Deterring Democracy

DeterringDemocracyCoverSelf-adulation and claims of moral supremacy are traditional features of mainstream US political culture so deeply ingrained that they seldom require further interrogation. One of the more crude versions of this norm was given expression this past week when CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour admonished a panel of commentators for drawing a “false moral equivalence” between the crimes of the US-backed “rebels” in Syria and those of the Assad government. “The president of the most moral country in the world, based on the most moral principles in the world,” could not allow the crimes of the Assad government to “go unchecked,” Amanpour declared with great passion. No one on this panel questioned the assertion that the US was “the most moral country in the world, based on the most moral principles in the world.” Official doctrine prohibits investigation of such claims which are accepted as religious dogma.

Anyone who wishes to transcend this culture of imperialism is free to do so, assuming, of course, they aren’t intimidated by the ideological threat of unpleasant facts or the harsh punishments which often accompany their recognition. Noam Chomsky’s Deterring Democracy is an indispensable read for those interested in making this transcendent move and a hazard to be avoided for those who would rather conform to the status quo. Reviewing the long and gruesome record of US terror throughout Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, Chomsky reveals the utter absurdity of Amanpour’s declaration and the various justifications for State savagery given by her predecessors in what he calls journalism’s “psychotic streak.”

Democracy, under US doctrine, is acceptable only if it conforms with the strategic, economic, and political objectives of Washington, anything else is a “virus” or sign of “communist” infiltration deserving of swift eradication via paramilitary death squads, economic strangulation, threats of violence or military invasion. CIA documents on Guatemala’s post-war experiment in democracy denounced the “low-level intellectualism” of Guatemalans whose government began attending to the needs of the country’s poorest through agrarian reform, an intolerable assault against their corporate overlords in the United Fruit Company. This experiment was terminated in 1954 when the CIA organized a military coup to overthrow the democratic government of Jacobo Arbenz. This chapter in American history is properly forgotten by those who recognize the US as “the most moral country in the world,” entitled to enforce its will on populations that “lack the mental ingredients for democracy,” to borrow the phrase of New York Times commissar David Brooks in what can only be called a tribute to the “low-level intellectualism” of racists in the CIA. Another valuable contribution of Chomsky’s study is his refutation of the cherished doctrine that the US “nursed” its enemies–Japan and Germany– and the rest of Europe back to health after they were destroyed during the war years. The latest iteration of this myth appeared in a Boston Globe article by “conservative” columnist Jeff Jacoby. As usual, the documentary record tells a radically different story.

“Power, too, abhors a vacuum,” Jacoby stated. “A long-term US military presence in Iraq could have strengthened Iraq’s democrats and moderates, giving peace and prosperity the same chance they had in Germany, Japan, and Korea.” Perhaps, if Jacoby utilized his intellectual energies for something more than memorizing imperial pieties he would know that the US did not, by any honest standard, give “peace and prosperity” to Germany, Japan, and Korea. US post-war policy was designed to decimate the anti-fascist resistance in Europe by enlisting the most repressive regimes, including Nazi collaborators, to govern all territories where they perceived a threat of independent, labor-based development. “The United States was determined to prevent expropriation of Nazi industrialists and firmly opposed to allowing worker based organizations to exert managerial authority,” writes Chomsky. This offensive against anti-fascist forces also included the US recruitment of bona fide Nazi war criminals like Klaus Barbie and Franz Six who was tasked with “developing a ‘secret army’ under US auspices, along with former Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht specialists to assist military forces established by Hitler in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in operations that continued into the 1950s.”

It’s also quite obvious that Jacoby has little, if any, knowledge about the history of South Korea or Japan. If he did he would have known that “In South Korea, about 100,000 people were killed in the late 1940s by security forces installed and directed by the United States.” He also would have known that “the United States essentially reconstructed the co-prosperity sphere of Japanese Fascism,” as a “component of US-dominated global order.” This reconstruction included “crushing indigenous threats to this system,” and “renewing a traditional perception of Japan as a junior partner in the exploitation of Asia.” Marshall Plan aid was crucially conditioned on the recipient countries accepting the highly destructive capitalist prescriptions of the US, hardly a sign of our “benevolence”. The omission of these uncontroversial facts in Jacoby’s article is understood under the reigning theology that US crimes aren’t really crimes but achievements to be heralded. Apart from these vital insights into early post-war US policy, Chomsky also gives a thorough analysis of Cold War ideology which he describes as a pretext for the two world powers (the Soviet Union and the US) to consolidate control in their respective domains, US areas of domination covering a much larger part of the world. The US-backed brutality in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Panama is given particular focus, at times in bone-chilling detail. Take for example his recollection of Catholic priest Daniel Santiago’s description of a murder scene in El Salvador:

“He [reported] the story of a peasant woman, who returned home one day to find her mother, sister, and three children sitting around a table, the decapitated head of each person placed carefully on the table in front of the body, the hands arranged on top ‘as if each body was stroking its own head.’ The assassins from the Salvadoran National Guard, had found it hard to keep the head of an eighteen-month-old baby in place, so they nailed the hands onto it. A large plastic bowl filled with blood was tastefully displayed in the center of the table.”

Grotesque scenes of this kind, which were not uncommon in this client state, forced Santiago to state that “the aesthetics of terror in El Salvador [were] religious.” Indeed, not only were the aesthetics of terror in Salvador religious in nature but also the justifications used to whitewash these kinds of atrocities, for example Michael Kinsley’s advice to his readers that Contra terrorism against Nicaraguan civilians should be evaluated in terms of a “cost-benefit analysis”, if “the amount of blood and misery that will be poured in” will lead to “democracy.” A new and improved version of this psychotic rationalism was articulated by Time magazine columnist Joe Klein who cautioned critics of Obama’s international terrorist campaign that what’s really important is “whose  four year olds are killed,” by his predator drones. Expectedly, this elicited zero condemnation from educated quarters in the “most moral country in the world based on the most moral principles in the world”, normal behavior when dealing with the suffering of unpeople.

The abundance of violence and cruelty explored in Deterring Democracy should inspire profound disgust and shame in anyone who claims to have a shred of empathy. It also should force us to passionately challenge commissars like Christiane Amanpour when they make statements about America’s purported moral superiority. Chomsky’s work, with its characteristic clarity and attention to detail, remains as a glowing example of the moral courage necessary to face startling truths and the significance of intellectual honesty in any serious effort to overcome these barriers to a more humane society.


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