The Biggest Elephant in the Room

When he began campaigning for the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn would cut through the dull trivia that routinely characterises these contests and suddenly say that it was time to address the elephant in the room. In the breathless hush that would always follow those words he would continue that it was time to discuss the illegal Iraq War of 2003. The point he was making was valid – the fact that the Labour Party had supported a monstrous and unlawful military adventure, a fact that no one wanted to mention. But it wasn’t the real elephant in the room, it wasn’t even a baby-sized hippo – compared with the Labour Party’s real elephant – which is still seldom addressed – the fact that the founding values of the party were utterly trashed and trampled on by Tony Blair and his chancellor and subsequent successor Gordon Brown; and that their many supporters, the “Blairites”, still deeply infest the party. But even that subject, large as it is, pails to insignificance compared with the biggest elephant in the room which very few are prepared to notice.

Roy Medvedev, one of the first Russian communist writers to produce a critical history of the Stalin years, hit the nail on the head. Quoting Rosa Luxemburg’s words, “Self-criticism – ruthless, harsh self-criticism, which gets down to the root of things – that is the life-giving light and air of the proletarian movement”, he wrote, in the foreword to his book Let History Judge. “[I]t is Communists who should be the strictest judges of their own history. Otherwise it will be impossible to restore the unity, moral purity, and strength of this great movement”.

Most of us, communists or otherwise, are not very good at strictly judging our own histories. Mostly that’s because we’re routinely taught highly sanitized versions of our history by those we most trust to tell us the truth – our own families, teachers, priests, and the mainstream media – versions of history which may include some factual content concerning events we could justifiably be proud of – or at least not too ashamed of – but which carefully exclude, or lie about, all the other events which should not only shame us, but make us feel rage.

We are instead conditioned to see our countries as “great”, our people the finest and fairest in the whole world. Anything which challenges or questions the conditioning is instantly dismissed as contemptible heresy, even sometimes provoking shrill demands for the execution of the blasphemer.

But harsh self-criticism is indeed, as Rosa Luxemburg said and Roy Medvedev knew, life-giving light and air.

A vast and terrifying pestilence has swept over the entire world. The mildest manifestation of it produces a constant depression and darkness, a total absence of light at the end of the tunnel. For many others it produces an ever-present terror which pervades the air every second of their lives, similar to the way many people feel when they are ruled by a psychopathic tyrant who, acting on a whim, may strike them down at any time of the day or night. The worst manifestation of it is its awesome destructive power, effortlessly capable of snuffing-out every living thing anywhere on Earth, and poisoning the land for billions of years into the future. Many people in the Middle East have long called this vast pestilence “The Great Satan”. Everyone else knows it as the government of the United States.

Almost since the day it was first created, the US government has displayed behaviour similar to that of a psychopath – obsessed only by its own instant gratification, and not only completely indifferent to the pain and suffering to others this invariably causes, but often gleefully elated by it. From its earliest treacherous and terrible exterminations of countless thousands of native Americans, through its first experiments in foreign expansion in Hawaii, Central America, Cuba and the Philippines – when it learnt that it could act with reckless impunity on a global stage and never be held to account for its actions – to today where it can and does wreak death and destruction anywhere it chooses every single year – without any consequences to itself – this terrifying pestilence hovers over every corner of the globe like a dense cloud of lethal poisons which might at any second suddenly descend and wipe out life for the rest of time.

A recent example of its awesome destructive power was clearly visible in Syria, for example, a country which, by Middle Eastern standards, was a beacon of peace and civilisation, freedom and democracy – until the US government decided it had to be destroyed. Its preferred method for doing this these days is to exploit local “useful idiots” on the ground supported by overwhelming US air power: US war planes destroy any target they like – without incurring any danger to themselves – and the “useful idiots” supply the essential “boots on the ground” to take any risks to personal safety, and occupy the lands devastated by US war machines. This achieves US government objectives without incurring any significant losses to American lives – an important requirement for political tranquillity at home.

Previous recent examples of this same method for the illegal removal of governments the US deems unsuitable were on display in Libya, where the relatively good government of Colonel Gaddafi – by African and Middle Eastern standards – was overthrown, and in the Ukraine, where at least $5B was “invested” by the US in illegally removing a sovereign government through civil war.

The global pestilence is maintained by a global network of US military bases located in just about every country in the world, and the US openly boasts that it could strike down any city anywhere within one hour). The US is the only country in the world with this terrifying capability, yet we’re routinely expected to believe that the real threats to world peace come from military nonentities such as North Korea or Iran. We’re also routinely encouraged to believe that Russia and China are also serious threats to our safety, and although they are both powerful nations, neither country has ever shown imperialist ambitions that come even close to those of the US government.

The US government frequently behaves like the global policeman – but it has no right to do so. The United Nations is the only institution that has any lawful claim to that role. But not only is the UN often prevented by the US from carrying out its legitimate responsibilities, it’s also used by the US to provide a veneer of legitimacy to its imperialist actions.

Take, for example, the recent decision by the US government to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem/Al Quds. By convention, embassies are usually located in the capital cities of countries, and the US action was highly provocative as it provided enormous weight to the rulers of Occupied Palestine to claim ownership of the eastern section of that city, which is de facto Palestinian territory.

The move provoked predictable outrage all around the world from countries who have long sympathised with the plight of oppressed Palestinians. On the 21st December a draft resolution was put before the UN General Assembly rejecting the US decision. The US was highly infuriated that anyone should criticise its actions this way, and the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, wrote to every country prior to the vote to warn, “The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those who voted against us.” She followed up her letter by tweeting, “On Thurs there’ll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names”.

Here we have the US ambassador to the UN, a very responsible position, treating other ambassadors as though they were a classroom of naughty five-year-olds. Is there any better example of the sublime arrogance of the US, or finer proof of the intimidation it routinely assumes is its right to use on the global stage?

However, in an extraordinary display of defiance against teacher, an overwhelming majority of countries supported the resolution and voted against the US. Time will tell if these countries have the real courage of their convictions, and refuse to move their embassies from Tel Aviv.

These are just a couple of recent examples of the global tyranny of the US government. There are many, many more. The American actions are, of course, highly contemptible, but the supine silence of most of the rest of the world, effectively endorsing the criminality of the Empire, is every bit as contemptible – but, of course, understandable: the US has shown time and time again that there is every reason to fear it. Like the playground bully, it controls everyone not through their freely-given support but through terror and inflicting terrible violence.

This is the biggest elephant of all dominating the room which, here in the first world, only a very few of us notice: the fact that the biggest of all of our planet’s problems are directly linked to the US government. Vast swathes of the rest of the planet know it – people living in the Middle East, much of Asia, most of Latin America; but here in the first world, the supposed beneficiaries of the American Empire, most people appear not to notice the terrible harm being wreaked by our Great Protector. From the economic injustice which inflicts starvation and disease on hundreds of millions of people, to the environmental catastrophe that’s now causing the biggest mass extinction of species since the age of dinosaurs, to the illegal wars that slaughter hundreds of thousands and ruin the lives of millions more… the one common factor that joins all of these terrible events together with a golden blood-soaked thread is the US government. Using its total control of the global economic system, or resorting to its awesome military might stationed in almost every country around the world, the US government is directly in charge of all that happens – and is therefore directly responsible for it.

At first glance it would seem there’s nothing we can do about this. After all, overthrowing the US regime by force is too ridiculous to consider, even if a moral case for using violence could somehow be constructed. So how else can we do what must be done?

The first and most essential requirement is to notice the elephant, to see the truth and criticise it in the same way as we would criticise it if it were being perpetrated by anyone else. How would we respond if it were Russia, say, or China that were locating military bases in every corner of the globe, and launching illegal wars from those bases? What would we think if Russia or China, say, were spying on us every minute of every day by using a terrifying global network of spies, secret police and ruthless murderers? What would we say if Russia or China, say, were controlling our economy in such a way that benefitted their multi-billionaires at the expense of our own people? What would we do if Russia or China, say, were destroying our fragile life-sustaining planet before our very eyes? Surely we would condemn those actions, and demand change? So why then do we not demand the same change when all those terrible things are being perpetrated every day of the week by the biggest of all elephants in the room – the US government?

More people need to see the elephant, to look at him through clear and honest eyes, and then lead him quietly out of the room to some place where he can no longer do any harm. Although this analogy is deeply unkind and unfair to elephants, who are the most splendid and wonderful of creatures, it’s otherwise a useful expression to use for something that’s blindingly obvious, but which people somehow fail to see. The US government is the single biggest threat to our planet. It must be quietly and peacefully made safe by the only people who could do it, the people of the USA.

Starting with the ruthless self-criticism that Rosa Luxemburg so rightly identified as essential, the American people need to be the strictest judges of their own government and do what must be done: create a new federal constitution based on direct democracy, and that recognises and acts upon the global injustices and environmental catastrophes being perpetrated by the existing model. It’s already too late for the millions of unnecessary dead and tens of millions of unnecessary refugees, and the thousands of species being made extinct with every passing year. It’s far too late for them. It’s now just a question of how much can we limit the needless human and environmental disasters for which future generations will rightly condemn us. The truth about the terrifying pestilence must be seen for what it is. As Lenin said, “We need complete, truthful information. And the truth should not depend on whom it is to serve”1

  1. Roy Medvedev. Let History Judge, Frontispiece. []
John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. His latest booklet is entitled EnMo Economics. Other Non-Fiction books by John are: The People's Constitution (2018 Edition); and The School of Kindness (2018 Edition); and his Non-Fiction novel The Road to Emily Bay Read other articles by John.