributions to NATO, it played a large part in strategy design. Because of the efforts of NATO and the United States, member states around Ukraine have been armed and continue to train for the possibility of future Russian aggression. Additionally, very expensive war games are ongoing in the Black Sea. While the war-games do little to de-escalate violence in Ukraine, they serve to signal to Russia the consequences of further aggression in other Eastern European states. The United States has pressed forward with some reluctance from its EU counterparts, but given the massive military contributions provided by the United States, few states can form a cohesive bloc that can disagree and prevent action. German commanders are not pleased with the large divide between its commanders and those of NATO which are taking more aggressive military stances. Other Western European members such as France also believe the US is behaving in a manner which is too hawkish. A response from members of the European community has formed. The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced on March 12 the need for an exclusive EU military force. There are several reasons why an exclusive EU military is necessary and unnecessary. The suggestion by the Commission President and Germany’s backing points toward the rift in the strategic partnership between the United States and the EU. The United States pushed forward initiatives through NATO that would arm rebels in Ukraine. While the United States has pushed for increased armament, the European community, led by Germany and France, wants to prevent further escalation of conflict and spillover into neighboring regions. This is clearly observable in the diplomatic route that was taken February in the signing of the second Minsk agreement negotiated by Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany. Through the suggestion of an EU military, observers can see the strain that the Ukraine crisis has had on the US-EU relationship. The creation of this force would give the EU more control over forces in the region and could allow the institution to move further away from US influence through NATO. The mere suggestion of an exclusive EU military force by high level officials outlines an apparent fault line between the EU and US. The EU and the US have generally worked together in a unified manner to resolve security concerns, but this recent turn of events in Eastern Europe highlights the divergence of preferences between all sides that has been becoming more apparent in the last decade since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. To the benefit of the United States, the creation of an EU military force is politically unfeasible in the EU due to the fact that few members would be willing to agree to pay for these forces and set the EU on a course that could lead to further detachment of the US from Europe. Although these conditions are always subject to change, this is not a foreseeable option for the duration of this conflict. While the strengthening of the OSCE mission is difficult to pass through EU legislation, it is nowhere near as politically unfeasible as an exclusive EU force.

The current matter in the Ukraine stands as a frontline for many world superpowers. Since the end of the Cold War, president Clinton and Bush have taken steps to expand NATO beyond the comfort levels of Russian leaders. Unsurprisingly, Russia did not stand by idly while Ukraine, one of the most important states within the USSR, began to tilt westwards. President Putin has already shown his willingness and commitment to maintain a buffer from the west. Given the violent turn of events as the EU and US attempted to incorporate Ukraine into their framework, both powers must consider the ramifications of further expansion. It is clear, however, that the US and EU have divergent preferences. The United States is much more willing to risk war than Europe. This comes from the fact that the United States was willing to give the EU a blanket of defense while it formed so that the EU could focus on other domestic policies. While respectful of the United State’s contributions to the creation of the EU, many EU states have not been as willing in the last decade to support the United State’s military actions. This rift has become much more apparent in the last few months as the US has taken hazardous steps to ensure its preferences are achieved within the Ukrainian security crisis. Russia has been fast to respond to this and has successfully prevented more severe action against itself by dividing Europe through bilateral negotiations. While Europe battles itself and the United States, Russia’s strategy has successfully ensured that Ukraine will not side with the west for a considerable length of time. At the end of the Cold War, the line between East and West was temporarily blurred, however, as Russia regains economic capacity and military strength, the world will find out to what extent Russia will permit the line to move.

Photo by Sasha Maksymenko