International Endowment for Democracy
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The US empire and the death of democracy

By John Gerassi

Throughout history, no empire has survived if it tolerated dissent. It was just as true in Ancient Rome as it is in Modern America. From the day that US policy makers, representing big business and finance capital, decided to control world trade, that is, to become the empire of the world, it has had to eliminate dissent, and therefore genuine democracy. But it did so slowly, within its potential, and always when the pliant media was willing to tout its lies as facts.

Thus in 1825, when President James Monroe proclaimed his famous doctrine of freedom for the Americas, by which he meant, and every Latin American well understood, that the Americas would hereafter be colonies of the US, the media hailed the declaration as a stoic anti-imperialist doctrine. But then there never was an established free press in America; it was always a free-enterprise press, owned mostly by the same business and finance capitalists who controlled the government. Which explains why every newspaper and journal of the times heralded "Manifest Destiny" by which god himself had proclaimed that the Caribbean must become "an American lake."

And so it almost unanimously applauded when the US went to war against Spain to "help" the Cuban revolutionaries when they had already defeated Spain. Nor did the establishment object when the US imposed on Cuba total tutelage through the Platt Amendment, took over the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and various other Spanish colonies which lusted for independence. When it came to Europe, it had to act more slowly, less belligerently, always within its strength and potential. During World War I for example it had to be certain that the European powers were too exhausted to object, and hence waited until 1917 to enter the war. And when it did, it claimed to side with the democracies, forcing the press to mimic its pronouncements that England and France were the good guys and Germany the bully, when in fact it was the allies who started the war to stop Germany's rapidly expanding industrialization. Nor did our media tell Americans that there was much more democracy in Germany than in the so-called allies. In fact Germany then, with its legal Socialist parties, its massive union movement and its workingmen's bill of rights (including three weeks paid yearly holidays), was much freer in 1914 than England is today.

After the war, the US ruling class frightened dissenters by launching nation-wide witch-hunts, first against anarchists by tossing their leader Salcedo out the window of police headquarters, then framing two rank-and-filers, Sacco and Vanzetti, to their death. It jailed Socialists and framed the Wobblies, executing some of its leaders, for opposing entry into World War I. To make sure Americans did not realize the truth, the US elites next went after public universities, the only bastion of academic freedom. One of the worst such witch-hunts was in New York, the Coudert-Rapp Committee, which "investigated" public schools and universities for "subversive" teachers, and arranged to have them drummed out of their schools. For all the talk about democracy, it was little by little disappearing.

The US constitution correctly defines the fundamental prerequisite for democracy: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But no country can be democratic if all of its people do not have access to life, that is health. Nor can a country be free if its citizens do not have easy access to choices, the result of free, equal education. And no people can pursue happiness, unless they are healthy and educated.

But the US, while proclaiming itself the bastion of freedom, quickly made sure that the poor, the worker, the sharecropper, the non-white, the immigrant would not have access to either prerequisite; it made health private and expensive and education financed by local taxes. The result of course was that the rich went to the good schools, the poor to the mediocre ones. Today in Westchester County, where the rich pay the local taxes, every student is allotted a yearly $17,520; in Bayou, Mississippi, where folks are so poor they own nothing and survive by catching cat-fish, as the CBS "Sixty Minutes" program documented, each student must do with $60, a State subsidy at that. The last science book purchased by the high school's library is dated 1961.

Though many of the idiotic Republicans never understood that Franklin Roosevelt was saving their capitalism for them, it was he who decided to make the US a two-ocean power, by turning Japan into an enemy to stop its industrialization. FDR imposed boycotts on Japan of steel, manganese, oil, bauxite, thus forcing the mineral-void island to invade other countries for its needed minerals. And it was FDR who set up the machinery of state to crush serious dissent in America, which his heirs employed to the fullest. The arbitrary arrest and incarceration of Japanese Americans, even if they were born in the US, would later give impetus to Colonel North and his NSA henchmen to set up concentration camps all over the West, and frighten the Latino population into submissiveness when his boss, President Reagan, and the fascist team working for him (Poindexter, McFarland, Weinburger, Perle, Abrams, et al) decided to crush a legally and very fairly elected Nicaraguan government, calling it Marxist-Leninists, because it had the gall to institute the first minimum wage law of Central America ($1.27). The OSS (Office of Strategic Services) which FDR allowed to operate all over the world without oversight, stimulated President Truman to enact the National Security Act 1968 (that's just a number, the date was 1946), creating the CIA and the various loyalty boards under which 1.2 million people lost their jobs without being able to confront their accusers.

Senator Joseph McCarthy's "anti-Communist" crusades did the US ruling class a disservice for a while by overdoing it, causing some newsmen (Edward R. Murrow) and academics (Harvard President Pusey) to fight back, especially after two more rank-and-filer dissidents, in this case the Communists Rosenbergs, were executed. But the US ruling class never lost track of its main goal: pervert, intimidate, or force all other countries to accept the US 's criteria for world trade.

Bush II's infamous "if you're not with us you're against us" is not new to US policy. Nor was it new with President Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Forster Dulles, who was the first to affirm categorically that the US had a right to demolish any country opposed to "our new order". No, even before him, that great statesman whom every liberal adores, General George Marshall, made it quite clear in testifying before the House Foreign Relations Committee that his objective (known since as "The Marshall Plan") was to rekindle Europe as a market for US goods, and any neutralist opposed to it was "as dangerous as any communist."

No poor country can develop its infrastructure, build low-cost housing, hospitals, universities, self-defense forces without capital accumulation. No poor country can achieve such accumulation by allowing foreign companies to run its utilities, its banks, its mines. Latin America has 75% of the goodies the US needs to maintain its industrial might, under its ground. The US does not have enough iron (steel), cobalt, bauxite (aluminum), manganese, diamonds (industrial), to keep its imperial machinery running. Hence it wants what Latin America has. To get it, it supports every dictator it can bribe, and it opposes every independent government which dares to try to develop its own country's economy. So the US plotted against Argentina's Peron (a "Nazi" it said), Frondizi (a "Communist)", Brazil's Vargas (another Nazi), Quadros (too conservative to be a red so a "nut"), Goulart (another communist), etc., and of course Allende, and supported all the petty dictators in Central America and the Caribbean, from Somoza to Trujillo. To succeed, the US had to create death squads, organize Operation Condor assassination teams, plan dirty wars, foster vicious military coups and, as NYTimesman Langguth so eloquently described in his book, teach all the two-bit gangsters corralled into the local police force, how to torture. Always to support US corporations exploiting Latin lands. With what results? Every year, 5 million kids under the age of 14 die in Latin America alone from lack of potable water where that water is used and polluted by American mining (especially nitrate) corporations. Hitler may have killed over 50 million people with his drive to create a thousand-year Reich, Stalin 20 or 30 million to cater to his paranoia, but the US has murdered more than 100 million people in the last century alone just to satisfy the greed of its corporate executives. It can do all that because it is not a democracy, its elected officials are whores, embedded to whatever corporations which give them the biggest re-election booty.

Does the average American know any of this? Does the mainstream media report any of these facts? No wonder then that when a Latino rebels or an Arab blows himself up with a few US soldiers, the average American thinks the Latino is an ingrate, the Moslem a fanatic. What paper tells him that only 14 percent of suicide bombers are religious? What TV anchorman tells him that the CIA murdered every decent leader the Third World ever had, incorruptible leaders who wanted to better the lot of their people? Egypt's Nasser (heart attack by poison), Iraq's Kassem (shot by CIA employee Saddam Hussein), Algeria's Frantz Fanon (leukemia by poison in a US hospital), Guyana's Cheddi Jagan (heart attack by poison), Congo's Lumumba (by CIA and Belgian local gunmen), Che Guevara (by Cuban CIA employees), Indonesia's Sukarno (by Japanese World War II collaborator Gen. Suharto under CIA orders), the Cameroon's Felix Moumie, Um Nyobe and Osende Afana (by French CIA thugs), Guinea's Amilcar Cabral (shot in the back by a local CIA operative), ad infinitum.

Most of the people of the world (not in the US) know that it was the US which started the Cold War in 1946, by violating the Berlin treaty whereby each of the victorious powers would rule the city together, backed by a currency defended by the four. But the US decided to issue a mark backed by the dollar. So the English did the same, and so too the French. When the Russians decided to follow suit, the West cried foul. Why did the US want the war? Because it could then launch an arms race and have its citizens pay for it, by frightening them with the coming nuclear war. Those of you old enough will remember all those alarms and tests, where we had to scamper under the nearest table to "protect" ourselves against the A-bomb dropping on our heads. Fear! That was the object, and it made the industrial-military complex rich. Nothing better than weapons: once one is built it is obsolete, so let's build another. And another. And another. Who is going to object to paying taxes for our defense? Building hospitals is profitable to the builder, but it can't be rebuilt every year. But weapon systems can, and do. And just to make sure we stayed in fear, the CIA lied to us; for 20 years, it claimed that Russia was way ahead of the US in arms build-up. For 20 years it lied, so the complex could keep making money -- on average-Joe's taxes.

To get the American public to buy US intervention in the Middle East, the Russians gave us Afghanistan. The co-called Communist regime which came to power during Breshnev's reign was quite good, better than Afghanistan ever had. It built schools, hospitals, roads. It allowed women to work, to walk the streets without shadors or burkas if they wanted, to demand that their husbands have only one wife. The fanatic tribesmen were outraged and launched a counter war against Kabul. Their operations were on the border with Soviet Russia, which was worried that fundamentalist Moslems would sweep into Russia as well. So Moscow intervened, and our ruling class warmongers immediately called the Kabul regime "Marxist-Leninist." The only Marx its leaders had ever heard of was probably Groucho. President Carter surely knew that, since all he did was condemn the Soviet intervention by boycotting the Olympics scheduled for Moscow that year. But Reagan and his cohorts jubilantly saw their chance to start dominating the whole area. The CIA poured weapons and money ($44 million to what was to be Taliban) to the worst fanatics in the whole Middle East. And the Pentagon set up the most advanced base it could build in Saudi Arabia.

How would Americans react if, on the guise of helping the US stop Cuban exile terrorism, Fidel built a huge modern military base in North Carolina? As President de Gaulle told a worried British Prime Minister Macmillan on his way to meet JFK and hoping to resist US domination: "Too late. England is now nothing more than an aircraft carrier for US goods and policies. No country can be free if it has a foreign base on its territory." The effect of the US base in Saudi Arabia was immediate. Every Moslem whose creed opposes foreigners stationed on their land and every Saudi who hopes one day to be genuinely independent rallied to those who denounced it. But don't castigate the Reagan administration for that. On the contrary, that's what the US ruling class wanted: a "war of religion". If only the Moslems got really angry, maybe they might resort to a bit of terrorism. And then the politics of fear would continue. Instead of a Cold War, the US would now fight the War on Terror. And once again, taxes would go for weapons, military bases, cops, agents, torturers, assassins, with no money left for hospitals, schools, entitlements, invalid children, AIDS, for anything human. Thanks to "Terror", taxes would continue to go for death. Because death makes more money for the rich. And to "defend ourselves," the ruling class could tighten its repression.

Anyone who looks Moslem could now be jailed. And any foreigner the US didn't like could become an "enemy combatant." The US could now torture anyone it wanted to at home or, if some lawyers objected, send them to Egypt, Pakistan, Uzbekistan or some other dictatorship-run friend of the US, where they might be tortured without interference, secretly. It is called "rendition". How many of the 1500 American Moslems whom the ACLU has identified as "disappeared" are being rendered abroad? Every day we learn of a new case. The Canadian citizen taken off a plane at JFK airport, sent to his native Syria, tortured there for three years. The German Moslem, "not tortured only severely beaten" for nine months and held long enough to force his family back to Lebanon. The American Lebanese picked up in the street by FBI goons who refused to notify his family and held him incomunicado for three years, compelling his wife and two kids to abandon their lives in Queens, New York. Not to mention systematic torture in Guantanamo, Abu Graib, US detention camps in Afghanistan and, we now are told, in US prisons as well. Amnesty International defines the US camp at Guantanamo as a "Gulag." Logic and careful analysis of the facts tell us that the US runs Gulags wherever it dominates a country.

Some of that information is now known to the average American. But not all. Not enough, thanks to a pliable media, for average-Joe to understand that the FBI, CIA, DIA, NSA, and most local US police corps are today no better than the Gestapo or the KGB goons. And to make sure that average Joe does not get to know the extent of US atrocities, the government is now trying to silence even defense lawyers.

So for you and me, who don't look Moslem or Latino or Hindu or Apache, beware: one wrong word and, under the US Patriot ACT, we will face the charge of aiding and abetting the terrorists. And we will find it harder and harder to find a lawyer willing to defend us, that is if we are not simply "disappeared" to Tashkent or Ryad. Under the War on Terror, nothing can stop the empire. Years ago, the State Department hawk who invented the rational for the Cold War, the former ambassador to Moscow who invented "containment," euphemistically meant to give an acceptable term to the US policy of surrounding Soviet Russia (and making the Russians so scared of our first strike policy that the US, in effect, created and is responsible for post-war Stalin), the great statesman George Kennan said:

We have about 50 percent of the world's wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships that will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We should cease the talk about vague, unreal objectives, such as human rights, raising of living standards and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

In other words, said this great American statesman, forget democracy. We don't have it, we don't want it. And let's stop pushing it on our totalitarian friends.


  
 
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