“I believe we can have a foreign policy that is democratic, that is based on fundamental values, and that uses power and influence, which we have, for humane purposesé Our policy is based on an historical vision of America’s role. Our policy is derived from a larger view of global change. Our policy is rooted in our moral values, which never change. Our policy is reinforced by our material wealth and by our military power. Our policy is designed to serve mankind.”
Contrary to this traditional perspective endorsed by then President of the United States Jimmy Carter, the aims of U.S. foreign policy – which has consistently dominated international relations in the post-war period – were essentially to attain and enforce a global system in which the Western powers under American leadership would maintain global dominance. This essentially meant being in control of the world’s resources at the expense of non-Western nations. This fundamental objective of foreign policy in the post-war period is candidly indicated by a notorious declassified top-secret report produced by the U.S. State Department’s policy planning staff, headed at the time (February 1948) by George Kennan:
“We have about 50 per cent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 per cent of its population… Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreamingé We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction… We should cease to talk about vague and… unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we will have to deal in straight power concepts.”
Both American and British military interventions, often in terms of a joint effort, were accordingly undertaken in the attempt to establish and maintain this global “pattern of relationships”. These have been well documented by foreign policy analysts, and certain significant aspects of them can be clearly derived from British and American internal documents. The well-known U.S. academic Professor Noam Chomsky at MIT is probably the leading critic of American foreign policy, and has discussed many of these military operations in detail. British historian Mark Curtis, former Research Fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, has similarly documented the anti-humanitarian nature of British foreign policy, including brutal Anglo-American military operations in Iran, Kuwait, Egypt, Aden, Jordan, Chile and Oman, amongst others.
In his study, The Ambiguities of Power, Mark Curtis é who is now with the UK-based charity Action Aid é concludes that:
“Mutual Anglo-American support in ordering the affairs of key nations and regions, often with violence, to their design has been a consistent feature of the era that followed the Second World Waré Policy in, for example, Malaya, Kenya, British Guiana and Iran was geared towards organising Third World economies along guidelines in which British, and Western, interests would be paramount, and those of the often malnourished populations would be ignored or further undermined. Similarly, US interventions overseas – in Vietnam, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Chile, etcetera – were designed to counter threats to the Western practice of assigning the Third World to mere client status to Western business interests. British and US forces have acted as mercenary – and often extremely violent – mobs intended to restore ‘order’ in their domains and to preserve the existing privileges of elites within their own societies.“
U.S. foreign policy analyst Edward Herman, Professor Emeritus of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, in like manner observes:
“As to the record, the United States has given frequent and enthusiastic support to the overthrow of democracy in favor of ‘investor friendly’ regimes, including Marcos’s Philippines in 1972, Pinochet’s Chile in 1973, and that of the Brazilian generals in 1964; and it has often shifted policy from the support of friendly fascists like the Somozas in Nicaragua and Ubico in Guatemala to hostility and active subversion of successor reformist or radical democrats like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and Arevalo and Arbenz in Guatemala.“
This category of profit-orientated policies has been a systematic feature of international relations since the colonial era of the 1500s into the 21st century’s age of globalisation. Such policies are thus an inherent dimension of the centuries old structure of Western institutions. The internationally acclaimed American political analyst Michael Parenti provides a particularly acute overview:
“Since World War II, the US government has given more than $200 billion in military aid to train, equip, and subsidize more than 2.3 million troops and internal security forces in more than eighty countries, the purpose being not to defend them from outside invasions but to protect ruling oligarchs and multinational corporate investors from the dangers of domestic anti-capitalist insurgency. Among the recipients have been some of the most notorious military autocracies in history, countries that have tortured, killed or otherwise maltreated large numbers of their citizens because of their dissenting political viewsé US leaders profess a dedication to democracy. Yet over the past five decades, democratically elected reformist governmentsé were overthrown by pro-capitalist militaries that were funded and aided by the US national security state.”
But as the former CIA official John Stockwell indicates, many others include Angola, Guatemala, Brazil, Guyana, Chile, the Congo, Iran, Vietnam, Panama, Peru, Bolivia, Equador, Uruguay, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, El Salvador and Korea. As already indicated, the anti-humanitarian nature of these interventions is well documented. Majid Tehranian for example, who is Professor of International Communication at the University of Hawaii and Director of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, points out that:
“In their scholarship, William Appleton Williams, Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Ramsey Clark, Ali Mazrui, and other critics of US foreign policies have provided an abundance of evidence to support the charges on the counter-democratic role of the United States in much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.”
Through this programme of Western consolidation, the Western powers under the lead of the United States have succeeded in institutionalising their hegemony in the form of a global politico-economic system, in which they and their multinational corporations are dominant over largely impoverished, unstable Third World countries, while being in control of the world’s resources.
Development economist and Director of Research of the California-based Institute for Economic Democracy (IED), Dr. J. W. Smith, has lucidly explained the essence of this rarely acknowledged global holocaust: “No society will tolerate it if they knew that they (as a country) were responsible for violently killing 12 to 15 million people since WW II and causing the death of hundreds of millions more as their economies were destroyed or those countries were denied the right to restructure to care for their peopleé
“Unknown as it is, and recognizing that this has been standard practice throughout colonialism, that is the record of the Western imperial centers of capital from 1945 to 1990… While mouthing peace, freedom, justice, rights, and majority rule, all over the world state-sponsored terrorists were overthrowing democratic governments, installing and protecting dictators, and preventing peace, freedom, justice, rights, and majority rule. Twelve to fifteen million mostly innocent people were slaughtered in that successful 45 year effort to suppress those breaks for economic freedom which were bursting out all over the world.
“… All [Western] intelligence agencies have been, and are still in, the business of destabilizing undeveloped countries to maintain their dependency and the flow of the world’s natural wealth to powerful nations’ industries at a low price and to provide markets for those industries at a high price, identical to those raiding parties who raided the countryside 800 to 1,000 years ago to destroy their capital, maintain their dependency, and force the countryside to sell their raw material to, and purchase the manufactured products from, the city. The defeated/impoverished former colonial world is the countryside for today’s wealthy imperial centers of capital. The military of today’s powerful nations are for the same purpose as those Middle Age raiding parties. Thus, with per capita natural wealth many times that of Europe, those defeated nations remain impoverished, as that wealth is continually siphoned to powerful imperial centers of capital.”
This paper contains several case studies of U.S. foreign policy, all of which clarify that the fundamental values of policy-making do not concord with humanitarian concerns, but on the contrary systematically conflict with such concerns. Although the West has always publicly affirmed its benevolence, altruism, and passionate concern for human rights, an impartial analysis of the record reveals that this is essentially a dubious public front behind which other appropriate policies can be more vigorously pursued. While professing their interest in human values, the Western governments instead appear to be oriented towards subjugating the world for the self-interested benefit of their own elites, at any human cost. This predictably results in the oppression, impoverishment and devastation of the lives of non-Western populations. In simple terms, if the non-Western governments do not comply with Western orders, they must pay the price in blood. The United States, in other words, routinely sponsors terrorism to secure its strategic and economic interests. Such U.S. sponsored acts of terrorism are so frequent and brutal, that they far outweigh in scale even such horrifying atrocities as occurred on American soil on 11th September 2001.
II.I The U.S. in Central America
The US intervention in Nicaragua provides a powerful and fairly recent historical example of the nature of Western covert operations, in context with the general tenore of U.S. policy toward Central America. It therefore serves as a useful case study of the Western powers’ attempts to violently enforce their strategy for dominion. Central America has been a traditional target for U.S. dominion since 1820, from which other industrial powers from Europe are unequivocally excluded. For example, between 1900 and the Second World War, the U.S. had 5,000 marines in Nicaragua for a total of 28 years, had invaded the Dominican Republic four times, had occupied Haiti for twelve years, had deposited troops into Cuba four times, into Panama six times, into Guatemala once, and into Honduras seven times. In Guatemala alone, the governments supported by the U.S. had killed about 80,000 people by 1987, according to Amnesty International.
In the ensuing analysis we shall be referring frequently to the disclosures of former CIA official John Stockwell. Stockwell was the highest-ranking CIA official ever to leave the CIA and go public. He ran a CIA intelligence-gathering post in Vietnam, was the task-force commander of the CIA’s secret war in Angola in 1975 and 1976, and was awarded the Medal of Merit before he eventually resigned. As a a former U.S. Marine Corps major who was then promoted to the CIA’s Chief of Station and National Security Council coordinator é making him a 13 year CIA veteran – Stockwell is a leading authority on the CIA and the clandestine workings of U.S. foreign policy, whose revelations must therefore be taken very seriously indeed. Stockwell confirms that the millions of dollars invested by the United States in Central America were, in fact, siphoned to the rich rather than the general population of the countries involved, and consequently culminated in destabilising the region to a tremendous degree. For example, the CIA and the United States recruited, trained and funded the police units that were to become the death squads in El Salvador – and continued to support them when that became the case. Under the ‘Alliance for Progress’ in the early 1960s, the CIA developed the treasury police who, as John Stockwell relates, used to “haul people out at night… and run trucks over their heads”, and who “have killed something over 50,000 civilians in the last 5 years [by 1987]”, as reported by the Catholic Church. According to testimony before the U.S. Congress leaders of the treasury police were still on the CIA payroll as late as 1982.
Another example of the results of the United States investment is also discussed by John Stockwell: the ‘public safety program’ which had operated throughout Central and Latin America for 26 years. This consisted of “teaching police units to break up popular subversion by interrogating people”, including “instruction in torture techniques”. According to Stockwell, Dan Metrione, “the famous exponent of these things”, “did 7 years in Brazil and 3 in Uruguay, teaching interrogation, teaching torture. He was supposed to be the master of the business, how to apply the right amount of pain, at just the right times, in order to get the response you want from the individual”. Stockwell remarks that this operation was so conspicuously brutal, that Amnesty International complained and published reports. This was followed by United Nations hearings and eventually – under international pressure – even a U.S. Congress investigation, to investigate the inaccurately titled ‘public safety program’.
As for the purpose of such policies, this was summed up in an inviolable principle indicated by U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski: “[W]e have to demonstrate that we are still the decisive force in determining the political outcomes in Central America and that we will not permit others to intervene” – even if those “others” constitute the indigenous population. This is a clear illustration of the blatantly anti-democratic philosophy of U.S. foreign policy.
II.II U.S. Support of the Somozan Dictatorship
The principle espoused by Brzezinski reveals the actual pretext for U.S. policy towards Nicaragua. The conditions under the U.S. client state under the Somozan dynasty of 1937-47 and then 1950-79 had been horrendous. The last of the U.S.-backed dictators of the Somozan dynasty, Anastasia Somoza Debayle, like his forefathers, pursued policies that perpetuated a huge economic disparity in the country, such that only a small minority prospered under his reign while the majority remained in poverty. In 1975, the poorest 20 percent of the population received 4 percent of the national income while the richest 20 percent received 55 percent. The impoverished masses were subdued with the aid of the U.S.-funded National Guard. Education, proper nutrition, sanitation and other basic needs were privileges that pertained only to the wealthy minority.
The results were therefore devastating for the majority of Nicaraguan people. Over half the population was illiterate; two thirds of children under five were malnourished; and nine out of ten rural homes had no safe drinking water. According to the United Nations, over 60 per cent of the population lived in critical poverty; two thirds were too poor to fulfill even their most elementary needs; one third lived in “extreme poverty”. Meanwhile, large landowners and U.S. agribusiness interests were enriched thanks to export crops, with the inevitably devastating implications for the majority of the population; 90 per cent of agricultural credit and 22 times more arable land than that used to grow basic food crops to feed the malnourished population, was taken up by export crops for the already wealthy elite.
Nevertheless, like his predecessors Anastasia Somoza was a U.S. ally and his regime was one of the highest per capita recipients of U.S. aid in Latin America, including critical military aid. Historian Walter La Feber notes that “two months before Somoza fled” in July 1979, “the United States supported his request for a $66 million loan from the IMF”. It was not long after this that the U.S.”declared [that] the Guard [i.e. Somoza’s troops] had to be kept to ‘preserve order'”, even while “at that moment Somoza’s troops were dive-bombing slums, murdering unarmed people in the streets, and looting the cities, …killing thousands of women and children.” Some 40,000 civilians were slaughtered by Somoza’s National Guard before his regime collapsed despite U.S. efforts to keep him in power.
II.III The Sandinista’s Revolution
The Sandinista Front toppled Somoza’s illegitimate government in the revolution of 1979. Four years after the collapse of his U.S.-supported regime in this popular movement, whose aim was primarily to implement a programme of socio-economic development accruing to the population, a 1983 report of the World Council of Churches recognised the new hope presented to the Nicaraguan people by the Sandinistan government:
“What we see is a government faced with tremendous problems, some seemingly insuperable, bent on a great experiment which, though precarious and incomplete at many points, provides hope to the poor sectors of society, improves the conditions of education, literacy and health, and for the first time offers the Nicaraguan people a modicum of justice for all rather than a society offering exclusively to the wealthy… and the powerful.”
The Sandinstan government, in other words, whose members had toppled the U.S.-backed Somozan regime, from its inception attempted to democratically address the grievances of the population. Oxfam reported in its aptly titled 1985 report, The threat of a good example?:
“The cornerstone of the new development strategy, spelled out by the Sandinista Front some years before taking power, was to give priority to meeting the basic needs of the poor majority. This was to be achieved by involving people in implementing change at a local level, through their neighbourhood groups, peasant associations and other organisations; at a central level, representatives of these organisations were to cooperate closely with the government ministries.”
The conclusion of the report was that “in Oxfam’s experience of working in seventy-six developing countries, Nicaragua was to prove exceptional in the strength of that government commitment”. Genevieve Howe who co-organised the Women’s Observer Mission to the Elections in Nicaragua in 1996 similarly details the social gains under the popular government:
“The Nicaraguan revolution had accomplished small miracles for the mass of poor citizens oppressed by 45 years of the Somoza family dictatorship. Literacy had increased from 25 percent to 80 percent. Free education and health care had become state priorities. Land reform had benefited thousands in the cities and countryside. Countless projects had been completed with the help of international donations, including construction of schools, hospitals, and clinics, establishment of drinking water supplies and waste water disposal, agricultural irrigation, and environmental protection.”
The U.S. response to the 1979 revolution, when the country’s health and education budget rose rapidly, when an effective land reform was instituted, when the infant mortality rate had dropped dramatically, is revealing. Rather than praising the new government’s unprecedented successes and popular legitimacy, the country which calls itself the leader of democratic civilization had in fact discovered a new enemy. The U.S. accordingly adopted a brutal programme of terror designed to subvert the new government and re-install a Somoza-style regime.
II.IV The Context of U.S. Intervention in Nicaragua
The state of Nicaragua’s neighbours é e.g. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras – during the ensuing U.S. attempt to subvert the Nicaraguan government, clearly demonstrates the lack of humanitarian concern behind U.S. policy. Both the Guatemalan and El Salvadorian regimes were military dictatorships responsible for the sheer institutionalisation of state terror, installed and propped up by the United States. Tens of thousands of civilians were regularly slaughtered by government death squads trained and armed by the CIA. The vast majority of the populations were impoverished. U.S. academic Joachim Maitre of Boston University observes that the America had “installed democracies of the style of Hitler Germany” in both El Salvador and Guatemala. Paul Ekins, a Research Fellow at the Department of Economics, Birkbeck College (University of London) aptly observes that “the absolutely justified U.S. condemnation of Soviet human rights abuses domestically and abroad came across to the international community as little more than ideological point-scoring, because the U.S. was simultaneously backing some of the most bloody regimes in Latin America, including Guatemala and El Salvador” throughout the 1980s. Indeed, the liberal press in the U.S. awarded “Reagan & Co. good marks” for the policy, urging that further military aid be sent to “Latin-style facistsé regardless of how many are murdered”, because “there are higher American priorities than Salvadoran human rights”.
Nicaragua thus stood far above its neighbours in terms of its human rights record, its democracy, and its successful focus on egalitarian socio-economic reforms. Indeed, this appears to be the fundamental reason why the Nicaraguan government had to be targeted by the U.S. for subversion: It was not subservient to the requirements of United States investors, but was orientated toward the mobilisation of domestic resources for the benefit of the indigenous population. In contrast, U.S.-backed Guatemala and El Salvador, whose governments were “of the style of Hitler Germany”, were entirely open to the requirements of U.S. corporations; this is why the indigenous populations were so impoverished – resources were largely monopolised by North American investors.
Indeed, to fully understand what exactly was implied by the United States’ installation and support of Latin American dictatorships, one may undertake at least a cursory inspection of some independent reports on these regimes. The following was noted, for instance, by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs:
“More people have died in El Salvador during the past year, largely as the result of government-condoned right-wing ‘death squad’ killings, than in all other nations of Latin America combined… The death toll… reached almost 10,000, with the vast majority of the victims falling prey to right-wing terrorism sanctioned by key government officials… [T]hese countless killings have gone unpunished and even uninvestigated as the government’s own military and police forces are almost always involved in them”.
As a result approximately 35,000 refugees, mostly women and children, had been living on the Honduran border in conditions of poverty, starvation and disease, as reported by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. These people were attempting to escape the regular raids of the Salvadorian army and the government’s paramilitaries, ORDEN. The latter would cross the border to attack the refugee camps, which had formed out of the population attempting to escape domestic state-terror.
After visiting these border regions in January 1981 on a fact-finding mission, a U.S. congressional delegation submitted a report to Congress. The report provided extensive documentation of the U.S.-backed Salvadorian army’s systematic atrocities against its civilian population, noting that the refugees “describe what appears to be a systematic campaign conducted by the security forces of El Salvador to deny any rural base for guerrilla operations in the northé
“By terrorizing and depopulating villages in the region they have sought to isolate the guerrillas and create problems of logistics and food supply… The Salvadorean method of ‘drying up the ocean’ involves, according to those who have fled from its violence, a combination of murder, torture, rape, the burning of crops in order to create starvation conditions, and a program of general terrorism and harassment.”
In the introduction to his collection of papers, Towards a New Cold War, U.S. academic Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT comments extensively on the congressional report:
“The report then presents some sample interviews in which refugees describe the bombing and burning of villages by the army, mass murder of fleeing civilians, shooting of defenseless peasants from helicopters, and extraordinary brutality (e.g.: mutilation; decapitation; ‘children around the age of 8 being raped, and then they would take their bayonets and make mincemeat of them’; ‘the army would cut people up and put soap and coffee in their stomachs as a mocking. They would slit the stomach of a pregnant woman and take the child out, as if they were taking eggs out of an iguana. That is what I saw’). With regard to the guerrillas, refugees report: ‘We don’t complain about them at all,’ ‘they haven’t done any of those kind of things,’ ‘it’s the military that is doing this. Only the military. The popular organization isn’t doing any of this.’ As for the military: ‘They were killing everybody. They were looking for people to kill – that’s what they were doing.’… The report concludes that the security forces of El Salvador, ‘operating independent of responsible civilian control… are conducting a systematic campaign of terrorism against segments of their own population.’ In fact, the government is effectively under right-wing military control, the reformist officers having been driven out of the junta.”
Unfortunately, the government was also in receipt of a U.S. “program of support for repression and massacre in El Salvador”, which included “domestic programs of militarization and alms for the wealthy.”
The New York Times has further recorded the aftermath of the U.S. operation, noting that “Because the United States armed and financed the army whose brutality sent them into exile, few Salvadoreans were able to obtain the refugee status granted to Cubans, Vietnamese, Kuwaitis, and other nationalities at various times.” The conflict “lasted from 1979 until 1992”, during which “more than 70,000 people were killed in El Salvador, most of them by the American-backed army and the death squads it in turn supported”, thus forcing “many people here to flee to the United States” where they have often been denied asylum.
The U.S.-backed junta in Guatemala faired similarly. According to the National Council of the Jesuit Order in Guatemala, “it is only necessary to open one’s eyes to realize that here we are ruled by a system of anti-Christian power which destroys life and persecutes those who fight for life… This anguishing situation is being maintained with a repression among the most severe in Guatemala’s recent history. A regime of unjust force is trying to prevent the working people from reclaiming their just rights.” The Council reported over three thousand killings in the first ten months of 1979 alone, by government-backed death squads acting “with total impunity. It is axiomatic that in Guatemala there are no political prisoners, only the dead and disappeared.” Right-wing death squads backed by the U.S.-installed government were killing tens of thousands with impunity. Amnesty International (AI) reported that the systematic massacre of the population, as well as the “tortures and murders”, “are part of a deliberate and long-standing program of the Guatemalan Government” and that the “selection of targets for detention and murder, and the deployment of official forces for extra-legal operations can be pin-pointed to secret offices in an annex of Guatemala’s National Palace, under the direct control of the President of the Republic”. Subsequent AI reports detail the increase of violence since 1980.
As this continued Guatemala’s grim socio-economic conditions degraded to appalling levels. British journalist Anthony Wild reported that:
“Migrant labour is at the core of Guatemala’s economic system. Four million rural poor, most of them Indians descended from Maya, scratch a bare existence from growing maize on plots that are shrinking by inheritance with each generation; with no jobs in their home villages, an estimated 1.5 million workers migrate for up to three months of the year, often taking wives and children with them… The appalling living and working conditions in which [the haciendas] keep them are the foundation on which the fabulous fortunes of Guatemala’s elite are built.”
The government in Guatemala responsible for this state of affairs had been violently established by America with British support by overthrowing the reformist Arbenz government in 1954. The operation occurred under the false pretext of saving the Guatemalan people from Soviet/Communist aggression. Once the Arbenz administration was removed, the new U.S. installed regime continued to receive U.S. support and investment. Contrary to the prevailing myth that in toppling Arbenz the United States was fighting against an illegitimate Communist dictatorship, the real reason for the intervention was that Arbenz’s policies were based on agrarian reform, designed therefore to redistribute hundreds of thousands of acres to previously landless Guatemalan peasants. This led to conflict between the interests of U.S. corporate investors and the Guatemalan people. The United Fruit Company was the largest landowner, concentrating on the production of bananas for export to the detriment of the production staple foods for the consequently malnourished population. Arbenz’s policies echoed the programme of the Arevalo government before him, a programme that a 1949 CIA assessment referred to as “distinctly unfriendly to U.S. business interests”; the U.S. State Department similarly recognised that such policies constituted a threat to Guatemala as “a place for capital investment”.
Other internal documents disclose U.S. intentions with clarity. In 1952, for instance, U.S. intelligence noted the rise of “militant advocacy of social reforms and nationalistic policies identified with the Guatemalan revolution of 1944”, which resulted in 10 years of democracy before the U.S. intervened to secure its own interests in the region. “The radical and nationalistic policies” pursued by the democratic government included “the persecution of foreign economic interests, especially the United Fruit Company”, and had won “the support or acquiescence of almost all Guatemalans.” The government had generated “mass support for the present regime”, proceeding “to mobilize the hitherto politically inert peasantry” via agrarian reform and labour organization, undermining the hegemony of large foreign landowners. “Guatemalan official propaganda, with its emphasis on conflict between democracy and dictatorship and between national independence and ‘economic imperialism’, is a disturbing factor in the Caribbean area”, the U.S. concluded.
In other documents, the U.S. admitted that the democratic revolution of 1944 had contributed to “a strong national movement to free Guatemala from the military dictatorship, social backwardness, and ‘economic colonialism’, which had been the pattern of the past”. The “social and economic programs of the elected government met the aspirations” of the impoverished, and “inspired the loyalty and conformed to the self-interest of most political conscious Guatemalans.” Hence, “neither the landholders nor the [United] Fruit Company can expect any sympathy in Guatemalan public opinion.” Furthermore, the government’s “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 neighbours where similar conditions prevail.” As far as America was concerned, then, democracy and social justice were the principal problems. These dire threats to U.S. hegemony in the region had to be violently eliminated. Referring to the decades of bloodshed consequently imposed by U.S.-sponsored terrorists on the Guatemalan population, the chair of the UN Historical Clarification Commission, Law Professor Christian Tomuschat, stressed when presenting the UN report on the crisis that the U.S. government and private companies “exercised pressure to maintain the country’s archaic and unjust socioeconomic structure.”
This hegemonic imperative was consistently carried out throughout the region, for example, in Cuba, which was once again targeted for the familiar reasons. Historian Arthur Schlesinger, writing “as one involved in the Kennedy administration’s Cuban policy”, reported to President Kennedy on the conclusions of a 1961 Latin American Mission. He characterised Cuba’s threat to the United States as “the spread of the Castro idea of taking matters into one’s own hands” é a serious problem due to the fact that “the distribution of land and other forms of national wealth greatly favors the propertied classes” throughout Latin America, a situation favourable to U.S. interests. He highlighted the fundamental threat of the fact that “the poor and under-privileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, are now demanding opportunities for a decent living.” As for the linkage with the threat of international Communism emanating from the Soviet Union, Schlesinger revealed that “Meanwhile, the Soviet Union hovers in the wings, flourishing large development loans and presenting itself as the model for achieving modernization in a single generation.”
Nicaragua in the 1980s can therefore be seen to have stood out in only two fundamental ways from its neighbours such as El Salvador and Guatemala. Firstly, the Sandinistan government did not slaughter its population. Secondly, the Sandinistan government had successfully generated serious efforts to mobilise resources for radical social reform in the interests of the general population, particularly the poor. In contrast, tpproximately half the populations of the U.S.-backed regimes of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador were impoverished, if not starving to death. In particular, the U.S. client regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala regularly massacred their own populations, slaughtering over 100,000 civilians during the 1980s and into the beginning of 1990s. Yet the U.S. continued to sponsor such terrorism, propping up the dictatorships responsible for such violence while actively helping them carry it out, choosing only to militarily subvert the vastly more democratic and egalitarian Nicaraguan government of the Sandinistas.
The judicial wing of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice (or World Court) prohibited the American military operation to topple the Sandinistan administration in 1986, calling on the United States to pay substantial reparations. Condemning the “unlawful use of force” against Nicaragua, the Court further ruled that aid to the forces attacking Nicaragua was not humanitarian, but military. The U.S. reacted by dismissing the ruling and escalating the violence. A UN Security Council resolution that subsequently called on all states to observe international law was vetoed by the U.S. The U.S. went on to vote against similar UN General Assembly resolutions in virtual isolation. U.S. Secretary of State of the time, George Shultz, scoffed at those who called for “utopian, legalistic means like outside mediation, the United Nations, and the World Court, while ignoring the power element of the equation.” His view was echoed by Abraham Sofaer, the U.S. Department of State legal adviser, who declared that the majority cannot “be counted on the share our view”, because the “majority often opposes the United States on important international questions.” We must “reserve to ourselves the power to determine” which international questions fall “within the domestic jurisdiction of the United States, as determined by the United States.”
From all this the following correlation can thus be clearly discerned: The U.S. is willing to support dictatorship, state terror and mass impoverishment when these are conducive to opportunities for investment and access to regional raw materials. However, the absence of dictatorship, terror, and so on generally also involves the appearance of independent development and egalitarian socio-economic growth. As was clarified by Head of U.S. Policy Planning Staff George Kennan in 1948, independence has to be eliminated to permit unimpeded access to regional resources, and to ensure that the overall system of order under U.S. hegemony remains stable. Within this world system, the US remains unaccountable and free to operate at will outside the framework of international law.
II.V U.S. Backed Terrorism in Nicaragua
Describing the U.S. military operation to oust the Sandinistas, former CIA official John Stockwell relates that on 16 November 1981, President Reagan allocated $19 million to develop an army out of ex-Somoza national guards – the ‘contras’ – who would serve U.S. ends. These were the very same “monsters who were doing the torture and terror in Nicaragua” under the Somozan regime with U.S.-support, “that made the Nicaraguan people rise up and throw out the dictator, and throw out the guard” in the 1979 revolution. Stockwell affirms that this is in accord with traditional policies: When the Western powers do not like a government, he observes, they input resources into manufacturing the collapse of the social and economic fabric of the country, as a technique for putting pressure on the government to conform to Western requirements. Otherwise, the West ensures that the government collapses altogether via the engineering of a coup d’etat, so that more appropriate ‘friendly hands’ may retrieve power. It is important to note, therefore, that the contra force of Somoza’s ex-national guardsmen was created entirely under U.S. tutelage and funding. Prior to the U.S. allocation of money, training, arms, leadership, and supplies, it did not exist – it therefore had no connection to the wishes of the Nicaraguan people.
In May 1988, a Defense Department official explained America’s basic objective in creating the contras: “Those 2,000 hard-core guys [maintained by the US within Nicaragua] could keep some pressure on the Nicaraguan government, force them to use their economic resources for the military, and prevent them from solving their economic problems”. Ex-CIA analyst David MacMichael similarly testified to the World Court that the U.S. was using the contras to “provoke cross-border attacks by Nicaraguan forces and thus serve to demonstrate Nicaragua’s aggressive nature”, as well as to pressurise the popular government to “clamp down on civil liberties within Nicaragua itself, arresting its opposition, demonstrating its allegedly inherent totalitarian nature, and thus increase domestic dissent within the country.”
As for the implications of such policies for the non-Western victim, Stockwell elaborates:
“What we’re talking about is going in and deliberately creating conditions where the farmer can’t get his produce to market, where children can’t go to school, where women are terrified inside their homes as well as outside their homes, where government administration and programs grind to a complete halt, where the hospitals are treating wounded people instead of sick people, where international capital is scared away and the country goes bankrupt. If you ask the State Department today what is their official explanation of the purpose of the contras, they say it’s to attack economic targets, meaning, break up the economy of the country. Of course, they’re attacking a lot more”.
The U.S. thus utilised its proxy army to engage in a programme of “killing, and killing, and terrorizing people”, the aim being to reinforce US hegemony. Under US direction, the contras systematically blew up “graineries, sawmills, bridges, government offices, schools, health centers. They ambush trucks so the produce can’t get to market. They raid farms and villages. The farmer has to carry a gun while he tries to plough, if he can plough at all.”
The former CIA official adds that the contras also systematically assassinated religious workers, teachers, health workers, elected officials and government administrators. He also provides graphic examples of such U.S. sponsored acts of terrorism:
“They go into villages, they haul out families. With the children forced to watch they castrate the father, they peel the skin off his face, they put a grenade in his mouth and pull the pin. With the children forced to watch they gang rape the mother, and slash her breasts off. And sometimes for variety, they make the parents watch while they do these things to the children… This is nobody’s propaganda. There have been over 100,000 American witnesses for peace who have gone down there and they have filmed and photographed and witnessed these atrocities immediately after they’ve happened, and documented 13,000 people killed this way, mostly women and children. These are the activities done by these contras. The contras are the people President Reagan calls ‘freedom fighters’. He says they’re the moral equivalent of our founding fathers. And the whole world gasps at this confession of his family traditions.”
The U.S. also employed propaganda techniques to discredit the Sandinistan government. President Jimmy Carter authorised the CIA to launch a powerful propaganda campaign to defame Nicaragua’s leaders – the image to be generated was one of totalitarian Marxism. This involved not only attacking them in the press, but also funding a newspaper within Nicaragua itself – La Prensa – which went on to play its crucial role as a U.S. propaganda arm. In pursuing this campaign, the U.S. also accused the Nicaraguan government of “building a war machine that threatened the stability of the whole of Central America.” The facts were actually quite the contrary. Stockwell points out that “US Navy ships were supervising the mining of harbors and US planes were sent in to bomb the Nicaraguan capital, as well as to fly over the country, photographing it” for the purpose of “aerial reconnaissance.” In contrast to the enormity of U.S. firepower, Nicaragua was devoid of missiles or jets with which to defend its sovereignty. The U.S. nevertheless put forth the basically ridiculous charge that the force which was eventually built up by Nicaragua was aggressive in intent, threatening the stability of the entirety of Central America. Yet as Stockwell points out, prior to the anti-Sandinistan U.S. operation this military force did not exist in Nicaragua – it was only established as a direct response to U.S. intervention, to defend itself from the combination of U.S. bombing and the mass atrocities perpetrated by U.S.-backed contras. To buttress its propaganda, the U.S. also declared that arms were flowing from Nicaragua to El Salvador. But as Stockwell stresses, in five years of this alleged activity there was simply no evidence of any arms flowing from Nicaragua into El Salvador; hence, no genuine evidence was ever cited to support America’s assertions.
Nicaragua was thus eventually forced to obtain arms from Russia to defend itself from the U.S. operation. The U.S. was consequently empowered to contend that its justification for attacking Nicaragua was the Soviet Union’s investment of $500 million in arms to convert Nicaragua into its client state – “the Soviet bastion in this hemisphere”. Russia was, however, only invited into Nicaragua, once again, in response to the U.S. attack against the country. For example, Newsweek reported in September 1981 that neither the White House nor the CIA even pretended that the contras had a genuine chance of winning. Newsweek therefore concluded that the purpose of the U.S. creation of the contras was as follows: By attacking the country with this proxy force, one will eventually force the Sandinistas into a more radical position. One can then cite this more radical position as justification to attack them on a much larger scale, ignoring the factors of US aggression that forced them to adopt this position.
Nicaragua was, in other words, compelled as a matter of sheer self-defence to acquire Soviet military aid in order to protect itself from U.S. aggression. Once this aid was acquired, the U.S. was in a convenient position to highlight the fact and misconstrue its implications. In Stockwell’s words: “They’ve had to get Soviet aid to defend themselves from the attack from the world’s richest country, and now we can stand up to the American people and say, ‘See? they have all the Soviet aid’.” In this way, the U.S. attempted to justify its intervention by claiming that Nicaragua was the Soviet Union’s foothold into America – a notion which was contrary to fact. Foreign policy critic Noam Chomsky comments:
“The people who are committed to these dangerous heresies, such as using their resources for their own purposes or believing that the government is committed to the welfare of its own people, may not be Soviet clients to begin with and, in fact, quite regularly are not. In Latin America they are often members, to begin with, of Bible study groups that become self-help groups, of church organizations, and so on and so forth. But by the time we [via American/Western aggression] get through with them, they will be Soviet clients. The reason they will be Soviet clients by the time we get through with them is that they will have nowhere else to turn for any minimal form of protection against the terror and the violence that we regularly unleash against them if they undertake programs of the kind described.”
Another crucial aspect of the U.S. propaganda campaign was the discrediting of the 1984 elections that had brought the Sandinistas to power. Stockwell notes: “International observer teams said these were the fairest elections they have witnessed in Central America in many years.” Contrary to yet further U.S. deception, the Sandinistas won a much higher percentage of the vote in their elections than even President Reagan. The U.S., however, continued to insist that Nicaragua under the Sandinistas was a totalitarian state. According to the U.S. the elections held in El Salvador were an ideal model of democracy to be emulated elsewhere in the world – perhaps highlighting the kind of a world genuinely envisaged by this superpower. The horrifying reality of the situation in U.S.-backed El Salvador, as well as other regional countries, has already been indicated. In terms of supporting democracy in El Salvador, Stockwell reports that the CIA had invested $2.2 million there to ensure that the U.S. choice of candidates – the dictator Duarte – would win power. As noted above, even Joachim Maitre, a leading academic supporter of U.S. policies towards Central America, admits that the ‘democracies’ installed and supported by the US in the region were “of the style of Hitler Germany”.
The next elections in Nicaragua occurred in 1990. Conventional wisdom has it that the Sandinistas only agreed to free and fair 1990 elections under pressure from the U.S.-backed contras. The facts, as illustrated above, are entirely different. A Boston Globe Editorial reported that Washington was sending “an implicit message… to the Nicaraguan people: If you want a secure peace, vote for the opposition.” In other words, if you wish to stop being slaughtered by the thousand, raped, mutilated, and economically strangulated, “vote for the [U.S.-backed] opposition” (the UNO). Thus, a Canadian observer mission sponsored by unions, development agencies, human rights organisations and academic groups, concluded after a four-week enquiry into election preparations that the U.S. “is doing everything it can to disrupt the elections set for next year… American intervention is the main obstacle to the attainment of free and fair elections in Nicaragua”. As for the contras who constituted the key components of the American intervention, they were attempting to sabotage elections by “waging a campaign of intimidation with the clear message, ‘if you support the [Sandinista government] we will be back to kill you’.”
The U.S.-backed opposition therefore won the elections. This victory clearly constituted nothing other than the triumph of terror over the wishes of the people. The independent Central America Report, while noting that Nicaragua alone lived up to the August 1987 Central American Accords (unlike the U.S. and its contra-puppets), reported: “Most analysts agree that the UNO victory marks the consummation of the U.S. government’s military, economic and political efforts to overthrow the Sandinistas.” “U.S. President George Bush emerged as a clear victor in the Nicaraguan elections. The decade-long Reagan/Bush war against Nicaragua employed a myriad of methods – both covert and overt – aimed at overthrowing the Sandinistas. Bush’s continuation of the two-pronged Reagan policy of economic strangulation and military aggression finally reaped tangible results.” The report added:
“While many observers today are remarking that never before has a leftist revolutionary regime handed over power in elections, the opposite is also true. Never has a popular leftist government in Latin America been allowed to undertake its reforms without being cut short by a coup, an invasion or an assassination.”
Now that the West’s “invisible government” of the World Bank and IMF tightly control Nicaragua’s government policies through restrictions tied to loans, Nicaragua has once more plunged into deepening poverty. According to the video Deadly Embrace produced by Compas de La Primavera for the Nicaragua Network Education Fund, structural adjustment under IMF demands operates “not part as an economic recovery programme but [is] meant only to create a cheap labour force, cheap raw materials and a Nicaraguan market for transnational corporations.” While U.S. and Western corporations have thus been able to profit enormously from their plundering of Nicaragua’s resources, the majority of the country’s population have sunk inextricably deeper and deeper into a cycle of impoverishment and social chaos. Nicaragua was ranked 85th on the UN’s human development index in 1991 – a measure that incorporates life expectancy, average education level, and average per capita income – plummeting to 117th by 1995. By 1997, 80 per cent of the population were living in poverty, half of those in abject poverty. Genevieve Howe further reports:
“Armed groups continue to harass people in rural areas, usually in a sort of highway bandit approach to survival, but also with periodic political assassinations. Innocent civilians continue to be attacked and/or robbedé Excessive levels of unemployment and poverty have contributed to higher levels of crime in the cities and an alarming increase in drug use and suicides. National Police statistics reported 6.3 crimes per hour and 2 suicides every 3 days in 1996. The police reported 33 suicides in the first 48 days of 1997. There were a total of 206 suicides in 1996, up from 132 in 1995. Most of the victims are men under the age of 30. Meanwhile, women and children bear the brunt of structural adjustment policies. Domestic violence and sexual crimes against both women and children have also increased markedly.”
This, indeed, is the U.S. “victory” in Nicaragua. John Stockwell has summed up the grim implications aptly:
“We can’t take care of the poor, we can’t take care of the old, but we can spend millions, hundreds of millions of dollars to destabilize Nicaragua… Why arms instead of schools? … [Because they] can make gigantic profits off the nuclear arms race because of the hysteria, and the paranoia, and the secrecy. And that’s why they’re committed to building more and more and more weapons, because they’re committed to making a profit. And that’s what the propaganda, and that’s what the hysteria is all about.”
The policy perpetrated in Nicaragua was not unique, but indeed, undertaken systematically by the United States and other Western powers throughout the world. Central and Latin America in particular was to be integrated into U.S. hegemony without exceptions. A brief inspection of other such instances of this policy provides us with a comprehension of the degree to which this policy was not accidental, but consistently oriented toward securing hegemonic dominion over territories for strategic and economic reasons.
III.I Making Chile Scream
Former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official John Stockwell has discussed the unpublicised ramifications of CIA intervention in Chile, in his study The Praetorian Guard: The U.S. in the New International Security State. “Twice in the 1960s, the CIA spent large sums of money to influence the outcome of elections in Chile and to install a president of the United States’ choosing. Eventually it failed and democracy prevailed in the election of President Salvador Allende Gossens.” President Allende introduced numerous programmes of social reform, mobilising domestic resources for the benefit of the Chilean population at large. One can therefore understand the reasons behind the subsequent U.S. destabilisation of Allende’s popular, democratically elected government, considering the egalitarian policies that this government implemented. Allende’s government pursued a welfare state model of economic development in accord with its socialist priorities, therefore falling directly under the intolerable category of a government that takes responsibility for the welfare of its own people. Allende’s reforms included improvements in health care, education, housing facilities and the raising of wages: Thus, resources would be mobilised for the benefit of the impoverished population. Furthermore, in accord with these reforms, the new Chilean government had nationalised U.S. copper companies, resulting in the deduction of “excess profits” that had been earned in previous years from the compensation. Aides to Secretary of State Kissinger were therefore aware that “Allende was a living example of democratic social reform in Latin America”. Kissinger himself noted in this light that the “contagious example” of Chile would “infect” Latin America, as well as southern Europe – unless something was done to eradicate it.
Traditional Western goals therefore led the CIA – under the direction of President Nixon – to organise “the famous Track I and Track II destabilization of Chile in order to oust Allende.” Stockwell relates that the CIA Deputy Director for Operations at the time, Richard Helms (who later became CIA Director), lied in his testimony before the congressional Oversight Committee. He was later indicted for lying to Congress about the U.S. operation in Chile, though he managed to “plea-bargain a suspended sentence and a fine, which the association of CIA exes paid for him. Finally, he offered a copy of the notes he had made in the National Security Council meeting in the White House where he was ordered to mount the Chilean operation. He had jotted down the following instructions: ‘Make the Chilean economy scream’.”
The CIA henceforth mounted its highly successful operation to oust the democratically elected president of Chile. The clandestine organisation’s task was made easier due to the help of both the U.S. military – which had infiltrated the Chilean military through the American-sponsored international military fraternity – and of certain multinational corporations. The extent of this Western contempt for Third World democracy was further highlighted by the fact that, as Stockwell relates:
“At one point prior to the coup, General Rene Schneider, the pro-U.S. head of the Chilean military, was an obstacle because he was stubbornly supporting democracy and the constitutional process. So they killed him too and installed the monster Pinochet in power. About 30,000 people were killed by Pinochet, whose secret police were so violent that they even engineered bombings [in Washington DC].”
A remark at the time by then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger when grilled by Congress about the Chilean operation, therefore clarifies the reality of America’s concerns for the political participation of the Chilean people in their own affairs: “Yes, the issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” Evidently, these “issues” spoken of by Kissinger amount only to the West’s desire to monopolise the wealth and resources of the world, and are directly opposed to genuine democratistion.
Hence, the “contagious example” of Allende’s administration in Chile had to be eliminated to make way for the installment of a more subservient regime under the reign of Pinochet. It is a fact that even though Latin America has had a long experience of dictatorship and military brutality, the violent intensity of the subsequent U.S.-backed coup and the deliberate use of torture, ‘disappearances’ and murder had at that time no parallel in the history of the continent. As democracy was swept away at the hands of America’s puppet-tyrant Pinochet, 11,000 people were killed in the first three months alone, with 2,400 ‘disappearing’ in the next three years. Thus, the new Western-backed Pinochet regime institutionalised what the Catholic Institute of International Relations (CIIR) describes as a “policy of permanent terror”. Meanwhile, economic reforms along free market capitalist guidelines that were open to foreign investment under the instruction of Western institutions (e.g. the IMF, the World Bank) resulted in the predictable impoverishment of the Chilean masses, and the further enrichment of the already wealthy elite. Under Allende’s government, the majority of the population had maintained a reasonable standard of living. In contrast, the violent installment of Pinochet heralded the dismantling of industry, the devaluation of currency and the impoverishment of the majority. The eventual result was that 40 per cent of Chileans were so poor, with calorie consumption at such a low level, that most of them were suffering from hunger and malnutrition.
The new military dictatorship received $350 million in US bilateral aid three years after the coup. The U.S. Administration voted for over $400 million in loans to Chile from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank in 1984, while a little earlier in 1982, the British Trade Minister had decided that Chile constituted a “moderating and stabilising force in Latin America”, affirming that Britain was “interested in deepening and strengthening political relations”. This was despite the fact that since 1982, the U.S.-backed Chilean government had implemented numerous techniques of repression to resist and clamp down upon mounting protests. These techniques included individual detention, internal exile, mass arrests in poor districts, murder and torture. The escalating numbers of people who fell under the devastating impact of such policies constituted a firm base of popular opposition to the government, clearly manifesting its political bankruptcy. Coinciding with the business opportunities, Western elites managed to amass further profits via arms sales to Chile. Professor of Communication at the University of Illinois, Robert W. McChesney, reports that: “After fifteen years of often brutal and savage dictatorship – all in the name of the democratic free market – formal democracy was restored in 1989 with a constitution that made it vastly more difficult, if not impossible, for the citizenry to challenge the business-military domination of Chilean society” instituted by the West in 1973. Continued Western indifference to the cause of justice is evident today, in light of Britain’s tremendous reluctance to convict Pinochet for his massive crimes against humanity, crimes whose immensity can be gauged from British MP Jeremy Corbyn’s estimate that Pinochet was responsible for 50,000 civilian deaths in total since having overthrown the democratically elected Allende government. The same policy of aversion to justice has been followed by the United States. Joe Stork, Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, comments that “embarrassment over revelation of U.S. complicity with Pinochet’s reign of terror is the motivation” for this aversion.
Newly released files declassified by the State Department on 30th June 1999 – making public over 5,000 documents relating to U.S. policy on Chile in response to the demands of members of Congress and the recent Spanish prosecutors of Pinochet – provide detailed confirmation of the anti-humanitarian nature of the intervention. In a special report on the documents by the American political journal, The Progressive, investigative journalist Lucy Komisar observes:
“For the Spaniards, the documents provide detailed proof that Pinochet controlled DINA, the Chilean Directorate of Intelligence, which was responsible for the most egregious human rights violations in the three years following the coup. For US citizens, they are a fascinating and sometimes surreal window onto a US policy fraught with arrogance and, for the most part, unconcerned about the wholesale human rights abuses Pinochet was carrying out. His regime detained 40,000 people, tortured large numbers of them, exiled 9,000, and murdered 4,000. The papers, redacted and incomplete, cover 1973-1978. They show that Washington had knowledge of Pinochet’s coup plans, his barbarism upon seizing power, and the establishment of his international terrorist network. They also show that the US government, at the highest levels, covered up for Pinochet, lied to the American public, and did everything in its power to support the junta. These documents are crucial in setting the historical record straight.”
Utilising the documents, Komisar elsewhere reports the extent to which the U.S. went to seal the American-Chilean alliance: “Kissinger tried to shield the Chilean general from criticism and assure him that his human rights violations were not a serious problem as far as the U.S. government was concerned.” One internal State Department memorandum for example details a meeting between the U.S. Secretary of State and the Chilean dictator himself on 8 June 1976:
“The memo describes how Secretary of State Kissinger stroked and bolstered Pinochet, how – with hundreds of political prisoners still being jailed and tortured – Kissinger told Pinochet that the Ford Administration would not hold those human rights violations against him. At a time when Pinochet was the target of international censure for state-sponsored torture, disappearances, and murders, Kissinger assured him that he was a victim of communist propaganda and urged him not to pay too much attention to American criticsé Kissinger was dogged by charges he had promoted the military coup against an elected Allende government, and he sought to maintain a cool public distance from Pinochet. But at his confidential meeting, he promised warm supporté Then he made clear that the US government was squarely behind Pinochet. ‘In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here,’ Kissinger told Pinocheté Kissinger dismissed American human rights campaigns against Chile’s government as ‘domestic problems’. And he assured Pinochet that he was against sanctions such as those proposed by Senator Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, which would ban arms sales and transfers to governments that were gross human rights violatorsé As if Pinochet could have had any doubt, Kissinger said, ‘We welcomed the overthrow of the Communist-inclined government here.’ By overthrowing Allende, you have done a great service to the West, Kissinger told him.”
It is interventions such as these that the U.S. euphemistically referred to as self-defence against Communist aggression; in reality, they evidently consisted of the terrorisation of non-Western populations for the purpose of subjugating them to Western dominance and retaining Western control over their resources. To maintain this terrorisation and subjugation of non-Western populations, Western-friendly puppet regimes were installed to institutionalise hegemony. This is what is clearly implied by the following internal U.S. document:
“It is important to maintain in friendly hands areas which contain or protect sources of metals, oil and other national resources, which contain strategic objectives, or areas strategically located, which contain a substantial industrial potential, which possesses manpower and organised military forces in important quantities.”
In accord with this scheme, it is often necessary to quell independent economic growth even in lands which appear relatively insignificant to Western interests, since if real socio-economic progress can take place in very poor and resource-empty areas, it will serve as a “contagious example” which may “infect” other neo-colonised nations to make similar efforts, given that success is possible even in very bad conditions – this is the real import of the domino theory. Noam Chomsky has referred to this actual meaning of the domino theory with irony: “… if a tiny-nothing country with no natural resources can begin to extricate itself from the system of misery and oppression that we’ve [the US, leading the Western nations] helped to impose, then others who have more resources may be tempted to do likewise.” Therefore, the solution is to bomb such countries as soon as they begin to embark on a slightly constructive course of independent development; the U.S. interventions in Grenada, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, for example, were all perpetrated in the name of assuring that the “rot does not spread”, the “rot” being autarkic economic growth. Michael Parenti has elaborated on this, noting that the motives for intervention are not necessarily just specific investments in particular resources within a region, but also include “the overall commitment to safeguarding the global class system, keeping the world’s land, labor, natural resources, and markets accessible to transnational investorsé
More important than particular holdings is the whole process of investment and profit. To defend that process [the] state thwarts and crushes those popular movements that attempt any kind of redistributive politics, sending a message to them and others that if they try to better themselves by infringing upon the prerogatives of corporate capital, they will pay a severe price.”
Citing the example of the U.S. intervention in Grenada, Parenti observes that this “served notice to all other Caribbean countries that this was the fate that awaited any nation that sought to get out from under its client-state statusé Today, with its unemployment at new heights and its poverty at new depths, Grenada is once again firmly bound to the free market world. Everyone else in the region indeed has taken note.” For this reason, investments within a particular Third World country are not necessarily what is at stake. Rather, the long-range security of the entire system of transnational capitalism needs to be protected – and this is achieved essentially by punishing those who attempt to extricate themselves from the world system under U.S./Western hegemony. “No country that pursues an independent course of development shall be allowed to prevail as a dangerous example to other nations.”
All this throws significant light on why the U.S. resolved to invade Vietnam – yet another classic example of the nature of Western benevolence, the horrifying implications of which have been dispensed to the memory hole. The government that the U.S. detested in North Vietnam was that of the Viet Minh, which was a nationalist-communist movement headed by Ho Chi Minh. Following the expulsion of imperialist France by the Viet Minh in 1954, the 1954 Geneva Accords called for national elections in 1956. These would be held throughout Vietnam with the ultimate aim of uniting the country. Instead of supporting free national elections and the unification of the country, the U.S. refused to sign the Geneva agreement, noting that “if the scheduled national elections are held in July 1956, and if the Viet Minh does not prejudice its political prospects, the Viet Minh will almost certainly win”. After the Geneva Accords, U.S. President Eisenhower admitted regarding the Vietnamese elections which the US refused to support: “I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, a possible 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader“.[95
Thus, the conventional opinion that the Viet Minh was party to a global Communist conspiracy to violently take over the world is an entirely ludicrous explanation of the U.S. position, simply because there is no evidence for this. While aid from the Communist countries, Russia and China, had certainly been provided to Vietnam, this must be understood in context with the fact that the history of Vietnam in the twentieth century is largely one of fighting off hoards of voracious colonialists. Before 1954, for example, the Vietnamese were attempting to defend themselves against French colonialists. America was, in fact, primarily responsible for financing France’s military expenses in its endeavour to extend French hegemony over Vietnam, as French forces attempted to annihilate the Viet Minh, resulting in the deaths of up to one million Indochinese civilians. The U.S. Consul in Vietnam had noted with admiration of this colonial genocide that the Vietnamese “have, under the French ‘colonialist’ regime of the past 60 years, witnessed the creation of a most efficient machine of exploitation and self-interest, centering in the Bank of Indochina and the fabulous import-export firms, but also extending throughout all grades and ranks of French commerce and officialdom”. Indeed, the U.S Secretary of State was happy to acknowledge in 1947 that “we have fully recognized France’s sovereign position in that area and we do not wish it to appear that we are in any way endeavouring [to] undermine that position”.
The first arms supplies to the independence movement in Vietnam arrived from China in 1950. This was only four years after France had embarked upon its colonial bombardment of Vietnam; it is therefore highly inaccurate to interpret this military aid as a step towards a momentous East-West confrontation of global implication. This exaggeration is merely a distortion of the fact that the Vietnamese were supplied such aid to defend themselves against French colonialist hordes backed by the U.S. The fact remains that the Viet Minh essentially constituted a nationalist movement led by the popular Vietnamese Communist Party, which was fighting for the sake of the overall independence of Vietnam; independence meant freedom from colonial control by both the East and the West. U.S. academic Harry Piotrowski confirms that the Viet Minh leader, Ho Chi Minh, “grafted the national liberation movement onto communism, which gave him a vision of the future, the certainty of an historic process that promised victory and an organisational blueprint”. Communist ideology “scarcely played a role in motivating resistance”, observes Piotrowski of the Viet Minh. Similarly, Vietnam War veteran Jeff Drake points out having reviewed Ho Chi Minh’s history that “for anyone to claim that Ho Chi Minh’s primary interest was the promotion and spread of communism is to deny his entire life’s work. It is a lie, pure and simple. And the people at the topmost echelon of our government who were spreading this lie knew better.” Indeed, the policy planners were well aware of the real nature of the Vietnamese independence movement. However, they did not wish to defend the freedom of the Vietnamese, but wished to ensure that they remained subjugated under Western neo-colonial domination, thus also ensuring that Vietnam could not constitute an example of democratic socialist reform for other nations to follow.[100
Thus, the U.S did not wish the Viet Minh to attain power through free elections, not due to any global communist conspiracy, but due to the fact that this essentially nationalist movement threatened to bring Vietnam – and its resources – free from Western domination, by mobilising domestic resources for egalitarian gains for the population. This was reflected in the system established by the Viet Minh in which land ownership had been expanded for the benefit of the impoverished. In 1952, the U.S. noted that if Indochina did not succumb to Western domination, other nations would be inspired to follow this example in accord with the ‘domino’ theory; hence, “the principle source of natural rubber and tin and a producer of petroleum and other strategically important commodities” would be lost in Malaya and Indonesia. Historian Gabriel Kolko points out that in the 1960s “raw materials, though less publicly cited than earlier, were still prominent in the decision makers’ vision. This included the preservation of existing markets” in which plundering of other people’s resources was the traditional policy. The U.S. therefore did not want “the rot” of independent economic growth “to spread” elsewhere, since it would hinder U.S. domination over the world’s resources. Hence, “the rot” in Vietnam had to be bombed into oblivion.
The U.S.-backed regime in South Vietnam, which was later replaced since it had not been following orders, was further boosted by the U.S. before the latter directly invaded the region, on the alleged pretext of ‘defending’ South Vietnam against the attack of North Vietnam. Ngo Dinh Diem’s U.S.-friendly regime of the south, in contrast to that of Ho Chi Minh’s in the north, was an unpopular police state in which the masses were impoverished and regularly slaughtered by government forces, who were armed and trained by the U.S. In 1958, for instance, the regime had held at least 40,000 political prisoners, and had managed to kill 12,000 people. In fact, U.S. regimes in Vietnam had nothing to do with the interests of the population, and only existed due to U.S. aid, lacking indigenous support. Hence, Kolko comments that “the process of conflict” in Vietnam “after 1954 was essentially a struggle between a radical Vietnamese patriotism, embodied in the Communist Party, and the United States and its wholly dependent local allies”.
Former CIA official Ralph McGhee, who worked with the agency for 25 years, admits that the U.S.-backed Diem’s “minions killed, tortured and imprisoned tens of thousands who resisted his unfair rule.” In January 1965, orders were issued to U.S. special forces in South Vietnam “to conduct operations to dislodge VC-controlled officials, to include assassination” and to employ “pacification” techniques, such as “ambushing, raiding, sabotaging, and committing acts of terrorism against known VC personnel.” A 1965 internal memorandum by field operation coordinator of the U.S. Operations Mission, John Paul Vann, similarly reveals that the U.S. wished to utilise “effective political indoctrination” against the “unsophisticated, relatively illiterate rural population” in South Vietnam, under a U.S.-instituted “autocratic government”, headed by Diem at the time, which would be “orientated toward the exploitation of the rural and lower class urban population”, to the benefit of U.S. investors, who could then be free to plunder domestic resources. McGhee observes that: “It was this vicious repression that eventually forced the North Vietnamese to join with their compatriots in the South to fight against Diem and his US backers.”
The U.S., of course, could not tolerate any threat to its hegemony in the form of Ho Chi Minh’s popular policies of egalitarian reform; the U.S. invaded because such “rot” had to be prevented from spreading. The result of the U.S. invasion was the complete devastation of Vietnam. In 1962, the U.S. attacked rural South Vietnam, where more than 80 per cent of the population lived. The virtually defenceless civilian population was deliberately targeted. This included the employment of chemical weapons such as napalm and Agent Orange, along with heavy bombing. In 1964, the U.S. began planning the ground invasion of South Vietnam. This eventually occurred in 1965, along with the bombing of North Vietnam and an intensification of the bombing of the south. The bombing of the south was at triple the level of the more publicised bombing of the north, not to mention America’s implementation of the so-called ‘pacification’ policy of rounding up civilians against their will into concentration camps known as ‘strategic hamlets’, for the purpose of controlling the population and depriving the liberation movement of support. Millions of civilians were killed, survivors were severely traumatised, while the region remains devastated in numerous ways, all as a result of the US bombardment.
Moreover, much of the devastation continues to this day thanks to US efforts to ensure that both itself and others do not give aid to the war-torn Vietnam. Respected Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk reported on his visit to Vietnam in 1988 that “thousands of Vietnamese still die from the effects of American chemical warfare”. According to official estimates, there are about a quarter of a million victims in South Vietnam, many of whom were children infected with fatal birth deformities and cancer, witnessed firsthand by Kapeliouk during “terrifying” sequences at southern hospitals. The Wall Street Journal similarly reported that as a consequence of the chemical bombardment of South Vietnam by U.S. forces in an effort to destroy crops and ground cover, half a million Vietnamese children may have been born with dioxin-related deformities. Japanese and Vietnamese scientists have discovered birth defects to be four times as high in the South than in the North. Aid from Europe and Japan to attempt to alleviate the disastrous impact of U.S. intervention has been “paid no heed” by an “emotionally spent” America.
The conventional opinion is that the U.S. lost the Vietnam War. This is not accurate. As is now clear from previous analyses, U.S. aims in Vietnam were to devastate the country to such an extent that it could not follow through with successful policies of independent egalitarian development, which may have brought Vietnam out of U.S. sphere of influence and served as an example for other nations to do the same. Though the U.S. was not able to re-install another repressive government, its primary aim of preventing the country from implementing egalitarian policies were fulfilled: The Vietnamese suffered approximately four million deaths; the standard of living remains almost the same as it had been in 1950; all egalitarian hopes and incentives have virtually disappeared. In other words, as far as the Vietnamese are concerned, the war was pointless. The only result for Vietnam has been devastation. The U.S. has ensured that Vietnam remains in a state of underdevelopment by pressuring other countries not to give aid to the country, as well as by imposing embargoes and sanctions, despite strenuous objections from allies in Europe and Japan. India, for example, tried to donate 100 water buffalo to Vietnam to replace the herds that were wiped out during the war, and which are so crucial to Vietnamese survival. In opposition to the Indian gesture, the U.S. threatened to cancel Food for Peace aid, and so India, a country that is itself highly dependent on foreign aid, withheld its support. The message to the Third World heralded by the U.S. invasion of Vietnam is therefore clear. Anyone who attempts to protest against Western hegemony will be ruthlessly smashed – and they will stay smashed.