Militarism vs. Democracy

“More than 725 American military bases (are) spread around the world. … Many garrisons are in foreign countries to defend oil leases from competitors or to provide police protection to oil pipelines, although they invariably claim to be doing something completely unrelated–fighting the ‘war on terrorism’ or the ‘war on drugs,’ or training foreign soldiers, or engaging in some form of ‘humanitarian’ intervention.”

Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire

How many Americans understand the implications of Johnson’s observation? Bush’s “State of the Union” address, with its repetitive mantra declaring America’s gift of “freedom” to the world and its on-going fight against “terrorists” (used 20 times) obscures the reality of America’s deployment of “over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents and civilian contractors in other nations” (Johnson) for purposes of protecting private investors who use American forces to protect their private interests, not the interests of American citizens. Indeed, it is arguable that our invasion of Iraq and our toppling of the Taliban, a government the US put in place, happened because we needed Iraq’s oil reserves and the Taliban refused to cooperate with the deployment of oil and gas lines through their territory. Bush’s idealistic rhetoric follows a stream of recent efforts to present this administration’s imperialistic and militaristic agenda as economic freedom for the world and security at home.

He was particularly active in November when he spoke to the National Endowment for Democracy, when the administration supported the international business deal cobbled together by the corporate representatives at the Free Trade Area of Americas, and when he addressed the Brits and defended his invasion of Iraq. All these efforts hinge on an abuse of the word “freedom.” Bush lassos freedom to economics, as in “economic freedom,” implying that the management of income or resources has equal rights with the citizen, that by some occult metamorphosis an economic system has been reborn as a person. The FTAA business deal in Miami managed to avoid any reference to humanitarian concerns or laborers’ rights, although Venezuela pressed for such consideration, as they made possible “freedom” for trade; the brazen omission of the citizens from consideration did not cause them to blink as they, too, conferred on “trade” rights that are reserved for people.

Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan’s speech writer, told Chris Mathews recently that President Bush’s speech to the National Endowment For Democracy was a “master piece.” In that talk at the beginning of November, Bush used Reagan’s speech at Westminster Palace in 1982 as the reference point for his own remarks. Perhaps Peggy penned Ronnie’s words? Why else label Bush’s derivative remarks a “master piece”? Well, there is another reason: it is a “master piece” of deception, but, then, so too was Ronnie’s. Both speeches embody the manipulative duplicity of the ruling elite as they mouth “Democracy” and “freedom” when they mean in their guts “Corpocrisy” and “indentured servitude.” (“Corpocrisy” is the apparent rule by the people through a voting process, but the actual rule by corporate hegemony.)

What Jefferson feared at the inception of this nation has become the reality of our democracy: a land governed by “pseudo-aristoi,” as Jefferson sardonically labeled them, “extremely wealthy individuals and overly powerful corporations.” This was the third of the “agencies” Jefferson feared as threats that could destroy a democracy. The remaining two were other forms of governments like monarchies and organized religions (Thom Hartmann, Unequal Protection, 2002). Those “overly powerful corporations” now act as individuals claiming rights under the 14th amendment, would you believe, despite the reality that the Supreme Court has never stipulated as “law of the land” that corporations can legitimately claim that right (Hartmann 107). For those who would argue that the Court has accepted that status based on precedent, remember that same Court upheld the “Institution of Slavery” on the same grounds! Precedent is often the imprisonment of the people on the cross of coddled consistency.

What Bush describes as the passing of tyranny before the march of freedom masks the reality of these past twenty years of “globalization,” the insidious take over of the rights of nation-states by trans-nationals, at the expense of “universalism,” the caring spread of individual rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to peoples throughout the world. Perhaps that was what Bush meant when he noted “observers on both sides of the Atlantic pronounced (Reagan’s) speech simplistic and naive and even dangerous.” Perhaps Bush realizes that “observers” sense the truth behind the duplicity. Those observers, particularly sophisticated Europeans, the kind Bush mocks in his talk, understand that Reagan’s simplistic truth, freedom for all, masks the reality: the “momentum of freedom” opens the door of exploitation for investors who can hire Chinese laborers at thirty three cents per hour to replace American workers at the Huffy bicycle plant who earned eleven, and those Chinese laborers work far more than 8 hours per day, receive no health benefits, are protected by no OSHA regulations, and have no retirement plan (example taken from remarks made by Sen. Dorgan, ND at hearings held in Washington in November). Perhaps these same observers understood the naivety of Reagan’s remarks that assumes the world desires the American way, or to be more specific, the American consumer way that requires two incomes to support the American way. Perhaps “dangerous” is the most explosive of those observations; it cuts to the chase: the imposition, by force if necessary as Iraq makes clear, of America’s will on nation-states to ensure ever greater markets for the goods the trans-nationals produce cheaply by exploiting workers throughout the “undeveloped” world even as it ensures control of necessary natural resources owned by those nation-states.

But Bush’s duplicity reflects nothing more than a continuation of the abuse of the language that characterizes the American voices that have controlled our government since its inception. What Bush proposes here is nothing new; it simply pushes American economic practice off shore, onto other countries, since our markets are now inadequate to satisfy the insatiable greed of the corporate class. As far back as 1975, Professor Takaki in Iron Cages shed light on America’s Capitalistic underbelly. He tracked Richard Dana’s two years before the mast as it revealed the reality of Capitalistic enterprise and its incessant need to create new markets and exploit labor to produce more goods at the cheapest possible cost. “The American emphasis on productivity and profits, moreover, had a stifling effect on the quality of human life in the work situation,” Takaki notes.

But quality of life is not an issue in accounting’s bottom line. Dana had left Boston in 1852 on board a trade ship carrying cotton goods around South America to Mexico City and San Francisco. The cotton goods were produced in New England mills on looms driven by Irish girls, indentured servants, slaves to the mill owners and investors. The cotton came from slave plantations that offered the cheapest possible labor. But the cotton was grown on land taken from the Natives who had been “ethnically cleansed” or killed, land illegally obtained. When Dana arrived in San Francisco, the cotton was loaded on trains that ran on rails over the bodies of Chinese coolies, more indentured servants working for slave wages. The whole capitalistic process thrived on the backs of workers exploited for the purpose.

But now the corporations need cheaper labor because they must pay decent (read “too high”) wages in America and that cripples profits. The world now becomes the playground for this most recent “Industrial Revolution.” Never mind that we learned about exploitation of workers — unsafe working conditions, no health coverage, no child labor laws, no retirement benefits, no job protection, and no labor rights — two centuries ago during our previous industrial revolutions here and in England; laborers in China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Mexico, and any other country that can be controlled and exploited must endure what English and American workers endured before the laws caught up with the corporations… and that took a hundred years! This is the freedom Bush promises: freedom for exploitation, freedom for investors, freedom to profit at the expense of people unable to protect themselves.

Consider the benefits of “free markets”: “U.S. workers lost 879,280 jobs as a result of NAFTA in the past 10 years … with all fifty states and the District of Columbia losing jobs to NAFTA between 1993-2002” according to Robert Scott (the Economic Policy Institute). If we can do this poorly with two nations involved, imagine the number of jobs yet to be lost when we migrate our jobs to 34 nations upon implementation of FTAA! But lest one think that the Mexican citizen benefitted from America’s loss of jobs, think again. “The cost to the Mexican consumer has risen by 257%” since the inception of NAFTA and the “earnings of Mexican growers of corn, wheat and rice, along with beans, have plummeted” (LA Times, Nov. 20, 2003).

Who, then, benefits from such agreements? Need you ask? “Free trade eliminates tariffs, giving the economic advantage … to those industries blessed with governments capable of delivering massive subsidies. In other words, to the already industrialized and wealthy nations” (LA Times). Note how free trade slips from the legislation when it is detrimental to corporate America. The Medicare bill recently passed scurried through our representatives in the dead of night and attempted to eliminate “free” choice purchasing of medicine from Canada even as it ensured profits of 139 billion to pharmaceutical companies over the next five years. Free is free only for the “pseudo-aristoi”! Add to this bill the Fast Track bill that passed the House and the Senate. “The bill has language that forbids enforcement of workers’ rights and environmental protection” that should be enforced in agreements like that moving through the FTAA. Indeed, the bill strips out a clause that would protect women against discrimination (“Stop the Free Trade Area of the Americas,” Our government guarantees “freedom” to a “paper person” as it denies it to one of flesh and blood.

If the consequence of free trade in these “undeveloped countries” siphons workers from the countryside thus depleting native food sources, stuffs them into overcrowded ghettoes creating thereby unsanitary conditions, shackles the laborer to the production line at pitiably low wages, and forces them to suffer without benefits of any kind–health care, safe working conditions, unemployment compensation, or retirement –then the United States, that subsidizes and protects these corporations, cripples peoples’ freedom and denies them the rights it claims to provide. Worst of all, it indicts the American citizen as complicit in this exploitation of other people. Ted C. Fishman made this observation in Harpers: “The freeing up of the world’s markets may have nothing to do with the declining fortunes of many of its citizens, but the capitalist impulse can just as powerfully prolong poverty as end it” (August 2002). To illustrate his point, Fishman notes, “Over the twenty years ending in 1980, gross domestic product in Latin America and the Caribbean grew by 75 percent per person, but over the next twenty years –the period of great market liberalization and international investment –GDP rose only 6 percent.” The duplicity inherent in Bush’s selling democracy as “economic freedom” and “free trade” when its real product is exploitation of the worker and enhanced profits for the investor is at best cynical and at worst insidious.

While Bush expounded on the virtues of America’s presence across the world, noting that the US had “made military and moral commitments in Europe and Asia which protected free nations from aggression and created the conditions in which new democracies could flourish,” he failed to mention that “expanding U.S. military presence worldwide only serves to reinforce the economic hegemony” that guarantees survival of the corporations that exploit the citizens of the undeveloped nation-states as they take control of that nation’s natural resources (“Free Trade May Not Be Fair Trade,” Roger Hollander, LA Times, Nov. 2003). Bush continues his exhortation of American largesse: “we also provided inspiration for oppressed peoples.” Indeed! How were the Palestinians inspired? Did our worship of Sharon’s savagery inspire? Did our overwhelming financial support for his indomitable military force inspire? Did the Bush administration’s incarceration of over 1,000 in Guantanamo without due process – no criminal charges, no consultation with lawyers, and no rights whatsoever – inspire? Did the occupation of Iraq preceded by an internationally illegal invasion inspire?

But there’s more! Bush, energized by the applause from the National Endowment personnel, declaimed, “…militarism and rule by the capricious and corrupt are the relics of a passing era.” Really? What is our rule in Iraq? What is more “capricious” than the unilateral invasion of a nation that has done nothing to America but to threaten a new born Christian Zionist’s belief in his mythological mission as portrayed in the Book of Revelation? What is more corrupt than support for the war lords of Afghanistan who throttle the poor population of that country while raking millions from the American people through their tax donations? What is more corrupting than support for the terrorists who live in Israeli settlements and thrive on the destruction they can inflict on Palestinians? What duplicity is this?

But there’s still more! “China has discovered that economic freedom leads to national wealth … Eventually men and women who are allowed to control their own wealth will insist on controlling their own lives and their own country.” How, pray tell, does a person control “their own wealth” when the industry moguls threaten to fire the employee if he/she objects to the working conditions or attempts to unionize to obtain the benefits and job protection that belongs to them by right, a strategy used to offset unionization in the U.S. as well as in “undeveloped” countries (“Stop the Free Trade Area of the Americas”). How does one control his/her wealth when they make 33 cents per hour and live in squalid conditions with no benefits? When I spoke with business faculty at Yantai University in China in the mid-90s, they understood then that the new industrialization did not provide for workers’ health care or retirement. They saw the pollution that spread like a brown blanket over Beijing. They spoke of streams that had been turned into cesspools. But they also knew that the trans-nationals would not enter China if the government imposed regulations that forced the industry to spend on safety, health care, or workers’ rights. “In reality,” as Roger Hollander states in the LA Times, “for historical and geopolitical reasons, what Third World countries are ‘best at’ is having their natural resources extracted and exported to the industrialized nations (which in turn sell back manufactured products at a high cost) and having their populations exploited for cheap labor.” If this is the historical reality of Bush’s “economic freedom” and “free trade,” why does he lie to the American people and convert rapaciousness into rights that will accrue to the citizen? What duplicity is this?

But the duplicity here has a source, the “National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” issued in September 2002 as a guide to this administration’s foreign policy. There, George enunciated that “free enterprise” made the third leg of “a single sustainable model for national success.” He continued, “In the twenty-first century, only those that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure prosperity.” How, given the statistical evidence that graphically illustrates the degradation of human rights described above, could the potential of people be unleashed?

What has been unleashed and what will be unleashed is the potential for further corporate exploitation of people and resources and the continuing erosion of personal rights. This administration is committed to the empirical dominance of the corporate powers that it represents protected by an unparalleled military that it sustains, all in the facetious name of “protecting American interests” even as they impose their will on all the countries of the world. One can only resort to cynicism: corporations are rogue nation-states that wander the world like whores seeking to bed with whoever will offer the most breaks for the bang. This is not freedom for the people; it is freedom for the “overly powerful corporation.”

WILLIAM A. COOK teaches English at University of California at La Verne. He can be reached at:


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William A. Cook is the  author of Decade of Deceit and Age of Fools.