A recent conversation with Sharifa led me to look again at one of Said’s many penetrating studies…
In fact, there is no way that I know of apprehending the world from within American culture (with a whole history of exterminism and incorporation behind it) without also apprehending the imperial contest itself. This, I would say, is a cultural fact of extraordinary political as well as interpretative importance, yet it has not been recognized as such in cultural and literary theory, and is routinely circumvented or occluded in cultural discourses. To read most cultural deconstructionists, or Marxists, or new historicists is to read writers whose political horizon, whose historical location is within a society and culture deeply enmeshed in imperial domination. Yet little notice is taken of this horizon, few acknowledgments of the setting are advanced, little realization of the imperial closure itself is allowed for. Instead, one has the impression that interpretation of other cultures, texts, and peoples — which at bottom is what all interpretation is about — occurs in a timeless vacuum, so forgiving and permissive as to deliver the interpretation directly into a universalism free from attachment, inhibition, and interest.
–Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism
In fact, the longest war of the twentieth century was waged by the American government against the people of Vietnam, North and South, communist and noncommunist. It was an invasion of their homeland upon which the United States dropped the greatest tonnage of bombs in the history of warfare, pursued a military strategy deliberately designed to force millions to abandon their homes, and used banned chemicals in a manner that profoundly changed the environmental and genetic order, leaving a once bountiful land petrified. Some three million people were killed and at least as many were maimed and otherwise ruined. The American military commander, general William Westmoreland, declared that the object was to cause human devastation “to the point of national disaster for generations to come.” That this was achieved as an epic crime by the Nuremberg standards is hardly known in the United States.
–Joe Allen, Vietnam: The (Last) War the U.S. Lost
Pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will.