The status quo of colonialism is oppression and violence. Rhetoric from primary sources of the Haitian Revolution, British North American Revolution, and Amaru rebellion either promote or utilize violence to promote or quell uprisings. Although the revolutionaries in each case were underdogs in the fight against strong colonial powers, their recognition of short term losses for long term gains empowered them to overthrow deep-seated systems of oppression. While this mindset is universal across these three revolutions, the persuasive rhetoric and specific purpose behind the arguments for violence were unique to each case. Haitian slaves’ status of dehumanization demonstrated that there was nothing to lose in a revolution, wars that served no American interests and caused preventable violence made the American Colonies’ relationship with Britain illogical, and the colonial perspective of the Amaru rebellion proves the mindset of short term losses by attempting to raise the perceived costs of revolution through psychological violence. However, while each case was unique in perspective and persuasion, the rhetoric of violence demonstrates its inevitability under colonialism, and that increased, revolutionary violence in the short run is the only way to upend the oppressive system.
The coercive plantation slavery of forcefully displaced Africans in Haiti demonstrates a social and political structure of dehumanization. The “Haitian Declaration of Independence,” describes the status of slaves as “the most humiliating torpor” by an “inhuman government,” demonstrating the reasoning behind an end to the current system, although a daunting task (Haitian Declaration). The author further elaborates on the dehumanization and stripping of culture of the slaves, explaining that “everything revives the memories of the cruelties of this barbarous people: our laws, our habita, our towns, everything still carries the stamp of the French” (H. Dec). While less direct than chattel slavery, these constant reminders and forced assimilation to French culture dehumanize the Haitians.
Stemming from this relegated status, independence through violent means became necessary. This necessity is argued in the rhetoric of the Declaration through the words, “in the end we must live independent or die” (H. Dec). Drawing comparisons from Patrick Henry’s “liberty or death” speech, the statement is more dichotomic than may first appear. Essentially, the writer is arguing that continuing the colonial system of oppression is death, and that independence is the only way to truly survive. Moreover, while a revolution is certain to lead to many deaths of Haitian rebels, this short term loss is viewed as necessary and beneficial since it is the only way to escape the death continually perpetuated by the French. Consequently, the Declaration states “independence or death … let these sacred words unite us and be the signal of battle and of our reunion,” exemplifying the role that dehumanization and prolonged death played in the decision to promote more severe short term violence. This violent rhetoric against “the barbarians who have bloodied [Haitian] land for centuries” derives from the inevitability of violence to continue as it had for centuries under French rule (H. Dec). While the 350,000 deaths of Haitians between 1791 and 1804 came at a tremendous loss of life through violence, for the dehumanized slaves of Haiti, this sacrificial, revolutionary violence served as the sole option in ending the violent and oppressive colonialism on the island (AW, 388).
In Common Sense, Paine argues for independence from Britain from a logical perspective, while subtly encouraging the violent revolution to continue. Throughout Chapter 3 of Common Sense, Paine’s central claim of illogical union with Britain involves European wars that Britain forcefully draws its colonies into. Referring to Britain, Paine writes “she did not protect us from our enemies on our account, but from her enemies on her own account, from those who had no quarrel with us on any other account and who will always be our enemies on the same account” (Paine 34-35). He further criticizes Britain by claiming, “even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their families,” relating to the Intolerable Acts and various instances of British aggression (Paine 35). Without directly mentioning violence, Paine argues that a continued bond with Britain is illogical due to the unnecessary and inevitable violence and war that results from it, and that “nothing but independance [sic] .. can keep the peace of the continent” (Paine 37, 43).
While the violence imposed on British North American colonies was less coercive than the slavery in Haiti, similar rhetoric of short term, revolutionary violence to upend the status quo pervaded. In continuing the logic-based argument for independence, Paine explains that the “[American] plan is commerce” which “will secure us peace and friendship of all Europe” (Paine 36). Paine claims that trade is the key to American success and that trade is only fully possible through peaceful relationships, contrasting the current state of European affairs via the British political and economic bonds. Thus, Paine is arguing against a status quo of violence that is inherent in colonialism, while simultaneously advocating for whatever means necessary in order to break the illogical relationship. Paine criticizes futile attempts to negotiate with the British by sharply stating, “every quiet method for peace hath been ineffectual. Our prayers have been rejected with disdain … [and that] nothing but blows will do,” ultimately arguing for a more radical form of revolution through violent means (Paine 39-40). As in Haiti, the rhetoric of violence is not necessarily preferable due to the tremendous costs and risks, but necessary in comparison to the inevitable continuation of violence that stems from remaining a colony. Paine continues to argue that “the next war may not turn out like the last,” meaning that the brutal costs that colonists suffered from a victorious war would be nothing in comparison to a defeat in a war that served no interest for Americans (Paine 37). Taking up violent arms against the British, even at high costs in a one-sided war, is put forth as the only rational option to overthrow the system of British coercion and continual violence.
While violence in the previous documents demonstrated the centrifugal forces of independence, Areche’s perspective as a Spanish official describes violence used centripetally in order to coercively maintain the status quo of colonialism. In particular, the rhetoric of violence is not as practical, but rather psychological in nature. The Spanish were already in a position of power, so a sudden violent action was not necessary for them to achieve their ends. However, “[Amaru’s] rebellion’s brief success terrified Spanish officials,” and thus violence was not only used to physically put down rebellions, but to scare rebels from participating in them (AW, 319). This form of psychological violence directly relates to the inevitability of long term violence under colonialism, albeit viewed from the opposite perspective. The Spanish recognized the common revolutionary argument of pursuing short term violence, even in the face of widespread death, in hopes of achieving long term peace and freedom. Thus, the Spanish attempted to raise the costs of rebellion so high as to psychologically prevent revolutionary action.
Amaru’s torture and execution vividly display the brutality and psychological effects of this violence. After being captured by the Spanish, Amaru’s tongue was cut out and he was quartered by horses, displaying extreme brutality in torture (AW, 319). Further, Areche writes that “[Amaru’s body] parts should be carried to the hill or high ground known as ‘Picchu,’ … and let his ashes be thrown into the air and a stone tablet placed there detailing his main crimes and the manner of his death as the only record and statement of his loathesome [sic] action” (Areche 169-170). Additionally, Areche mandates that “this sentence be proclaimed publicly with the greatest solemnity as soon as it arrives in their hands, and on the same day every year thereafter,” a reminder to help maintain the status quo of oppressive colonialism (170). Thus, while this document focuses on violence from a colonial perspective, it acknowledges the line of thinking associated with violent rhetoric across these three revolutions: colonialism breeds violence, but increased violence is the only way to end the oppression.
Violent rhetoric in the context of an age of revolution is commonplace due to its ability to both divide and unify the colonizers and the colonized. This widespread application of violence as a double-edged political tool explains why violence is ultimately inevitable in a colonial system. In a society that is built on growing mistrust of the “other,” diplomacy continually fails, further making violence an inescapable feature of the political sphere. These circumstances allowed oppressed people in Haiti, British North America, and Peru, to rationalize waging violent action against far more powerful rulers. Because of its versatility, violence has become normalized and widely accepted over time, explaining why its rhetoric pervades these movements, despite differing contexts, and continues to be used for political motives today.
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