Here in America we are descended in spirit from revolutionaries and rebels – men and women who dared to dissent from accepted doctrine. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, May 31, 1954
There are a lot of people waving the American flag these days, but I’m not one of them. I also don’t subscribe to the much-vaunted myth of “American exceptionalism.” Here’s why:
I won’t dwell on our enslavement of Africans for over two hundred years and the bloody Civil War (recently estimated to have had a death toll of about 750,000 – New York Times, 4/2/2012) it took to end America’s slavery horrors. The racist Jim Crow policies and segregation that followed the Civil War have by no means been totally extinguished.
I also won’t dwell on our genocide against the Native Americans, in which we took over a continent by force while wiping-out entire cultures. Many of the remnant populations now live in poverty and a state of social disintegration on remote reservations.
However, I will point out that during the 20th century we became the world’s dominant empire and sought to consolidate our power by staging CIA-backed coup d’états to overthrow democratically elected leaders that our national security state decided it did not like. Examples include Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 and Chile’s President Salvador Allende in 1973.
Our national security state has also supported brutal dictators and strongmen who have murdered and violated the human rights of many of their own people. Two glaring examples among many are Fulgencio Batista in Cuba during the 1950s and Roberto d’Aubuisson in El Salvador during the 1980s.
To defend its far-flung empire, U.S. military spending is currently almost twice as much as the combined military budgets of China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France. According to Republican Congressman and former Presidential candidate Ron Paul, the U.S. has military personnel in 130 nations and 900 overseas bases. An official Pentagon report, Base Structure Report, Fiscal 2010 Baseline, indicates that Mr. Paul’s numbers are pretty accurate. Ron Paul has also pointed out, rightfully, that bloated military outlays are one of the main causes of our federal government’s budget deficits.
Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has waged six major wars against and/or invasions of other nations, including the Korean War (1950-1953), the Vietnam War (1965-1973), the 1989 invasion of Panama, the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991), the Iraq War (2003-2011) and the Afghanistan War, which started in 2001 and continues to this day. These wars, the benefits of which have been murky, at best, have resulted in the deaths of well over 100,000 Americans and millions of non-Americans. During the Vietnam War alone, 58,220 U.S. service members died and an estimated 2 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed.
The Vietnam War was exceptionally brutal, immoral, stupid, and totally unnecessary. Among the crimes committed during this war was the spraying by the U.S. of Agent Orange, a herbicide dropped from the sky to destroy huge swaths of Vietnam’s forests and deny cover to Viet Cong fighters and North Vietnamese troops.
Agent Orange is contaminated with an especially toxic form of dioxin, which has been linked to cancers, birth defects, and other diseases in Vietnam as well as in American soldiers who came into contact with it. About two dozen former America sites in Vietnam are still highly polluted with Agent Orange. Recently, some 40 years after the crime, the U.S. has finally committed some funds to help clean up the toxic mess we left behind (LA Times, 8/9/2012).
Two other Southeast Asian nations that got sucked into the vortex of the Vietnam War are Laos and Cambodia, which share borders with Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands of Laotians and Cambodians were killed during the Vietnam War, primarily because of secret aerial bombardments by the U.S. In Cambodia, the U.S. bombings created tremendous stress and political instability, and are part of the reason Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge came to power, and the killing fields of the 1970s ensued.
In Laos, between 1964 and 1973, approximately 580,000 U.S. bombing runs dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs on a country the size of Minnesota. One ton of bombs was dropped for every person in Laos at the time, making that nation the most heavily bombed per capita in human history (Associated Press, 7/12/12; CNN, 7/11/12; Agence France-Presse, 7/11/12).
Since the Vietnam War and the bombings ended, about 20,000 Laotians have been killed or maimed by unexploded U.S. ordinance, and an estimated one-third of Laos is still littered with some 80 million unexploded cluster bombs. For the first time since 1955, last July Laos received a visit from a U.S. Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton), who promised to continue financial aid started in 1997 to help locate and remove unexploded U.S. ordinance still scattered over the Laotian countryside (CNN, 7/11/2012; Agence France-Presse, 7/11/12).
The list of U.S. atrocities recounted here is by no means exhaustive, and because they are fresher in Americans’ minds and space is limited, the horrors of the more recent Afghanistan and Iraq Wars will be cataloged another day.
If a person still wants to wave an American flag after reading this, that’s their prerogative. Just don’t expect me to follow suit. As Chalmers Johnson pointed out in his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire, during the last six decades we have forsaken the democratic principles upon which our nation was founded and our imperialist overreach has trampled the human rights of many other peoples.
John Grula, PhD, is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists
Originally published in the Nov. 22, 2012 Pasadena Weekly