AMERICA THE MERCILESS
Edward S. Herman
Although Americans are mainly decent people, their country is merciless. This contradiction comes about because the country is run by a small economic and political elite that uses its dominant economic and military power to serve its own interests, and people who stand in its way must be crushed. Ordinary Americans might not like spending huge sums to crush distant peoples if they had an unbiased representation of all the facts. But they don't get those facts, and their consent is carefully engineered. This is done by dehumanizing and demonizing the targeted enemies and making their destruction into a morality play, a struggle between good and evil. It also requires a careful selection and suppression of facts.
Dehumanization and demonization have had a long history in this country. Dispossessing and slaughtering the native Americans required that they be deemed savages, and the slave system also rested on a treatment of blacks as less than human. The subjugation of the Philippines at the turn of the century, which involved ruthless treatment and mass killing of the native population, was greatly helped by our sense of superiority and the strange morality of a Christianizing mission that destroyed in order to "save." This same racist morality allowed us to impose our rule and that of chosen tyrants like Duvalier, Somoza and Trujillo on the peoples of Haiti, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.
Countries that have crossed us have paid dearly. Following the Vietnam war, in which we killed vast numbers and left a smashed country, we maintained an 18 year boycott that helped prevent that traumatized country from recovering. Similarly, Cuba under Fidel Castro and Nicaragua under the Sandinista government in the 1980s, were subjected to severe boycotts (as well as terrorist attacks) that caused great suffering to the peoples of those countries. In each of these cases, our actions were presented to the American people as a just struggle against a nefarious Communist enemy. Our own material interests in maintaining a global open door economy, and the human costs of our policies, were barely acknowledged.
Our attacks and pursuit of sanctions on Iraq have been based on the demonization of Saddam Hussein as "another Hitler" who cannot be allowed to develop "weapons of mass destruction." We are also allegedly carrying out UN policies that represent the will of the "international community." But during the 1980s both the Reagan and Bush administrations and Mrs. Thatcher's government gave Saddam Hussein loans and approved his acquisition of "weapons of mass destruction" even in the face of his aggression against Iran and his use of chemical weapons against both Iran and Kurds within Iraq. In short, he was supported when he served U.S. aims, and became a bad man only when he crossed us.
Although the U.S. position is that we are carrying out UN policies, the fact is that only the United States and Britain support the rigorous sanctions and periodic bombing of Iraq, and the policies go forward essentially because of U.S. power. Furthermore, the United States regularly violates the UN-granted authority and the UN Charter itself. The United States now openly admits that it will press sanctions until Saddam Hussein is ousted, although the UN grant of sanctions authority has never made Saddam's removal a condition for the lifting of sanctions. It is also clear that the United States is using inspections to humiliate Saddam Hussein, to provoke him into acts that will justify using violence against him.
The sanctions policy has been very costly to the people of Iraq; as in the case of post-war Vietnam, we have not allowed Iraq to recover from the devastation of the 1991 war, and by credible estimates some 5,000 to 6,000 children are dying every month as a result of the sanctions. We contend that this is all Saddam's fault. But his people did not starve before the Gulf War and our responsibility for the present catastrophe is heavy. In a sense, the United States has been holding the 18 million Iraqis hostage till Saddam Hussein goes and other U.S. ends are met. This is arguably a form of terrorism that makes the 1979 Iranian seizure of 53 Americans as hostages look very modest indeed.
Edward Herman is an economist and media analyst. His most recent books are Triumph of the Market (1996) and The Global Media (with Robert McChesney, 1997).