War and Empire: The American Way of Life

By Paul Atwood and cross-posted from Counterpunch.org

A few months ago I received a message from a professor at the Khomeini Institute for Education and  Research in Tehran, Iran, informing me that my 2010 book “War and Empire: The American Way of Life” (London, Pluto Press) had been translated into Farsi. He requested that I write an Introduction for Iranian readers. What follows is that Introduction. Two years ago the Xinhua Peoples’ Press in Beijing, China also published a translation in Mandarin.

In the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s 1991 attempt to annex Kuwait the U.S. deliberately destroyed much of Iraq’s water and sewer infrastructure. The Pentagon even admitted on its website that these acts would lead to mass outbreaks of disease. These were certifiable war crimes under international law. After Saddam’s defeat the U.S. also imposed widespread sanctions on his regime that included preventing necessary medicines from reaching Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens perished as a result. In an infamous interview in 1996 Madeleine Albright, then the Secretary of State, was asked to justify the deaths of 500,000 children. She defended these atrocities by saying “I think this is a very hard choice but we think the price is worth it.” Twenty-one years have elapsed since Albright uttered her rationalization of this vicious barbarity and it has been virtually “disappeared” from the collective memory of Americans. But it is far from being the only one.

Today much the same is being visited upon the children of Mosul, Syria and Yemen. Fifty thousand more marines are slated for deployment to Afghanistan and the new Defense Secretary’s bellicose rhetoric threatens Iran.

When I undertook to write this book I could not imagine that it would ever be translated into Farsi or Mandarin Chinese. Over the course of my teaching career I had become increasingly concerned about the vacancy of knowledge about their nation’s past on the part of my students and by extension many millions of my fellow American citizens. This condition of ignorance is the effect of the incomplete and, too often, dishonest orthodoxy in required school texts and by the distortion of the real past by popular culture, Hollywood films and corporate controlled network television, especially the purported “news.” George Orwell was correct. “Who controls the present controls the past.” What the majority of Americans are conditioned to think they know about their past (and that of many other peoples) is myth, and too often, sheer illusion. Misdirection and manipulation about proclaimed threats from abroad since 1945 has led directly into wars and unjust armed interventions and coups in many other nations. The results are always tragic on a colossal scale.

None of this is accidental or new. Since the end of World War II the U.S. ruling elites have set forth an agenda claimed to foster what they call a “liberal world order” in which democracy and human rights for all are the declared goals. But little about real U.S. actions in the world supports these claims. Washington has overthrown elected governments and waged catastrophic war upon helpless civilians in many nations since 1945. The public is told that national security and “vital interests” are at stake and the corporate controlled media ensure that key realities are omitted, or distorted. It is no secret that today much of the human species is living in existential crisis-whether from war, economic exploitation or dire effects of climate change- and  the profound ignorance about how the past shapes the present is a major factor in our failure to fashion a more peaceful and beneficial future. This volume is simply an attempt to illuminate much of the hidden history of the United States in the hope that more citizens in the United States will realize that we cannot continue on this destructive path and must find a way to cooperate with other nations instead of seeking to dominate them or outcompete them in a self-defeating contest for diminishing resources. Many American officials pay lip service to international cooperation but they really mean collaboration with the overarching American agenda.

The words of those who have formulated the grand strategy for American global dominance since the U.S. emerged as the most militarily dominant nation after WWII must be taken seriously but desires for global dominance were evident long before. Consider the oft-quoted language of George F. Kennan, the U.S. State Department’s architect of the Cold War with the Soviet Union immediately after World War II. In a top secret document circulated only to other key officials he took notice of the fact that the American population was (in 1948) only 6.3% of the world’s but that the U.S. effectively controlled about 50% of the world’s resources. The object of U.S. policy, he declared, should be to maintain that disparity and employ “straight power tactics” to enforce this global inequality, while avoiding all rhetoric about commitment to human rights, raising other peoples’ living standards, democratization and the like. Kennan’s vision, coupled with the U.S. creation of the World Bank and International Monetary fund, anticipated a globalized economy under firm control by American and allied European banks and industries, and backed by American firepower

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