FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

American Crusades

A generation ago the US launched wars against poor countries in Southeast Asia and killed millions; Americans were told that it was a necessary step in the crusade against communism. Now in the midst of a war against a poor county in Southwest Asia, we are told that it is a necessary step in what the president called a “crusade against terrorism.”

Mr. Bush was quickly taken aside and told, perhaps without explanation, that that term would not do. But he was undoubtedly right in connecting the two crusades, as he has now done several times. And he has extended the parallel to the campaign against fascism, the account of which by the Supreme Commander, Dwight Eisenhower, was called CRUSADE IN EUROPE. Our president has gone so far as to connect the crusades on the level of personal psychology, and it’s difficult not to hear a reference to his own family in this careful plant in USA TODAY: “Bush has told advisers that he believes confronting this enemy is a chance for him and his fellow baby boomers to refocus their lives and prove they have the same kind of valor and commitment their fathers showed in World War II.”

Terrorism has clearly taken over that pride of place that communism occupied for so long in American propaganda. And not a moment too soon: ten years ago, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, blurted in a moment of unwonted candor, “Think hard about it. I’m running out of demons. I’m running out of villains!”

In another peculiar and revealing comment, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld replied to a reporter’s question in the immediate aftermath of September 11. How, he was asked, will we know when a victory over terrorism is achieved? “I say that victory is persuading the American people and the rest of the world that this is not a quick matter that’s going to be over in a month or a year or even five years.”

American policy makers clearly think that they have found something that they can comfortably crusade against for some time, something that is as fearful as communism. In doing so they are following a time-honored tradition in US politics. After the Second World War, Senator Arthur Vandenberg advised President Truman (secretly) that it would be necessary to “scare hell out of the American people” in order to accomplish his policies. The communist menace was the way to do it.

Of course there were communists to crusade against then, as there are terrorists now. The authoritarian society of the USSR was a model for anti-colonial struggles in the Third World, including China, and a pattern for how to conduct rapid industrialization. Although the USSR observed carefully the dividing line established with the US and UK at the close of the Second World War, harsh Soviet control of the governments of Eastern Europe mirrored (on a much smaller scale) the world-wide economic control exercised by the US.

All admit now that the US never feared Soviet military conquests — it was rather the principles that the communists said they stood for, economic justice and workers’ rights, that the US government feared would be attractive in Europe and the Third World. The view of the American economic elite was spelled out quite candidly in a study from the mid-1950s headed by a Harvard professor of government. It pointed out that the real threat of communism was the transformation of governments that adopted it “in ways which reduce their willingness and ability to complement the industrial economies of the West.”

How US planners actually saw the world was set out by the leading liberal figure in the post-WWII State Department, George Kennan. In 1948 he produced the (secret) Policy Planning Study 23, in which he wrote

…we have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% 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 which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity … To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives … We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the 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 then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

Of course the “idealistic slogans,” suitable for a crusade, would be the way the matter would be presented to the public. Meanwhile, from Guatemala to Vietnam, “straight power concepts” would mean the deaths of millions in the next decades as the result of a policy that might be summarized in the oft-repeated words of George Bush: “You’re either with us or against us.”

Had we understood the last crusade at the time, we might not have agreed to kill so many innocent people. Perhaps we should try to understand the present one. CP

Carl Estabrook teaches at the University of Illinois and is the host of News From Neptune, a weekly radio show on politics and the media. He writes a regular column for CounterPunch.

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail