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“In 1954 the CIA engineered a coup that turned Guatemala into a hell on earth. It’s been kept that way ever since, with regular US intervention and support...”

— Noam Chomsky

What Uncle $ham
ReallyAmerican flag - swastika and stripes Wants

page  1   2   3

bookcover What Uncle Sam Really Wants
by Noam Chomsky
Odonian Press 1992; ISBN 1-878825-01-1

From the Editors’ foreword:

“If you’re used to thinking of the United States as the defender of democracy throughout the world, you’ll find much of what you read in this book incredible. But Chomsky is a scholar: the facts in this book are just that, and every conclusion is backed by massive evidence (see the Notes for references to some of it).

“It was very hard to compress the vast sweep of Chomsky’s social thought into so small a book. [Below is a] list of his other political books, which cover the topics introduced here in infinitely greater detail.”

— Arthur Naiman, Sandy Nieman

Table of Contents

The main goals of U.S. foreign policy

Devastation abroad

Brainwashing at home

The future


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The main goals of U.S. foreign policy

Protecting our turf

Relations between the United States and other countries obviously go back to the origins of American history, but World War II was a real watershed, so let’s begin there.

While most of our industrial rivals were either severely weakened or totally destroyed by the war, the United States benefitted enormously from it. Our national territory was never under attack and American production more than tripled.

Even before the war, the US had been by far the leading industrial nation in the world — as it had been since the turn of the century. Now, however, we had literally 50% of the world’s wealth and controlled both sides of both oceans. There’d never been a time in history when one power had had such overwhelming control of the world, or such overwhelming security.

The people who determine American policy were well aware that the US would emerge from WWII as the first global power in history, and during and after the war they were carefully planning how to shape the postwar world. Since this is an open society we can read their plans, which were very frank and clear.

[Added note: Since September 11, 2001, the most open thing about American society is that it is becoming openly fascist. The terrorist U.S. military/government has used the opportunity of the WTC attack to toss the Bill of Rights into the trash, thereby implementing a long-planned program of domestic tyranny.]

American planners — from those in the State Department to those on the Council on Foreign Relations (one major channel by which business leaders influence foreign policy) — agreed that the dominance of the United States had to be maintained. But there was a spectrum of opinion about how to do it.

At the hard-line extreme, you have documents like National Security Council Memorandum 68 (1950). NSC 68 developed the views of Secretary of State Dean Acheson and was written by Paul Nitze, who’s still around (he was one of Reagan’s arms-control negotiators). It called for a “roll-back strategy” that would “foster the seeds of destruction within the Soviet system,” so that we could then negotiate a settlement on our terms “with the Soviet Union (or a successor state or states).”

The policies of NSC 68 would require “sacrifice and discipline” in the United States — in other words, huge military expenditures and cutbacks on social services. It would also be necessary to overcome the “excess of tolerance" that allows too much domestic dissent.

true American flag - swastika and stripes - symbol of American state terrorism These policies were, in fact, already being implemented. In 1949, U.S. espionage in Eastern Europe had been turned over to a network run by Reinhard Gehlen, who had headed Nazi military intelligence on the Eastern Front. This network was one part of the US-Nazi alliance that quickly absorbed many of the worst criminals, extending to operations in Latin America and elsewhere.

These operations included a “secret army” under US-Nazi auspices that sought to provide agents and military supplies to armies that had been established by Hitler and which were still operating inside the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe through the early 1950s.

(This is known in the US but considered insignificant — although it might raise a few eyebrows if the tables were turned and we discovered that, say, the Soviet Union had dropped agents and supplies to armies established by Hitler that were operating in the Rockies.)

See also:

The Beast Reawakens

Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War

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The liberal extreme

NSC 68 is the hard-line extreme, and remember: the policies weren’t just theoretical — many of them were actually being implemented. Now let’s turn to the other extreme, to the doves. The leading dove was undoubtedly George Kennan, who headed the State Department planning staff until 1950, when he was replaced by Nitze — Kennan’s office, incidentally, was responsible for the Gehlen network.

Kennan was one of the most intelligent and lucid of US planners, and a major figure in shaping the postwar world. His writings are an extremely interesting illustration of the dovish position. One document to look at if you want to understand your country is Policy Planning Study 23, written by Kennan for the State Department planning staff in 1948. Here’s some of what it says:

“...we have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population... In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit U.S. to maintain this position of disparity...

“To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives... We should cease to talk about vague and...unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

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PPS 23 was, of course, a top-secret document. To pacify the public, it was necessary to trumpet the “idealistic slogans” (as is still being done constantly), but here planners were talking to one another.

Along the same lines, in a briefing for U.S. ambassadors to Latin American countries in 1950, Kennan observed that a major concern of U.S. foreign policy must be “the protection of our [i.e. Latin America’s] raw materials.” We must therefore combat a dangerous heresy which, US intelligence reported, was spreading through Latin America:

“the idea that the government has direct responsibility for the welfare of the people.”

U.S. planners call that idea Communism, whatever the actual political views of the people advocating it. They can be Church-based self-help groups or whatever, but if they support this heresy, they’re Communists.

This point is also made clear in the pubic record. For example, a high-level study group in 1955 stated that the essential threat of the Communist powers (the real meaning of the term Communism in practice) is their refusal to fulfill their service role — that is, “to complement the industrial economies of the West.”

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Kennan went on to explain the means we have to use against our enemies who fall prey to this heresy:

“The final answer might be an unpleasant one, but...we should not hesitate before police repression by the local government. This is not shameful since the Communists are essentially traitors... It is better to have a strong regime in power than a liberal government if it is indulgent and relaxed and penetrated by Communists.”

Policies like these didn’t begin with postwar liberals like Kennan. As Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State had already pointed out 30 years earlier, the operative meaning of the Monroe Doctrine is that

“the United States considers its own interests. The integrity of other American nations is an incident, not an end.”

Wilson, the great apostle of self-determination, agreed that the argument was “unanswerable," though it would be “impolitic” to present it publicly.

Wilson also acted on this thinking by, among other things, invading Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where his warriors murdered and destroyed, demolished the political system, left U.S. corporations firmly in control, and set the stage for brutal and corrupt dictatorships.

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The “Grand Area”

During World War II, study groups of the State Department and Council on Foreign Relations developed plans for the postwar world in terms of what they called the “Grand Area,” which was to be subordinated to the needs of the American economy.

The Grand Area was to include the Western Hemisphere, Western Europe, the Far East, the former British Empire, (which was being dismantled), the incomparable energy resources of the Middle East (which were then passing into American hands as we pushed out our rivals France and Britain), the rest of the Third World and, if possible, the entire globe. These plans were implemented, as opportunities allowed.

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Every part of the new world order was assigned a specific function. The industrial countries were to be guided by the “great workshops,” Germany and Japan, who had demonstrated their prowess during the war (and now would be working under US supervision).

The Third World was to “fulfill its major function as a source of raw materials and a market" for the industrial capitalist societies, as a 1949 State Department memo put it. It was to be “exploited” (in Kennan’s words) for the reconstruction of Europe and Japan. (The references are to Southeast Asia and Africa, but the points are general.)

Kennan even suggested that Europe might get a psychological lift from the project of “exploiting” Africa. Naturally no one suggested that Africa should exploit Europe for its reconstruction, perhaps also improving its state of mind. These declassified documents are read only by scholars, who apparently find nothing odd or jarring in all this.

The Vietnam War emerged from the need to ensure this service role. Vietnamese nationalists didn’t want to accept it, so they had to be smashed. The threat wasn’t that they were going to conquer anyone, but that they might set a dangerous example of national independence that would inspire other nations in the region.

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The US government had two major roles to play. The first was to secure the far-flung domains of the Grand Area. That required a very intimidating posture, to ensure that no one interferes with this task — which is one reason why there’s been such a drive for nuclear weapons.

The government’s second role was to organize a public subsidy for high-technology industry. For various reasons, the method adopted has been military spending, in large part.

Free trade is fine for economics departments and newspaper editorials, but nobody in the corporate world or the government takes the doctrines seriously. The parts of the US economy that are able to compete internationally are primarily the state-subsidized ones: capital-intensive agriculture (agribusiness, as it’s called), high-tech industry, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, etc.

The same is true of other industrial societies. The US government has the public pay for research and development and provides, largely through the military, a state-guaranteed market for waste production. If something is marketable, the private sector takes if over. That system of public subsidy and private profit is what is called free enterprise.

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Restoring the traditional order

Postwar planners like Kennan realized right off that it was going to be vital for the health of U.S. corporations that other Western industrial societies [including Japan] reconstruct from wartime damage so they could import U.S. manufactured goods and provide investment opportunities. ... But it was crucial that these societies reconstruct in a very specific way.

The traditional, right-wing order had to be restored, with business dominant, labor split and weakened, and the burden of reconstruction placed squarely on the shoulders of the working classes and the poor.

The major thing that stood in the way of this was the antifascist resistance, so we suppressed it all over the world, often installing fascists and Nazi collaborators in its place. Sometimes that required extreme violence, but other times it was done by softer measures, like subverting elections and withholding desperately needed food. (This ought to be Chapter 1 in any honest history of the postwar period, but in fact it’s seldom even discussed.)

The pattern was set in 1942, when President Roosevelt installed a French Admiral, Jean Darlan, as Governor-General of all of French North Africa. Darlan was a leading Nazi collaborator and the author of the antisemitic laws promulgated by the Vichy government (the Nazi’s puppet regime in France).

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But far more important was the first area of Europe liberated — southern Italy, where the US, following Churchill’s advice, imposed a right-wing dictatorship headed by Fascist war hero Field Marshall Badoglio and the King, Victor Emmanuel III, who was also a Fascist collaborator.

U.S. planners recognized that the “threat” in Europe was not Soviet aggression (which serious analysts, like Dwight Eisenhower, did not anticipate) but rather the worker- and peasant-based antifascist resistance with its radical democratic ideals, and the political power and appeal of the local Communist parties.

In Italy, a worker- and peasant-based movement, led by the Communist party, had held down six German divisions during the war and liberated northern Italy. As U.S. forces advanced through Italy, they dispersed this antifascist resistance and restored the basic structure of the prewar Fascist regime.

Italy has been one of the main areas of CIA subversion ever since the agency was founded. The CIA was concerned about the Communists winning power legally in the crucial Italian elections of 1948. A lot of techniques were used, including restoring the Fascist police, breaking the unions and withholding food.

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In Greece, British troops entered after the Nazis had withdrawn. They imposed a corrupt regime that evoked renewed resistance, and Britain, in its postwar decline, was unable to maintain control. In 1947, the United States moved in, supporting a murderous war that resulted in about 160,000 deaths.

This war was complete with torture, political exile for tens of thousands of Greeks, what we called “re-education camps” for tens of thousands of others, and the destruction of unions and of any possibility of independent politics.

It placed Greece firmly in the hands of U.S. investors and local businessmen, while much of the population had to emigrate in order to survive. The beneficiaries included Nazi collaborators, while the primary victims were the workers and the peasants of the Communist-led, anti-Nazi resistance.

Our successful defense of Greece against its own population was the model for the Vietnam War — as Adlai Stevenson explained to the United Nations in 1964. Reagan’s advisors used exactly the same model in talking about Central America, and the pattern was followed in many other places.

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In Japan, Washington initiated the so-called “reverse course” of 1947 that terminated early steps toward democratization taken by General MacArthur’s military administration. The reverse course suppressed the unions and other democratic forces and placed the country firmly in the hands of corporate elements that had backed Japanese fascism — a system of state and private power that still endures.

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When U.S. forces entered Korea in 1945, they dispersed the local popular government, consisting primarily of antifascists who resisted the Japanese, and inaugurated a brutal repression, using Japanese fascist police and Koreans who had collaborated with them during the Japanese occupation. About 100,000 people were murdered in South Korea prior to what we call the Korean War, including 30-40,000 killed during the suppression of a peasant revolt in one small region, Cheju Island.

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A fascist coup in Colombia, inspired by Franco’s Spain, brought little protest from the US government; neither did a military coup in Venezuela, nor the restoration of an admirer of fascism in Panama. But the first democratic government in the history of Guatemala, which modeled itself on Roosevelt’s New Deal, elicited bitter US antagonism.

In 1954, the CIA engineered a coup that turned Guatemala into a hell on earth. It’s been kept that way ever since, with regular U.S. intervention and support, particularly under Kennedy and Johnson.

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One aspect of suppressing the antifascist resistance was the recruitment of war criminals like Klaus Barbie, an SS officer who had been the Gestapo chief of Lyon, France. There he earned his nickname: the Butcher of Lyon. Although he was responsible for many hideous crimes, the U.S. Army put him in charge of spying on the French.

When Barbie was finally brought back to France in 1982 to be tried as a war criminal, his use as an agent was explained by Colonel (ret.) Eugene Kolb of the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps: Barbie’s “skills were badly needed... His activities had been directed against the underground French Communist party and the resistance,” who were now targeted for repression by the American liberators.

Since the United States was picking up where the Nazis left off, it made perfect sense to employ specialists in antiresistance activities. Later on, when it became difficult or impossible to protect these useful folks in Europe, many of them (including Barbie) were spirited off to the United States or to Latin America, often with the help of the Vatican and fascist priests.

There they became military advisers to U.S.-supported police states that were modeled, often quite openly, on the Third Reich. They also became drug dealers, weapons merchants, terrorists and educators — teaching Latin American peasants torture techniques devised by the Gestapo. Some of the Nazis’ students ended up in Central America, thus establishing a direct link between the death camps and the death squads — all thanks to the postwar alliance between the US and the SS.

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Our commitment to democracy

In one high-level document after another, US planners stated their view that the primary threat to the new US-led world order was Third World nationalism — sometimes call ultranationalism: “nationalistic regimes” that are responsive to “popular demand for immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses" and production of domestic needs.

The planners’ basic goals, repeated over and over again, were to prevent such “ultranationalist” regimes from ever taking power — or if, by some fluke, they did take power, to remove them and to install governments that favor private investment of domestic and foreign capital, production for export and the right to bring profits out of the country. (These goals are never challenged in the secret documents. If you’re a US policy planner, they’re sort of like the air you breathe.)

Opposition to democracy and social reform is never popular in the victim country. You can’t get many of the people living there excited about it, except a small group connected with US businesses who are going to profit from it.

The United States expects to rely on force, and makes alliances with the military — “the least anti-American of any political group in Latin America,” as the Kennedy planners put it — so they can be relied on to crush any indigenous popular groups that get out of hand.

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The US has been willing to tolerate social reform — as in Costa Rica, for example — only when the rights of labor are suppressed and the climate for foreign investment is preserved. Because the Costa Rican government has always respected these two crucial imperatives, it’s been allowed to play around with its reforms.

Another problem that’s pointed to over and over in these secret documents is the excessive liberalism of Third World countries. (That was particularly a problem in Latin America, where the governments were sufficiently committed to thought control and restrictions on travel, and where the legal systems were so deficient that they required evidence for the prosecution of crimes.

This is a constant lament right through the Kennedy period (after that the documentary record hasn’t yet been declassified). The Kennedy liberals were adamant about the need to overcome democratic excesses that permitted “subversion” — by which, of course, they meant people thinking the wrong ideas.

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The United States was not, however, lacking in compassion for the poor. For example, in the mid-1950s, our ambassador to Costa Rica recommended that the United Fruit Company, which basically ran Costa Rica, introduce - “a few relatively simple and superficial human interest frills for the workers that may have a large psychological effect.”

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles agreed, telling President Eisenhower that to keep Latin Americans in line, “you have to pat them a little bit and make them think that you are fond of them.”

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Given all that, US policies in the Third World are easy to understand. We’ve consistently opposed democracy if its results can’t be controlled. The problem with real democracies is that they’re likely to fall prey to the heresy that governments should respond to the needs of their own population, instead of those of US investors.

A study of the inter-American system published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London concluded that, while the US pays lip service to democracy, the real commitment is to “private, capitalist enterprise.” When the rights of investors are threatened, democracy has to go; if these rights are safeguarded, killers and torturers will do just fine.

Parliamentary governments were barred or overthrown, with US support and sometimes direct intervention, in Iran in 1953, in Guatemala in 1954 (and in 1963, when Kennedy backed a military coup to prevent the threat of return to democracy). Our policies have been very much the same in El Salvador and in many other places across the globe.

The methods are not very pretty. What the US-run contra forces did in Nicaragua, or what our terrorist proxies do in El Salvador or Guatemala, isn’t ordinary killing. A major element is brutal, sadistic torture — beating infants heads against rocks, hanging women by their feet with their breasts cut off and the skin of their face peeled back so that they’ll bleed to death, chopping people’s heads off and putting them on stakes. The point is to crush independent nationalism and popular forces that might bring about meaningful democracy.

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The threat of a good example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want a global system that’s subordinated to the needs of US investors, you can’t let pieces of it wander off. It’s striking how clearly this is stated in the documentary record — even in the public record at times. Take Chile under Allende.

Chile is a fairly big place, with a lot of natural resources, but again, the United States wasn’t going to collapse if Chile became independent. Why were we so concerned about it? According to Kissinger, Chile was a “virus” that would “infect” the region with effects all the way to Italy.

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

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

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

Sometimes the point is explained with great clarity. When the US was planning to overthrow Guatemalan democracy in 1954, a State Department official pointed out that:

“Guatemala has become an increasing threat to the stability of Honduras and El Salvador. Its agrarian reform is a powerful propaganda weapon; its broad social program of aiding the workers and peasants in a victorious struggle against the upper classes and large foreign enterprises has a strong appeal to the populations of Central American neighbors where similar conditions prevail.”

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

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

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The three-sided world

From the early 1970s, the world has been drifting into what’s called tripolarism or trilateralism — three major economic blocs that compete with each other. The first is a yen-based bloc with Japan as its center and the former Japanese colonies on the periphery.

Back in the thirties and forties, Japan called that The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The conflict with the US arose from Japan’s attempt to exercise the same kind of control there that the Western powers exercised in their own spheres. But after the war, we reconstructed the region for them. We then had no problem with Japan exploiting it — they just had to do it under our overarching power.

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Japan recovered [from WWII] in large part because of the Korean War and then the Vietnam War, which stimulated Japanese production and brought Japan huge profits.

A few of the early postwar planners...[such as] George Kennan...proposed that the United States encourage Japan to industrialize, but with one limit: the US would control Japanese oil imports. Kennan said this would allow us “veto power” over Japan in case it ever got out of line. The US followed this advice, keeping control over Japan’s oil supplies and refineries. As late as the early 1970s, Japan still controlled only about 10% of its own oil supplies.

That’s one of the main reasons the United States has been so interested in Middle Eastern oil. We didn’t need the oil for ourselves; until 1968, North America led world oil production. But we do want to keep our hands on this lever of world power, and make sure that the profits flow primarily to the US and Britain.

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The second major competitive bloc is based in Europe and is dominated by Germany. It’s taking a big step forward with the consolidation of the European Common Market. Europe has a larger economy than the United States, a larger population and a better educated one.

If it ever gets its act together and becomes an integrated power, the United States could become a second-class power. This is even more likely as German-led Europe takes the lead in restoring Eastern Europe to its traditional role as an economic colony, basically part of the Third World.

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The third bloc is the US-dominated, dollar-based one. It was recently extended to incorporate Canada, our major trading partner, and will soon include Mexico and other parts of the hemisphere, through “free trade agreements” designed primarily for the interests of US investors and their associates.

We’ve always assumed that Latin America belongs to us by right. As Henry Stimson (Secretary of War under FDR and Taft, Secretary of State under Hoover), once put it, it’s “our little region over here, which never has bothered anybody.” Securing the dollar-based bloc means that the drive to thwart independent development in Central America and the Caribbean will continue.

Unless you understand our struggles against our industrial rivals and the Third World, US foreign policy appears to be a series of random errors, inconsistencies and confusions. Actually, our leaders have succeeded rather well at their assigned chores, within the limits of feasibility.

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Devastation abroad

Our Good Neighbor policy

How well have the precepts put forth by George Kennan been followed? How thoroughly have we put aside all concern for “vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization”? I’ve already discussed our “commitment to democracy," but what about the other two issues?

Let’s focus on Latin America, and begin by looking at human rights. A study by Lars Schoultz, the leading academic specialist on human rights there, shows that “US aid has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens.” It has nothing to do with how much a country needs aid, only with its willingness to serve the interests of wealth and privilege.

Broader studies by Edward Herman reveal a close correlation worldwide between torture and US aid, and also provide the explanation: both correlate independently with improving the climate for business operations. In comparison with that guiding moral prinicple, such matters as torture and butchery pale into insignificance.

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How about raising the living standards? That was supposedly addressed by President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, but the kind of development imposed was oriented mostly towards the needs of US investors. It entrenched and extended the existing system in which Latin Americans are made to produce crops for export and to cut back on subsistence crops like corn and beans grown for local consumption. Under Alliance programs, for example, beef production increased while [local] beef consumption declined.

This agro-export model of development usually produces and “economic miracle” where GNP goes up while much of the population starves. When you pursue such policies, popular opposition inevitably develops, which you then suppress with terror and torture.

(The use of terror is deeply ingrained in our [national] character. Back in 1818, John Quincy Adams hailed the “salutary efficacy” of terror in dealing with “mingled hordes of lawless Indians and negros.” He wrote that to justify Andrew Jackson’s rampages in Florida which virtually annihilated the native population and left the Spanish province under US control, much impressing Thomas Jefferson and others with his wisdom.)

The first step is to use the police. They’re critical because they can detect discontent early and eliminate it before “major surgery” (as the planning documents call it) is necessary. If major surgery does become necessary, we rely on the army. When we can no longer control the army of a Latin American country — particularly one in the Caribbean-Central American region — it’s time to overthrow the government.

Countries that have attempted to reverse the pattern, such as Guatemala under the democratic capitalist governments of Arévalo and Arbenz, or the Dominican Republic under the democratic capitalist regime of Bosch, became the target of US hostility and violence.

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The second step is to use the military. The US has always tried to establish relations with the military in foreign countries, because that’s one of the ways to overthrow a government that has gotten out of hand. That’s how the basis was laid for military coups in Chile in 1973 and in Indonesia in 1965.

Before the coups, we were very hostile to the Chilean and Indonesian governments, but we continued to send them arms. Keep good relations with the right officers and they overthrow the government for you. The same reasoning motivated the flow of US arms to Iran via Israel from the early 1980s, according to the high Israeli officials involved...

During the Kennedy administration, the mission of the US-dominated Latin American military was shifted from “hemispheric defense” to “internal security” (which basically means war against your own population). That fateful decision led to “direct [US] complicity” in “the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads,” in the retrospective judgment Charles Maechling, who was in charge of counterinsurgency planning from 1961-66.

The Kennedy Administration prepared the way for the 1964 military coup in Brazil, helping to destroy Brazilian democracy, which was becoming too independent. The US gave enthusiastic support to the coup, while its military leaders instituted a neo-Nazi-style national security state with torture, repression, etc. That inspired a rash of similar developments in Argentina, Chile and all over the hemisphere, from the mid-sixties to the eighties — an extremely bloody period.

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I think, legally speaking, there’s a very solid case for impeaching every American president since the Second World War. They’ve all been either outright war criminals or involved in serious war crimes.

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The military typically proceeds to create an economic disaster, often following the prescriptions of US advisers, and then decides to hand the problem over to civilians to administer. Overt military control is no longer necessary as new devices become available — for example, controls exercised through the International Monetary Fund (which, like the World Bank, lends Third World nations funds largely provided by the industrial powers).

In return for its loans, the IMF imposes “liberalization”: an economy open to foreign penetration and control, sharp cutbacks in services to the general population, etc. These measures place power even more firmly in the hands of the wealthy classes and foreign investors (“stability”) and reinforce the classic two-tiered societies of the Third World — the super-rich (and a relatively well-off professional class that serves them) and an enormous mass of impoverished, suffering people.

The indebtedness and economic chaos left by the military pretty much ensures that the IMF rules will be followed — unless popular forces attempt to enter the political arena, in which case the military may have to reinstate “stability.”

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Brazil is an instructive case. It is so well endowed with natural resources that it ought to be one of the richest countries in the world, and it also has high industrial development. But, thanks in good measure to the 1964 coup and the highly praised “economic miracle” that followed (not to speak of the torture, murder and other devices of “population control”), the situation for many Brazilians is now probably on a par with Ethiopia — vastly worse than in Eastern Europe, for example.

The Ministry of Education reports that over a third of the education budget goes to school meals, because most of the students in public schools either eat at school or not at all.

According to South magazine (a business magazine reporting on the Third World), Brazil has a higher infant mortality rate than Sri Lanka. A third of the population lives below the poverty line and “seven million abandoned children beg, steal and sniff glue on the streets. For scores of millions, home is a shack in a slum...or increasingly, a patch of ground under a bridge.”

That’s Brazil, one of the naturally richest countries in the world.

The situation is similar throughout Latin America. Just in Central America, the number of people murdered by US-backed forces since the late 1970s comes to something like 200,000, as popular movements that sought democracy and social reform were decimated. These achievements qualify the US as an “inspiration for the triumph of democracy in our time,” in the admiring words of the liberal New Republic. Tom Wolfe tells us that the 1980s were “one of the great golden moments that humanity has ever experienced.” As Stalin used to say, we’re “dizzy with success.”

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The crucifixion of El Salvador

For many years, repression, torture and murder were carried on in El Salvador by dictators installed and supported by our government, a matter of no interest here. The story was virtually never covered.

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The Jesuits were murdered by the Atlacatl Battalion, an elite unit created, trained and equipped by the United States. It was formed in March 1981, when fifteen specialists in counterinsurgency were sent to El Salvador from the US Army School of Special Forces. From the start, the Battalion was engaged in mass murder. A US trainer described its soldiers as “particularly ferocious.... We’ve always had a hard time getting [them] to take prisoners instead of ears.”

In December 1981, the Battalion took part in an operation in which over a thousand civilians were killed in an orgy of murder, rape and burning. Later it was involved in the bombing of villages and murder of hundreds of civilians by shooting, drowning and other methods. The vast majority of victims were women, children and the elderly.

The Atlacatl Battalion was being trained by US Special Forces shortly before murdering the Jesuits. This has been a pattern throughout the Battalion’s existence — some of its worst massacres have occurred when it was fresh from US training.

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In the “fledgling democracy” that was El Salvador, teenagers as young as 13 were scooped up in sweeps of slums and refugee camps and forced to become soldiers. They were indoctrinated with rituals adopted from the Nazi SS, including brutalization and rape, to prepare them for killings that often have sexual and satanic overtones.

The nature of Salvadoran army training was described by a deserter who received political asylum in Texas in 1990, despite the State Department’s request that he be sent back to El Salvador. (His name was withheld by the court to protect him from Salvadoran death squads.)

According to this deserter, draftees were made to kill dogs and vultures by biting their throats and twisting off their heads, and had to watch as soldiers tortured and killed suspected dissidents — tearing out their fingernails, cutting off their heads, chopping their bodies to pieces and playing with the dismembered arms for fun.

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In another case, an admitted member of a Salvadoran death squad associated with the Atlacatl Battalion, César Vielman Joya Martínez, detailed the involvement of US advisers and the Salvadoran government in death-squad activity. The Bush administration has made every effort to silence him and ship him back to probable death in El Salvador, despite the pleas of human rights organizations and requests from Congress that his testimony be heard. (The treatment of the main witness to the assassination of the Jesuits was similar.)

The results of Salvadoran military training are graphically described in the Jesuit journal America by Daniel Santiago, a Catholic priest working in El Salvador. He tells of a peasant woman who returned home one day to find her three children, her mother and her sister sitting around a table, each with its own decapitated head 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 18-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.

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According to Rev. Santiago, macabre scenes of this kind aren’t uncommon.

“People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador — they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disemboweled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones, while parents are forced to watch.”

See also:
The full text of The crucifixion of El Salvador

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Teaching Nicaragua a lesson

It wasn’t just El Salvador that was ignored by the mainstream US media during the 1970s. ... Nicaragua was of no concern at all, as long as Somoza’s tyrannical rule wasn’t challenged.

When his rule was challenged, by the Sandinistas in the late 1970s, the US first tried to institute what was called “Somocismo [Somoza-ism] without Somoza” — that is, the whole corrupt system intact, but with somebody else at the top. That didn’t work, so President Carter tried to maintain Somoza’s National Guard as a base for US power.

The National Guard had always been remarkably brutal and sadistic. By June 1979, it was carrying out massive atrocities in the war against the Sandinistas, bombing residential neighborhoods in Managua, killing tens of thousands of people. At that point, the US ambassador sent a cable to the White House saying it would be “ill-advised” to tell the Guard to call off the bombing, because that might interfere with the policy of keeping them in power and the Sandinistas out.

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Reagan used them [the “contras” — ex-National Guard members] to launch a large-scale terrorist war against Nicaragua, combined with economic warfare that was even more lethal. We also intimidated other countries so they wouldn’t send aid either.

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The success of the Sandinista reforms terrified US planners. ... The hatred that was elicited by the Sandinistas for trying to direct resources to the poor (and even succeeding at it) was truly wondrous to behold. Just about all US policymakers shared it, and it reached virtual frenzy.

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So...we launched the contra war along with an illegal economic war to terminate what Oxfam rightly called “the threat of a good example.” The contras’ vicious terrorist attacks against “soft targets” under US orders did help, along with the boycott, to end any hope of economic development and social reform. US terror ensured that Nicaragua couldn’t demobilize its army and divert its pitifully poor and limited resources to reconstructing the ruins that were left by the US-backed dictators and Reaganite crimes.

One of the most respected Central America correspondents, Julia Preston (who was then working for the Boston Globe), reported that “Administration officials said they are content to see the contras debilitate the Sandinistas by forcing them to divert scarce resources toward the war and away from social programs.” That’s crucial, since the social programs were at the heart of the good example that might have infected other countries in the region and eroded the American system of exploitation and robbery.

See also:
The full text of Teaching Nicaragua a lesson

[Back to Table of Contents]

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Making Guatemala a killing field

There was one place in Central America that did get some US media coverage before the Sandinista revolution, and that was Guatemala. In 1944, a revolution there overthrew a vicious tyrant, leading to the establishment of a democratic government that basically modeled itself on Roosevelt’s New Deal. In the ten-year democratic interlude that followed, there were the beginnings of successful independent economic development.

That caused virtual hysteria in Washington. Eisenhower and Dulles warned that the “self-defense and self-preservation” of the United States was at stake unless the virus was exterminated. US intelligence reports were very candid about the dangers posed by capitalist democracy in Guatemala.

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...the CIA carried out a successful coup [in 1954]. Guatemala was turned into the slaughterhouse it remains today, with regular US intervention whenever things threaten to get out of line.

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By the late 1970s, atrocities were again mounting beyond the terrible norm, eliciting verbal protests. And yet, contrary to what many people believe, military aid to Guatemala continued at virtually the same level under the Carter “human rights” administration. Our allies have been enlisted in the cause as well — notably Israel, which is regarded as a “strategic asset” in part because of its success in guiding state terrorism.

Under Reagan, support for near-genocide in Guatemala became positively ecstatic. The most extreme of the Guatemalan Hitlers we’ve backed there, Rios Montt, was lauded by Reagan as a man totally dedicated to democracy. In the early 1980s, Washington’s friends slaughtered tens of thousands of Guatemalans, mostly Indians in the highlands, with countless others tortured and raped. Large regions were decimated.

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“One is tempted to believe,” [Guatemalan journalist Julio] Godoy continued, “that some people in the White House worship Aztec gods — with the offering of Central American blood.” And he quoted a Western European diplomat who said: “As long as the Americans don’t change their attitude towards the region, there’s no space here for the truth or for hope.”

See also:
The full text of Making Guatemala a killing field

[Back to Table of Contents]

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Continued on page 2 with The Invasion of Panama

About the Author

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is a major figure in twentieth-century linguistics. He has taught since 1955 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he became a full professor at the age of 32. His 1957 work Syntactic Structures revolutionized the field of linguistics, fundamentally changing the current understanding of language and mind. In 1976 he was appointed Institute Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. Currently he is also the Ferrari P. Ward Professor of Modern Languages and Linguistics.

Chomsky has received honorary degrees from the University of London, University of Chicago, Georgetown University and Cambridge University. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. His work in linguistics, which has been internationally acclaimed, has earned Chomsky the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences and the Helmholtz Medal.

Born in Philadelphia on December 7, 1928, Chomsky became politically conscious at a very young age, writing his first political article, on the fight against fascism in Spain, when he was only ten years old.

Chomsky has written many books on contemporary issues and is an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy and corporate power. His political talks have been heard, typically by standing-room only audiences, all over the country and the globe.

In a saner world, his tireless efforts to promote justice would have long since won him the Nobel Peace Prize. But no, the committee prefers to give it to sleazy war-criminals like Henry Kissinger.

Books by Noam Chomsky

Audio books:

Other works:

Related sites

What Uncle Sam Really Wants

Zmag.org provides the complete text of the book.

The Noam Chomsky Archive

“This archive is hosted by ZNet, the web site of Z Magazine. It contains the full text to many of Chomsky’s major works, the complete audio to several important lectures, and numerous articles, interviews and speeches.”

School of the Americas Watch

The United States Army “School of the Americas”, in Fort Benning, Georgia, teaches its students how to torture human beings.

Graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas have been responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America.

Among the SOA’s nearly 60,000 graduates are notorious dictators Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia.

Lower-level SOA graduates have participated in human rights abuses that include the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the torture of countless people throughout Central and South America and the El Mozote Massacre of 900 human beings.

The US Army School of Assassins

Exposes the dirty deeds of the U.S. Army School of “the Americas” (Assassins) throughout Latin America. Special sections on Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Grenada, Colombia, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Related books

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In 1962, U.S. military leaders had a top-secret plan for committing terrorist attacks on Americans in Miami and Washington D.C., while blaming Cuba. Codenamed “Operation Northwoods”, the plan was intended to provide the propaganda necessary to create popular support for an invasion of Cuba.

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