Anti-Asian Racism by Steve Morse

April 12, 2021

Veterans For Peace member Steve Morse reflects on the role U.S. militarism in perpetuating racism against Asian Americans.

Many people in the US are trying to understand what is going on with racist attacks against Asian heritage people, and especially those directed at women. There was the mass killing near Atlanta; of the eight people murdered, four were women of Korean heritage, and two were women of Chinese heritage. There have also been the some 4,000 attacks on Asian heritage people that have occurred in the US during the past year, 2/3 of which have been against women.

The hate crimes against Asian Americans stem not only from blaming China for the COVID pandemic, as Trump has done. They are also related to an effort to cast China as the US enemy, which may continue with Biden. The whole history of US militarism in Asia has everything to do with these hate crimes.

Here is what a Korean American woman friend wrote in a recent list posting:
"I feel mad about the role of U.S. imperialism. It is a direct line from the sex industry around U.S. military bases in South Korea to Korean women working in massage parlors in the U.S. Some of the women are directly trafficked from one location to the other. Others are not directly coerced through trafficking, but once they come to the U.S., that is where they are able to find work. The spas that were targeted last week may or may not have involved prostitution, but they were targeted because of that association ... The problem is the U.S. government going in to countries like South Korea historically and currently, using the military and other means to undermine grassroots movements of self-determination and prop up owning class interests, with women used and sacrificed to make all of this possible."

US militarism has done plenty of damage to people in Latin America and Africa; yet the vast majority of US hot war during the last 70 years using regular US troops attacking from land, water and air, has taken place in Asia and been directed at Asians: in Korea, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan, Iraq. As we think about the attacks on and murders of Asian heritage women within the US, let me separate how we were trained in the military to look at Asian people, and then how we were trained to look at women. 

For US soldiers to go halfway around the world, to agree or submit to killing people they would otherwise have no quarrel with, to face death or physical and/or emotional maiming, many of their human qualities have to be broken down, and racism has to be installed in a very heavy way. This is what much of basic training/boot camp is about. In the Army basic training that I went thru in 1969, we marched to cadences about killing the Viet Cong. In the 1981 documentary Soldier Girls, women trainees were training to the same cadence, but this time it was about killing an Iranian (a West Asian). Hot war between the US and Iran has not yet occurred, but the movie clip shows the female soldiers around 1980 being prepared for that.

In Viet Nam, I heard many times daily the racist terms for Vietnamese people whose use was normalized within the Army. This was also true in the Korean War and in the Iraq War. The dehumanization of these various Asian peoples that is embodied in these terms, made it less difficult for US soldiers to carry out oppressive and deadly orders.

In order to transform the human being who enters the military into an instrument for carrying out imperial war, his or her human qualities have to be violently suppressed. A main strategy for this (toward us male soldiers, at least) has been to label as weak and female, human qualities such as caring and compassion, and then to direct constant scorn and contempt toward women, and toward the part of the soldier that has these qualities. To the degree that the trainee internalizes this attitude, he comes to hate the sensitive side of himself, and the military's dehumanization of the trainee becomes successful. Among other problems, this interferes with love and friendship relationships that the male soldier or veteran has with women. Marriages often founder in the aftermath of this training and subsequent participation in war.

Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year old man arrested for the Atlanta murders had not been in the military. His action, however, resulted from racism and sexism, the most intense systemic installing of which takes place in military basic training and war, and which reverberates throughout the culture.

In Veterans For Peace, we have made the commitment to heal ourselves from war and to put an end to war and help heal the world from war. There's nothing easy about this lifelong project. Racism and sexism, so much a part of the US past and present, are inextricably linked with war – in fact, they are forms of war. As much as war, they are what we have to heal in ourselves and in the world.