written before that much of American foreign policy
is determined by domestic attitudes and politics,
in a society driven by the fantasies of adults who
never want to grow up, rather than by the complex
realities of the world.
else do you explain the perverse and destructive nature
of so many of America's intervention in the world
after World War II? Like big, thoughtless kids kicking
at colonies of birds' nests, destroying lives and
community without noticing anything much more than
the exhilarating time they've had doing it.
where great power might really have achieved something
worthwhile, generally it has gone unused. I refer
to the several genocides that occurred in the last
third of the Twentieth Century, not using that word
genocide loosely as it often is used in America but
to describe massive, blood-soaked horror inflicted
on a class or type of people. Indonesia, Cambodia,
and Rwanda - each of these involved upwards of half
a million people being slaughtered by their own countrymen.
In each case, America never lifted a finger.
rivers of Indonesia ran red and thick with gore at
the end of Mr. Sukarno's regime, but the American
government thought that was fine since it was presumed
members of the Communist party that were having their
throats cut en masse.
agony, brought on by America's destabilizing secret
bombing and invasions during the Vietnam War, was
also fine since it only demonstrated the inhumanity
of Communists and the validity of the paranoid "domino
theory," it being the intervention of war-weary
Vietnam that mercifully ended the "killing fields."
is no consistency here at all. In one genocide, Communists
were being killed. In the other, Communists were doing
the killing. Perhaps the State Department took to
heart Emerson's line about a "foolish consistency
being the hobgoblin of little minds." The same
philosophy undoubtedly prevailed in the several instances
of America's overturning unfriendly democracies and
installing friendly brutal thugs. America only likes
democracies that yield acceptable results.
did show up in the attitude towards Rwanda. After
all, that was Africa, and who the hell cares about
are many perverse and not-widely-understood aspects
to this relationship between foreign affairs and domestic
attitudes and politics. One of the most interesting
was suggested to me by an off-handed remark in a letter
from a reader in the Netherlands: Americans can't
even keep peace and order in their own cities, what
makes them think they are capable of doing it anywhere
and that might explain the philosophy of "we
destroy, you rebuild as best you can" so characteristic
of America's interventions. The big kid can climb
aboard his supersonic plane and, almost like pushing
the buttons on a fancy video-game, make flashes and
puffs of smoke rise from tiny structures far below
with even tinier, ant-like dots running in all directions.
Some Americans are capable of mustering that much
interest. Besides, you get to be called a hero for
immense arrogance of a term like "regime change"
is lost on America. Much of the world, in American
eyes, just resembles beat-up, ugly ghettos run by
gangs that can't speak English, anyway. Why would
anyone complain if we blew some of them up? This is
the world as seen by American suburbanites cruising
along in shiny, four-ton SUVs from "gated communities"
to gated corporate headquarters, showing no interest
in the scenes that rush by between one island of security
and another. All that "stuff" in between
might just as well be China or Egypt or Iraq.
is a country that has almost no experience of war,
except during the Civil War, and that was a very long
time ago and was pretty much limited to one region
of the country. America has never seen a city reduced
to the rubble of Berlin or Tokyo after World War II,
peopled by phantoms flitting about desperate to find
any scrap of something useful or edible. It has never
had to deal with millions of displaced persons who've
lost everything, even their identification papers.
Or had to endure a siege like that of Leningrad where
tens of thousands of frozen corpses were stacked like
logs in the streets as the living were reduced to
conditions resembling the Stone Age. It has certainly
never experienced the remorseless rape and pillage
of a foreign army sweeping through its towns and cities.
It never had to bury millions of its own.
in the gigantic upheaval of World War II, America's
loss of life amounted to just over one-half of one
percent of the fifty million souls who perished.
when decisions are made to bomb the homes and factories
of others, killing and maiming thousands of people
far away, most Americans have no experience. It's
all a little abstract; it is the job of politicians
immersed in concerns like whether they'll be able
to find just the right doll for little Kaitlyn's birthday,
they show little inclination to imagine what it would
be like to feel the ground shudder hundreds of times
between the screams of bombs and dying neighbors.
Hell, who wants to think about things like that after
a tough day at the office?
interesting aspect of this relationship between foreign
policies and domestic matters reflects America's attitude
towards its own national government. Basically, since
the nation's beginnings, Americans have hated having
a national government. Americans would never even
have won the Revolutionary War without the immense
assistance of the French. Many contemporary observers
tell us how indifferent Americans had become to events
in the last years. M. Duportail wrote that there was
more excitement about the American Revolution in the
cafes of Paris than he found in America. Washington
spent most of his time writing desperate letters pleading
for help, letters that often were ignored.
proximate cause of the American Revolution, Britain's
imposition of taxes designed to help pay its vast
expenses in securing victory over the French in the
Seven Years' War (a.k.a., the French and Indian War),
a war which greatly benefited American colonists,
reflected the colonists' hatred of paying taxes. Little
has changed in two and a quarter centuries. There
are many Americans who view Washington as the distant
capital of an occupying Roman power.
They have matured to this extent since the Revolution:
they are willing to pay taxes for the military, although
not much else.
strange arrangement has a profound effect on foreign
affairs. With many Americans taking little interest
in foreign events and little interest in national
government, a great deal of "maneuver room"
is afforded to the nation's power establishment. Their
actions are effectively not subject to quite the scrutiny
you might expect in an ostensibly democratic country.
That is one reason a country that has so many of the
characteristics of a democracy is capable of the kind
of shameful things abroad you might expect from oligarchs
effect is further enhanced by the way in which elections
are financed. Those who pay the bills are heard, and
they are anything but a majority of Americans. Furthermore,
the country's major popular information sources are
owned by a relatively small number of powerful groups
whose interests tend to be with the jingoistic and
is often only intense international pressure which
prevents America from doing some truly destructive
and stupid things, just as on more than one occasion
during the Cold War, Washington stood fully ready
to use atomic weapons. One can only hope that international
pressure has been sufficient to prevent the moral
and intellectual mediocrity that now occupies the
White House from launching an action whose long-term
consequences may be just as terrible and unforgiving
as the use of atomic weapons.
Chuckman encourages your comments: jchuckman@YellowTimes.org
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