The pardoning of soldiers accused of war crimes against peoples in the US colonies aim to demonstrate an unabashed commitment to conservative principles but also, and more importantly, simply to increase bloodletting. The injury of hated people is for conservatives — as photojournalism of the long “civil rights era” has shown — an end and a pleasure in itself. The president was not, as many would have us believe, merely talking tough when he called for the killing of insurgents’ families. In pardoning a navy SEAL like Edward Gallagher who was accused of killing a teenager with a knife and posing with the body, Trump’s message to the officers of America’s post is to kill freely, you will be protected.
Conservative men and women often join the state’s institutions of violence for the opportunity to hurt people. That there exists conservative desires for the killings of the Other is not a particularly revelatory observation. Although left unspoken, it is, in fact, popularly understood. In one of the most striking moment’s of comedian Bill Burr’s sets he observes conservative lusts. “You got to give it up to [Southerners] they’re patriotic people…you will never catch a redneck at an anti-war protest…they’re just like wait I get to kill people? And I ain’t going to jail? Wait a minute are they foreigners. Oh my God, hey Dale come on, you’re going to miss it…Christmas in September.” The joke works because this unspoken conservative sentiment is immediately recognizable. It’s not the comedy of the absurd — it’s observational humor.
Law Officers, as Linda Gordon put it, “were the largest single occupational group among Klan membership.” State institutions of violence provide not only the opportunity for racial terrorism but the promise of impunity. Those who wish to end the lives of non-whites will find no more secure place to do so than the institutions of imperial force. But for law to retain its ideological power, it must continue to perform dispassion, neutrality and regulation. It cannot be seen to kill freely, it must kill rationally. This is why series of kidnapping incidents are understood by the kidnapped as not violent incidents at all but a kind of fate. It is not kidnapping and confinement without consent but a sort of natural happening for those who are “criminals” called arrest. You do the crime you do the time, what goes up must come down: law dresses up in natural law. The problem is to maintain the ideological power of normalized racial terror that the law provides and at the same time protect and if possible expand the pleasures of vigilante racial violence. That is, to make the uniforms of police, soldiers and klansmen interchangeable and, in certain light, look equally legitimate.
Trump’s campaign to pardon and his incitement to skirt regulatory norms of violence does this work. His domestic directive to increase violence in police custody is beefed up in the US world colonies. The institution of the law to which conservatives owe their right to torture raced bodies cannot be easily sacrificed, even for the ecstatic pleasures of lawless violence. The whip and lynching rope were not to be traded for the prison and convict leasing. The Kenya Colony farmer wanted both the magistrate to ban labor “desertion” and also wanted to thrash his field hands at will and without state interference. The pardon does this. It maintains the legal edifice, i.e. the colonial apparatus, while setting loose the possibilities of vigilante torturing. The occupiers can both occupy and use the language of civility, democracy and cultural superiority and also and at the same time murder and torture with impunity. Our torturers are once again, as they had been in freer times, given a promise of protection of the state and are encouraged to let loose. They go forth, if cautiously, and do what they are doing, armed with the knowledge that there is “no rights which the white man is bound to respect.” In this way conservatives, both officials on the ground and their cheerleaders and spectators at home, are offered new arenas of pleasure. The killings to be enjoyed are not just those gained by carpet bombing, (remember John McCain’s joke song bomb Iran), but the old pleasures of the indiscriminate murder of non-white and unarmed civilians. Part of the pleasure of colonial violence for conservatives and racial terrorists has always been the violence in excess of what is necessary. This is why the colonized African’s crops were not just stolen or burned but that s/he was tortured and put on display in the Paris Colonial Exposition.
Like the pardoning of Joe Arpaio, pardoning those convicted of war crimes is also meant as a message to the colonized world that the American officers sent in your villages and towns will hurt you, make no mistake. The scene in Platoon when all-American soldier Chris tells the Vietnamese man to “dance” while he shoots the floor beneath him with an automatic weapon is misleading. It was meant to depict the inevitable moral corruption brought on by the stresses of war and its effect on an otherwise moral American. In reality, however, these acts are celebrated, romanticized and defended by colonists. The pardoning of convicted war criminals suggests— as did conservative defenses of Abu Ghraib, waterboarding, and more recently the killing of insurgents’ families — that traditional humanitarian ethics are not foremost on the conservative war agenda, despite what fictional hero soldier characters would have us believe. Ethics in imperialist war does not direct policy. It is rather a gloss used to polish the pamphlets that announce the colonizer’s supremacy, and the supremacy of his touted values. Torture is, and always has been, the colonizer’s foreign policy. The Philadelphia Ledger praised soldiers for pumping salt water into the veins of prisoners during America’s occupation of the Philippines. Now the concentration camp system, the earliest in the world, are set to return home. They are to be constructed along the US southern border and called “tent cities.” We can expect pardons for the atrocities that will be committed there as well.