U.S. military's long and bloody history
October 19, 2001 | Pages 6 and 7
FOR THE last century, the U.S. government has taken military action overseas about once a year on average. Its military forces have been deployed around the globe--from the islands of the Caribbean to the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Iraq.
Though they've changed over the years, the stated reasons are always noble--"defending democracy," "stopping fascism," "opposing totalitarianism," "fighting the drug war," "providing humanitarian aid."
But the reality is different.
In describing the interventions that he participated in during the early decades of the 20th century--and the corporate interests he served--U.S. Marine Gen. Smedley Butler said: "I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism."
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman made the same point at the end of the 20th century.
"The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist," Friedman wrote. "McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15, and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technology is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."
As its long and bloody history shows, the U.S. government uses force around the world to pursue its political and economic interests. ERIC RUDER looks at the world's most dangerous "rogue state."
Falling out with their own thugs
OSAMA BIN Laden, Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega are close to the top of the list of those most hated by the U.S. political and military establishment during the last decade.
But these figures have something else in common. They were all once backed by the U.S. and considered key allies before they were demonized as "new Hitlers."
Bin Laden and other Afghans who fought the USSR's occupation of Afghanistan were called "freedom fighters" by Ronald Reagan. The CIA even helped bin Laden set up an operation in Brooklyn to recruit guerrilla fighters!
During the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, the media portrayed Saddam Hussein as a man so vicious that he would use poison gas against his own population. But they never seemed to point out that the U.S. didn't raise a peep about Saddam's brutality--his use of poison gas, for example--when the U.S. was supporting Iraq in its 1980s war against Iran.
Today, with the U.S. bombing Afghanistan in the name of bringing bin Laden to justice, it's especially worth remembering the example of Manuel Noriega--the former strongman of Panama whose role in drug trafficking served as the excuse for an invasion.
Then as now, the villain of the moment was an old ally. In 1984, the U.S. government welcomed the electoral fraud that gave Noriega's military dictatorship a veneer of "democracy." That's because Noriega was allowing the use of Panamanian planes and airfields to aid the U.S.-backed contras in their dirty war against the democratically elected government in Nicaragua--a war that took the lives of more than 30,000 people.
But when Noriega--a longtime CIA "asset"--outlived his usefulness, his former backers turned on him.
Noriega's connections to drugs --which the U.S. had known about for years--was the pretext for a December 1989 invasion. During the operation, U.S. tanks leveled the poor neighborhood of El Chorrillo in Panama City, leaving 15,000 homeless, killing thousands and wounding 3,000 more.
But the first President Bush wasn't fazed. Asked if the thousands of deaths were worth it, Bush responded, "Every human life is precious, and yet I have to answer, yes, it has been worth it."
And for all its rhetoric about democracy, the U.S. replaced Noriega with a bunch of strongmen no better than Noriega. "The U.S. army is putting in the same monster," said Miguel Bernal, a professor of international law at the University of Panama. "They put out Noriega, but they left all the little Noriegas in place."
In the end, the invasion of Panama was about more than Noriega. At the same time, the Berlin Wall was falling in Eastern Europe--signifying the end of the USSR's grip as a superpower. The U.S. wanted the world to know that it was in charge.
"We have to put a shingle outside our door saying 'superpower lives here,' no matter what the Soviets do, even if they evacuate Eastern Europe," Colin Powell, then chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said shortly after the invasion of Panama.
Now the U.S. is declaring a war against terrorism. But only those terrorists that don't bend to U.S. wishes. That's why Colombia's death squads and Turkey's savage military aren't considered terrorists--because they're critical to propping up a pro-U.S. regime.
A real war on terrorism would start at the top of the terrorist food chain--with the U.S. government itself.
U.S. lies cover up real war aims
THERE'S A reason why the U.S. government tells lies about why it's going to war. U.S. officials know they can't hope to gain support by telling the truth--that they're out to dominate the world economically and politically.
So the Gulf War against Iraq wasn't waged for oil profits but to "liberate Kuwait"--a monarchy that denied basic rights to all but a handful of people.
And though George Bush encouraged Iraqis to overthrow Saddam Hussein, the U.S. military allowed Saddam's military to suppress an uprising at the end of the war. The U.S. stood and watched as Iraqi forces killed tens of thousands--the very people that the U.S. claimed to be fighting for. "I, frankly, wished [the uprising] hadn't happened," Brent Scowcroft, Bush's national security adviser at the time, later told ABC News. "I envisioned a postwar government being a military government."
In the end, the U.S. preferred the stability of a dictatorship to the unknown outcome of a popular uprising.
But perhaps the most gruesome U.S. war crime--the slaughter of 200,000 people in the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War--has spawned an equally outrageous lie.
The official reason for dropping the atomic bomb on Japan--repeated so often that it's considered heresy to question it--is that the U.S. was saving the lives of a million American soldiers who otherwise would have died in a ground assault to force Japan's surrender.
But not even Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of U.S. forces in Europe during the war and a future Republican president, agreed with this assessment. "I voiced my misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly, because I thought that our country should avoid the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer necessary to save American lives," said Eisenhower.
The U.S. knew that Japan was looking for a way to surrender--based on decoded Japanese messages that said so. President Harry Truman's diary has an entry dated two weeks before the bombing that describes a "telegram from Jap emperor asking for peace."
But the U.S. wanted to show off its nuclear might--as a warning to its emerging rival, the USSR. "The atomic bomb will put us in a position to dictate terms at the end of the war," said Secretary of State James Byrnes. "After the atomic bomb, Japan will surrender, and Russia will not get in on the kill."
In the end, the atomic bomb had nothing to do with saving lives. It was about beginning the Cold War against the USSR with a display of American ruthlessness.
The new colonial overlord?
BUSH AND the Republicans have waged a years-long campaign against Bill Clinton's foreign policy record. Clinton, they say, committed U.S. forces to "nation-building"--in Somalia, Haiti and the Balkans--to disastrous effect.
But now that Bush is in the White House, he's singing a different tune. The UN should "take over the so-called nation-building--I would call it the stabilization of a future government," Bush declared October 11.
In fact, many conservatives are ditching their criticisms of "state-building" and calling for old-style colonialism!
Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf, for example, wrote an October 10 article titled "The Need for a New Imperialism." In it, he describes Afghanistan as a "failed state" because the "government's monopoly of organized violence--a condition for civilized life--[has] collapsed." Wolf's solution? A UN "protectorate" should be installed to rule the country.
National Review editor Rich Lowry would like to use this model elsewhere, too--for example, in Iraq.
"The bare minimum of U.S. action should be an effort to kill Saddam--from precision cruise-missile strikes to bribes of his close associates--and to topple his regime by proxy," wrote Lowry in an article titled "End Iraq."
"The greatest risk would be to U.S. moral sensitivities. To help push Iraq into chaos and then stand aside would require abiding uncertainty about the ultimate result in Iraq and a willingness to ignore heart-wrenching humanitarian disasters (refugees, ethnic massacres). If we prefer not to court the uncertainty, but to follow instead a path that would oust the Iraqi regime quickly and be much cleaner, the U.S. should jettison half-measures and invade and occupy Iraq."
Welcome to the 19th century--at the beginning of the 21st.
When the bully was beaten
THE U.S. set out to make Vietnam a lesson to any country that might want to "go Communist." But the U.S. ended up learning the lesson--and our side won a huge victory against U.S. imperialism.
To listen to mainstream commentators, the reason that the U.S. lost in Vietnam is that its military never fought the war using its full might.
In truth, the U.S. unleashed one of the most awful military assaults in world history--dropping 7 million tons of bombs, more than twice the total amount dropped on Europe and Asia during the Second World War. U.S. forces carried out war crimes on a mass scale--summary executions, rapes, and the widespread use of chemical weapons such as Agent Orange.
But the U.S. still couldn't defeat the Vietnamese--for three main reasons.
First, while the Vietnamese couldn't match the firepower of the U.S. military, they were fighting for national liberation--which gave them the advantage they needed.
The struggle against the U.S. enjoyed broad popular support, and Vietnamese guerrilla fighters were committed to their fight beyond anything U.S. generals could imagine. "The ability of the Viet Cong to continuously rebuild their units and make good their losses is one of the mysteries of the guerrilla war," said Gen. Maxwell Taylor.
Second, as U.S. soldiers faced growing casualties, questions about the war began to grow. In particular, the idea that the U.S. was fighting for democracy in Vietnam when the entire population opposed the U.S. was hard to sustain.
And for Black troops who suffered the highest casualty rates, the contradiction of fighting a U.S. war abroad while they were denied basic rights at home grew increasingly unbearable. Growing numbers of U.S. soldiers rebelled against the war, making it increasingly difficult for the Pentagon to wage war.
Lastly, the antiwar movement in the U.S. put intense pressure on the White House.
"Washington took on the character of a besieged city," wrote Henry Kissinger, President Nixon's chief foreign policy advisor. "[Nixon], deeply wounded by the hatred of the protesters reached a point of exhaustion that caused his advisors deep concern."
Vietnam shows that even the world's deadliest superpower can be beaten. But this requires a mass struggle here--in the belly of the beast.