“We’ve never been a nation of conquerors; we’re a nation of liberators,” said our learned President last week, in response to polls in Turkey and Pakistan, perhaps the most important US allies in the so-called “War on Terror,” that showed growing antipathy toward the US.
Who could disagree? After all, the historical record of American liberation policy is quite clear.
It all began when the European forbears of the US liberated the native population from their land. No longer would Indians suffer under the yoke of actually having to be free, undiseased, and alive. Then, to work this liberated land, Europeans liberated Africans from their abject lives of culture and community to be brought to America to grow rice, tobacco, and cotton.
Unsatisfied with the liberation of just the southeastern portion of North America, in 1812 the US sought to liberate Canada. This noble attempt failed, but trained many of the brave Americans who liberated Florida from the Spanish, reliberating many slaves who had fled their liberation in Georgia for the tyranny of freedom. Many of these escaped slaves joined up with the Seminole tribes in Florida in their stubborn resistance to US liberation, which would have brought these native people to freedom in the Midwest.
The American thirst for liberation was only partly quenched by an invasion of Mexico. Liberating a third of the territory of this republic served to bolster those who believed in their divine responsibility to continue and spread the liberation of African slaves from a life of leisure. (Being the gentlemen that they were, slave owners were willing to endure the shame of not working.) With the central portion of the continent now liberated from any competing European or mestizo threats, the native population could not, and did not, last much longer in the face of American freedom.
Thankfully, the US was not satisfied with mere continental liberation. Near the end of the 1800s, Americans liberated Hawaii from its chosen government before liberating the people of Puerto Rico and Cuba so that they could be freely exploited by American business. The people of the Philippines, liberated from Spanish tyranny, at first refused the liberation provided by the US. After a time, however, this Catholic society and its democratic leaders realized the benefits of having hundreds of thousands of its citizens slaughtered in order to welcome the Christianity and democracy brought by the US.
Theodore Roosevelt (whom we might call “The Great Liberator”) realized that America’s drive for liberation was stymied by the lack of a Central American canal. After helping to liberate Panama from Colombia, he was able to liberate the Canal Zone itself. With the canal completed, the US could continue its liberation quest unfettered. Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Mexico were just a few of the nations who received the largesse of American liberation in the early 1900s.
During the 1930s, the US feared that Japanese liberation policy in East Asia was conflicting with its own desire for freedom in that region. This conflict grew to where the US felt the need to liberate Japan of its oil supply, driving the Japanese to attack the US. (Most likely, the attack on Pearl Harbor was accompanied with Japanese propaganda about how they were liberators rather than conquerors, but this should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, one cannot trust a militaristic society.) The US continued its struggle for liberation in Japan, even making the supreme sacrifice of the genocidal bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (not to mention the glorious firebombing of Tokyo months earlier).
In the European theater, the US waited until mid-1944 to begin to liberate Europe from Nazi oppression, wanting to wait until the Soviets and Germans had liberated millions of each other from the burden of breathing. This “delayed liberation” policy also allowed Hitler to continue his own liberations against millions of Jews.
After the “Good War” ended, the US, stayed hands-on in many parts of the world: Mohammed Mossadegh was liberated from his democratically-elected position as Prime Minister of Iran; Jacobo Arbenz was freed from the horror of being democratically elected in Guatemala; Patrice Lumumba was emancipated not just from his position as leader of Zaire, but also from his need to continue living; Salvador Allende of Chile benefited from a similar policy of liberation
At this time, the US also saw the need to outsource many of its liberation activities. The government of Indonesia was liberated so that it could commit genocide in East Timor. The Contras were funded so that they could liberate schools and hospitals in Nicaragua by blowing them up. The US funded Turkey in its desire to liberate its Kurdish minority. Saddam Hussein received American support in his noble desire to liberate the oil resources of Iraq. Hussein even made the sacrifice of “gassing his own people” to ally himself with the liberationists. And, lest we forget, the US continues selflessly to fund the government of Israel in its dream of liberating the “promised land” form those who have only the specious claim of hundreds of years of residency.
Vietnam is a sad memory for those fans of American liberation policy. Despite murdering millions of people in Southeast Asia, poisoning the ecosystem, and destroying the infrastructure, the US failed to win the “hearts and minds” of the people they brutalized.
This defeat would not keep the US down for long, though. In 1991, the US liberated the people of Kuwait so that they could return to life under a reactionary monarchy. In the process, the people of Iraq were deliberately liberated from their clean water supplies. The next decade would be spent by the US pushing liberation through bombings and sanctions, yet the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis remain unappreciative.
Which brings us to the present liberation campaign, mentioned by President Bush in his comments on Wednesday. “And I would ask the skeptics [of America’s policy of liberation] to look at Afghanistan, where not only this country rout [sic] the Taliban, which was one of the most barbaric regimes in the history of mankind, but thanks to our strength and our compassion, many young girls now go to school for the first time.” Yes, the US helped the Afghan people be free from the despotic rule of the Taliban (many of whom gained power with the help of the US in their struggle for liberation against the Russians, who, ironically, are our new allies in the struggle against the “terrorism” represented by the former Afghan leaders, demonstrating American willingness to suffer the most horrendous rhetorical and moral whiplash to defend freedom wherever it is threatened, cognitive dissonance be damned.) Now Afghans have the luxury to live in terror of dozens of regional warlords. The estimated 3000 Afghan civilians killed by American bombs are the best-known recipient of American liberation; less well known, due most probably to American modesty in its role as a liberator, is how many thousands of people in the Afghan countryside died when the US demanded a halt to UN food relief in September 2001.
If these are the results of American “strength and compassion,” as President Bush would have it, the people of the world should indeed be very thankful that the US is not in fact a “nation of conquerors.”
TOM GORMAN lives in Glendale, California. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.