VII The black silence of fear

by William O. Douglas

[The following excerpt was published in 1952 during the height of the McCarthy era and remains timely and familiar more than 50 years later. William O. Douglas served as a Supreme Court Associate Justice from 1939 until he retired in 1975.]

There is an ominous trend in this nation. We are developing tolerance only for the orthodox point of view on world affairs, intolerance for new or different approaches. We have over the years swung from tolerance to intolerance and back again. There have been years of intolerance when the views of minorities have been suppressed. But there probably has not been a period of greater intolerance than we witness today. 7

To understand this, I think one has to leave the country, go into the back regions of the world, lose himself there, and become absorbed in the problems of the peoples of different civilizations. When he returns to America after a few months he probably will be shocked. He will be shocked not at the intentions or purposes or ideals of the American people. He will be shocked at the arrogance and intolerance of great segments of the American press, at the arrogance and intolerance of many leaders in public office, at the arrogance and intolerance reflected in many of our attitudes toward Asia. He will find that thought is being standardized, that the permissible area for calm discussion is being narrowed, that the range of ideas is being limited, that many minds are closed . . .

This is alarming to one who loves his country. It means that the philosophy of strength through free speech is being forsaken for the philosophy of fear through repression.

That choice in Russia is conscious. Under Lenin the ministers and officials were encouraged to debate, to advance new ideas and criticisms. Once the debate was over, however, no dissension or disagreement was permitted. But even that small degree of tolerance for free discussion that Lenin permitted disappeared under Stalin. Stalin maintains a tight system of control, permitting no free speech, no real clash in ideas, even in the inner circle. We are, of course, not emulating either Lenin or Stalin. But we are drifting in the direction of repression, drifting dangerously fast.

The drift goes back, I think, to the fact that we carried over to days of peace the military approach to world affairs. Today in Asia we are identified not with ideas of freedom, but with guns. Today at home we are thinking less and less in terms of defeating communism with ideas, more and more in terms of defeating communism with military might.

The concentration on military means has helped to breed fear. It has bred fear and insecurity partly because of the horror of atomic war. But the real reason strikes deeper. In spite of our enormous expenditures, we see that Soviet imperialism continues to expand and that the expansion proceeds without the Soviets firing a shot. The free world continues to contract without a battle for its survival having been fought. It becomes apparent, as country after country falls to Soviet imperialistic ambitions, that military policy alone is a weak one, that military policy alone will end in political bankruptcy and futility. Thus fear mounts.

Fear has many manifestations. The Communist threat inside the country has been magnified and exalted far beyond its realities. Irresponsible talk by irresponsible people has fanned the flames of fear. Accusations have been loosely made. Character assassinations have become common. Suspicion has taken the place of goodwill. Once we could debate with impunity along a wide range of inquiry. Once we could safely explore to the edges of a problem, challenge orthodoxy without qualms, and run the gamut of ideas in search of solutions to perplexing problems. Once we had confidence in each other. Now there is suspicion. Innocent acts become telltale marks of disloyalty. The coincidence that an idea parallels Soviet Russia’s policy for a moment of time settles an aura of suspicion around a person.

Suspicion grows until only the orthodox idea is the safe one. Suspicion grows until only the person who loudly proclaims that orthodox view, or who, once having been a Communist, has been converted, is trustworthy. Competition for embracing the new orthodoxy increases. Those who are unorthodox are suspect. Everyone who does not follow the military policymakers is suspect. Everyone who voices opposition to the trend away from diplomacy and away from political tactics takes a chance. Some who are opposed are indeed “subversive.” Therefore, the thundering edict commands that all who are opposed are “subversive.” Fear is fanned to a fury. Good and honest men are pilloried. Character is assassinated. Fear runs rampant.

Fear has driven more and more men and women in all walks of life either to silence or to the folds of the orthodox. Fear has mounted: fear of losing one’s job, fear of being investigated, fear of being pilloried. This fear has stereotyped our thinking, narrowed the range of free public discussion, and driven many thoughtful people to despair. This fear has even entered universities, great citadels of our spiritual strength, and corrupted them. We have the spectacle of university officials lending themselves to one of the worst witch-hunts we have seen since early days.

This fear has affected the youngsters. Youth, like the opposition party in a parliamentary system has served a powerful role. It has cast doubts on our policies, challenged our inarticulate major premises, put the light on our prejudices, and exposed our inconsistencies. Youth has made each generation indulge in self-examination.

But a great change has taken place. Youth is still rebellious; but it is largely holding its tongue. There is the fear of being labeled a “subversive” if one departs from the orthodox party line. That charge, if leveled against a young man or young woman, may have profound effects. It may ruin a youngster’s business or professional career. No one wants a Communist in his organization nor anyone who is suspect.

This pattern of orthodoxy that is shaping our thinking has dangerous implications. No one man, no one group can have the answer to the many perplexing problems that today confront the management of world affairs. The scene is a troubled and complicated one. The problems require the pooling of many ideas, the exposure of different points of view, the hammering out in public discussions of the pros and cons of this policy or of that.

The great danger of this period is not inflation, nor the national debt, nor atomic warfare. The great, the critical danger is that we will so limit or narrow the range of permissible discussion and permissible thought that we will become victims of the orthodox school. If we do, we will lose flexibility. We will lose the capacity for expert management. We will then become wedded to a few techniques, to a few devices. They will define our policy and at the same time limit our ability to alter or modify it. Once we narrow the range of thought and discussion, we will surrender a great deal of our power. We will become like the man on the toboggan who can ride it but who can neither steer it nor stop it.

The mind of man must always be free. The strong society is one that sanctions and encourages freedom of thought and expression. Our real power is our spiritual strength, and that spiritual strength stems from our civil liberties. If we are true to our traditions, if we are tolerant of a whole marketplace of ideas, we will always be strong. Our weakness grows when we become intolerant of opposing ideas, depart from our standards of civil liberties, and borrow the policeman’s philosophy from the enemy we detest.

7 William O. Douglas, “The Black Silence of Fear,” The New York Times Magazine, 13 January 1952 .



VIII The Price of Empire

by J. William Fulbright

[As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, Fulbright was a vocal and powerful critic of the Vietnam War. In this 1967 speech he connects the urban unrest of the sixties to American foreign policy abroad, linking himself intellectually with those most critical of American society and its expansive role in international affairs. This speech gives insight into where American global engagement during the Cold War Era led-to a period of social unrest, bitter division over the Vietnam War, and disillusionment. Particularly striking is Fulbright’s praise for those “idealistic” young people who, it happens, shared his vision of “the price of empire.”]

Standing in the smoke and rubble of Detroit, a Negro veteran said: “I just got back from Vietnam a few months ago, but you know, I think the war is here.” There are in fact two wars going on. One is the war of power politics which our soldiers are fighting in the jungles of southeast Asia. The other is a war for America’s soul, which is being fought in the streets of Newark and Detroit and in the halls of Congress, in churches and protest meetings, on college campuses, and in the hearts and minds of silent Americans from Maine to Hawaii.8

I believe that the two wars have something to do with each other, not in the direct, tangibly causal way that bureaucrats require as proof of a connection between two things, but in a subtler, moral and qualitative way that is no less real for being intangible.

Each of these wars might well be going on in the absence of the other, but neither, I suspect, standing alone, would seem so hopeless and demoralizing. The connection between Vietnam and Detroit is in their conflicting and incompatible demands upon traditional American values. The one demands that they be set aside, the other that they be fulfilled. The one demands the acceptance by America of an imperial role in the world, or of what our policy makers like to call the “responsibilities of power,” or of what I have called the “arrogance of power.” The other demands freedom and social justice at home, an end to poverty, the fulfillment of our flawed democracy, and an effort to create a role for ourselves in the world which is compatible with our traditional values.

The question, it should be emphasized, is not whether it is possible to engage in traditional power politics abroad and at the same time to perfect democracy at home, but whether it is possible for us Americans, without particular history and national character, to combine morally incompatible roles.

Administration officials tell us that we can indeed afford both Vietnam and the Great Society, and they produce impressive statistics of the gross national product to prove it. The statistics show financial capacity but they do not show moral and psychological capacity. They do not show how a President preoccupied with bombing missions over North and South Vietnam can provide strong and consistent leadership for the renewal of our cities. They do not show how a Congress burdened with war costs and war measures, with emergency briefings and an endless series of dramatic appeals, with anxious constituents and a mounting anxiety of their own, can tend to the workaday business of studying social problems and legislating programs to meet them. Nor do the statistics tell how an anxious and puzzled people, bombarded by press and television with the bad news of American deaths in Vietnam, the “good news” of enemy deaths-and with vividly horrifying pictures to illustrate them-can be expected to support neighborhood antipoverty projects and national programs for urban renewal, employment and education.

Anxiety about war does not breed compassion for one’s neighbors; nor do constant reminders of the cheapness of life abroad strengthen our faith in its sanctity at home. In these ways the war in Vietnam is poisoning and brutalizing our domestic life. Psychological incompatibility has proven to be more controlling than financial feasibility; and the Great Society has become a sick society.

Imperial destiny and the American dream

When he visited America a hundred years ago, Thomas Huxley wrote: “I cannot say that I am in the slightest degree impressed by your bigness, or your material resources, as such. Size is not grandeur, and territory does not make a nation. The great issue, about which hangs the terror of overhanging fate, is what are you going to do with all these things?”

The question is still with us and we seem to have come to a time of historical crisis when its answer can no longer be deferred. Before the Second World War our world role was a potential role; we were important in the world for what we could do with our power, for the leadership we might provide, for the example we might set. Now the choices are almost gone: we are almost the world’s self-appointed policeman; we are almost the world defender of the status quo. We are well on our way to becoming a traditional great power-an imperial nation If you will-engaged in the exercise of power for its own sake, exercising it to the limit of our capacity and beyond, filling every vacuum and extending the American “presence” to the farthest reaches of the earth. And, as with the great empires of the past, as the power grows, it is becoming an end in itself, separated except by ritual incantation from its initial motives, governed, it would seem, by its own mystique, power without philosophy or purpose. That is something which none of the great empires of the past has ever done or tried to do or wanted to do, but we were bold enough-or presumptuous enough-to think that we might be able to do it. And there are a great many Americans who still think we can do it-or at least they want to try.

That, I believe, is what all the hue and cry is about-the dissent in the Senate and the protest marches in the cities, the letters to the President from student leaders and former Peace Corps volunteers, the lonely searching of conscience by a student facing the draft and the letter
to a Senator from a soldier in the field who can no longer accept the official explanations of why he has been sent to fight in the jungles of Vietnam. All believe that their country was cut out for something more ennobling than an imperial destiny. Our youth are showing that they still believe in the American dream, and their protests attest to its continuing vitality.

There appeared in a recent issue of the journal Foreign Affairs a curious little article complaining about the failure of many American intellectuals to support what the author regards as America’s unavoidable “imperial role” in the world. The article took my attention because it seems a faithful statement of the governing philosophy of American foreign policy while also suggesting how little the makers of that policy appreciate the significance of the issue between themselves and their critics.

It is taken for granted-not set forth as an hypothesis to be proved-that, any great power, in the author’s words, “is entangled in a web of responsibilities from which there is no hope of escape,” and that “there is no way the United States, as the world’s
mightiest power, can avoid such an imperial role. . . .” The author’s displeasure with the “intellectuals”-he uses the word more or less to describe people who disagree with the Administration’s policy-is that, in the face of this alleged historical inevitability, they are putting up a disruptive, irritating and futile resistance. They are doing this, he believes, because they are believers in “ideology”-the better word would be “values” or “ideals”-and this causes their thinking to be “irrelevant” to foreign policy.

Here, inadvertently, the writer puts his finger on the nub of the current crisis. The students and churchmen and professors who are protesting the Vietnam war do not accept the notion that foreign policy is a matter of expedients to which values are irrelevant. They reject this notion because they understand, as some of our policy makers do not understand, that it is ultimately self-defeating to “fight fire with fire,” that you cannot defend your values in a manner that does violence to those values without destroying the very thing you are trying to defend.

They understand, as our policy makers do not, that when American soldiers are sent, in the name of freedom, to sustain corrupt dictators in a civil war, that when the CIA subverts student organizations to engage in propaganda activities abroad, or when the Export-Import Bank is used by the Pentagon to finance secret arms sales abroad, damage-perhaps irreparable damage-is being done to the very values that are meant to be defended. The critics understand, as our policy makers do not, that, through the undemocratic expedients we have adopted for the defense of American democracy, we are weakening it to a degree that is beyond theresources of our bitterest enemies.

Nor do the dissenters accept the romantic view that a nation is powerless to choose the role it will play in the world, that some mystic force of history or destiny requires a powerful nation to be an imperial nation, dedicated to what Paul Goodman calls the “empty system of power,” to the pursuit of power without purpose, philosophy or compassion.” The critics of our current course also challenge the contention that the traditional methods of foreign policy are safe and prudent and realistic.

They are understandably skeptical of their wise and experienced elders who, in the name of prudence, caution against any departure from the tried and true methods that have led in this century to Sarejevo, Munich and Dien Bien Phu. They think that the methods of the past have been tried and found wanting, and two world wars attest powerfully to their belief. At present much of the world is repelled by America and what America seems to stand for in the world. Both in our foreign affairs and in our domestic life we convey an image of violence; I do not care very much about images as distinguished from the things they reflect, but this image is rooted in reality. Abroad, we are engaged in a savage and unsuccessful war against poor people in a small and backward nation.

At home-largely because of the neglect resulting from twenty-five years of preoccupation with foreign involvements-our cities are exploding in violent protest against generations of social injustice. America, which only a few years ago seemed to the world to be a model of democracy and social justice, has become a symbol of violence and undisciplined power. Far from building a safe world environment for American values, our war in Vietnam and the domestic deterioration which it has aggravated are creating a most uncongenial world atmosphere for American ideas and values. The world has no need, in this age of nationalism and nuclear weapons, for a new imperial power, but there is a great need of moral leadership-by which I mean the leadership of decent example. That role could be ours but we have vacated the field, and all that has kept the Russians from filling it is their own lack of imagination.

At the same time, as we have noted, and of even greater fundamental importance, our purposeless and undisciplined use of power is causing a profound controversy in our own society. This in a way is something to be proud of. We have sickened but not succumbed and just as a healthy body fights disease, we are fighting the alien concept which is being thrust upon us, not by history but by our policy makers in the Department of State and the Pentagon. We are proving the strength of the American dream by resisting the dream of an imperial destiny. We are demonstrating the validity of our traditional values by the difficulty we are having in betraying them.

The principal defenders of these values are our remarkable younger generation, something of whose spirit is expressed in a letter which I received from an American soldier in Vietnam. Speaking of the phony propaganda on both sides, and then of the savagery of the war, or the people he describes as the “real casualties”-“the farmers and their families in the Delta mangled by air strikes, and the villagers here killed and burned out by our friendly Korean mercenaries”-this young soldier then asks “Whatever has become of our dream? Where is
that America that opposed tyrannies at every turn, without inquiring first whether some particular forms of tyranny might be of use to us? Of the three rights which men have, the first, as I recall, was the right to life. How then have we come to be killing so many in such a dubious cause?”

The sick society

While the death toll mounts in Vietnam, it is mounting too in the war at home. During a single week of July 1967, 164 Americans were killed and 1,442 wounded in Vietnam, while 65 Americans were killed and 2,100 were wounded in city riots in the United States. We are truly fighting a two-front war and doing badly in both. Each war feeds on the other and, although the President assures us that we have the resources to win both wars, in fact we are not winning either.

Why should not riots and snipers’ bullets bring the white man to an awareness of the Negro’s plight when peaceful programs for housing and jobs and training have been more rhetoric than reality? Ugly and shocking thoughts are in the American air and they were forged in the Vietnam crucible. Black power extremists talk of “wars of liberation” in the urban ghettoes of America. A cartoon in a London newspaper showed two Negro soldiers in battle in Vietnam with one saying to the other: “This is going to be great training for civilian life.”

An unnecessary and immoral war deserves in its own right to be liquidated; when its effect in addition is the aggravation of grave problems and the corrosion of values in our own society, its liquidation under terms of reasonable and honorable compromise is doubly imperative. Our country is being weakened by a grotesque inversion of priorities, the effects of which are becoming clear to more and more Americans-in the Congress, in the press and in the country at large. Even the Washington Post, a newspaper which has obsequiously supported the Administration’s policy in Vietnam, took note in a recent editorial of the “ugly image of a world policeman incapable of policing itself” as against the “absolute necessity of a sound domestic base for an effective foreign policy,” and then commented: “We are confronted simultaneously with an urgent domestic crisis and an urgent foreign crisis and our commitments to both are clear.”

Priorities are reflected in the things we spend money on. Far from being a dry accounting of bookkeepers, a nation’s budget is full of moral implications; it tells what a society cares about and what it does not care about; it tells what its values are. Here are a few statistics on America’s values: Since 1946 we have spent over $1,578 billion through our regular national budget. Of this amount over $904 billion, or 57.29 percent of the total, have gone for military power. By contrast, less than $96 billion, or 6.08 percent, were spent on “social functions” including education, health, labor and welfare programs, housing and community development.

The Administration’s budget for fiscal year 1968 calls for almost $76 billion to be spent on the military and only $15 billion for “social functions.” I would not say that we have shown ourselves to value weapons five or ten times as much as we value domestic social needs, as the figures suggest; certainly much of our military spending has been necessitated by genuine requirements of national security.

I think, however, that we have embraced the necessity with excessive ethusiasm, that the Congress has been all too willing to provide unlimited sums for the military and not really very reluctant at all to offset these costs to a very small degree by cutting away funds for the poverty program and urban renewal, for rent supplements for the poor and even for a program to help protect slum children from being bitten by rats. Twenty million dollars a year to eliminate rats-about one one-hundredth of the monthly cost of the war in Vietnam- would not eliminate slum riots but, as Tom Wicker has written, “It would only suggest that somebody cared.” The discrepancy of attitudes tells at least as much about our national values as the discrepancy of dollars.

The regenerative power of youth

While the country sickens for lack of moral leadership, a most remarkable younger generation has taken up the standard of American idealism. Unlike so many of their elders, they have perceived the fraud and sham in American life and are unequivocally rejecting it. Some, the hippies, have simply withdrawn, and while we may regret the loss of their energies and their sense of decency, we can hardly gainsay their evaluation of the state of society.

Others of our youth are sardonic and skeptical, not, I think, because they do not want ideals but because they want the genuine article and will not tolerate fraud. Others-students who wrestle with their consciences about the draft, soldiers who wrestle with their consciences about the war, Peace Corps volunteers who strive to light the spark of human dignity among the poor of India or Brazil, and VISTA volunteers who try to do the same for our own poor in Harlem or Appalachia- are striving to keep alive the traditional values of American democracy.
They are not really radical, these young idealists, no more radical, that is, than Jefferson’s idea of freedom, Lincoln’s idea of equality, or Wilson’s idea of a peaceful community of nations.

Some of them, it is true, are taking what many regard as radical action, but they are doing it in defense of traditional values and in protest against the radical departure from those values embodied in the idea of an imperial destiny for America. The focus of their protest is the war in Vietnam and the measure of their integrity is the fortitude with which they refused to be deceived about it. By striking contrast with the young Germans who accepted the Nazi evil because the values of their society had disintegrated and they had no normal frame of reference, these young Americans are demonstrating the vitality of American values. They are demonstrating that, while their country is capable of acting falsely to itself, it cannot do so without internal disruption, without calling forth the regenerative counterforce of protest from Americans who are willing to act in defense ofthe principles they were brought up to believe in.

The spirit of this regenerative generation has been richly demonstrated to me in letters from student leaders, from former Peace Corps volunteers and from soldiers fighting in Vietnam. I quoted from one earlier in my remarks. Another letter that is both striking and representative was written by an officer still in Vietnam. He wrote: “For eleven years I was, before this war, I was a Regular commissioned officer-a professional military man in name and spirit; now-in name only. To fight well (as do the VC), a soldier must believe in his leadership. I, and many I have met, have lost faith in ours. Since I hold that duty to conscience is higher than duty to the administration (not ‘country’ as cry the nationalists). I declined a promotion and have resigned my commission. I am to be discharged on my return, at which time I hope to contribute in some way to the search for peace in Vietnam.”

Some years ago Archibald MacLeish characterized the American people as follows: “Races didn’t bother the Americans. They were something a lot better than any race.
They were a People. They were the first self-constituted, self-declared, self-created People in the history of the world. And their manners were their own business. And so were their politics. And so, but ten times so, were their souls.” Now the possession of their souls is being challenged by the false and dangerous dream of an imperial destiny. It may be that the challenge will succeed, that America will succumb to becoming a traditional empire and will reign for a time over what must surely be a moral if not a physical wasteland, and then, like the great empires of the past, will decline or fall. Or it may be that the effort to create so grotesque an anachronism will go up in flames of nuclear holocaust.

But if I had to bet my money on what is going to happen, I would bet on this younger generation-this generation who reject the inhumanity of war in a poor and distant land, who reject the poverty and sham in their own country, this generation who are telling their elders what their elders ought to have known, that the price of empire is America’s soul and that price
is too high.

8 J. William Fulbright, “The Price of Empire,” 1967 .


IX The threat of a good example

by Noam Chomsky

[Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the creator of the Chomsky hierarchy, a classification of formal languages. Outside of his linguistic work, Chomsky describes himself as a “libertarian socialist” and is widely known for his left-wing political writings. Chomsky has written and lectured widely on linguistics, philosophy, intellectual history, contemporary issues, international affairs and U.S. foreign policy.]

No country is exempt from U.S. intervention, no matter how unimportant. In fact, it’s the weakest, poorest countries that often arouse the greatest hysteria.9

Take Laos in the 1960s, probably the poorest country in the world. Most of the people who lived there didn’t even know there was such a thing as Laos; they just knew they had a little village and there was another little village nearby.

But as soon as a very low-level social revolution began to develop there, Washington subjected Laos to a murderous “secret bombing,” virtually wiping out large settled areas in operations that, it was conceded, had nothing to do with the war the US was waging in South Vietnam.

Grenada has a hundred thousand people who produce a little nutmeg, and you could hardly find it on a map. But when Grenada began to undergo a mild social revolution, Washington quickly moved to destroy the threat.

From the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 till the collapse of the Communist governments in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, it was possible to justify every US attack as a defense against the Soviet threat. So when the United States invaded Grenada in 1983, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff explained that, in the event of a Soviet attack on Western Europe, a hostile Grenada could interdict oil supplies from the Caribbean to Western Europe and we wouldn’t be able to defend our beleaguered allies. Now this sounds comical, but that kind of story helps mobilize public support for aggression, terror and subversion.

The attack against Nicaragua was justified by the claim that if we don’t stop “them” there, they’ll be pouring across the border at Harlingen, Texas-just two days’ drive away. (For educated people, there were more sophisticated variants, just about as plausible.)

As far as American business is concerned, Nicaragua could disappear and nobody would notice. The same is true of El Salvador. But both have been subjected to murderous assaults by the US, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and many billions of dollars.

There’s a reason for that. The weaker and poorer a country is, the more dangerous it is as an example. If a tiny, poor country like Grenada can succeed in bringing about a better life for its people, some other place that has more resources will ask, “why not us?”

This was even true in Indochina, which is pretty big and has some significant resources. Although Eisenhower and his advisers ranted a lot about the rice and tin and rubber, the real fear was that if the people of Indochina achieved independence and justice, the people of Thailand would emulate it, and if that worked, they’d try it in Malaya, and pretty soon Indonesia would pursue an independent path, and by then a significant area of the Grand Area would have been lost.

If you want a global system that’s subordinated to the needs of US investors, you can’t let pieces of it wander off. It’s striking how clearly this is stated in the documentary record — even in the public record at times. Take Chile under Allende. Chile is a fairly big place, with a lot of natural resources, but again, the United States wasn’t going to collapse if Chile became independent. Why were we so concerned about it? According to Kissinger, Chile was a “virus” that would “infect” the region with effects all the way to Italy.

Despite 40 years of CIA subversion, Italy still has a labor movement. Seeing a social democratic government succeed in Chile would send the wrong message to Italian voters. Suppose they get funny ideas about taking control of their own country and revive the workers’ movements the CIA undermined in the 1940s?

US planners from Secretary of State Dean Acheson in the late 1940s to the present have warned that “one rotten apple can spoil the barrel.” The danger is that the “rot” — social and economic development — may spread.

This “rotten apple theory” is called the domino theory for public consumption. The version used to frighten the public has Ho Chi Minh getting in a canoe and landing in California, and so on. Maybe some US leaders believe this nonsense — it’s possible — but rational planners certainly don’t. They understand that the real threat is the “good example.”

Sometimes the point is explained with great clarity. When the US was planning to overthrow Guatemalan democracy in 1954, a State Department official pointed out that “Guatemala has become an increasing threat to the stability of Honduras and El Salvador. Its agrarian reform is a powerful propaganda weapon: its broad social program of aiding the workers and peasants in a victorious struggle against the upper classes and large foreign enterprises has a strong appeal to the populations of Central American neighbors where similar conditions prevail.”

In other words, what the US wants is “stability,” meaning security for the “upper classes and large foreign enterprises.” If that can be achieved with formal democratic devices, OK. If not, the “threat to stability” posed by a good example has to be destroyed before the virus infects others.

That’s why even the tiniest speck poses such a threat, and may have to be crushed.

9 Noam Chomsky, “The Threat of a Good Example,” What Uncle Sam Really Wants (Tucson: Odonian Press, 1993) .


X Manifest Destiny and the Bush Doctrine: A conservative view

by David Warren

[Author David Warren is a born-again Christian and former publisher of Canada’s conservative Idler magazine, which folded in 1993. He now writes books from his home in Toronto and says one of his goals as a writer is to “reverse the terrible moral and intellectual slide of the West.”]

Anyone who thought President George W. Bush had lost the thread of the “war against terror” over the summer is welcome now to retire from punditry. The time was spent making large preparations, as far as possible from the public eye. Especially through the traditional dead month of August, he left sceptics and opponents to make their best case, without a hint of objection; with judicious leaks to lead them as far from the scent as possible. They complained that he didn’t have his ducks in order, all the while he was lining up his ducks.10

Now he has returned to the saloon of world opinion, with surprise, to say nothing of all guns blazing. Say what you please about Bush as cowboy; the barrels are loaded.

On Thursday he put before Congress a resolution that would, prior to any decision of the United Nations, authorize him to order the U.S. military to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. There is nothing ambiguous in this resolution, and it will certainly pass. The Democrats are hardly willing to throw November’s mid-term elections over it; and besides most of the Democratic leadership are convinced, after private and public briefings with the Bush administration, that it is the right course.

There will of course be considerable opposition, even in the States. The dissension in Europe and among the “moderate” Arab states will remain audible. But whereas three short weeks ago the opposition appeared to be gaining strength, it is now in disarray. Mr. Bush came out of the bullpen like a valkyr. And he is still coming, like a train.

Yesterday, in a written document tabled with Congress, the President went considerably beyond the Congressional resolution, to articulate in much greater detail than he could in his speech at West Point in June, or the previous anticipations of it, the “Bush Doctrine” through the conflict ahead. Given the present facts of life, exposed on 9/11 — the very real threat of sudden and annihilating attacks with biological, chemical, nuclear or even imaginatively-used conventional weapons, the U.S. must henceforth try to pre-empt. Moreover, the U.S. may be compelled to act sometimes without warning, upon intelligence information that must not be compromised, who knows, even on the territory of allies. (Canada, for example.) The stakes are actually high enough, to waive certain diplomatic niceties: for war is war.

This is a logic to which ultimately, I hope, almost everyone will agree. For as we have seen, opponents of the Bush administration have tried to make much of the possibility that the 9/11 attacks could have been foreseen. It makes sense to them, that if the catastrophes could have been foreseen, something should have been done to stop them. Think this through and the light will soon twinkle. Future attacks are indeed foreseeable, and something will indeed be done to stop them. Dangerously armed, mass-murdering psychopaths — in the Middle East or elsewhere — will no longer receive the benefit of the doubt. They can make themselves entirely transparent to U.S.-led weapons inspectors (and forcible disarmament), or, they may contrive to become entirely extinct. There will be no “third way”.

By what right may America do this? By the fundamental right of survival, in this quite imperfect world. And the U.S., for all its frequently enumerated flaws, is a liberal democracy; its lethal enemies are vicious dictatorships. Such regimes as those of Iraq and Iran, given to public chants of “Death to America!” and to privately harbouring terror networks, will now be taken at their word. As they are smashed, their disagreeable neighbours will learn how unwise it would be to emulate them.

The document in question, “The National Security Strategy of the United States”, is worth reading with attention. It does not require Congressional approval, it is a plain statement by the Administration. And it is to our times as the Monroe Doctrine of 1822, but extended now from the Western Hemisphere round the rest of the planet. It begins with an echo of “manifest destiny” (the phrase coined later, in 1845) — announcing that in the 21st century, the U.S. will unambiguously and consistently take sides, will in fact crusade on behalf of that “single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise.” American diplomacy and foreign aid will be turned positively to that end. There is a candid acknowledgement that the U.S. has inherited the power of the world; and thus inherits the responsibility to make it better.

But at the heart of this document is the cudgel of “strike first.” The old policy of deterrence is formally discarded in this sentence:

“The inability to deter a potential attacker, the immediacy of today’s threats, and the magnitude of potential harm that could be caused by our adversaries’ choice of weapons, do not permit that option.”

As Mr. Bush said last January in his state-of-the-union, and passim, this is a war that is very likely to outlast his term or terms in office. The doctrine will be binding on future Presidents, unless they explicitly renege; and they are unlikely to renege, unless the U.S. is actually defeated in the battle, and is itself compelled to sue for peace on its enemies’ terms. (And a world in which the U.S. is defeated, is a world in which liberal democracy is dead, and tyranny reigns triumphant.) The choice is not between war and peace. It is instead between defeat and victory.

10 David Warren, “Manifest Destiny,” DavidWarrenOnline, 21 Sept. 2002 .


XI Making the world safe for hypocrisy

by Michael Parenti

[Michael Parenti is a media critic and author of numerous books, including Inventing Reality, Against Empire, and Dirty Truths.]

Why has the United States government supported counterinsurgency in Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and many other places around the world, at such a loss of human life to the populations of those nations? Why did it invade tiny Grenada and then Panama? Why did it support mercenary wars against progressive governments in Nicaragua, Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Indonesia, East Timor, Western Sahara, South Yemen, and elsewhere? Is it because our leaders want to save democracy? Are they concerned about the well-being of these defenseless peoples? Is our national security threatened? I shall try to show that the arguments given to justify U.S. policies are false ones. But this does not mean the policies themselves are senseless. American intervention may seem “wrongheaded” but, in fact, it is fairly consistent and horribly successful.11

The history of the United States has been one of territorial and economic expansionism, with the benefits going mostly to the U.S. business class in the form of growing investments and markets, access to rich natural resources and cheap labor, and the accumulation of enormous profits. The American people have had to pay the costs of empire, supporting a huge military establishment with their taxes, while suffering the loss of jobs, the neglect of domestic services, and the loss of tens of thousands of American lives in overseas military ventures.

The greatest costs, of course, have been borne by the peoples of the Third World who have endured poverty, pillage, disease, dispossession, exploitation, illiteracy, and the widespread destruction of their lands, cultures, and lives.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and other Eastern European communist governments, U.S. Ieaders now have a freer hand in their interventions. A number of left reformist governments that had relied on the Soviets for economic assistance and political protection against U.S. interference now have nowhere to turn. The willingness of U.S. Ieaders to tolerate economic deviations does not grow with their sense of their growing power. Quite the contrary. Now even the palest economic nationalism, as displayed in Iraq by Saddam Hussein over oil prices, invites the destructive might of the U.S. military. The goal now, as always, is to obliterate every trace of an alternative system, to make it clear that there is no road to take except that of the free market, in a world in which the many at home and abroad will work still harder for less so that the favored few will accumulate more and more wealth.

That is the vision of the future to which most U.S. leaders are implicitly dedicated. It is a vision taken from the past and never forgotten by them, a matter of putting the masses of people at home and abroad back in their place, divested of any aspirations for a better world because they are struggling too hard to survive in this one.

11 Michael Parenti, “Making the World Safe for Hypocrisy,” Dirty Truths (San Francisco: City Lights Books), Third World Traveler .


XII The Oil Barons: Chasing the dollar into the 21st century

by Jamie York

[Jamie York, editor of this compilation on Manifest Destiny, is an activist and humanist scholar.]

“Indians chase the vision, white men chase the dollar,” writes Lame Deer, a traditional Sioux medicine man. “Americans are bred like stuffed geese — to be consumers, not human beings. The moment they stop consuming and buying, this frog-skin [dollar] world has no use for them.”12

In the 1800s, the Indians were nearly wiped out by the westward expansion of the American frontier. The prize then for the US was land for farming, logging, mining and railroads, and the methods used for displacing Indians were brutal and genocidal, as hundreds of thousands of buffalo — the main food supply for many Indian tribes — were shot and left to rot in the sun. The Indians who did not succumb to starvation were relocated and forced onto smaller and smaller parcels of land. Every Indian treaty signed by the United States was broken by the United States. The treaties provided temporary appeasement while the aggressive expansion continued unchecked.

Strike first. Eliminate the opposition’s ability to resist. Use whatever means are necessary to win. Claim divine intervention to soothe the God-fearing naysayers. These tenets of the Manifest Destiny doctrine are centuries-old tactics and have been used in North America and throughout the world. Under the Manifest Destiny doctrine, the United States has the divine duty to spread its version of political, religious, and free market “truth” throughout the world, and it does so by claiming this mission to be in its “national interest.” From the Indians to the Mexicans to the Koreans to the Iraqis, those who resist are conquered. Even the Moon and Mars have been conquered, if only symbolically at present.

But the 21st century prize for the United States is oil, and the strategic importance of oil to the American economy is the driving force behind today’s Manifest Destiny. Bush’s war on Iraq, a nation already weakened by economic sanctions and disarmed by a 1991 war and by continued United Nations weapons inspections, is a brazen — and many would say arrogant — grab for oil that fits perfectly with the extraterritorial nature of Manifest Destiny.

The United States is purporting to support a western-style democracy in Iraq, and, of course, freedom from the tyrannical dictator known as Saddam Hussein. When we dig under the rhetoric and look at the context, however, the Iraq war is an annexation, a colonization, a hostile takeover of a sovereign nation that happens to have 10 percent of the world’s remaining oil reserves. And one of the great ironies of the war on Iraq is that the Bush family business just happens to be oil and weapons, which makes the war for oil a win-win situation for the Bushes. No oil-producing nation, nor any nation with the military or ideological power to stand in the way of US Manifest Destiny, is safe from military intervention, regime change, and hostile takeover. The excuses used to justify intervention almost sound legitimate to the casual observer: The Indians needed “civilized.” The Iraqis needed “freedom.” But Manifest Destiny dictates that both Indians and Iraqis, as non-Europeans, are incapable of self-government.

Like the red-skinned Indians, the new enemies of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny — the “terrorists” — are portrayed by the mass media as brown-skinned Arabs. After a group of Saudi extremists flew airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11/01, Bush’s declaration, “you are either with us or you are with the terrorists,” brought the Manifest Destiny doctrine once again to center stage. First-strike, unilateral military intervention is easier for the public to swallow in the vague context of a “war on terrorism,” of “us vs. them,” of “good vs. evil.” In President Bush’s own words, it is the destiny of the United States to “change the world,” to rid the world of “evil-doers.” What he means, of course, is that he will defeat all of those who oppose US imperialism’s divine claim to planet Earth. In any realistic historical context, however, Bush’s view of Manifest Destiny would be considered just as extremist, dangerous, and ruthless as any dictator the world has ever known.

The Republic of Cuba, however, has been a thorn in the side for US Manifest Destiny. Ever since 1959, when Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, in the name of Cuba’s workers and farmers, led the Cuban Revolution and overthrew the corrupt Batista regime just 90 miles south of Key West, Florida, the US has unsuccessfully tried to overthrow Cuba. From the Bay of Pigs invasion to exploding cigars to germ warfare to an economic blockade to blatant acts of terrorism against hotels and airplanes, the US government, in collusion with a bloc of wealthy Cuban-American exiles in Miami, has sought to destroy the Cuban Revolution. At every meeting of the UN human rights commission, the US exerts its mighty influence over voting members to ensure that Cuba — by just one vote in 2004 — is condemned for human rights violations. Another tactic is to list Cuba as one of seven countries that support terrorism. Is Cuba — a sovereign nation that treats food, housing, education, and health care as human rights — on Bush’s short list for military action and “regime change”?

Perhaps now is the time to replace the doctrine of Manifest Destiny with a new humanist doctrine, a doctrine more in tune with a rapidly growing world population and a dwindling supply of natural resources. A doctrine more in tune with global warming, air pollution, and contaminated drinking water. A doctrine more in tune with the need of all human beings for food, shelter, education and health care.

“I am trying to bring the ghost dance back,” writes Lame Deer, “but interpret it in a new way. I think it has been misunderstood, but after [110] years I believe that more and more people are sensing what we meant when we prayed for a new earth and that now not only the Indians but everybody has become an ‘endangered species.’ So let the Indians help you bring on a new earth without pollution or war. Let’s roll up the world. It needs it.”13

12 Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971), 44.

13 Lame Deer 235.