Thursday, December 09, 2004

"The More Things Change," part 371

A WaPo article titled Poor Salvadorans Chase the 'Iraqi Dream' tells how about 175 men (and a few women) in El Salvador, where wages are low and poverty and unemployment are high, are working in Iraq, mainly in security. They're a natural fit because many of them have had military or police training under U.S. auspices, acquired during the country's civil war in the 1980s.

Now U.S. security firms are recruiting them, and paying six times their usual wages at home to guard oil wells and diplomatic compounds in the sandbox. The Salvadorans say it's not just the money that is luring them, but their belief that this service will give them a leg up in immigrating to the U.S.

Human rights officials, of course, damn the companies for exploiting the poor.

"This is the equivalent of a poverty draft," said Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America, a rights and policy group, speaking from his office in Washington. "The United States is unwilling to draft people, so they are recruiting people from poor countries to be cannon fodder for us. And if they are killed or injured, there will be no political consequences in the United States."

So is this some new maggot in the neocon plot? Globalized militarism? Outsourcing the war? Only if you have a short attention span and a poor grounding in history. (Which, sadly, describes most media people I've worked with.)

How do you think the North won the Civil War -- the great, just crusade against the evil of slavery? Julia Ward Howe's eye might have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, but if she had looked out on the street instead of up, in her Boston prayer-closet, she would have seen the less-than-glorious coming of more than half a million immigrants to the U.S. from 1861 to 1864, almost 200,000 of them from Ireland. They, along with the free blacks, finally overwhelmed a Confederacy that had beaten the North in battle after battle. Almost a quarter of the Northern army was foreign-born, with roughly 175,000 soldiers from Germany and 150,000 from Ireland.

"The accusation of the use of foreign mercenaries is amply supported by evidence. Most of those were simply tempted by the bounties and by high wages in industry to emigrate to America, and then found their way either into wage labor or the army according to the relative monetary inducement. Yet some mercenaries were imported expressly and by official action for use in the army or at least to fill quotas. Senator [Henry] Wilson [R-Mass.] asserted with some pride that Massachusetts had imported 907 men from Germany for use in four regiments. Irish immigration received an additional stimulus from the unusual opportunities in America, and by the end of the second year of the war had nearly doubled. By the middle of 1863 seven steamers were leaving Cork each two weeks most of them headed for New York."

[Fred Albert Shannon, "The Organization and Administration of the Union Army, 1861-1865," published 1928, vol. II, p.78. See also O.E. series iii, vol. 4, pp.455-458.]

Agents from the U.S. swarmed over the British Isles, luring men either as soldiers or as laborers to replace American boys who had been swept into the army. One paper reported in 1864 that, "Not only villages, but whole counties in Ireland, England will be emptied of their able bodied industrial population." B.A. Gould's statistical investigation of the war, while not complete (no Civil War numbers study ever is), found that the Irish and Germans furnished the North with more than the national average of soldiers in proportion to their population, while the white native-born Americans of the North fought in slightly below their proper proportion.

If it's to be condemned now, it's to be condemned then. There's no set of qualities that sets this war apart, in some special category, as a new and worse thing than any other war. Rather, if there's any special quality to what we're doing in Iraq now, it's the degree of death and destruction we haven't caused, in proportion to our capabilities. It's the attempt to actually build up a free nation on something other than the ashes of the old one.

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