When are crimes against humanity ‘arcane references’?

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When are crimes against humanity “arcane references”? When the United States government commits them. According to Politico (Michael Crowley, “Sanders once urged abolishing CIA,” Feb. 22), in a debate with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders “befuddled some viewers with an arcane reference to a 1953 U.S.-backed coup in Iran, which Sanders called an example of America’s history of ‘overthrowing governments.’” The fact that a mainstream liberal publication refers to the overthrow of Mossadegh as an “obscure reference” that’s “befuddling” to the American public says everything you need to know about how the American educational system and mass media serve the state’s official line.

Of course the Iran coup wasn’t some outlier in American foreign policy. As Sanders himself noted in 1989 — another one of those “arcane references” quoted by Crowley — every “revolution for the poor people” in Latin America had been “overthrown by the CIA.”

But even this doesn’t go nearly far enough. The question isn’t so much where the U.S. has installed dictatorships and funded death squads and state terrorism, as where it hasn’t. Just sticking to the post-WWII period, the U.S. began by dispossessing left-wing anti-fascist guerrillas in former Axis territory of their gains on the ground, and instead replacing them with provisional governments headed by politicians or generals who had collaborated with Nazi Germany and militarist Japan. In South Korea, where anarchist activists had created a loose federation of self-managed villages and factories in the vacuum left by Japan’s withdrawal, the U.S. installed a military dictatorship.

The U.S. overthrew the land-reforming Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala and replaced him with a right-wing military dictator, the beginning of forty years of U.S.-backed state and death squad terror against economic justice movements — with a death toll in the millions — in Central America. It overthrew Sukarno in Indonesia; the Suharto dictatorship murdered up to a million people in the ensuing purges. It assassinated Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected leader of the Congo, and backed the butcher Robert Mobutu through years of bloody civil war. Beginning with Brazil, successive U.S. administrations replaced most of the governments in South America with military dictatorships.

And the astonishing thing is, virtually all of these crimes really are “arcane references” that the “befuddled” American public has never heard of. If the people of any other country in the world were so abysmally ignorant of their own government’s record of crimes and atrocities, centrist talking heads would clutch their pearls about that wicked government deceiving its people with propaganda. The comparison is really quite apt.

Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman developed a “propaganda model” of the U.S. mass media, arguing that the cumulative filtering effect of corporate advertising money and the media’s reliance on official sources result in “news” that toes the official government foreign policy line as closely as the official state media in a totalitarian country.

Looking at what passes for foreign news in the U.S. mass media, it’s hard to say they’re exaggerating. During the Congressional debates over the Balkan Wars of the ’90s, I recall a Congressman on C-SPAN saying he had “been taught” in school that “the United States never fights wars to acquire territory or treasure, but only to liberate other people.” I take it none of his teachers mentioned the Mexican War, which was fought on a trumped-up pretext mainly for the purpose of annexing territory for new slave states. And the U.S. may not have acquired any “territory” in Guatemala in 1954, but United Fruit Company sure did.

At the same time CNN was mocking “Baghdad Bob,” it was uncritically showing staged footage of “celebrating” Iraqi crowds tearing down statues of Saddam. In cable news talking head analysis of the Caucasus crisis in August 2008, you could watch through hundreds of hours of bloviation about “Russian aggression” without hearing anybody mention that Georgia had started the whole mess by invading a region whose autonomy was guaranteed by treaty.

If you replaced the German population in 1939 with today’s Americans, CNN would be reporting as straight news that we were invading Poland in self-defense, because of Polish aggression against ethnic Germans in Danzig. And if anyone suggested the “Polish aggression” was committed by German officers in Polish uniforms, Chris Matthews would rupture a blood vessel screaming about “tinfoil hats.” This is every war America fights.

As Jesus said, why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

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