It is extremely difficult to look in the mirror, at ourselves and at our country, even more so for those of us who have served in the military.
But, if we do not start to understand the world, we will not survive. We need democracy to deal with this crisis. We need to understand how little democracy we have in the United States and how the “national interest” of corporations have ruthlessly destroyed any outbreak of democracy in client countries of the world.
Most of you likely strongly disagree and are furious. But nature is not affected by your feelings, only by the destructive actions of our economic/political/cultural system. The survival of our children is at stake. Now we need courage to examine ourselves and our impact on the world.
Except for the contiguous land of North America and roughly a decade starting in 1898 when the United States took open control of distant lands, acquiring territories (read United States Empire Crossed the Oceans in 1898), the United States has used covert and overt actions to overthrow governments that serve their citizens and not the business interests of the United States, while retaining the appearance of independent nations (read War Is A Racket, by Major General Smedley Butler, 1935). This is our “national interest”. The leaders of countries independent of our corporate interests, serving their citizens, are “dictators” of “socialist” or “communist” countries. The countries that serve the US corporations are “democracies” or “moderate” monarchies, totally independent of extreme brutality to their citizens to enforce this suffering. The labels that the US applies only depend on whether their government serves the US corporations.
The United States is not the only country that took control of foreign lands. This has been common throughout history. Empires of the past, from ancient China, Egypt, Greece and Rome through Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain and the Soviet Union were proud and open about the extent of their empires. But times have changed. The people have been told that the United States is the finest democracy and defender of human rights. The United States empire is larger, but hidden.
This is all very well supported by government documents and actual events. It is hidden by our government, media and history as normally written and taught. They all have a financial stake in deceiving us.
I have attached several excerpts from “Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky”, 2002 by Noam Chomsky.
Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky
2002 by Noam Chomsky, Peter Rounds Mitchell, and John Schoeffel
Teach-In: Over Coffee
Based primarily on discussions at Rowe, Massachusetts, April 15–16, 1989.
“Containing” the Soviet Union in the Cold War
WOMAN: Dr. Chomsky, it seems the terms of political discourse themselves are a tool for propagandizing the population. How is language used to prevent us from understanding and to disempower us?
Well, the terminology we use is heavily ideologically laden, always. Pick your term: if it’s a term that has any significance whatsoever—like, not “and” or “or”—it typically has two meanings, a dictionary meaning and a meaning that’s used for ideological warfare. So, “terrorism” is only what other people do. What’s called “Communism” is supposed to be “the far left”: in my view, it’s the far right, basically indistinguishable from fascism. These guys that everybody calls “conservative,” any conservative would turn over in their grave at the sight of them—they’re extreme statists, they’re not “conservative” in any traditional meaning of the word. “Special interests” means labor, women, blacks, the poor, the elderly, the young—in other words, the general population. There’s only one sector of the population that doesn’t ever get mentioned as a “special interest,” and that’s corporations, and business in general—because they’re the “national interest.” Or take “defense”: I have never heard of a state that admits it’s carrying out an aggressive act, they’re always engaged in “defense,” no matter what they’re doing—maybe “preemptive defense” or something.
Or look at the major theme of modern American history, “containment”—as in, “the United States is containing Soviet expansionism.” Unless you accept that framework of discussion when talking about international affairs in the modern period, you are just not apart of accepted discourse here: everybody has to begin by assuming that for the last half-century the United States has been “containing” the Soviet Union.
Well, the rhetoric of “containment” begs all questions—once you’ve accepted the rhetoric of “containment,” it really doesn’t matter what you say, you’ve already given up everything. Because the fundamental question is, is it true? Has the United States been “containing” the Soviet Union? Well, you know, on the surface it looks a little odd. I mean, maybe you think the Soviet Union is the worst place in history, but they’re conservative—whatever rotten things they’ve done, they’ve been inside the Soviet Union and right around its borders, in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan and so on. They never do anything anywhere else. They don’t have troops stationed anywhere else. They don’t have intervention forces positioned all over the world like we do.1 So what does it mean to say we’re “containing” them?
We’ve been talking about the media and dumping on them, so why not turn to scholarship? Diplomatic history’s a big field, people win big prizes, get fancy professorships. Well, if you look at diplomatic history, it too is in the framework of “containment,” even the so-called dissidents. I mean, everybody has to accept the premise of “containment,” or you simply will not have an opportunity to proceed in these fields. And in the footnotes of the professional literature on containment, often there are some revealing things said.
For example, one of the major scholarly books on the Cold War is called Strategies of Containment, by John Lewis Gaddis—it’s the foremost scholarly study by the top diplomatic historian, so it’s worth taking a look at. Well, in discussing this great theme, “strategies of containment,” Gaddis begins by talking about the terminology. He says at the beginning: it’s true that the term “containment” begs some questions, yes it presupposes somethings, but nevertheless, despite the question of whether it’s factually accurate, it still is proper to adopt it as the framework for discussion. And the reason why it’s proper is because it was the perception of American leaders that they were taking a defensive position against the Soviet Union—so, Gaddis concludes, since that was the perception of American leaders, and since we’re studying American history, it’s fair to continue in that framework.2
Well, just suppose some diplomatic historian tried that with the Nazis. Suppose somebody were to write a book about German history and say, “Well, look, Hitler and his advisors certainly perceived their position as defensive”—which is absolutely true: Germany was under “attack” by the Jews, remember. Go back and look at the Nazi literature, they had to defend themselves against this virus, this bacillus that was eating away at the core of modern civilization—and you’ve got to defend yourself, after all. And they were under “attack” by the Czechs, and by the Poles, and by European encirclement. That’s not a joke. In fact, they had a better argument there than we do with the Soviet Union—they were encircled, and “contained,” and they had this enormous Versailles debt stuck on them for no reason after World War I. Okay, so suppose somebody wrote a book saying: “Look, the Nazi leadership perceived themselves as taking a defensive stance against external and internal aggression; it’s true it begs some questions, but we’ll proceed that way—now we’ll talk about how they defended themselves against the Jews by building Auschwitz, and how they defended themselves against the Czechs by invading Czechoslovakia, how they defended themselves against the Poles, and soon.” If anybody tried to do that, you wouldn’t even bother to laugh—but about the United States, that’s the only thing you can say: it’s not just that it’s acceptable, it’s that anything else is unacceptable.
And when you pursue the matter further, it becomes even more interesting. So for example, in this same book Gaddis points out—again, in sort of a footnote, an aside he doesn’t elaborate on—that it’s a striking fact that when you look over the American diplomatic record since World War II, all of our decisions about how to contain the Soviet Union, like the arms buildups, the shifts to détente, all those things, reflected largely domestic economic considerations. Then he sort of drops the point.3 Well, what does that mean? What does Gaddis mean by that? There he’s beginning to enter into the realm of truth. See, the truth of the matter, and it’s very well-supported by declassified documents and other evidence, is that military spending is our method of industrial management—it’s our way of keeping the economy profitable for business. So just take a look at the major declassified documents on military spending, they’re pretty frank about it. For example, N.S.C. 68 [National Security Council Memorandum 68] is the major Cold War document, as everybody agrees, and one of the things it says very clearly is that without military spending, there’s going to be an economic decline both in the United States and world-wide—so consequently it calls for a vast increase in military spending in the U.S., in addition to breaking up the Soviet Union.4
You have to remember the context in which these decisions were being made, after all. This was right after the Marshall Plan had failed, right after the post-war aid programs had failed. There still had been no success as yet in reconstructing either the Japanese or Western European economies—and American business needed them; American manufacturers needed those export markets desperately. See, the Marshall Plan was designed largely as an export-promotion operation for American business, not as the noblest effort in history and so on. But it had failed: we hadn’t rebuilt the industrial powers we needed as allies and reconstructed the markets we needed for exports. And at that point, military spending was considered the one thing that could really do it, it was seen as the engine that could drive economic growth after the wartime boom ended, and prevent the U.S. from slipping back into a depression.5 And it worked: military spending was a big stimulus to the U.S. economy, and it led to the rebuilding of Japanese industry, and the rebuilding of European industry—and in fact, it has continued to be our mode of industrial management right up to the present. So in that little comment Gaddis was getting near the main story: he was saying, post-war American decisions on rearmament and détente have been keyed to domestic economic considerations—but then he drops it, and we go back to talking about “containment” again.
And if you look still closer at the scholarship on “containment,” it’s even more intriguing. For example, in another book Gaddis discusses the American military intervention in the Soviet Union right after the Bolshevik Revolution—when we tried to overthrow the new Bolshevik government by force—and he says that was defensive and that was containment: our invasion of the Russian land mass. And remember, I’m not talking about some right-wing historian; this is the major, most respected, liberal diplomatic historian, the dean of the field: he says the military intervention by 13 Western nations in the Soviet Union in 1918 was a “defensive” act. And why was it defensive? Well, there’s a sense in which he’s right. He says it was “defensive” because the Bolsheviks had declared a challenge to the existing order throughout the West, they had offered a challenge to Western capitalism—and naturally we had to defend ourselves. And the only way we could defend ourselves was by sending troops to Russia, so that’s a “defensive” invasion, that’s “defense.”6
And if you look at that history in more detail, you’ll find the point is even more revealing. So for example, right after the Bolshevik Revolution, American Secretary of State Robert Lansing warned President Wilson that the Bolsheviks are “issuing an appeal to the proletariat of all nations, to the illiterate and mentally deficient, who by their very numbers are supposed to take control of all governments.” And since they’re issuing an appeal to the mass of the population in other countries to take control of their own affairs, and since that mass of the population are the “mentally deficient” and the “illiterate”—you know, all these poor slobs out there who have to be kept in their place, for their own good—that’s an attack on us, and therefore we have to defend ourselves.7 And what Wilson actually did was to “defend ourselves” in the two obvious ways: first by invading Russia to try to prevent that challenge from being issued, and second by initiating the Red Scare at home [a 1919 campaign of U.S. government repression and propaganda against “Communists”] to crush the threat that anyone here might answer the appeal. Those were both a part of the same intervention, the same “defensive” intervention.
And it’s the same right up until today. Why do we have to get rid of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua? In reality it’s not because anybody really thinks that they’re a Communist power about to conquer the Hemisphere—it’s because they were carrying out social programs that were beginning to succeed, and which would have appealed to other people in Latin America who want the same things. In 1980 the World Bank estimated that it would take Nicaragua ten years just to get back to the economic level it had in 1977, because of the vast destruction inflicted at the end of the Somoza reign [the four-decade Nicaraguan family dictatorship ousted by the Sandinista revolution in July 1979]. But nevertheless, under the Sandinista government Nicaragua was in fact beginning economic development: it was establishing health programs, and social programs, and things were starting to improve for the general population there.8 Well, that set off the alarm bells in New York and Washington, like it always does, and we had to stop it—because it was issuing an appeal to the “illiterate and mentally deficient” in other desperate countries, like Honduras and Guatemala, to do the same thing. That’s what U.S. planners call the “domino theory,” or the threat of a good example,” and pretty soon the whole U.S.-dominated system starts to fall apart.9
Orwell’s World and Ours
Well, all of that is within the rhetoric of “containing” Communism—and we could easily go on. But there’s one word. You look at any other term of political discourse, and you’re going to find the same thing: the terms of political discourse are designed so as to prevent thought. One of the main ones is this notion of “defense.” So look at the diplomatic record of any country you want—Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Libya, pick your favorite horror-story—you’ll find that everything they ever did was “defensive”; I’m sure if we had records from Genghis Khan we would find that what he was doing was “defensive” too. And here in the United States you cannot challenge that—no matter how absurd it gets.
Like, we can be “defending” South Vietnam. I have never seen in the media, never in thirty years that I have been looking carefully, one phrase even suggesting that we were not defending South Vietnam. Now, we weren’t: we were attacking South Vietnam. We were attacking South Vietnam as clearly as any aggression in history. But try to find one phrase anywhere in any American newspaper, outside of real marginal publications, just stating that elementary fact. It’s unstatable.10
It’s unstatable in the scholarly literature. Gaddis again, when he talks about the battle of Dienbienphu, where the French made their last stand to keep colonial control over Indochina, he describes it as a defensive struggle.11 McGeorge Bundy, in his book on the history of the military system, talks about how the United States toyed with the idea of using nuclear weapons in 1954 to help the French maintain their position at Dienbienphu, and he says: we were thinking about it to assist the French in their “defense” of Indochina.12 He doesn’t say defense against whom, you know, because that would be too idiotic—like, was it defense against the Russians or something? No. They were defending Indochina against the Indochinese.13 But no matter how absurd it is, you cannot question that in the United States. I mean, these are extremes of ideological fanaticism—in other countries, you could at least raise these kinds of questions. Some of you are journalists: try talking about the American “attack” on South Vietnam. Your editors will think you came from Mars or something, there was no such event in history. Of course, there was in real history.
Or take the idea that the United States is supporting “democracy” all over the world. Well, there’s a sense in which that’s true. But what does it mean? When we support “democracy,” what do we support? I mean, is “democracy” something where the population takes part in running the country? Well, obviously not. For instance, why are El Salvador and Guatemala “democratic,” but Nicaragua [i.e. under the Sandinista Party] not “democratic”? Why? Is it because two of them had elections and the other one didn’t? No. In fact, Nicaragua’s election [in 1984] was a hundred times as good as any election in El Salvador.14 Is it because there’s a lack of popular political participation in Nicaragua? No. Is it because the political opposition can’t survive there? No, the political opposition is barely harassed in Nicaragua; in El Salvador and Guatemala it’s just murdered.15 Is it that there can’t be an independent press in Nicaragua? No, the Nicaraguan press is one of the freest presses in the world, much more so than the American press has ever been—the United States has never tolerated a newspaper even remotely like La Prensa in Nicaragua [opposition paper supported by the U.S. during the contra war], not even close: in any time of crisis here, the American government has shut down even tiny dissident newspapers, forget a major newspaper funded by the foreign power that’s attacking the country and which is openly calling for the overthrow of the government.16 That degree of freedom of the press is absolutely inconceivable here. In El Salvador, there was an independent press at one time—it was wiped out by the U.S.-backed security forces, who just murdered the editor of one newspaper and blew up the premises of the other.17 Okay, that takes care of that independent press.
So you know, by what criteria are El Salvador and Guatemala “democratic” and Nicaragua not? Well, there is a criterion: in Nicaragua [under the Sandinistas], business elements are not represented in dominating the state much beyond their numbers, so it’s not a “democracy.” In El Salvador and Guatemala, the governments are run by the military for the benefit of the local oligarchies—the landowners, rich businessmen, and rising professionals—and those people are tied up with the United States, so therefore those countries are “democracies.” It doesn’t matter if they blow up the independent press, and kill off the political opposition, and slaughter tens of thousands of people, and never run anything remotely like a free election—all of that is totally irrelevant. They’re “democracies,” because the right people are running them; if the right people aren’t running them, then they’re not “democracies.” And on this again there is uniformity: try to find anyone in the American press, anyone, who is willing to break ranks on the idea that there are four democracies in Central America and one totalitarian state [i.e. Sandinista Nicaragua] that never had a free election—just try to find one statement rebutting that. And if the killings in El Salvador and Guatemala are ever mentioned in the American press, they’ll always call it “Death Squads Out of Control,” or “Extremists Out of Control.” Now, the fact of the matter is that the extremists are in Washington, and what they’re controlling are the Salvadoran and Guatemalan militaries—but you’ll never find that in an American newspaper.
WOMAN: Then is the basic goal of the United States when it intervenes in Third World countries to destroy left-wing governments in order to keep them from power?
No, the primary concern is to prevent independence, regardless of the ideology. Remember, we’re the global power, so we have to make sure that all the various parts of the world continue serving their assigned functions in our global system. And the assigned functions of Third World countries are to be markets for American business, sources of resources for American business, to provide cheap labor for American business, and so on. I mean, there’s no big secret about that—the media won’t tell you and scholarship won’t tell you, but all you have to do is look at declassified government documents and this is all explained very frankly and explicitly.
The internal documentary record in the United States goes way back, and it says the same thing over and over again. Here’s virtually a quote: the main commitment of the United States, internationally in the Third World, must be to prevent the rise of nationalist regimes which are responsive to pressures from the masses of the population for improvement in low living standards and diversification of production; the reason is, we have to maintain a climate that is conducive to investment, and to ensure conditions which allow for adequate repatriation of profits to the West. Language like that is repeated year after year in top-level U.S. planning documents, like National Security Council reports on Latin America and so on—and that’s exactly what we do around the world.52
So the nationalism we oppose doesn’t need to be left-wing—we’re just as much opposed to right-wing nationalism. I mean, when there’s a right-wing military coup which seeks to turn some Third World country on a course of independent development, the United States will also try to destroy that government—we opposed Perón in Argentina, for example.53 So despite what you always hear, U.S. interventionism has nothing to do with resisting the spread of “Communism,” it’s independence we’ve always been opposed to everywhere—and for quite a good reason. If a country begins to pay attention to its own population, it’s not going to be paying adequate attention to the overriding needs of U.S. investors. Well, those are unacceptable priorities, so that government’s just going to have to go.
And the effects of this commitment throughout the Third World are dramatically clear: it takes only a moment’s thought to realize that the areas that have been the most under U.S. control are some of the most horrible regions in the world. For instance, why is Central America such a horror-chamber? I mean, if a peasant in Guatemala woke up in Poland [i.e. under Soviet occupation], he’d think he was in heaven by comparison—and Guatemala’s an area where we’ve had a hundred years of influence. Well, that tells you something. Or look at Brazil: potentially an extremely rich country with tremendous resources, except it had the curse of being part of the Western system of subordination. So in northeast Brazil, for example, which is a rather fertile area with plenty of rich land, just it’s all owned by plantations, Brazilian medical researchers now identify the population as a new species with about 40 percent the brain size of human beings, a result of generations of profound malnutrition and neglect—and this may be un-remediable except after generations, because of the lingering effects of malnutrition on one’s offspring.54 Alright, that’s a good example of the legacy of our commitments, and the same kind of pattern runs throughout the former Western colonies.
In fact, if you look at the countries that have developed in the world, there’s a little simple fact which should be obvious to anyone on five minutes’ observation, but which you never find anyone saying in the United States: the countries that have developed economically are those which were not colonized by the West; every country that was colonized by the West is a total wreck. I mean, Japan was the one country that managed to resist European colonization, and it’s the one part of the traditional Third World that developed. Okay, Europe conquered everything except Japan, and Japan developed. What does that tell you? Historians of Africa have actually pointed out that if you look at Japan when it began its industrialization process [in the 1870s], it was at about the same developmental level as the Asante kingdom in West Africa in terms of resources available, level of state formation, degree of technological development, and so on.55 Well, just compare those two areas today. It’s true there were a number of differences between them historically, but the crucial one is that Japan wasn’t conquered by the West and the Asante kingdom was, by the British—so now West Africa is West Africa economically, and Japan is Japan.
Japan had its own colonial system too, incidentally—but its colonies developed, and they developed because Japan didn’t treat them the way the Western powers treated their colonies. The Japanese were very brutal colonizers, they weren’t nice guys, but they nonetheless developed their colonies economically; the West just robbed theirs. So if you look at the growth rate of Taiwan and Korea during the period of Japanese colonization, it was approximately the same as Japan’s own growth rate through the early part of this century—they were getting industrialized, developing infrastructure, educational levels were going up, agricultural production was increasing. In fact, by the 1930s, Formosa (now Taiwan) was one of the commercial centers of Asia.56 Well, just compare Taiwan with the Philippines, an American colony right next door: the Philippines is a total basket-case, a Latin American-style basket-case. Again, that tells you something.