In Their Own Words

Here in the US, we have been led to believe that we are an exceptional people and the indispensable nation. During our lifetime we have been exposed to lots of myths about the US, particularly about how we are always on the side of good. Below are insider comments challenging this key myth.

Before presenting the quotes, note that US crimes of stealing lands and resources and killing and exploiting people are, disturbingly, nothing new. Many other nations/empires have committed similar crimes throughout history. Morality, legality or altruism are not considerations that apply to the acts of powerful nations. The US is the most recent and perhaps the most successful incarnation of empire that skillfully uses puppet leaders, international organizations, financial means, and modern technology, including propaganda techniques, to expand, consolidate and to maintain its control.

Laudable words

In 1821, when he was US Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams wrote a “Warning Against the Search for “Monsters to Destroy”.  The excerpt below shows how America once viewed itself in the international arena.

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy…. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….

Unfortunately, Adams didn’t seem to recognize that US treatment of the Native Americans and African slaves had already undercut the high ideas of liberty and independence. The US certainly did not heed Adams’ warning as the use of force or coercion were the primary ways the US conducted foreign policy, especially on the North American continent.

Use of the military

Native American nations suffered incredible slaughter, dispossession and devastation at the hands of the US military and citizens. The widespread killing of Native Americans preceded and continued throughout the ‘Manifest Destiny’ era. A Century of Dishonor by Helen Hunt Jackson, first published in 1881, provides details about this unconscionable mistreatment.

Two other major US foreign 19th century campaigns were the war of conquest against Mexico (1846-1848) and, after the defeat of the Spanish during the Spanish-American War, the brutal US campaign against Philippine independence at the turn of the 20th century.

President Ulysses S. Grant

Regarding the war with Mexico, former President and General Ulysses S. Grant wrote in his autobiography:

For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.

Major General Smedley Butler
US Marine Corps legend Major General Smedley Butler described his early 20th-century experiences in a powerful and telling speech in 1933.

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. …

I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. …

I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

General David M. Shoup

An echo of Butler’s comments is found in a 1967 speech by General David M. Shoup, former Commandant of the USMC (the US Congressional Record from February 20, 1967). General Shoup said:

I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own. That they design and want. That they fight and work for.

Thomas Friedman

In a 1999 column, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman also echoed General Butler’s comments when he admitted the linkage between the military and the ability of US corporations to thrive internationally. Friedman wrote:

For globalization to work, America can’t be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is…The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist–McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force Navy and Marine Corps.

General Douglas MacArthur

In 1957, another of the leading US military figures during the 20th century, General Douglas MacArthur, explained the support for increasing military budgets.

Our swollen budgets constantly have been misrepresented to the public. Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear … with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.

Oil — a great prize

A 1945 memorandum to President Truman written by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs in the U.S. State Department, Gordon Merriam, stated:

In Saudi Arabia, where the oil resources constitute a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history, a concession covering this oil is nominally in American control.

Adolf A. Berle, one of Franklin Roosevelt’s closest advisers, particularly in relation to the construction of the post-WWII world, later remarked that controlling the oil reserves of the Middle East would mean obtaining “substantial control of the world.”

The US and its oil industry have worked assiduously to extend their influence over nations with large supplies of oil and natural gas or along possible pipeline routes.

Maintaining US standard of living

A 1948 State Department Policy Planning Paper by George Kennan, architect of the ‘containment’ policy toward the USSR, discussed the rationale behind US foreign policy. Kennan explained that, following World War II, America held 50% of the world’s wealth, yet had only 6.3% of the world’s population. According to Kennan, the real task for America:

… 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-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.

By overthrowing governments

Consistent with Kennan’s recommendation, the US used the Central Intelligence Agency to overthrow or to assassinate democratically elected leaders. More recently, the Agency for International Development and non-governmental organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy prepare the ground for coups.

Amazingly, leaders more amenable to the US usually came to power after these coups! Examples of coups welcomed by the US include Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), Chile (1973), Honduras (2009) and Ukraine (2014).

William Blum‘s book Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Intervention Since World War II examines this topic in detail

Through economic agreements

In 1944, a conference of the 44 Allied nations was held at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire to establish regulation of the international monetary and financial systems after the war. Britain and the US had competing versions for a reserve currency and other issues. Due to overwhelming US power and wealth, the nations went along with the US version that effectively resulted in making the US dollar the reserve currency, a decision with major implications for the world. (See Linda McQuaig’s excellent book The Cult of Impotence: Selling the Myth of Powerlessness in the Global Economy, pages 214-224 for more on Bretton Woods and the role played by the US banking industry.)

The International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (now part of the World Bank) were also created at Bretton Woods. The US has used these institutions and their structural adjustment programs along with its trade policies and foreign aid to, in effect, keep third-world nations as colonies. These policies simultaneously expanded the power of  Western corporations and Wall Street banks. (See Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins for more information.)

A coup led by Wall Street and transnational corporations

US policy has morphed into a policy that puts the interests of giant financial institutions and transnational corporations ahead of US national interests. The Bretton Woods plan along with so-called trade agreements clearly demonstrate this point as these agreements really focus on the expansion and consolidation of the power of giant banks and corporations.

Nomi Prins‘ exceptional book All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power strongly makes the case that the power of leading US bankers to influence US domestic and foreign policy has existed since at least the beginning of the 20th century.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the latest predatory scheme that reflects the power of Wall Street and transnational corporations. The TPP expands the power of these groups at the public’s expense. Among the rules being secretly negotiated is the particularly egregious ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement’ process. This process would allow a foreign corporation to sue a government over profits it could potentially lose due to a law that protects, for example, the environment or labor rights or buy local programs. Fortunately there is a good chance that this scheme may be defeated due to strong public pressure.

Also under current negotiation is another part of the corporate coup, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and European nations. Again there is strong opposition, mostly in Europe so far, to this predatory scheme.

Clearly US foreign policies seldom have little relation to the fine sounding line spouted by our elected officials and corporate dominated mainstream news media. The officials and the media work in tandem to convince the US public to support wars or other policies that are harmful to people here and around the world.

Backlash to this Wall Street/corporate coup

There is rising opposition to the Washington consensus of neo-liberal policies. A number of South American nations are showing that an alternative path can be charted. Several of the democratically elected leaders there have enacted policies benefiting the public interest, not just the interest of the elite. Unfortunately, by adopting these policies, these leaders become targets of the US and at risk of being overthrown.

Russia and China are working more closely together in response to US policies/provocations in Ukraine and Southeast Asia. The BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have formed institutions to offer an alternative to the World Bank and the IMF. A number of nations are using their own currencies instead of the dollar in their trade transactions with one another. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is another political, economic and military group working together outside of the orbit of the US and the West.

The financial catastrophe of 2008 further undercut confidence in the neoliberal policies of the West. The immediate bailout of the gigantic banks without concurrent action to help the public provided another demonstration of the power of the banks over governments. As a result of the crisis and bank bailout, more and more people in Western Europe and the US are beginning to recognize that the predatory policies of the Wall Street-led US are taking us down the wrong path. For example, in Greece and Spain, the mandated austerity programs have caused people to challenge the existing order.

Unbridled capitalism is slowly destroying the environment as well as the economic well being of the public. If we want future generations to have any chance at a decent life, an alternative path to the neoliberal model must be pursued. Fortunately, the seeds of a seismic shift are being planted. Whether or not, they will sprout in time is still unknown.

Ron Forthofer is a retired professor of biostatistics from the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston and was a Green Party candidate for Congress and also for governor of Colorado. Read other articles by Ron.