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Security is Neither: Ecology, Justice and the Politics of Borders By Lee Hall
In a song often called one of the past century’s greatest, John Lennon
sang, “Imagine there’s no country.”
Is it easy? Should we try?
As it is, we interact with the world as citizens of countries, rarely questioning
the nation’s existence. The sacrifice of our children’s blood proves
it. Leaders talk of vanquishing evil, and we agree that outsiders officially
constitute enemies. “We wish so desperately to split apart evil from good,” explains
Holocaust psychologist Richard Koenigsberg, “and that’s when the
killing begins.” As an industry of news and foreign policy analysis steps
in, treating the slaughter of human beings as a normal and inevitable part of
politics, we learn to brush aside our natural reaction—war is insane!
In October 2001, Donald Rumsfeld called terrorism “a cancer on the human
condition” to explain the beginning of the massive bombing of Afghanistan,
in which villagers were mutilated and killed in droves. Since the invasion of
Iraq three years ago, hundreds of thousands have been killed; torture has proliferated
and children have been jailed. Fear of the “cancer” allowed a critical
mass of North Americans to accept diminished civil liberties, mass detentions,
and cutbacks in basic services—such as public transportation, needed to
lessen our strain on fossil fuels.
Imagine people from varied areas of social activism investing our collective
energies into humanity’s prospects for transcending this cycle.
But how? When activists go forth to debate with positions that are not sane—“Speak
truth to power,” goes the slogan—they’re arguing with the artificial
power of authority, and they immediately feel oppressed. Perhaps the better way,
rather than to oppose this artificial power, is to propose an alternative way
of thinking. One by which we might cultivate our own power.
Organized human warfare appears to comprise a mere fraction of one percent of
humanity’s three million-year existence. Granted, this recent period fashioned
our current social structure, with all its pressure to equate domination with
success. Our treatment of other animals provides a harrowing model in this regard,
for today they are objects of a dominion so complete we rarely think of ourselves
as vanquishers even as we consume them. Laws constructed by and for the people
refer to other animals as natural resources, scientific models, pets, food or
entertainment. We’ve systematically obstructed our ability to perceive
them as beings with their own interests and experiences.
Our schoolbooks are full of generals and cowboys, action figures who overwhelm
the terrain, its inhabitants, and history itself. We exalt the pioneering spirit
of the ranchers—these days, more accurately called the profiteering spirit
of corporations—while clear-cutting and predator control schemes wipe out
countless animals. In a culture that takes violence for granted, no wonder we’re
so concerned about our rights. Yet we lack even the simple right to move freely
across our own habitat.
Some living beings, such as nectar bats and the desert plants they pollinate
along their routes, depend on human borderlands to simply exist. Roadbuilding
for patrols near the Tijuana Estuary disturbs coastal sage scrub birds. Border
construction has disrupted the lives of the few remaining Sonoran pronghorn antelopes.
And there’s no relief in sight.
The Secure Fence Act, passed last October, authorizes 700 miles of new fencing
along the Mexican border, walling off the entire state of Arizona. Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff has vowed to “integrate fencing with the appropriate
balance of tactical infrastructure, advanced technology and Border Patrol at
every inch of the border.” To that end, the department awarded a contract
to Boeing for a “virtual” seal of the entire country, north and south.
The plan calls for 1,800 watchtowers, able to transmit live video to agents’ handheld
computers. Agents will also be able to launch aerial drones from the back of
patrol vehicles. Known as the Secure Border Initiative Network, it’s all
expected to cost billions. It will, moreover, channel more young people to jobs
involving social control, as the border patrol surpasses the FBI’s 12,500
employees to become the largest national law enforcement agency.
How can the aware activist best organize in this situation? Advocacy for genuine
fair trade policies would be a critical step, as higher wages in financially
poorer countries would mean fewer people desperate to migrate. Moreover, no activist
genuinely committed to justice can ignore the deaths along the Mexican border—472
in 2005 alone, not counting those who died on the other side of the line. The
low value of these lives comes into focus when we note that U.S. officials didn’t
even have a systematic record of human border deaths until 1999.
Deadly Deterrence Since its banks were privatized in the early 90s, Mexico has faced a series of
economic crises, during which time the U.S. augmented the original wall—surplus
steel from the Vietnam War—with two fences, 15 feet tall, partially illuminated
with stadium lights and topped with barbed wire. Stepped-up enforcement reduced
complaints from San Diego homeowners, while pushing ill-equipped and desperate
people into the Sonora Desert.
“They’ll be wandering,” one aerial surveillance agent recounted,
describing the desert crossers. “You’ll see them dropping clothes,
personal effects, things of that nature. Perhaps the next point you’ll
see them is disrobing, taking their clothes off.”
Headaches and nausea set in. As the blood thins, the pulse speeds up to compensate.
Then seizures, or unconsciousness. Lack of blood circulation eventually shuts
down the heart. Fluids leak from failed organs, leaving a mark at the scene of
death. After a week in the desert heat, the body will appear mummified.
Winter deaths in dunes and canyons begin with intense shivering and fumbling
hands. Memory fails, replaced with hallucinations. Then, the muscles grow rigid
and the pulse slows down. The pupils dilate, the skin turns bluish. Eventually
there’s internal bleeding, heart and respiratory failure, and death.
All of this is reported impassively by the General Accounting Office, which in
1999 observed that sealing off traditional migration routes meant “illegal
alien traffic would either be deterred or forced over terrain less suited for
crossing,” where officials “would have the tactical advantage” and
that “shifts in apprehensions have been associated with a change in the
causes and locations of alien deaths along the border.”
But people kept coming, the need to feed their families outweighing their fear
of death. So officials threatened to prosecute those who offer to help exhausted
migrants. Duncan Hunter, the U.S. Representative from San Diego County who’s
now a Republican presidential candidate, associated migrants with criminal tendencies. “Since
border fence construction began in 1996, crime rates in San Diego County have
been reduced by more than half,” Hunter declared.
Compare the criminalization of nonviolent activities currently affecting animal
advocates, and it seems logical that both communities’ resistance to this
prosecutorial trend can and should be joined. Note the linkage of fear-mongering,
attitudes about migration, social control, and disrespect for the ecology in
the “Real ID Act of 2005,” which gives the U.S. government unprecedented
authority over states’ driving permits, identification cards and related
data, and through which the Secretary of Homeland Security can waive federal,
state and local environmental laws to facilitate border construction.
Note further that a 2004 report commissioned for the Pentagon warned that an
abrupt climate change would likely trigger widespread war as wealthy countries
become “virtual fortresses” against multitudes of environmental refugees.
If so, current border spending presages a terror far more profound than most
citizens imagine: that of survivors escaping their flooded lands. Already, rising
sea levels in the South Pacific have forced nearly 3,000 Tuvalu islanders to
leave their homes. (The Australian government refused to take them, but New Zealand
has agreed to accept 75 Tuvaluans annually.)
How ironic that vegan activists, whom many of our lawmakers appear to associate
with terrorism, offer a way to offset global warming—without the terrifying
effects of militarized borders. Vegetarianism—the prudent act of cultivating
crops and eating them directly—spares precious water and oxygen-giving
trees. In contrast, animal farming contributes heavily to acid rain and is a
major source of methane, a gas that packs more than 20 times the warming potential
of carbon dioxide. Animal agribusiness generates 65 percent of human-related
nitrous oxide, a gas with about 300 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.
And it expands our population’s footprint by clearing forests solely to
grow feed for animals bred to be killed.
If, to quote Henry Beston, nonhuman beings are “other nations,” then
vegetarianism is our declaration of peace. Given the ecological havoc wreaked
by domestication and animal farming, vegetarianism now appears as a key to peace
within humanity as well. In a profound way, it challenges the tallest of fences,
the ones humanity long ago erected between ourselves and the rest of our biocommunity.
You may say I’m another dreamer. But if we can imagine taking down our
fences, we may well be capable of ensuring continued life on Earth.
Lee Hall is Legal Director of Friends of Animals and author of the new bookCapers
in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror. Indispensable
references for this article were Bill Ong Hing’s 2001 article in the U.C.
Davis Journal of International Law and Policy, “The Dark Side of Operation
Gatekeeper,” as well as Richard Koenigsberg’s Ideologies of War and
Terror discussion forum.