Denouncing Imperialism

There is a surreal quality about visiting the United States in the last days of the presidential campaign. If George W Bush wins, according to a scientist I met, who escaped Nazi-dominated Europe, America will surrender many of its democratic trappings and succumb to its totalitarian impulses. If John Kerry wins, according to most Democrat voters, the only mandate he will have is that he is not Bush.

Never have so many liberal hands been wrung over a candidate whose only memorable statements seek to out-Bush Bush. Take Iran. One of Kerry’s national security advisers, Susan Rice, has accused Bush of “standing on the sidelines while Iran’s nuclear programme has been advanced”. There is not a shred of evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, yet Kerry is joining in the same orchestrated frenzy that led to the invasion of Iraq. Having begun his campaign by promising another 40,000 troops for Iraq, he is said to have a “secret plan to end the war” which foresees a withdrawal in four years. This is an echo of Richard Nixon, who in the 1968 presidential campaign promised a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam. Once in office, he accelerated the slaughter and the war dragged on for six and a half years. For Kerry, like Nixon, the message is that he is not a wimp. Nothing in his campaign or his career suggests he will not continue, even escalate, the “war on terror”, which is now sanctified as a crusade of Americanism like that against communism. No Democratic president has shirked such a task: John Kennedy on the cold war, Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam.

This presents great danger for all of us, but none of it is allowed to intrude upon the campaign or the media “coverage”. In a supposedly free and open society, the degree of censorship by omission is staggering. The New York Times, the country’s liberal standard-bearer, having recovered from a mild bout of contrition over its abject failure to challenge Bush’s lies about Iraq, has been running tombstones of column inches about what-went-wrong in the “liberation” of that country. It blames mistakes: tactical oversights, faulty intelligence. Not a word suggests that the invasion was a colonial conquest, deliberate like any other, and that 60 years of international law make it “the paramount war crime”, to quote the Nuremberg judges. Not a word suggests that the American onslaught on the population of Iraq was and is systematically atrocious, of which the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was merely a glimpse.

The coming atrocity in the city of Fallujah, in which British troops, against the wishes of the British people, are to be accessories, is a case in point. For American politicians and journalists – there are a few honourable exceptions – the US marines are preparing for another of their “battles”. Their last
attack on Fallujah, in April, provides a preview. Forty-tonne battle tanks and helicopter gunships were used against slums. Aircraft dropped 500lb bombs; marine snipers killed old people, women and children; ambulances were shot at. The marines closed the only hospital in a city of 300,000 for more than two weeks, so they could use it as a military position. When it was estimated they had slaughtered 600 people, there was no denial. This was more than all the victims of the suicide bombs the previous year. Neither did they deny that their barbarity was in revenge for the killing of four American mercenaries in the city; led by avowed cowboys, they are specialists in revenge.

John Kerry said nothing; the media reported the atrocity as “a military operation” against “foreign militants” and “insurgents”, never against civilians and Iraqis defending their homes and homeland. Moreover, the American people are almost totally unaware that the marines were driven out of Fallujah by heroic street fighting. Americans remain unaware, too, of the piracy that comes with their government’s murderous adventure. Who in public life asks the whereabouts of the $18.46 bn which the US Congress approved for reconstruction and humanitarian aid in Iraq? As Unicef reports, most hospitals are bereft even of painkillers, and acute malnutrition among children has doubled since the “liberation”. In fact, less than $29m has been allocated, most of it on British security firms, with their ex-SAS thugs and veterans of South African apartheid. Where is the rest of this money which should be helping to save lives? Non-wimp Kerry dares not ask. Neither does he nor anybody else with a public profile ask why, since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the people of Iraq have been forced to pay almost $80m to America and Britain as “reparations”. Even Israel has received an untold fortune in Iraqi oil money as compensation for its “loss of tourism” in the Golan Heights – part of Syria it occupies illegally.

As for oil, the “O-word” is unmentionable in the contest for the world’s most powerful job. So successful is the resistance in its campaign of economic sabotage that the vital pipeline carrying oil to the Turkish Mediterranean has been blown up 37 times. Terminals in the south are under constant attack, in effect shutting down all exports of crude oil and threatening national economies. That the world may have lost Iraqi oil is enveloped by the same silence that ensures Americans have little idea of the nature and scale of the bloodletting conducted in their name.

The most enduring silence is that which guards the system that has produced these catastrophic events. This is Americanism, though it dares not speak its name, which is strange, as its opposite, anti-Americanism, has long been successfully deployed as a pejorative, catch-all response to critical analysis of an imperial system and its myths. Americanism, the ideology, has meant democracy at home, for some, and a war on democracy abroad. From Guatemala to Iran, from Chile to Nicaragua, to the struggle for freedom in South Africa, to present-day Venezuela, American state terrorism, licensed by both Republican and Democrat administrations, has fought democrats and sponsored totalitarians. Most societies attacked or otherwise subverted by US power are weak and defenceless, and there is a logic to this. Should a small country succeed in breaking free to establish its own way of developing, then its good example to others becomes a threat to Washington.

And the serious purpose behind this? Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, once told the United Nations that America had the right to “unilateral use of power” to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources”. Or as Colin Powell, the Bush-ite laughably
promoted by the media as a liberal, put it more than a decade ago: “I want to be the bully on the block.” Britain’s imperialists believed exactly that, and still do; only the language is discreet.

That is why people all over the world, whose consciousness about these matters has risen sharply in the past few years, are “anti-American”. It has nothing to do with the ordinary people of the United States, who now watch a Darwinian capitalism consume their real and fabled freedoms and reduce the “free market” to a fire sale of public assets and McDonald’s jobs. It is remarkable, if not inspiring, that so many reject the brainwashing, begun in childhood, that calls such a class- and race-based system “the American dream”.

What will happen if the nightmare in Iraq goes on? Perhaps those millions of worried Americans who are currently paralysed by wanting to get rid of Bush at any price will shake off their ambivalence, regardless of who wins on 2 November. Then, as during the civil rights campaign, the Vietnam war and the great movement to freeze nuclear weapons, will a giant awaken? One must trust so; the alternative is a war on the world.

John Pilger is currently a visiting professor at Cornell University, New York. His latest book is Tell Me No Lies: investigative journalism and its triumphs (Jonathan Cape)

Australian born, John Pilger is a journalist and documentary film maker, with many years of experience in the world of politics and international conflict