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1.E. Humanities at Large blogpost 5 October 2017

Thursday 5 October -- Discussion led by Emily Gilbert

Emily’s research looks critically at the use of monetary payments made by the military to compensate for injury, loss of life, or property.  Today’s discussion was based on two readings, a podcast, and a filmed lecture:

  1. Tracey Lindberg (2017) on “(W)rec(k)-onciliation” -- a lecture delivered at Vancouver Island University as apart of the Indigenous Speakers Series (January). Recorded by CBC Ideas. Audio file available here: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/cree-academic-and-novelist-tracey-lindberg-on-reconciliation-before-reconciliation-1.3945719  (53:58 minutes).
  2. Audra Simpson (2016) “Reconciliation and its discontents: reconciliation in an age of sorrow,” lecture at the University of Saskatchewan (March). Video available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGl9HkzQsGg  (1:22:36).
  3. Emily Gilbert (2015) “The gift of war: cash, counterinsurgency, and ‘collateral damage’” Security Dialogue 46(5): 403-421.
  4. Ta-Nehisi Coates (2014) “The case for reparations” The Atlantic, June 2014 issue. Available here: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

There were several major themes that played out in a range of contexts.

Money as a cultural object: the ways that money has been mobilized as a kind of weapon by the US (and also UK and Canadian) military, to promote their interests in zones of conflict. Its use is so significant that there is a how-to guide for administering payouts for commanders. It is considered to be a primary tool in the struggle to win “hearts and minds” in such operational theatres as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and other places where US operations are underway against terrorism. This is a formal, regularly-budgeted process.

Two additional resources were suggested: Phil Klay’s Redeployment, and in particular, the story “Money as a Weapon System” (Penguin, 2014) and Elizabeth A. Povinelli’s The Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism (Duke UP, 2002).

HandbookAccounting and accountability: Military payments for loss are highly bureaucratic. Emily showed us images of a government purchase-order-invoice that documents the payment of $2,500 in cash for the “Death of a wife.” Forms such as these reveal the cold calculations at the heart of military compensation. At the same time, while loss is accounted for, there is no accountability attached to the harm that is caused. Monetary payment even can be used to foreclose future claims. Thus the payments could be seen as more akin to the gift economy, inserted into narratives of war as brining a “gift of freedom,” and are couched in a rhetoric of indebtedness and gratitude rather than liability. Furthermore, while these forms of payments are justified in that they adhere to local customary practices of Sharia law, they differ considerably in that the payments are imposed, not negotiated, and there is no acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Paying for losses is not necessarily wrong, but it depends on how this is done, and whether the violator has personally made amends. Yet, it is also clear that paying for loss does not end the violence, as we can see with respect to the historical record that compensation did not head off feuding and the desire for vengeance.

Affect, its useBirdies and dangers: the expression of emotion is regulated, regularized, contained, controlled, and exchanged as a form of currency. Spectacles such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) are structured for settlers to consume the affect of injured Indigenous people without being personally affected. Politicized uses of affect may grow stale and cynical or get used to support the wrong policies. Affect may be leveraged into “trauma porn.” Affect may support the rhetoric of the gift, of gratitude (how ironic as we are eating a Thanksgiving lunch!); of debt. The Canadian TRC was constructed in order to hear injury, to make space for affective appeals for justice; but does the hearing of it, in itself, grant the absolution that so many settlers desire? Politicized affect turns up in Audra Simpson’s talk, in the idea of the “good” savage with whom settlers can identify; affect can be the vehicle for state oppression by dictating emotional responses, as Bertoldt Brecht has argued. Empathy becomes sufficient response in itself, replacing action. Yet, while affect is often suspect, it can also be mobilized in different forms of story-telling. Tracey Lindberg’s Birdie makes effective use of affect, and Ta-Nehisi Coates tells the story of Clyde Ross to mobilize affect in making his case for reparations.

Access to Information: how the story gets made and told, by whom, and for whose consumption. How can we know the truth, when we can’t get access to information? Canada and the UK also use payments for damage caused by the military—but this information has been heavily redacted. This level of control begs the questions, who gets to tell these stories? Whose stories can be told? Tracey Lindberg’s talk addresses the truths that were told at the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, and the kinds of access to that information that are available to researchers. Access has grown increasingly difficult since 2006, and is worse in Canada now, under Trudeau than it was under Harper. 

Land:  Coates’s article tracks the ways that violence has been inscribed into legal structures such as redlining, many of which controlled how land could be acquired and owned and lost. The violence and dispossession of these practices has not disappeared, even as they have been made illegal, but continue to accumulate: hence the call for reparations. Simpson’s account of the Oka crisis raised the possibility of refusal of the terms when the surrender of land was demanded.  The Black Lives Matter movement has recommended six core demands (https://policy.m4bl.org/), one of which is reparations, but in a larger sense, it is not about money alone, but as a framework for rethinking processes of redistribution. Could the TRC eventually include redistribution of land? There are echoes of accounting over accountability in its language’s refusal of liability; there is no space for negotiation, only a space for the wounded individual self.  Dishonesty is possible in both the emotional and cash economy. If there is hope, it is in a process of negotiation and a consideration of ways that repat/matriation of land could occur.

Philedelphia homeowners 1936

A Home Owner’s Loan Corporation map of Philadelphia (1936): impoverished and racialized neighbourhoods, shown in red, were denied loans and other services.


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