August 15, 2008

Glorifying the warrior, not the war

Native Warrior Exhibit set for first exclusive showing at Royal Scandinavian

Exhibit honors heroes, not warThe Native Warrior Project will be launched on the Central Coast with a photo panel exhibit titled “Honoring Our First American Patriots” on Aug. 24 before it begins a nationwide tour.

“This exhibit will be traveling the nation, and it is with great pride that we have the opportunity to launch this exhibit here on the Central Coast of California,” said Karen Evangelista of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.
And:“The project glorifies the warrior, not the war,” said Gregg Nevarez, producer and co-founder of the project, in a press release.

This exhibit contains photos and factual information that covers the Civil War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, focusing on individuals who served in the U.S. military.
Comment:  I'm not sure you can glorify the warrior without glorifying the war. How exactly would you do it? "We honor this warrior for his courage and fortitude, but he spent his courage and fortitude in a cause unworthy of his greatness"? I've never heard of a military exhibit explicitly disparaging war like that, but maybe this is a first.

More likely, the exhibit honors Indian warriors the same way sports mascots do. As Tom Holt wrote in Indians in the Military:I think that the warrior/savage/mascot/military stereotypes are linked. To many white Americans, Native peoples were the principal opponents of the Euro-American conquest of North America. This conquest has been made into an epic of individual bravery, farsightedness, and self-sacrifice against a savage, militarily adept, merciless, and brave foe. If we Natives had been a bunch of pacifists, the American national saga of conquest would have no great spiritual or symbolic meaning. Expansionism really was a tawdry affair of land swindles, double-dealing, fraud, murder, power plays, greed, and theft. Americans have understandably turned reality into a glorious blood sacrifice in which Indians played a major role.

The stereotypes and the notion that Natives inherently possess a kind of martial expertise only serve to recall and celebrate this American epic. When a lieutenant in Korea sent a Native to walk point on a patrol, he was recalling a stereotype in the American epic that portrayed "the Indian" (a European term) as a stealthy hunter and warrior, steeped in the knowledge of the terrain and attuned to the normal sights, sounds, and smells of the landscape. An Indian would notice anything out of place or unusual. When a crusty Gunnery Sergeant in Vietnam told a new group of boots to the bush that "out there is Indian country and this is Fort Apache," he was reminding them that if stalwart Americans can overcome Indians in the American saga, they could surely vanquish another sneaky, non-white, but ultimately dangerous enemy. And when the local high school football team named "the Braves," or "the Chiefs," or "the Indians," charges onto the field behind a mascot bearing the name "Chief Yoyo" or "the fighting Apache," the fans in the stands are not "honoring" Indians, they are really celebrating the American myth that says these brave, savage warriors were overcome only by white American tenacity, skill, and courage.
For more on the subject, see Indians as Warriors.

Below:  Glorifying the warrior, not the war?

No comments: