Contrary to the “catapulted
propaganda”, Enron, Haditha, and Abu Ghraib were not isolated incidents
or the work of a “few bad apples”. American savagery and oppressive
behavior pervades our society and predates our nation’s birth. Building
its patriarchal wealth on the backs of Black slaves and cheap labor while acquiring
its territory through Native American genocide, predatory exploitation of non-Anglos,
the poor, women, and the working class emerged as a pillar of America’s
socioeconomic “success” before we even declared our independence.
With the advent of the Industrial Age, transcontinental railroads, and the
rapid proliferation of Capitalism, an increasingly empowered young nation with
an insatiable lust for more land, resources, and profits began to seek prey
beyond its borders. At the close of the Nineteenth Century, the American Eagle
spread its wings as it began mimicking the rapacious behavior of its Western
With the sun finally preparing to set on the British Empire, the days of conquest
and expansion dawned for the nascent American Empire. Pathologically hubristic
notions like Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism served to dehumanize
indigenous people to justify invasion, theft and murder as acts of necessity
to bring civilization to “primitives”.
In his latest book, Overthrow, former New York Times Bureau
Chief Stephen Kinzer chronicles America’s exploits as an empire and imperialist
What is it that they are spreading?
The Bush Regime’s launch of the Project for the New American Century
with the invasion of Iraq was not really out of character for the United States.
While it was certainly executed with more blatant disregard for international
law than America’s previous imperial endeavors, it typifies the American
sanctimonious belief that it can do no wrong.
George Bush was simply reiterating America’s long-standing mendacious
rationale for its exploitative behavior when he stated:
“What I'm trying to suggest to you that this program is a part
of a strategic goal, and that is to protect this country in the short-term and
protect it in the long-term by spreading freedom.”
Consider some of the freedoms the United States is spreading:
1. Freedom to work under miserable conditions for a pittance.
2. Freedom to exist in an environment permeated with depleted uranium.
3. Freedom to sell precious resources to soulless multinational corporations
at garage sale prices.
4. Freedom to experience a Kafkaesque nightmare including arrest with
no charges, no trial to determine guilt or innocence, the endurance of torture,
and indefinite detention.
5. Freedom to realize the inherent inferiority of one’s culture,
religion, and language, and to cast them aside like sacks of rank-smelling garbage.
6. Freedom to be maimed or killed if one dares to reject the “gifts”
of these freedoms.
America’s corporate media propaganda machine has managed to maintain
a fastidiously manicured façade for many years. Despite appearing to
exist as a champion of democracy, equality, freedom, and human rights, the reality
of the United States was, and is, that its socioeconomic and governmental systems
are racist, bigoted, ruthless and plutocratic in nature.
Democracy has never existed in the United States. A de facto aristocracy has
dominated our constitutional republic dating back to the Continental Congress.
Capitalism is a brutal, pitiless economic system that encourages and rewards
greed, selfishness, exploitation, and annihilation of the competition.
Obsessed with materialism, conspicuous consumption, convenience, physical appearance,
and winning, many Americans gorge themselves on the abundant fruits of Capitalism,
oblivious to the fact that billions of human beings live in abject poverty and
misery to make their feast possible.
America is a nation of the wealthy, by the wealthy and for the wealthy. Its
ruling elite class is buttressed by the poor and working people who have been
rendered politically impotent by the allure of conspicuous consumption (which
further enriches the elite), the illusion of democracy, and the extremely remote
possibility that one of them could be the next Bill Gates.
Wearing its cloak of benevolence, America is an abstract embodiment of the
proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Governed by avaricious profiteers
produced and enabled by a ruthless system that brings out the worst in humanity,
the United States is a predacious nation innocently posing as a bastion of human
rights and democracy.
Running out of real estate (and victims)
Overthrow captures the essence of the zeitgeist in America in the late Nineteenth
Century with an apt quote from American historian Frederick Jackson Turner:
For nearly three centuries the dominant fact in American life has been
expansion. With the settlement of the Pacific Coast and the occupation of the
free lands, this movement has come to a check. That these energies of expansion
will no longer operate would be a rash prediction; and the demands for a vigorous
foreign policy, for an inter-oceanic canal, for a revival of our power upon
the seas, and for the extension of American influence to outlying islands and
adjoining countries, are indications that the movement will continue.
According to Kinzer’s historical analysis, the United States cut its
imperial fangs on Mexico in the 1840’s, but Hawaii marked America’s
initial push beyond the North American continent. Two American missionaries,
Amos Starr Cooke and Samuel Castle zealously worked to convert native Hawaiian
“savages” into “civilized” Christians, but eventually
abandoned their missionary work for the profits of the sugar trade. Cooke and
Castle were the fathers of the White American aristocracy in Hawaii. This group
eventually came to wield powerful economic and political influence on the islands
by virtue of the huge sugar plantations they owned. Manipulation of a pliable
Hawaiian monarch whom they had educated enabled them to engineer land reform
which stripped indigenous people of their traditional communal form of land
On January 17, 1893 the Marines landed in Hawaii with a small contingency.
In a bloodless coup, the 6220 Whites (on an archipelago populated by 41,000
native Hawaiians and 28,000 Asian laborers) seized control of the government
and appointed none other than Sanford Dole (cousin to pineapple magnate James
Dole) to lead. By 1897 the United States had formally annexed Hawaii.
Remember the Maine….And a few hundred thousand Filipinos
Fueled by the mainstream media lie that Spain had caused an explosion aboard
the USS Maine, a battleship President McKinley had dispatched to Cuba in 1898,
the United States declared war on Spain, won, and quickly acquired Puerto Rico,
Cuba, and the Philippines in the process. Despite the Teller Amendment in which
Americans had promised Cuban sovereignty, President McKinley justified American
rule of Cuba through the “law of belligerent right over conquered territory.”
The Platt Amendment eventually became the US tool to give outward appearances
of Cuban autonomy without actually ceding full self-determination.
Having defeated Spain in the Philippines, Americans encountered another enemy.
It seems the indigenous people were prepared to forcefully resist their new
masters. Viewing the Philippines as crucial to its business interests in Asia,
the United States fought vigorously to retain its new colony. Sending an occupation
force of 126,000 (eerily similar to the number of troops in Iraq), America suffered
fewer than 5,000 casualties. At least 16,000 Filipino troops and 250,000 civilians
were slaughtered by the United States military. Rampant and blatant atrocities
committed by American soldiers were white-washed by a compliant mainstream media
and farcical Senate hearings in which Henry Cabot Lodge justified American torture,
cruelty and murder by characterizing Filipinos as “semi-civilized people
with all the tendencies and characteristics of Asiatics.”
Better dead than red? Not necessarily….
Throughout its history as an imperial power, the perpetuation of United States
corporate interests abroad has been its primary motivation. However, no analysis
of America’s malignant impact on the world would be complete without addressing
its fixation with crushing movements and governments showing even a hint of
Socialist or Communist tendencies.
Champions of American Capitalism triumphantly proclaim that the totalitarian
and barbaric regimes of Stalin and Mao are “absolute proof” that
any socioeconomic system based on “leftist” ideologies dooms its
people to torture, despotism, and mass murder. Stalin and Mao were indeed murderous
dictators, but the evolution of their regimes do not negate the possibility
of a socioeconomic system placing a reasonable degree of power in the hands
of the working class and affording a more equitable distribution of wealth.
In fact, critical analysis reveals that the manifestation of Capitalism in
the United States has been as morally repugnant and vicious as the regimes the
champions of our system love to cite as evil. Those believing otherwise are
in deep denial.
Domestically, Americans enslaved millions (3.9 million according to the 1860
census) and committed genocide against the millions of indigenous inhabitants
whose land they stole. Aside from the egregious crimes committed against non-Anglos
at home, America’s system of Capitalism exists as the virtual antithesis
of the “Communist” systems of Mao and Stalin in terms of inhumanity.
Instead of pointing its malevolence inward on its “own”, the United
States has committed its wholesale slaughter abroad (i.e. 3 million in Vietnam,
hundreds of thousands in Central America, and at least a million Iraqis, including
the victims of the Gulf War and the brutal economic sanctions). Anglo exemption
from slavery, genocide, and slaughter explains why American Capitalism has outlasted
the “Communism” of Russia and China.
Portrait of a truly ugly American
Kinzer devotes a chapter of Overthrow to former Secretary of State John Foster
Dulles, who could easily have been the poster-child for American Capitalism
and its inherent hypocrisy and malevolence. Dulles easily warrants his own chapter.
He exerted tremendous influence on US foreign policy throughout the Cold War
and orchestrated a number of the interventions detailed in Overthrow.
Kinzer writes of Dulles (who in private life had been a highly successful attorney
representing multinational corporations for the firm of Sullivan & Cromwell):
“He had been shaped by three powerful influences: a uniquely
privileged upbringing, a long career advising the world’s richest corporations,
and a profound religious father. His deepest values, beliefs, and instincts
were those for the international elite in which he had spent his life….”
“According to the most exhaustive book about Sullivan & Cromwell,
the firm thrived on its cartels and collusion with the new Nazi regime, and
Dulles spent much of 1934 publicly supporting Hitler….Soon after World
War II ended, Dulles found in Communism the evil he had been so slow to find
Out of the frying pan….
In Overthrow, Kinzer does more than simply detail the horrific consequences
to the victims of America’s imperial interventions. He also reminds us
of the self-destructive nature of America’s foreign policy. Perhaps the
most timely and poignant example is that of Iran.
In 1951, Mohammad Mossadegh became Iran’s democratically elected prime
minister. To alleviate the abject poverty of many of his people, he quickly
moved to nationalize the oil industry to utilize the profits to benefit Iranians.
The British, who had significant oil interests in Iran, raised serious objections
to Mossadegh’s actions despite the obscene oil profits they had made over
the years in Iran, his offer to compensate them for the oil infrastructure they
had built, and the British government’s recent nationalization of its
own coal and steel industries.
While the existence of the Soviet Union as a rival world power precluded the
use of direct military intervention by the United States, John Foster Dulles
contrived a plan to crush the Socialist “ambitions” of Mossadegh.
Disseminating propaganda through America’s mainstream media (including
the New York Times and Time Magazine) which portrayed Mossadegh as a Communist
while simultaneously utilizing the CIA to create a subversive environment in
Iran, the United States succeeded in toppling Mossadegh and replacing him with
the Shah of Iran. Representing US and Western business interests with great
enthusiasm until he was deposed by radical Islamic elements in 1979, the Shah
ruled Iran autocratically. SAVAK, his intelligence agency, tortured and murdered
thousands of Iranian dissidents.
Like Hugo Chavez is in Venezuela, Mossadegh was anathema to American Capitalism.
Leaders of developing countries who threaten the flow of capital to the Empire
by diverting it to their own people quickly become enemies of the United States.
The irony is that the replacement rulers America installs to preserve its economic
interests are almost always corrupt and murderous dictators who foster deep
hatred of the United States. Ultimately, Washington finds itself grappling with
reactionary regimes which are overtly hostile to the United States, like the
current leadership in Iran.
Like a good neighbor…
Kinzer devotes several chapters of Overthrow to America’s numerous interventions
in Central and South America over the last century. Virtually all were launched
to protect American corporate interests by crushing Leftist governments and
installing business friendly despots like Pinochet in Chile. Corporations like
the United Fruit Company and presidents like Ronald Reagan were responsible
for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Hispanics throughout Central America.
Let them burn
Kinzer also provides an enlightening analysis of the Vietnam debacle. In contrast
to the tissues of lies propagated by America’s media and textbook authors,
Ho Chi Minh was not a threat to US interests. He was too busy striving for independence
from Japan while facing recolonization by France. Neither China nor the Soviet
Union (the “Communist” powers the ruling elite of the United States
professed to fear so greatly because of their “conspiracy to spread Communism”),
was interested in aligning themselves with Minh because of his nationalism.
When Ho Chi Minh spoke to a large group of supporters in Hanoi in 1945,
he stated these subversive “Communist principles”:
“All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator
with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit
Minh greatly admired the United States and even appealed to the American
government for help.
America ignored Minh’s pleas for help. Instead, the United States
chose to take up where France left off and go to war with him. It also chose
to support Ngo Dinh Diem as the leader of South Vietnam. Diem was a rotten human
being and surrounded himself with family members whose corruption and inhumanity
exceeded his own.
When Buddhist leaders led popular protests against the aristocratic
and authoritarian rule of Diem and his family, Thich Quang Duc, a revered bodhisattva,
burned himself to death at a busy Saigon intersection on June 11, 1963.
New York Times reporter David Halberstam witnessed the event and wrote:
"I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were
coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up,
his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human
flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing
of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused
to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think.... As he burned
he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp
contrast to the wailing people around him."
Madame Nhu, a member of the Diem ruling family responded to the protest
“Let them burn. We shall clap our hands.”
She was one of America’s proxies in Vietnam. What does that say
about the United States?
A pattern emerges….
Afghanistan and Iraq are not aberrations in United States foreign policy. Bush
and his Neocons are not “a few bad apples”. They may be more malevolent
than their predecessors, but they are not the first to advance American corporate
and plutocratic interests through lies, propaganda, invasion, and flagrant crimes
against humanity. America’s socioeconomic system has engendered and reinforced
such pathological behavior for years.
In Cannery Row, Steinbeck’s Doc concluded:
“The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness,
honesty, understanding, and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our
system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness,
egotism, and self-interest, are the traits of success.”
In America, the inmates truly run the asylum.
Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow, rife with well-researched examples of America’s
imperial conquests from Mexico to Iraq, further validates the assertion many
other writers and I have been making for some time now. While manifestations
of the dark side of human nature are inevitable aspects of human civilization,
the American Way requires its dedicated adherents to commit their lives to cruelty
and inhumanity. If human civilization is to survive, we need to collectively
reject this abominable mandate.
Jason Miller is a 39 year old sociopolitical essayist with a degree in
liberal arts and an extensive self-education (derived from an insatiable appetite
for reading). He is a member of Amnesty International and an avid supporter
of Oxfam International and Human Rights Watch. He welcomes responses at firstname.lastname@example.org
or comments on his blog, Thomas Paine's Corner, at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com/.