What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: kevindooley
In an interview this week about his forthcoming book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, Mitt Romney was asked what he meant when saying that America need not apologize. He responded as follows:
While we’ve made some mistakes, we have a record of promoting freedom, peace, and prosperity throughout the world. There is a view in Washington that America will be eclipsed by other nations. I think that would have grave consequences for freedom and world peace.
True to form, he did not actually answer the question. He first made a highly superficial concession that we’ve made some mistakes. (Which? How often? How damaging?) He then goes on to blabber about a “view” that other nations might “eclipse” America, something he feels would have “grave consequences”. How this is in any way connected to the original question is anyone’s best guess.
Mitt Romney, unsurprisingly, is wrong. He’s not the only one spouting this hollow rhetoric, however. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said just last week during his CPAC speech that we should “never, ever, ever” apologize for America. Former Governor Sarah Palin said last fall that we “should never apologize for our country”. George H.W. Bush said, as President, that “I’ll never apologize for the United States. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”
These shallow and ignorant statements are an affront to any sense of justice, morality, and civic virtue. If, as Romney suggests, America has “made some mistakes”, it might just follow that, depending on their severity and damage, we should apologize and/or make reparations. To see where this might apply, and in stark contrast to the superficiality of Romney and his like-minded cohorts, let’s dig a bit deeper and consider a few examples, in no particular order:
President Bush’s offensive statement above was no isolated incident. After a Navy missile destroyed an Iranian civilian airplane in 1988, killing all 290 passengers (including 66 children), Bush, who was Vice President and campaigning to become President, said in response to the event: “I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are… I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy.” You can only imagine how the family, friends, and Iranian population at large felt about these remarks by the soon-to-be leader of the so-called free world.
America’s role in Vietnam was not isolated only to the intense and protracted military engagement. As Martin Luther King, Jr., pointed out in a 1967 speech, our entanglements were both historical and highly damaging. Though this article’s brevity require I exclude all but a portion, the reader is very much encouraged to read it in its entirety.
They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation, and before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.
Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not “ready” for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination, and a government that had been established not by China (for whom the Vietnamese have no great love) but by clearly indigenous forces that included some Communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.
For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam.
Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of the reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.
What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?
We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only non-Communist revolutionary political force — the unified Buddhist church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. What liberators?
Now there is little left to build on — save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call fortified hamlets. The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these? Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These too are our brothers.
Fast forward to the event that began America’s commitment of soldiers to war in a distant land. The false-flag Gulf of Tonkin incident served as political fodder for Robert McNamara and others to further involve America in the “cold war” worldwide battle to “contain” communism. The alleged goal was to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam; after over a decade of American involvement, and the groundswell of public opposition, our government removed its military support from the unsuccessful campaign. One Vietnamese in every ten had become a casualty of war (1.5 million killed, 3 million wounded), and the Vietnamese had been embroiled in resistance to foreign intervention or occupation for 116 years. Almost 60,000 Americans were killed, over 300,000 wounded, and all for an unncessary military campaign desired by a few politicians.
The CIA helped overthrow the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq, install the authoritarian monarch Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (the “Shah”) in his place (so much for “spreading democracy”, right?), and train his secret police force.
Eisenhower consider this project (“Operation Ajax”) a “successful secret war” though the event is now widely recognized as being a massive failure since the resulting “blowback” heavily contributed to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which overthrew the Shah and replaced his pro-Western monarchy with the Islamic Republic of Iran, certainly no friend of the West.
In 2000, globalist and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated “The Eisenhower administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons. … But the coup was clearly a setback for Iran’s political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs. (emphasis added)” While not an apology, this recognition is at least a petty needle in a voluminous haystack of long-standing imperial arrogance.
On October 16, 1970, the CIA sent a message to its branch in Chile which read:
It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to October 24  but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end, utilizing every appropriate resource. It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand be well hidden…
Just shy of three years later, and in the alleged name of rooting out Communism, the CIA was successful in helping to overthrow the government of democratically-elected President Salvador Allende through a military coup. The military junta that consolidated control of the government was backed by the U.S. government, composed of the leaders of Chile’s various military branches, and headed by General Augusto Pinochet.
Around three months of riots and public resistance to the coup followed, leading to the arrest of tens of thousands of people who were held in the National Stadium. The Rettig Report determined that 2,279 individuals were killed by the military dictatorship for political reasons or as a result of political violence. The Valech Report stated that 31,947 individuals were tortured, and 1,312 were exiled. Two-thirds of these instances of brutal oppression occurred within one year of the U.S.-assisted coup.
The military interventions into Central America and Caribbean countries in the early 1900s received this nickname because of their primary purpose, which was to preserve American commercial interests in the region (banana production chief among them). The list of countries whose governments the U.S. overthrew and occupied shows the magnitude of military force being used to clear the way for the American corporate prostitution of these countries’ natural resources.
Smedley Butler, who at the time of his death was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history, was highly involved in these wars and later stunned an audience recounting his participation in and assessment of these wars:
I spent 33 years…being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism….
I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1916. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City [Bank] boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street….
In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested….I had…a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals, promotions….I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate a racket in three cities. The Marines operated on three continents…
From 1990 to 2003, and initiated at the U.S. government’s behest, the U.N. imposed sanctions on Iraq after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. After the Iraqis were forced out, the sanctions began with the U.N. mandating that the country comply with Security Council Resolution 687 which demanded that Iraq eliminate its weapons of mass destruction and that it recognize the nation-state of Kuwait.
Rolf Ekeus, the U.N. representative responsible for identifying and destroying Iraq’s weaponry, had already certified that 817 out of Iraq’s 819 long-range missiles had been destroyed. This report was a political liability for President Bill Clinton, who had his new Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declare that sanctions would continue until Saddam was removed from office.—a much different purpose than their original one. This led to Saddam refusing to work with the weapons inspectors any longer, leaving only the hopes of Clinton’s administration that heavy suffering imposed on the Iraqi citizens would somehow bring down the despot.
Half a million children are estimated to have died as a result of the sanctions—a number which Albright once declared in an interview as being “worth it”. In 2000, Christian Aid observed that:
The immediate consequence of eight years of sanctions has been a dramatic fall in living standards, the collapse of the infrastructure, and a serious decline in the availability of public services. The longer-term damage to the fabric of society has yet to be assessed but economic disruption has already led to heightened levels of crime, corruption and violence. Competition for increasingly scarce resources has allowed the Iraqi state to use clan and sectarian rivalries to maintain its control, further fragmenting Iraqi society.
During the dozens years of sanctions, bombs were being dropped on Iraq almost daily, while the sanctions continued a long campaign of human rights violations. The U.N.’s humanitarian aid chief, Dennis Halliday, resigned in protest, as did his successor, Hans von Sponeck. Together, they wrote that:
The death of some 5–6,000 children a month is mostly due to contaminated water, lack of medicines and malnutrition. The US and UK governments’ delayed clearance of equipment and materials is responsible for this tragedy, not Baghdad.
One cannot think of an action committed by this country’s government that necessitates an apology without having the bombing of these two Japanese cities come to mind. President Harry S. Truman ordered the bombing of these two cities, filled with hundreds of thousands of civilians, in supposed retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor, a military installation. The lives of some 200,000 civilian men, women, and children were immediately snuffed out, or slowly and miserably drained through the effects of radiation poisoning, in one of the greatest war crimes this nation has ever committed.
Consider two variants on the action. Would so many Americans cheer the retaliation if instead of sending the bombs, our military had rounded up each individual in the two cities and murdered them in gas chambers? Or, if Germany had dropped atomic bombs on cities instead of our government, would those responsible not have been charged as war criminals and sentenced to death at Nuremberg?
Guantanamo Bay is the military detention facility where the U.S. government imprisons alleged terrorists, beginning in 1991 when George H.W. Bush used it to round up HIV-positive Haitian immigrants who were forcefully separated from other refugees after the 1991 Haitian coup. The first captives in George Bush’s “war on terror” arrived from Kandahar, some 8,000 miles away, on January 11, 2002, and locked up in wire cages. In order to sidestep the rights guaranteed to prisoners of war by the Geneva Conventions, they were labeled “unlawful (and later ‘enemy’) combatants”.
Out of 775 total detainees sent to Guantanamo, only 245 currently remain. 420 have been released without being charged for any crime—sent packing with nary an apology or compensation for the years of their lives lost. And thus far only three (three!) individuals have been charged with a crime:
- David Hicks was found guilty under retrospective legislation introduced in 2006 of providing material support to terrorists in 2001.
- Salim Hamdan took a job as chauffeur driving Osama bin Laden.
- Ali al-Bahlul made a video celebrating the attack on the USS Cole (DDG-67).
Thus, the fruits of this imperial institution are the successful prosecution of a man who donated some money or supplies, a car driver, and a videographer. The lives of hundreds of individuals have been forcefully altered through the decision of the U.S. government to imprison them without being charged of a crime, all in the name of allegedly providing security for Iraq/Afghanistan and our “homeland”. According to some sources, the government now plans to hold 47 of these individuals in infinite detention, neither giving them an opportunity to contest the (likely erroneous) allegations made against them, nor releasing them for lack of evidence.
The list, unfortunately, could continue. The examples cited above are a mere handful in an otherwise lengthy chronicle of circumstances in which the U.S. government has been directly responsible for denying other individuals the right to their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
Should America offer no apology for any of the aforementioned atrocities? Should our government be able to wash its hands so easily of these actions by merely declaring them necessary for “protecting America’s interests”, “spreading democracy”, or some similarly pathetic response? And should the ignorance and/or arrogance of current politicians be tolerated when they declare that “we should not apologize for America”?
History makes at least one thing absolutely clear: regardless of the stated purposes and proffered justifications, the United States of America has been the cause and source of untold death, destruction, and damage. To say that we should not apologize for these stains on our nation’s standard of liberty is not only a reflection of the individual’s inadequate level of morality, but an indication that he or she might one day participate in similar atrocities.