A picture of the Trump border wall next to El Paso, Texas

The American Maginot Line


Alex Aviña, a historian at the University of Arizona and a new contributor to FOREIGN EXCHANGES, does some great thinkering and pulls together some very helpful information for those who have never given much consideration to how the US/Mexico border represents and enforces American Imperialism and settler colonialism. Both parts are very much worth the read. I have researched a bit about all of these things as I dug deeper into settler colonialism and the meaning of our neoliberal regime, but there is a lot still to learn. These articles are good starting places.

From Part 1, 23Aug2021…

The War on Terror post-9/11, we tend to forget, possessed a southnern front: the US-Mexico border. In a widely-covered 2004 article, Samuel Huntington updated his “clash of civilizations” thesis to posit “unassimilable” Mexican migrants as the main civilizational threat to “Anglo-Protestant culture.” (Pat Buchanan made a similar argument in his 2002 screed, The Death of the West, but poor Pat did not possess that Harvard social capital.) Congressional reports that alleged alliances between leftist “Pink Tide” Latin American governments and transnational terrorist organizations and/or Iran mirrored the re-emergence of anti-migrant nativism and paramilitarism in the US southwest in 2005 that connected undocumented migration and “open borders” to possible terrorist infiltration of the country. Minutemen vigilantes claimed they found prayer rugs in the desert, along with Arabic-speaking migrants—some of whom had allegedly adopted Latin American noms de guerre to avoid detection.

These examples—not to mention the current debate about the so-called “border crisis” eagerly trumpeted by Republican politicians and whose “border security” framing is accepted by a majority of Democratic political leaders—reveal two “iron laws” of mainstream US political discourse regarding the US-Mexico border. First, during moments of US imperial anxiety (provoked by territorial expansion) or defeat (Vietnam, Iraq circa 2005-06), the border becomes dangerously insecure. As George W. Bush announced in May 2006 during a prime time television address focused on immigration, “we do not yet have full control of the border.” Second, the more militarized, walled-off, and deadly the border becomes on the ground for migrants, the more open and “out of control” it is in political discourse. We are entering the fifth decade of sustained militarization of the southern border and yet it is allegedly more out of control now than ever.

Source: The American Maginot Line, Part 1 – by Alex Aviña – Foreign Exchanges

From Part 2, 27Sep2021

In a different time and place, V.I. Lenin wrote a caution useful for our understanding of the US-Mexico border as a primary site for the formation of American empire: “there is no more erroneous nor harmful idea than the separation of foreign and internal policy.” Indeed, as I argued in the first part of this essay, the US-Mexico borderlands represent the space—physical, political, ideological—where the foreign and the internal historically collapse into one, shaping the development and contours of US empire in its various iterations. Tracing the history of Arizona’s Fort Huachuca, from its origins as a settler colonial outpost waging war against the Apaches to its current role as the world’s largest drone training base, reveals how and why those imperial iterations came to be.

This history also suggests that the southern US border is the focus of its own “forever war,” fundamentally dependent on conflict against an array of “enemies” for its creation, maintenance and expansion. Since the 1870s, that list of enemies has included rebellious indigenous polities, migrants, refugees, racialized communities living and working in the borderlands, illicit drugs, and even popular movements seeking radical change throughout Cold War Latin America. Past imperial efforts to contain, repel, or destroy those enemies decisively shaped our current “forever war,” the War on Terror.

Source: The American Maginot Line, Part 2 – by Alex Aviña – Foreign Exchanges

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