Sunday, October 16, 2011

Jonathan M. Hansen

From a Q & A with Jonathan M. Hansen about his new book, Guantánamo: An American History:

What are the most significant things you’ve uncovered?

When I took up this project, I expected to focus on America’s century-long occupation of the bay. What I discovered instead was a little-known but essential piece of American history that dates back centuries.

In discovering historical Guantanamo, I feel like I’ve come across a sunken ship, now dredged really for the first time. The history of Guantanamo is full of unexplored treasures and ignored insights that illuminate the American past.

Let me give you some examples:

First of all, the history of Guantánamo exposes a fundamental paradox at the heart of American national identity between liberty and coercion. The American Revolution was not a war against empire. Rather it was the announcement of the arrival of a new empire on America’s shores. This was to be an “empire for liberty,” in Thomas Jefferson’s words, a notion fraught with contradiction and paradox that haunts us to this day.

The paradox is inherent in America’s liberal political economy. On the one hand, our liberalism makes us generous: anybody can be a member of the great liberal project, at least theoretically; on the other hand, our liberalism is potentially coercive: what’s good for us is good for you, whether you realize it or not.

This tension is visible in America’s recent wars in the Middle East, it’s there in our historical interaction with Latin American states, it’s there in conquest of the N. American continent, it’s there in our historical interaction with Cuba, it’s there in our occupation of Guantánamo Bay.

Geographic expansion has been a fundamental tenet of liberalism. With its emphasis on individual wealth and well-being—the very things that make it so appealing—liberalism has an unslakable appetite for land, resources, and labor. From colonial times, America’s founding fathers (and mothers) understood the country as...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue