Last week President Trump vowed mass arrests and the removal of “millions of illegal aliens” by early this week. These proclamations have become increasingly normalized in an age where his absurdities are spouted daily, but this is the kind of rhetoric which often precedes atrocity.
“Mass arrests” of millions of people is the kind of language that communicates the naked aggression of the state against the “other.” It permits a sweeping dehumanization of entire groups. That they are non-violent or paying taxes is of no consequence. They are “aliens” who must be “removed,” extracted from the so-called “legal” population by any means. In the last 20 years this has generally meant people of color, especially those with non-Anglo surnames. Yet, in response to this latest threat I saw a comment from one American liberal which read “meh, the logistics of doing something like this are enormous.” In other words, “it can’t happen here.” History begs to differ.
Thousands of socialists and leftists were marched into stadiums in Chile in the 1970s and gunned down, tortured, or disappeared in a country with a much smaller military than the US. Between 1965 and 1966, at least a million communists, or those believed to be communists, were hunted down and brutally murdered in Indonesia by rightwing death squads and the police.
And millions of Jews, Roma, communists, homosexuals and the disabled were persecuted, rounded up and sent to concentration camps in the 1930s and 40s in Germany and Nazi occupied countries, where most perished at a time when many ordinary people thought “the logistics” of doing something like that were too “enormous” to be fathomed, much less carried out. And each atrocity was preceded by the rise of a pernicious fascism and the language of dehumanization by leaders.
The notion that atrocity “can’t happen here” is soundly refuted by the fact that it has happened here. And countless times. The US, a nation founded upon organized ethnic cleansing and genocide of the native population, and the brutal enslavement of millions of Africans, has also been home to more recent mass atrocities. Thousands of black and brown men and some women were lynched over the early part of the 20th century. Events organized and sanctioned by authorities, police and politicians, where popcorn, postcards and body parts were sold as souvenirs to the ghoulish onlookers. Thousands of Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in internment camps in the desert during WW2 for the sake of “national security.”
Indeed, over the 20th century the US military, energy, and intelligence agencies have been at the forefront of atrocity, conducting medical, chemical and radiation experiments on millions of unsuspecting people. Whether it was feeding radioactive food to mentally disabled children and conscientious objectors, or irradiating pregnant women, infants or prisoners, or releasing radioactive chemicals over US and Canadian cities, the US establishment has demonstrated it is quite at home in administering atrocity and then burying it all until years later.
And this is not counting the non-Americans in the Marshall Islands where the US tested its nuclear bombs. Or the millions of deaths caused by American imperialistic wars which carpet bombed cities and villages, used napalm and Agent Orange or, more recently, the use of burning white phosphorous and cancer causing depleted uranium.
Entire regions have been devastated, scores slaughtered from American forays. But one thing has been consistent, the vast majority of the victims of American atrocities have been women, the poor, and people of color.
So to some, alarm at Trump’s threat may seem hyperbolic. Indeed, there may not be any nascent mass atrocity unfolding here at this time. Others might say he is merely removing people who are in the US illegally, or that it could simply be more distraction, a nod to his xenophobic base.
Excerpted from: ‘Normalizing Atrocity’.