Southern Views

The persistence of a fairy tale portraying the United States as a benevolent force in the world, promoting freedom, democracy, health and happiness for all is attributable in part to the fact that embracing the belief is often prerequisite to substantial material abundance, while questioning it can bar the road to such rewards. This would of course hold true, in one form or another, for any of the many empires littering the historical landscape, an insight that might be tolerable if held toward other societies, though it is probably wise to keep it to oneself, but never is it to be seen/said to apply here. Chomsky calls this view U.S. Exceptionalism.

Those who rise in the mainstream (corporate) pundit journalism profession are not those who point out inconsistencies in the tale, no more than those in the church who rise to Cardinal, Bishop etc; are those who question basic assumptions. No, it is “faith” that elevates one to the higher reaches. Those with little (or no) faith must apply only to the marginal congregations, the fringe journals that pay writers in the high two figures.

So reading Noam Chomsky demands a certain suspension of belief in order to consider evidence normally excluded as unduly disturbing to received wisdom. There in the UNwonderland one encounters some surprising notions – Power and Terror, Conflict, Hegemony and the Rule of Force, the Chomsky book under discussion here. The U.S. for example, as an Imperial Power, is a “settler-colonial society” meaning that the native inhabitants were not integrated into the colonial project but were rather exterminated or driven out. An even more unspeakable truth in the world of the mainstream pundit, or intellectual class as Chomsky likes to phrase it, is that “settler-colonial society” applies equally to one of the United States’ chief allies, Israel. This view, though at extreme odds with convention, has the advantage of evaporating the difficulty understanding the puzzling lack of progress in the Israeli/Palestinian “peace process”. There is no progress because the U.S. and Israel are “settler-colonial societies, standing in the way of a world-wide consensus for a two-state solution.

In 1967 Israel, in a quick little war, expanded it’s territory considerably. The United Nations in Resolution 242 called for a peace settlement where Israel would return to it’s borders. Egypt later expanded upon the resolution, adding the idea that a Palestinian state would reside in the occupied territories with security guarantees for Israel. In the U.S. a rivalry between Henry Kissinger and the State Department ended in Kissinger’s favor which meant a veto to support Israel’s decision to choose expansion over security, militarism over diplomacy. A consequence of this decision was the 1973 war with Egypt, a very close call for Israel. For a U.S. pundit, politician or policy maker, to perceive this account is dangerous, to speak it is a career killer.

But lest we stray into the treacherous charge of anti-semitism let’s consider the fairy tale as it applies elsewhere. Iran was “good” after its parliamentary democracy was overthrown (by the U.S. and Britain in 1954) and the Shah installed as a vicious dictator with one of the worst human rights records on the planet. Then it was “bad” when the people overthrew the puppet (unfortunately leading to a medieval theocracy). And it gets “badder and badder” as it continues to refuse to follow orders. It interferes with the internal affairs of Iraq whereas, in the fairy tale remember, U.S. presence is solely for the purposes of promoting freedom and democracy, nothing to do with oil or empire. This by the by also accounts for U.S./NATO bombing of Serbia – failure to follow orders! – but in the fairy tale the bombing was to stop ethnic killing. Even Molly Ivins fell for that one (see Chomsky’s The New Military Humanism).

Haiti, another example: Woodrow Wilson had Haiti invaded in 1915. Its parliamentary system was destroyed, 15,000 Haitains killed and slavery re-instituted. A brutal, murderous national guard was created, a force that has pretty much run things ever since. Two interruptions of note: the ascendancy of populist leader Aristide, twice, both ending in U.S.-supported coups (no U.S.-supported coups during the murderous regimes). How is this presented in the fairy tale version? The U.S., frustrated in its attempts to bring democracy to a backward nation that is perhaps not ready for such advanced ideas, plows on in its maybe naïve mission, to bring enlightenment to the dark corners of the world. By the way: Haiti hosted the first successful slave revolt. A French colony at the time, France, supported by the U.S., demanded reparations, re-payment for loss of its “investment”, a payment plan that kept Haiti impoverished right up until Wilson’s coup de grace.

More fairy tale: during Ronald Reagan’s presidency Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) were branded terrorist organizations while South Africa, virtually enslaving the majority of its citizens and invading nearby nations to deadly effect (1. 5 million deaths) were participants in “Constructive Engagement”. Examining Amnesty International’s records on torture and U.S. foreign aid, Prof. Edward Herman reveals an interesting correlation. Not that the U.S. is interested in torture per se but it seems to accompany the kind of regimes the U.S. favors, regimes that just happen to have close (dependent) relations with U.S. corporations whose operations are so unfair to the general population that it turns out to be more economical to suppress and terrorize the population than to compensate properly for extracted resources and labor.

Thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement we have very handy shorthand with which to characterize the long tradition of who rules in the U.S. and for whose benefit. And we can look to another slogan, slightly modified, to see what can be done about it –  99%-ers of the world, unite!

Tom Ferguson

Tom Ferguson

Tom is a painter, a cartoonist, a musician, a thinker and more. View some of his web sites:

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