The Myth of the Humanitarian Superpower

U.S. War in Balkans--in Historical Perspective

Revolutionary Worker #1005, May 9, 1999

The U.S. and NATO have now waged a month of relentless air war against Yugoslavia. The allied imperialist powers insist they will decide how various conflicts get resolved in the Balkans--and they are trying to enforce those demands with all their high-tech weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, the U.S. ruling class portrays their air attacks as a "humanitarian mission." They claim NATO has attacked Yugoslavia to save and protect Kosovar Albanian civilians. And the U.S. military is portrayed as the reluctant "cop of the world"--its bombers, Apache helicopters and growing ground forces are packaged as the selfless protectors of the innocent, the rescuers of the persecuted.

The hypocrisy and deception involved in all this is mind-boggling.

In the most basic sense, the actions of the U.S.--their intervention, their bombing, their war of aggression in the Balkans--has not helped and will not help the masses of people; it will only make this a wider and far more destructive crisis. It has already taken a local conflict in the Balkans and turned it into a global test of its own superpower status. It has created a situation where a small, poor country of 10 million people is being pounded mercilessly to drive home the point that no one anywhere will be allowed to defy U.S. demands. It is naked imperialism--that makes the brutal "gunboat diplomacy" of earlier colonialism seem quaint by comparison. And to put this in perspective we can look at the history of the U.S. and unravel the myth of the "Humanitarian Superpower."

The Foundation of American Democracy

Consider what the founding and expansion of the U.S. involved:

The enslavement of Africans, involving kidnapping and mass murder of literally tens of millions of people, over several centuries, and the continuing oppression and murder of African-Americans at the hands of the powers-that-be and their armed enforcers in the U.S., down to today.

The genocide against the Native peoples and theft of their lands, now constituting the U.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii); the continuing and escalating "Indian Wars" after the Civil War and the consistent violation by the U.S. government even of treaties that were forced on the Native peoples (and that constituted theft of their land in the first place), which is still continuing (such as the theft or ecological ruin of reservation land when strategic materials like uranium or coal are found there).

The war against Mexico to seize from it a huge territory, including Texas and California. One of the main impulses for this was the drive to extend slavery. At the same time, the emerging capitalists, centered in the North, were driven to "expand to the West," to extend the sources of raw materials as well as markets for the engine of capitalist expansion. The continuing violation of the land grants promised to the Hispanic people in the Southwest in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the U.S. war of conquest against Mexico.

And we can add that, with regard to the one war that the U.S. bourgeoisie carried out that could be described as truly glorious--the Civil War which brought about the end of slavery--this is a war that the rulers of the U.S. often speak of with a tone of regret and even shame. They treat it as a great tragedy, when in fact it brought about emancipation in a much more profound way than the War of Independence from England.

The Imperialism of the "American Century"

The further leap of the rulers of the U.S. into the world arena, as international looters and exploiters, after the final consolidation of their "continental rule" on the basis of plunder, theft and genocide, brought the grabbing of colonies from Spain through the "Spanish-American War" of 1898 with all the murderous destruction and atrocities carried out by the U.S. armed forces to put down the people who resisted colonial oppression. The Philippines was a glaring example, as well as Cuba and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is still being held under U.S. colonial domination and used, among other things, as a major basing area for the military forces of U.S. imperialism.

The entire history of brutal exploitation (and accompanying discrimination and oppression) of immigrants, including children, in the U.S.--what was really done with generations of the "teaming masses yearning to breathe free"--in the railroads, mines, and in other key and strategic parts of the economy--is a major aspect of how the wealth and power of the U.S. capitalists-imperialists has been built up and is sustained. And this is continuing right down to today, especially with immigrants from the Third World, in the sweatshops and farm fields, restaurants and hotels, and in electronics factories as well as many other sites of vicious exploitation, in "post-modern, post-industrial" America itself.

Sexual exploitation, as well as many other vicious forms of oppression of women, including young girls, in America itself (as well as throughout the world, in country after country dominated by the U.S. imperialists) is a major feature of this system. And in a concentrated way, wherever the U.S. military is stationed in significant numbers, they turn whole areas into whorehouses for their troops, exploiting the poverty and desperation of the masses which they are maintaining.

And as for World War 1 and World War 2, where the U.S. posed as the great defenders of democracy and great opponents of fascism--they were not motivated by (and did not gear their strategy to) liberating oppressed people or ending the horrendous atrocities committed by the Nazis and their allies. The U.S. imperialists geared everything in these wars to their overriding objective of expanding their empire, with its foundation of human blood and bones--literally.

To further illustrate this:

Look at the record of the U.S. government in Latin America throughout this whole century: There are the invasions and occupations, the massacres, in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Grenada, Panama. There is the installation, arming and propping up of brutal dictatorships in virtually every country in Latin America--whether such dictatorships operated openly as such or adopted a thin "democratic" camouflage--in Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, and including the U.S.-led coup bringing to power the Pinochet regime in Chile and all the murder, torture and widespread terror against the masses that was bound up with that regime.

And look at the role of the U.S. in the plunder and rape of China throughout the first half of this century--and then, again now, after the death of Mao, where the U.S. has moved to get in on the ruthless exploitation of masses of Chinese people, since the reversal of the revolution and the restoration of capitalism in China.

The Cold War and Hiroshima--
Justifications and Reality

The crimes of U.S. imperialism during the so-called "Cold War" were generally "justified" with the rationale (or rationalization) of "opposing totalitarianism."

In a real sense, this begins with Hiroshima and Nagasaki--with hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties--which served as the declaration of the "American Century," the emergence of the U.S. as the pre-eminent imperialist power. This is the real reason these atom bombs were dropped--as a declaration and warning to other imperialists and above all to the then-socialist Soviet Union and the rising revolutionary movements, throughout the world, particularly in China.

As for the rationalizations that are generally advanced by the U.S. imperialists and those parroting their propaganda about these hideous slaughters, the following must be said: First, there is the argument that these atom bombs were dropped to "save a million American lives" that would have been expended in a ground invasion of Japan. Besides the considerable distortions and exaggerations in such "military estimates," and besides the fact that Japan was already seeking to negotiate terms of surrender, particularly seeking to keep the emperor, which the U.S. ended up agreeing to in any case; besides all that, there is the gross chauvinism of declaring American lives more valuable than Japanese lives. And the Japanese lives that were taken by these atomic bombs (along with those survivors who suffered excruciatingly, often for the rest of their lives) were overwhelmingly civilians. The atom bomb was a weapon specifically and overwhelmingly targeted at civilians--a violation of supposed "rules of civilized warfare," in which it is proclaimed that soldiers are the legitimate objects of deliberate military attack but civilians are not. (And isn't one of the main charges of the imperialists against "terrorists"--that they target civilians?).

Then there is the argument that the Japanese "deserved" the atom bomb because of Pearl Harbor! Along with the grotesque American-chauvinist and bloodthirsty nature of this argument; and along with the fact that such an argument fails to distinguish between the military and political leaders of Japan, on the one hand, and the ordinary Japanese people on the other hand; there is the fact that Nagasaki and Hiroshima were, by any standard, way out of proportion to American losses at Pearl Harbor--which after all were mainly losses of war ships and military personnel, not civilians. At Hiroshima and Nagasaki hundreds of thousands of CIVILIANS constituted the overwhelming casualties, who were DELIBERATELY TARGETED--just like civilians were targeted in the U.S.-British fire-bombing of several German cities with the calculated incineration of hundreds of thousands of civilians. In addition, the fact is that the U.S. imperialists stole Hawaii in the first place from the Hawaiians, so that outrage about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has no more "moral force" than when a thief and murderer cries "foul" when someone else attacks him and inflicts damage on valuables he has stolen.

Burning Down the Village to Save It

Then, after the Korean war--and the millions of casualties inflicted, to a large degree on civilians, especially through U.S. bombing--there is the major war the U.S. waged against Vietnam: the massive destruction and the wiping out of up to three million people, most of them civilians, in Indochina, along with the herding of millions of Vietnamese into concentration camps called "strategic hamlets," as well as the ruining of large parts of the land and ecology through "defoliation" and similar means--all in the attempt to impose the "peace of the graveyard" and domination by U.S. imperialism, which went down to a richly deserved defeat, to the joy of oppressed masses and revolutionary and progressive people throughout the world.

(And let us recall that, during the years that the U.S. imperialists were waging this war of mass destruction and murder in Vietnam--burning down whole villages and slaughtering everyone in them, "carpet bombing" the south of Vietnam, while also targeting schools, hospitals, neighborhoods, and similar sites in the north of Vietnam and even bombing the dikes there to deliberately flood the countryside, and other monstrous acts--these same imperialists also invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965 and committed other crimes against humanity all over the world. In 1973, the year the U.S. imperialists were finally forced to sign a peace treaty on Vietnam which represented the defeat of their aggression against that country and its people, the U.S. imperialists pulled off yet another of their bloody coups, this time in Chile.)

There was the sending of Marines to Lebanon in the late '50s to impose "stability" in accordance with U.S. imperial dictates; and then, a little more than a decade later, the backing of King Hussein of Jordan in carrying out murderous suppression of Palestinians and (what were then) revolutionary forces among them--along with the continual and massive backing and arming of Israel, propping it up as a military outpost of U.S. imperialism in that region of the world and supporting or apologizing for its continual aggression and atrocities against the Palestinian and other Arab peoples.

There was the CIA coup leading to the installation of the murderous regime of the Shah, sustained in power by U.S. arms and all-around support for 25 years, with all the attendant suffering for the masses of people in Iran.

There was the coup in Indonesia--one of the bloodiest coups in recent decades--directly instigated and led by the U.S. imperialists (through the CIA in particular), leading to the slaughter of between 500,000 and one million people in Indonesia, bringing Suharto to power in 1965 and maintaining him in power through massive U.S. arms supplies and overall backing, for more than three decades. And there are the horrendous crimes carried out by the Indonesian government in East Timor, during Suharto's regime and continuing now (this very month!) even after Suharto was ousted. All with the backing of the U.S. imperialists, including the provision of large amounts of arms, as well as advice and training, in carrying out almost unspeakable massacres of a huge section of the East Timorese population.

There was the decades-long support for the apartheid regime in South Africa, as well as the backing and arming of forces committing unspeakable atrocities in places such as Mozambique and Angola (which continues to this day).

There was the backing and arming of brutal dictatorships in both Ethiopia and Somalia in turn, contributing to massive destruction and heightening the dislocation and suffering already caused by imperialist domination, with the literal starvation of millions; and then the military intervention of the U.S. in Somalia behind a shabby and hypocritical facade of "humanitarian aid" to stop blood-letting!--military intervention that resulted in more violence and suffering for the people of Somalia.

And then there have been the same basic crimes and hypocrisy of the U.S. imperialists continuing after "the end of the Cold War," with one rationalization after another "run up the flagpole," including of late the "dictator we must stop" (or the Hitler of the moment), whether Noriega in Panama (in fact another puppet of U.S. imperialism who ceased to be useful to his masters); Saddam Hussein (again, used and provided with large amounts of arms by the U.S. imperialists and then turned on when he no longer served their interests); and now Milosevic (basically a continuator of a regime in Yugoslavia that was long an ally of the U.S. against the Soviet bloc during the "Cold War").

There is the U.S. arming and support for a succession of butcher regimes in Turkey, right down to the present, with their brutal oppressive rule over the masses of people in general and their especially vicious warfare against the Kurds, evacuating and burning hundreds of villages over the last few years and continuing down to this last month!--far exceeding anything the Yugoslav regime has done in Kosovo.

There has been the invasion and continuing occupation of Haiti in recent years, once again under the hypocritical signboard of opposing dictatorship and "bringing democracy" and in actuality resulting yet again in more suffering for the masses of Haitian people and the strengthening of reactionary butchers in Haiti--following after the previous U.S. invasion and occupation of Haiti and decades in which the U.S. imperialists supported and profited from the notoriously brutal regime of the Duvaliers ("Papa Doc" and his son, "Baby Doc").

And on.... And on... And on...!

All throughout this decade there have been ongoing acts of warfare against Iraq, after the bloodbath of the "Gulf War," combined with continuing sanctions, resulting in the death of over 1 million people in Iraq so far, many of them children--all this continuing even while the U.S. is escalating its warfare against Yugoslavia.

And then there is the fact that, on an ongoing basis, throughout the Third World--under the domination of an imperialist world order in which the U.S. proudly proclaims itself the sole superpower and uses its military might to enforce this oppressive and literally life-stealing world order--40,000 CHILDREN DIE EVERY DAY OF STARVATION, MALNUTRITION AND PREVENTABLE DISEASE. Which means that, in just the time since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the "end of the Cold War," approximately 100 MILLION CHILDREN HAVE DIED in this way as the result of the ongoing functioning of this world system in which the U.S. imperialists boast of being the unrivaled chieftains--a system and world order dominated by U.S. corporations and banks and enforced by the machinery of mass destruction and murder known as the U.S. armed forces (and rationalized and "justified" by the massive propaganda machinery known as the American "free press!").

Cops of the World

The U.S. imperialists like to raise the "straw man" of old-line colonialism to "cover" their own imperialist domination, plunder and exploitation. They like to repeat the refrain--when they are carrying out military aggression against another country--that "we are not doing this to seize territory, we do not seek territory"--as if the only kind of imperialism, or the only real imperialism, is the old-style colonialism embodied, for example, in the British empire, where until World War II, Britain openly and directly ruled great parts of the world, including such large and populous areas as what is today India and Pakistan.

But the fact is that, since World War 2, with the declining power of England and other old-line colonial imperialists and the emergence of the U.S. as the dominant imperialist power, the main form in which imperialism has exercised its control and carried out its exploitation is neo-colonialism, in which, for the most part, the imperialists rule through local puppet regimes which are forced on the people of those countries by the imperialists and are kept in power by the imperialists and which serve the imperialists. And this has been accentuated by the increasing "globalization" of which the imperialists boast.

Of course, when and where they find it in their interests, the U.S. imperialists do indeed "seize territory," that is, they do invade and occupy countries. They continue to maintain Puerto Rico as their direct colony (while exercising a similar control over Guam). These imperialists have not hesitated to use bloody means of suppression in opposition to uprisings against U.S. rule in their colonies, including Puerto Rico--while they also insist that Hawaii, which they stole from the Hawaiians, is an integral part of "their territory."

At the same time, more and more, citing "globalization" and "universal values of democracy" and so on, the U.S. imperialists claim the right to intervene and attack, and bring massive death and destruction with their military force, anywhere in the world--anywhere they find it in their interests. They even go so far as to declare that the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries has been made obsolete--at least for them!--because of "globalization" and the imperatives of imposing their version of "democratic order," with all its horrendous oppression and misery for the masses of people, all over the world.

In speeches, Clinton has overtly voiced this doctrine that the principle of "non-interference" in the affairs of other countries is now obsolete and overridden by the imperatives of U.S. imperialist "national interests" and "values." It is necessary to rip away the veil of "humanitarian concern," including the "post-modernist speak" that Clinton sometimes uses to "package" this "humanitarian" cover--his talk of upholding "inclusiveness" in opposition to "exclusiveness" and in opposition to despising "The Other"--in which "inclusiveness" means the international "inclusion" of the peoples of the world under U.S. imperialist domination and dictates.

Like a Bloody-Jawed Wolf

And now, along with all this, during the very time when Amnesty International has called for a major campaign focusing on the U.S. itself as a country embodying major human rights violations, the rulers of the U.S., the U.S. imperialists, are launching yet another of their wars. And we are supposed to believe that the massive destruction being rained down by the U.S. and its "NATO Allies" in Yugoslavia, and the mounting civilian casualties resulting from this, as well as increasing destruction of infrastructure vital for everyday civilian life in Yugoslavia (including Kosovo)-- we are supposed to believe that in all this the U.S. imperialists (and their "NATO allies") are acting out of "humanitarian concern" for the Kosovars and that the result of U.S./NATO actions there will be to improve the lot of the masses of people, including even the Serbs? Give us a fucking break!!!!

One does not have to ignore or deny the oppressive nature of the Milosevic regime to understand that the U.S. imperialists, who are heading up the forces waging war against Yugoslavia, have in fact committed--and are continuing to commit--towering crimes against humanity, throughout the world, on a scale a thousand times greater than Milosevic could dream of doing. And the intervention of such monstrous international criminals and the imposition of "order" under their domination cannot possibly lead to an improvement in the situation of the masses of people in that part of the world (Yugoslavia and the Balkans, including Kosovo) and for the masses of people in the world as a whole.

There was a statement by Malcolm X, not long before his assassination, when he described how the rulers of the U.S. stand before the world with blood running down their jaws, like a bloody-jawed wolf--and then have the nerve to call themselves champions of "Freedom and Democracy." Malcolm's point was a bold and profound truth--then and now, 35 years later. The rulers of the U.S. have continued to act in exactly the same way--carrying out the same horrendous atrocities and massive crimes against humanity, while rationalizing them with the most sickening hypocrisy.

These imperialists must never be allowed to wrap themselves in the mantle of "righteousness" and "humanitarian concern" in committing still more of their towering crimes. It can never be accepted that in committing such crimes they are acting out of concern for humanity or that such acts will do good for humanity.

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