By Guy Crittenden
In his talk "Hybrid Wars and US Imperialism" Indian historian, journalist and Marxist intellectual Vijay Prashad explains the period from the Second World War til the present as a single conflict and not, as many think of it, as two periods: the first defined as the Cold War with the former Soviet Union and the second as the War on Terror that began in the 1990s, after the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The latter is how "the West" chooses to think of things, most of the time. For Prashad the past 70 years is better understood as a single struggle between (mostly) people of colour (largely in the south) to decolonize their societies after years, decades and even centuries of rule by oligarchies, be they US corporate fruit growers in Guatemala, copper mining executives in Chile, or plantation or nightclub owners in Cuba.
Prashad reminds us the playbook is almost always the same: identify a resource-rich country (oil and gas, bananas, gold, copper, etc) whose leadership has decided to invest those resources, or profits from them, for the benefit of the majority of the country's citizens. Target the leadership for removal. If possible, characterize the leader as a brutal dictator who's abusing or even killing his own people. Impose sanctions on the country. Bring it to its knees. ("Make the economy scream" Prashad quotes Nixon as saying in regard to Chile.) Fund, arm and train insurgents. Sponsor a civil war. Overthrow the government in a coup d'etat but make sure it looks like local opponents took over, and not an invasion. Install a puppet leader, trained in the School of the Americas, Fort Benning or similar.
I can't listen to Prashad (or read John Perkins book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, which makes similar points) without feeling immense frustration. During my entire lifetime — our lives — an endless parade of military conflicts — some big, some small; others hot, some "cool" — has played out across television screens, radios, computer monitors, newspapers and magazines. From the dropping of the atomic bombs at the end of World War Two, through the Korean and Vietnam conflicts (both premised on false-flag attacks), the Kennedy assassinations, the murder of MLK, the two Gulf wars with Iraq, the sabre rattling with Iran, the genocidal siege war against civilians in Yemen, the destruction of Libya, the attempted overthrow of the Ba'athist government in Syria in a conflict that's killed over 500,000 people, bombing and military actions in Yemen, Afghanistan and God knows how many other countries... I mean, how often have you and I stopped in our lives and thought about the scale? The cost in terms of human life? Economic dislocation? Refugees crises. Think of the dissidents locked away in various prison cells. Julian Assange most recently. Chelsea Manning. Snowden. And the impact on their families. The secret torture programs.
And the point of it all? All the hundreds of millions, billions, even trillions of dollars spent on all this war, civil war, proxy war, dirty war, hybrid war? Has it been to make the world a better place? Why yes! Better, for certain people. For elites. But for the vast majority of people, who remain largely in the dark about the ultimate purpose of all this military activity, there's no benefit whatsoever. Just injuries. Untimely deaths, Families burying their sons and daughters. Alienation. Distraction. Distraction from what might have been: the Earth as garden planet careening amid the stars; all the warmth and maternal nurturing we feel at Christmas, or when a newborn comes into the world, or when a new art exhibit opens. We humans need to face an essential fact: there's never a time when we can cease being vigilant. There's never a time when the forces of fascism and totalitarianism can be ignored. Every generation must pick up the sword and the pen and resist oppression from a cold start, as if it were for the first time.
We've lived for years in fear of men in other countries. Men with uniforms. Men with dangerous technology. Men with beards and desert camouflage.
Yes, while many of us, most of us, have gone about our lives seeking to earn a living from productive work, raise children and maintain a secure and happy family life, hoping and helping all humanity move toward a better dream, a small number of selfish, pathological people have gamed the system and exert extraordinary power from behind the scenes in what were thought to be liberal democracies and not police surveillance states.
It's been going on for about 500 years, during the entire colonial era, which never ended. And our minds house quite an interesting "rogues gallery" of deposed or murdered rebel leaders, from Libya's Gaddafi to Iran's Mossadegh, to Chile's Allende or the more successful Ho Chi Minh. We were conditioned to think of these people as the enemy. Men in black hats. Communists. How sad that most were, all along, simply taking care of their people and attempting to decolonize their societies, to get things working for the people and not authoritarian ruling families or transnational corporations headquartered in the United States or Great Britain.
Maybe the most brilliant part is how they got away with it. Who paid the price for ousting Mossadegh? Allende? Gaddafi? Kennedy? King? Most of the people still think the danger is "communism" or "Islamic terrorists." The large corporations have continued on. Halliburton made more than $40 billion off the Iraq war. What was 9/11 really? How would we even know? We've lived for years in fear of men in other countries. Men with uniforms. Men with dangerous technology. Men with beards and desert camouflage. Could there come a time when this fear will dissipate? When this distraction will end? The tragedy isn't just what has happened (the wars, the carnage, the maintenance of social stratification) but what could have been otherwise: the egalitarian societies, the art and music and creativity, the productive economies, the peace and abundance. All those billions that flowed from the increased productivity of the digital revolution could have given the average American or European a two day work week. Or three days maybe. Yet people are working two and three jobs and can't afford a $700 emergency. People don't quite approve of the billionaire class, but they don't extrapolate how their own prosperity has been siphoned off and into the offshore bank accounts of that class, much of that wealth the result of armed conflicts around the globe, theft of nature resources and lending money to make it all happen.
Can we have our garden planet and a better dream? And can we please make it soon?
Environment and business journalist and award-winning book author (The Year of Drinking Magic: Twelve Ceremonies with the Vine of Souls, Apocryphile Press) based in Innisfil, Ontario, Canada and Principal of Crittenden Communication. Contact Guy at email@example.com