Today I woke up to an inbox with many messages including an opinion piece published in Latino Rebels “Heroes of Another Flag: The Use of Puerto Ricans as Colonial Troops (OPINION)” by Javier A. Hernández.
Because this is my area of expertise, colonial military service, I opened it with much enthusiasm. I was incredibly disappointed, to say the least. From many factual errors to false analogies, leaps in logic and a series of “did not, did too”- the article makes for a horrible, horrible, biased piece, with the sole intent of spreading disinformation and nationalist propaganda. Worse, it paints Puerto Ricans who have served (and continue to serve) in the US military as both pawns and villains serving another nation and enslaving their own. Like in every piece of propaganda, the historical records doesn’t support what we can very (very) generously call his “argument.”
So, shall we? Ok. Let’s start.
“This appeal is based on the false premise that Puerto Rico somehow deserves and is entitled to statehood just because Puerto Ricans, as colonial subjects with second-class American citizenship, have served and died in U.S. wars.”
This is an old song. But nothing makes the US citizenship of the Puerto Ricans, second class. What makes Puerto Ricans colonial subjects is – territoriality- or, living in Puerto Rico, because the archipelago’s residents don’t have real representation in Congress- the body that passes laws that apply to Puerto Rico. There is no legal mechanism making the Puerto Ricans’ US citizenship second class. If a US citizen from Texas moves to Puerto Rico and makes it their state of residency, they lose their representation and became colonial subjects. The reverse is true for a Puerto Rican residing in Puerto Rico who then moves to a State of the union and claims it as their residence. It is worth to emphasize this- because I had college students from Puerto Rico, and from the Diaspora who didn’t know they had the right to vote. They didn’t know, precisely because of the casual way in which some people talk about having a second-class citizenship, and the tired old song “Puerto Ricans can’t vote for the president or have representation in Congress”. Not true. Residents of Puerto Rico can’t do that. Puerto Ricans can.
Also, you can’t just call something a “false premise” because you don’t agree with it. Isn’t that what Trump and right-wing media talking heads do? The argument that Puerto Rico deserves statehood because of the military service of hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans is not a false premise, it may be a flawed argument (and the author should point out why)- but it is not a false premise.
“In the Puerto Rican colonial context, when you peel away the aura, insignias, and fanfare, the PRNG is historically nothing more than a colonial militia organization made up of Puerto Ricans to protect the colonial government, many times from their fellow Puerto Ricans.”
The author ignores that the mission of the Puerto Rico National Guard- when deployed in Puerto Rico has been to aide during crises such as hurricanes and more recently earthquakes. Before the ELA became able to fulfill most of the functions civilian entities should provide to the people, the PRNG and the 65th Infantry provided them. From the musicians of the military bands participating in parades and teaching music, to conducting workshops on hygiene and health, and water purification, and aiding in the vaccination of the population- the Puerto Rican NG units have had a salutary effect on Puerto Rican communities. Actually, they are part of the communities they serve.
I guess that the author refers to the use of the National Guard during the 1950 nationalist Insurrection. But here he is mistaken, the nationalists launched an armed insurrection to overthrow the will of the vast majority of Puerto Ricans and impede the vote for the ELA. The Puerto Rican soldiers of the NG aided the police, firemen, and nurses in putting the down the armed uprising. They were not protecting the government from the people, they protected the government elected by the people from armed insurrectionists.
“The United States (just like other countries) saw fit to use colonial peoples, like Puerto Ricans, as troops to stamp out rebellion and to use abroad when needed. There is nothing patriotic about that—it’s just what countries with colonies do. What differentiates Puerto Ricans from all these other colonial peoples made to serve in these armies? Absolutely nothing because Puerto Ricans are also made to serve as colonial soldiers.”
There are many differences. Japan, France, the British, for example, they all took over sovereign countries and to different degrees forced them to serve in constabulary forces and as colonial troops when in peril. Those soldiers did not have citizenship and after the wars they were even denied their pensions. The author mentions the case of Japan in Korea as if it wasn’t the complete exact opposite of the Puerto Rican case. Unlike Puerto Rico, there weren’t hundreds of thousands of Koreans volunteering to serve in the Japanese Imperial Army. Those who served were forced. And when I say forced, I mean with extreme violence and brutality. Once in it, they had the most menial tasks and were routinely humiliated and brutalized by the Japanese. That is the case because Japan had conquered a sovereign entity and proceeded to really enslave them- not metaphorically, but in actuality.
“Although the PRNG is made up of Puerto Ricans, it doesn’t serve Puerto Rico nor takes orders from a Puerto Rican President—it serves the colonial regime, and people need to understand and internalize this fact.”
The author should familiarize himself with how the NG operates. Like any other NG in the United States, it is under the authority of the governor of the state or territory, and under the authority of POTUS when federalized into service. The PRNG serves in Puerto Rico, and like mentioned above; it provides all kinds of services to the local communities- of which they are PART.
“Puerto Ricans have bravely served for centuries in the Spanish armed forces, and even fought against the United States during the Spanish-American War of 1898.”
Very few Puerto Ricans fought against the United States in 1898 because the Spanish Colonial Government had banned them from the military. There were Puerto Ricans fighting in this war- many in Cuba or the Philippines fighting for the Spaniards. There was also the offspring (first generation) of peninsulares born in Puerto Rico, who were the most repressive, conservative, and pro-Spain and anti-Puerto Rican element in Puerto Rico- serving in the Instituto de Voluntarios– who fought to defend Spain not Puerto Rico. Actually those voluntaries were despised by the majority of the Puerto Rican population.
The author is right when he mentions that Puerto Ricans who have served in the US military have supported political status other than statehood. But that is like saying the sky is blue. The PR National Guard was created after WWI ended. Since that moment, its officers were associated with the Liberals in Puerto Rico and, by the establishment of the ELA, with the PPD to the point that many ran the new civilian offices providing the services they once provided as national guard members. In present day it is more diverse, with people from all political factions serving in the PRNG or in any of the branches of the United States Armed Forces.
The author misses so many points- that this commentary has become too long. So, a quick summary. Citizenship was not extended to the Puerto Ricans to force them to serve. The Foraker Act- which made them- American nationals in 1900, was enough to “force” them to register for the draft. Still they were not wanted and the hundreds of thousands of volunteers rejected at more than 70% rate. Same in WWII. Similar story in Korea- with even more volunteers. A majority of Puerto Ricans who served in Vietnam- also volunteered. And after the draft was ended in 1972 and replaced with the All Volunteer Force, the military has had two main sales pitches to attract volunteers: serving for honor and country and being your best version, and a generous economic/benefits package. None of this is new. Nothing at all. And it wasn’t design with Puerto Rico in mind.
Ironically, by attacking the National Guard, and wrongly exalting those “Puerto Ricans” who fought for Spain (not Puerto Rico) in 1898, the author shows both the elitism and the Hispanofilia that plagues the nationalist movement.
Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans from the poor working class see military service as their only option for a better chance. That is not fair. And it should not be the case.
However, unlike Javier A. Hernández, I won’t denigrate their service to score points for a political goal or ideology.
Since WWII (because of the GI Bill) military service has provided the bridge for HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of Puerto Ricans from the lowest economic strata to leap into the middle class. They served, they studied, they created new businesses, subsidize the schooling of others; became community pillars, invested in their communities; made Puerto Rico better from the bottom up- most of the time without their sacrifices being acknowledged.
As for heroes, they may not be Hernández’s heroes, but they are exactly that to their relatives, friends, and the people in their communities. And they are Puerto Rico.
Why modeling your “path to sovereignty” PREXIT? Are you unaware that BREXIT is a highly xenophobic, racist, homophobic, misogynist and deplorable toxic nationalist movement?
Here is the link to the piece I’m criticizing.