â€œAmericaâ€™s Soulâ€: A History Lesson for Paul Krugman
Being seriously Left can make for some lonely wandering in the wilderness of dominant U.S. corporate media. It's terrible, of course, to hear one right-wing talk radio or television host after another denounce some recent conservative White House statement and/or Democratic Party policy palliative as a terrible example of "far left" radicalism and "socialism." You have a hard time knowing which is worse: the idiotic description of (say) President Barack Obama's corporate health care plan (or his corporate-welfarist "bank rescue" scheme or his tepid economic stimulus bill or...fill in the blank) as "socialist" or the default assumption that "socialism" - the democratic control of their society and economy by the working majority - is necessarily and obviously some sort of terrible thing.
Just as painful for me, however, are the conservative, power-worshipping statements you see and hear on the leftmost side of the excruciatingly constricted corporate media continuum. It may be even worse over on what passes for the left of the U.S. communications system.
This may be worse, actually. When you're watching FOX News or the action-drama "24" (conceived by an open Republican neocon) or reading the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal or listening to Sean Hannity, after all, there's little chance that you are going to be fooled into even momentarily thinking you are dealing with anything other than an enemy. The right wing talk radio and FOX News mob makes little effort to hide its virulent hatred of anything and everything left-wing (an absurdly broad category for them, to be sure). They regularly advance unimaginably false representations of basic social and political reality, completely denying the role of key oppression structures in the creation of contemporary miseries like poverty, inequality, war, and invasion.
Over on the official "left" side of the governing media range, the content can sometimes seem seductive. Listening to MSNBC and PBS or reading The New York Times, a left person can occasionally be fooled into thinking they've found some truth-telling allies in the "MSM" (mainstream media). Your eyebrows raise and you start to feel vindicated as you get into a news or commentary piece that tells some terrible truths about a ocietal and/or policy matter that concerns you.
Then comes the right hook from the not-so left wing of the mass consent-manufactory that is corporate media. You've just gotten reminder of the pervasive hold of dominant authoritarian ideology in the corporate management of what passes for a free "marketplace of ideas" in the United States. You've received another lesson in the awesome power of a doctrinal system that is beyond significant moral and political challenge.
"IT'S ABOUT RECLAIMING AMERICA'S SOUL"
Look, for example, at a recent column titled "Reclaiming America's Soul" (New York Times, April 24, 2009) by Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, a self-described "progressive" who is probably the nation's leading left-liberal commentator. Published two weeks ago, Krugman's opinion-editorial eviscerated Obama's nauseating argument against undertaking federal investigations and prosecutions in regard to the George W. Bush administration's justification and use of torture. As Krugman noted, Obama's claim that "nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past" ignores what ought to seen as a rather elementary point - that we must expose and punish human rights crimes not merely to exact retribution but to prevent the recurrence of such crimes in the present and future.
Krugman rightly mocked the Obama administration's preposterous claim that "investigating the times of the Bush era" would "divert time and energy and energy needed elsewhere." There is no reason to expect American government and society to be crippled because the Justice Department and Congress did their constitutionally mandated jobs by "uncovering the truth and enforcing the law."
Krugman also usefully exposed the absurdity of some centrist Democrats' claim that "revisiting the abuses of the Bush years would undermine the political consensus the president needs to pursue his agenda." The "answer to that," Krugman observed, "is, what political consensus? There are still, alas, a significant number of people in our political life who stand on the side of the torturers. But these are the same people who have been relentless in their efforts to block President Obama's attempt to deal with our economic crisis and will be equally relentless in their opposition when he endeavors to deal with health care and climate change. The president cannot lose their good will, because they never offered any."
As Krugman also rightly noted, finally, we also need serious investigations and prosecutions in connection with the Bush administration's fraudulent "march to War" - a reference to the previous White House's deliberately deceptive case for the invasion of Iraq.
But Krugman's clever column was crippled by two key flaws. The first problem was that he failed (forgot perhaps) to mention that Obama approaches the nation's economic, health-care, and climate problems with a hopelessly inadequate and corporate-neoliberal approach that is not particularly progressive. He's not giving the Republicans all that much progressive to block in the first place
The second problem - and the reason for this essay - comes three paragraphs in. That's where Krugman argues that "America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our nation has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for" as they did under George W. Bush.
"We need" to investigate the Bush administration's torture policies and war campaign, Krugman concluded "because this is a nation of laws." We need to do it "for the sake of our future --- because it's about reclaiming America's soul."
Here, Krugman demonstrated his acceptance of the standard doctrinal and nationally narcissistic notion that the United States' core historical essence is an elevated respect for law and morality. Seen from this viewpoint, George W. Bush's crimes can be portrayed as a freakish anomaly - as outside the inherently noble, democratic, and humanitarian mainstream of the shining U.S. experience and role in the world. But this is complete historical nonsense, as one might think (naively perhaps) that the Nobel Prize-winner Krugman is too smart and "progressive" not to know.
"THE WINNING OF THE WEST" BY "THE ENGLISH SPEAKING RACE"
Some facts of history are rather elementary. One such fact is that "America's soul" was forged in the abject racist annihilation and ethnic cleansing of native people. This terrible history is pock-marked with such horrid atrocities as the razing of 20 Cherokee towns in 1776, the forced removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Seminole nations to Oklahoma (1828-1840), the savage clearance of the Sauk nation from their ancestral home in northern Illinois (1832-1833), the massacre of at least 75 Pomo Indians trapped on an island in the Russian River area of California (1850), the brutal murder of as many as 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians at Sand Creek, Colorado (1864)), the slaughter of more than 100 Cheyenne, including women and children, by Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer's Seventh U.S. Cavalry at Washita (in Oklahoma in 1868), the openly extermination-ist clearance of Lakota Sioux from the Black Hills (1876-1877), and the Seventh Cavalry's massacre of 350 unarmed Lakota at Wounded Knee (1890).
These and other genocidal anti-Indian atrocities that preceded it received hearty approval in future US President and Spanish-American War instigator Theodore Roosevelt's four-volume 1899 study The Winning of the West. Written by a heralded symbol and agent of "American soul," The Winning of the West was a white-supremacist paean to Anglo-America's near- eradication of North America's original civilizations. "During the past three centuries," Roosevelt opined, "the spread of English-speaking people over the world's waste spaces" (meaning spaces not occupied by "progressive" capitalist-developmental Caucasians) was a great and welcome "feat of power," for which the "English-speaking race" could justly feel proud. No such "feat" of "race power" was more laudable, however, than "the vast movement by which this continent [North America] was conquered and peopled" - the "crowning and greatest achievement of a series of mighty movements." The Anglo-American pioneers conducted what Roosevelt called the noble civilizing "work" of "overcoming the original inhabitants" while at the same time "warding off the assaults of the kindred [that is European-Caucasian] nations that were bent on the same schemes." The North-American settlers performed the most heroic "work" of all, for they "confronted the most formidable savage foes ever encountered by colonists of European stock." 
Destroying the Indian "savages," Roosevelt claimed, was white North America's third greatest work to date, exceeded only by "the preservation of the Union itself and the emancipation of the blacks" - this as African-Americans suffered under terrorist Jim Crow regime in the former slave states and faced countless indignities throughout the U.S. Between 1889 and 1918, 3,224 Americans were lynched within the United States, mostly in the South. Seventy-eight percent of these atrocity victims were black. In most cases the victims were hung or burned to death by mobs of soulful white "vigilantes," commonly in front of thousands of gleeful spectators.
CRUSHING FILIPINO "APACHES"
As the nineteenth century came to a close, America's racist and imperial soul-force was increasingly directed at victims beyond the North American continent. New predominantly non-white victims were searched out and destroyed overseas, always in the name of the United States' higher morality and commitment to the benevolent ideals of democracy and rule of law. Between 1898 and 1905, for example, the U.S. Army, frequently led by "old Indian fighters," seized the Philippines from its prior colonial master (Spain) and crushed a Filipino independence movement. The new American Empire's first overseas counter-insurgency campaign killed as many as 600,000 natives of the newly US-acquired Philippine islands. Few prisoners were taken and the Red Cross reported an extremely high ratio of dead to wounded, indicating U.S. "determination to kill every native in sight." Throughout the U.S. "pacification" of the Philippines, the United States' armed forces soulfully referred to the Filipinos as "niggers," "barbarians," and "savages." America's racist and Social-Darwinist President (1901-08) Theodore Roosevelt vilified resisting Filipinos as "Apaches." The phrase "gook" made its first appearance as a U.S. military term to describe angry and frightened Asians who inhabit lands invaded by "freedom-loving" Americans. George Custer's legendary Seventh Cavalry arrived to help suppress "gook Apaches" in 1905.
The U.S. butchery received indirect racist approval from leading U.S. financial authority and Wall Street journalist Charles A. Conant, who anticipated J.A. Hobson and V.I. Lenin's celebrated theories of imperialism in an essay titled "The Economic Basis of Imperialism." Beyond his argument that surplus domestic capital in core industrial states provided the taproot for U.S. and European expansion into the global periphery, Conant claimed that the US was entering a path of global power "marked out for them as children of the Anglo Saxon race." The new movement towards overseas imperialism was "the result," Conant argued, of "natural laws of economic and race development. The great civilized people have today at their command the means of developing the decadent nations of the world," who require benevolent Anglo-Saxon intervention because they are on the wrong side of the law of the "survival of the fittest" (Charles A. Conant, The United States in the Orient, New York, NY, 1900, p. 2).
CIVILIZING "NEGRO SAVAGES"
The benevolent American soul headquartered in Washington also directed its special love for law and morality at people in its own hemisphere. Between 1915 and1934, for example, Haiti lived under the supreme authority of the U.S. Marine Corps, which dissolved that formerly sovereign country's National Assembly, restored practical slavery for much of the populace, turned the economy over to U.S. corporations, and massacred an untold number of Haitian peasants. During a "battle" at Fort Reviere, the Marines killed 51 Haitians and did not suffer a single casualty, helping U.S. Smedley D. Butler earn a Congressional Medal of Honor.
This imperial butchery was encouraged by the toxic racism of the "moral idealist" Woodrow Wilson administration, one of whose high diplomatic officials told Wilson's Secretary of State Robert Lansing that "Negro blood" kept the Haitians "almost in a state of savagery and complete ignorance." Lansing agreed, claiming that "the African race are devoid of any capacity for political organization" and "governance" and marked by "a tendency to revert to savagery and to cast aside the shackles of civilization which are irksome to their physical nature" (quoted in Noam Chomsky, World Orders Old and New [New York, 1996], p.44).
WORKING WITH FASCISM
The United States' soulful commitment to "civilization" deepened as the 20th century marched forward. Other great moments in the development of "America's soul" included:
* The Franklin Roosevelt administration's decision to support Italian and German fascism as reasonable middle-class bulwarks against European social democracy and Soviet "communism"—a decision that was reversed only by the realization that the fascist Axis threatened U.S. imperial power and related global Open Door investment interests
* The Roosevelt administration's decision to adopt an official position of "neutrality" that translated into support for Spanish fascism against popular-democratic Spanish forces during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s
* The Roosevelt administration's decision to restore fascists and monarchists to power in Allied-occupied Italy during and after the great "peoples' war for democracy" (World War II)
* President Harry Truman's decision to back fascist, landlord, and monarchical forces in the brutal suppression of popular democratic rebellion in post-WWII Greece Truman used the crushing of that rebellion as an opportunity to terrorize the U.S. populace into supporting a massive expansion of the burgeoning U.S. military-industrial complex in the name of countering a mythical international and Soviet-directed communist conspiracy
Harry Truman's decision to demonstrate the mass-murderous power of nuclear weapons by dropping atomic bombs on the densely civilian-populated Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is one of the greatest war crimes - if not the great single such crime - in world history. Executed with full awareness that Japan was defeated and seeking surrender, these monumental offenses were inflicted to demonstrate unassailable U.S. power to the world and especially to the Soviet Union in the post-WWII era. The only nation-state to use nuclear weapons of mass destruction against concentrated human populations, the U.S. spectacularly murdered 150,000 "Jap" civilians with atomic ordnance largely in order to make a powerful threatening statement to the Russians and others who might follow the Soviet example by developing their nations and societies outside the American-based world capitalist system. Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been deliberately exempted from earlier conventional mass-murderous U.S. bombing campaigns so as to maximize the demonstration effect of America's soulful capacity to instantaneously extinguish mass quantities of human lives with nuclear bombs. The decision to incinerate two large Japanese cities is still regularly praised in the U.S. - a chilling expression of the vast moral darkness at the heart of "America's soul."
CUSTER'S HEIRS AT NO GUN RI
After World War II, "America's soul" found glorious expression in the benevolent obliteration of millions of Koreans and Southeast Asians. In one small and forgotten incident in a broader war that killed perhaps 2 million Koreans during the early 1950s, members of the legendary U.S. Seventh Cavalry murdered hundreds of South Korean refugees - mostly women and children - at a railroad trestle near the village of No Gun Ri. According to the Pulitzer Prize-wining authors of a 2002 book recounting this previously buried U.S. atrocity, "some refugees were shot trying to climb back up the embankment to fetch food from abandoned bags. Some were shot when, desperately thirsty, they ventured outside for stream water." U.S. "mortarmen, machine-gunners, and riflemen blasted away" at trapped refugees "from their ragged holes on the dusty barren hillside, in the Seventh Cavalry's first big encounter with 'gooks' in Korea."
When they joined the Seventh Cavalry, U.S. Korean War soldiers were given a pamphlet telling them that their cavalry unit "firmly established their reputation as Indian fighters at the battle of Washita." This pamphlet "did not explain that the Seventh Cavalry, in the snowstorm at Washita, had slaughtered more than one hundred Native Americans - mostly unarmed old men, women, and children - who had been ordered into the area by the U.S. Army itself." (Charles Hanley, Sang-Hun Choe, and Martha Mendoza, The Bridge At No Gun Ri: A Hidden Nightmare From the Korean War, N.Y., 2002, pp. 17, 129-34).
This was "America's soul" at its finest, embodied in the noble record of the Seventh Cavalry, a rolling slaughterhouse for people of Asian ancestry from the Black Hills of South Dakota to the peasant villages of the Philippines to the Cold War killing fields of Korea and Vietnam.
"Anything Living Was Subject to Be Eliminated"
Among many racist U.S. atrocities in Vietnam, one besides My Lai (see below) recently received a small bit of attention - only to be rapidly and completely thrown down the memory hole all over again. As a small part of a broader U.S. invasion and occupation that killed at least 2 million Vietnamese between 1962 and 1975, an "elite" 45-man unit of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division known as "Tiger Force" conducted a murderous march through Vietnam's central highlands between May and November of 1967. A detailed four-part series published by The Toledo Blade in the fall of 2003 showed that "Tiger Force" killed an untold number - certainly well into the hundreds - of farmers, villagers, and prisoners. One medic interviewed by Blade reporters "said he counted 120 unarmed villagers killed in one month."
According to left writer Mike Davis, who helped bring the Blade series to national light, "Tiger Force atrocities began with the torture and execution of prisoners in the field, then escalated to the routine slaughter of unarmed farmers, elderly people, even small children... Early on, Tiger Force began scalping its victims (the scalps were dangled from the ends of M-16s) and cutting off ears as souvenirs. One member - who would later behead an infant - wore the ears as a ghoulish necklace... A former Tiger Force sergeant told reporters that 'he killed so many civilians he lost count.'" A Tiger Force private remembers thinking that the killings were "wrong" but recalls that they were considered an "acceptable practice" for US military personnel in the central-highlands' many US-designated "free fire zones," where (by a former Tiger Force Lieutenant's account) "anything living...was subject to be eliminated."
The slaughter was sponsored and protected by senior officers (including one who went by the name of "Ghost Rider" and named his battalions "Barbarians," "Cutthroats" and the like) and never resulted in prosecution of any of the perpetrators, despite an extensive Pentagon investigation that was buried by the White House in 1975.
Asked why the Pentagon's post-atrocity investigation of Tiger Force never went anywhere, a leading senior office and massacre participant later recalled being summoned to the Pentagon and told that "there's wrongdoing there, and we know about it. But basically it's not...in the best interest of this, that and the other to try to pursue this." According to this officer, the investigation "was a hot potato. See this was after My Lai and the army certainly didn't want to go through the publicity thing." Former Watergate perpetrator and chief White House counsel (under Nixon) John Dean told the Blade that he was not surprised the investigation was dropped since "the government doesn't like ugly stories."
Neither apparently does today's supposedly "left-wing" New York Times, which refused to meaningfully disseminate the shocking Blade findings.
The "Dead Gook" Rule: a "Process of Unremitting Massacre"
In 1968, the "American soul" took an ugly but hardly atypical turn in My Lai, the mother of all officially recognized modern U.S. atrocities. Three hundred and forty seven unarmed Vietnam civilians, including 12 babies, were slaughtered in a hamlet at Song My in South Vietnam by a company of the U.S. Army 23rd ("Americal") Division. While belated U.S. media attention focused in 1969 and 1970 on the company's deranged commander (Lieutenant William Calley) and treated the "incident" as an anomaly within the broader benevolent (if occasionally "imperfect," to quote Krugman) conduct of US policy, the massacre provided what Ward Churchill calls "a lens through which to examine the de-facto rules of engagement under which U.S. ground forces operated for nearly 7 years (1965-1972). Known as the 'Dead Gook Rule' - that is, if a corpse is Vietnamese it is counted as a slain 'enemy combatant' on that basis alone - it points to a process of unremitting massacre, both large-scale and small, of the civilian population.... More than a score of such operations [were] conducted during the course of the U.S. 'commitment,' and this is not even to begin to count the toll taken by such routine measures as the declaration of whole swaths of the country to be 'free-fire zones,' in which anything that moved could be killed with impunity." (Ward Churchill, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens [Oakland CA: AK Press, 2003], pp. 140-141).
Colonel Oran Henderson (who shared the duty of covering up the My Lai killings with an up-and-coming military bureaucrat named Colin Powell), noted in 1971 that "every unit of brigade size" that "served" in Vietnam "has its My Lai hidden someplace" (Howard Zinn, The Twentieth Century: A People's History [New York, 1988], p.226).
In 1969, the future US Senator (D-Nebraska) and current president of New York City's New School University Bob Kerry joined other Navy SEALS in the massacre of a score of unarmed villagers, mainly women and children. He later said it' was "pretty close to being right" to call this massacre "an atrocity."
Operating during a period of Democratic rule in the White House (1961-1969), the CIA in Vietnam executed at least 20,000 South Vietnamese civilians in a program called "Operation Phoenix." Going far beyond the George Bush II administration torture practices that Krugman wants to see investigated in the name of reclaiming "America's [supposedly virtuous pre-Bush II] soul," the program involved the mass arrest, torture, execution of innocent civilians - in blatant defiance of the Geneva Convention. Records later released by the Red Cross revealed that American advisers oversaw and participated in the illegal imprisonment, beating, and torture of many tens of thousands of South Vietnamese civilians.
WHEN U.S. "POWER, POSITION, AND PRESTIGE IS THREATENED" IN THE AMERICAS
The fact that all of this was monumentally criminal under international law was irrelevant as far as the United States government was concerned. As the nation's "elder liberal statesman" Dean Acheson explained to the American Center of International Law in 1963, there were no significant "legal issue[s]" to worry about when the United States' "power, position, and prestige" is being challenged. Acheson was referring to the Kennedy administration's repeated effort to assassinate and otherwise illegally overthrow the socialist government of Cuba (1959-present). As Noam Chomsky notes, Acheson was "justifying U.S. actions against Cuba in full knowledge that Washington's international terrorist campaign aimed at ‘regime change' had been a significant factor in bringing the world close to nuclear war a few months earlier, and that it was resumed immediately after the Cuban missile crisis was resolved." (Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance [New York: Metropolitan, 2003], p. 14).
Acheson's legal doctrine may have been enunciated in specific relation to Cuba but the post-WWII U.S power elite consistently applied it around the world and with very loose meanings. The Vietnamese peoples' efforts to achieve national independence and egalitarian social transformation (including land reform and increased education and health care, etc.) beyond the global supervision of the West and the U.S. was understood (beneath American propaganda claiming that the Vietnam invasion was about stopping an "international communist conspiracy" headquartered in Moscow and Beijing) by the U.S. establishment to constitute a challenge to U.S. "power, position, and prestige" - a justification for massive direct  U.S. intervention. So was the decision of Guatemalans to vote for the left-populist president Jacobo Arbenz (overthrown in a CIA-led coup in 1954), the victory of Marxist President Salvador Allende (overthrown in a CIA-assisted coup in 1973) in Chile, and the rise and persistence of the left populist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (who survived a U.S.-supported coup attempt in April of 2002).
During the 1980s, the people of Nicaragua faced eight years of vicious attack from the "Contras," who were funded and equipped by the United States and functioned as a proxy army for Washington. The Contras were staffed by former National Guardsman and other supporters of Anastasio Somoza, a brutal dictator who had had long been backed by the U.S. As U.S. dissident William Blum writes, "It was all-out war, aiming to destroy the progressive social and economic programs of the government, burning down schools and medical clinics, raping, torturing, mining harbors, bombing, and strafing" - all in the name of "freedom." (W. Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower [Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 2005], 190-191).
The sins for which Nicaraguans had to pay? Daring to overthrow a blood-soaked U.S.-sponsored dictator (Somoza) in 1979 and setting forth on a policy agenda of giving land to the peasants and advancing health care and education among the poor. Like the Cubans under Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, the Nicaragua's Sandinista revolution threatened to show that ordinary Latin Americans and small peasant nations could challenge the United States' power to impose authoritarian regimes and regressive global economic policies on Third World peoples.
In 1986, the World Court (the supreme judicial organ of the United Nations) ruled that U.S. mining of Nicaraguan harbors and other U.S. policies to crush Nicaragua's left government were violations of international law and that the U.S. owed Nicaragua reparations. This judgment was naturally dismissed and ignored by Washington. In 1990, U.S. pressure and interference convinced a majority of Nicaraguan voters to reject the Sandinista government and support Washington-backed conservatives. After it undertook a U.S.-imposed retreat from social reform to "free market" policies, it returned to its prior status as one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, with hunger and illiteracy plaguing more than half its population.
Technically but irrelevantly illegal U.S. interventions in Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, and Venezuela were pieces of a much larger imperial history of criminal interference directed from Washington for more than six decades. As Blum noted four years ago: "Between 1945 and 2005, the United States has attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, many of them democracies, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the U.S. has caused the end of life for several million people and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair." (Blum, Rogue State, pp. 1-2)
"TURKEY SHOOTS," "A PRICE WORTH PAYING," AND A "VISION OF PAX AMERICANA STRIKINGLY REMINISCENT OF BUSH'S"...MORE "AMERICAN SOUL" BETWEEN VIETNAM AND GEORGE BUSH THE SECOND
Superpower's "soul" continued to show its richly bipartisan dark side well past the Vietnam era and into the Clinton era, right before the ascendancy of Krugman's only true transgressor - George W. Bush. The post-Vietnam and pre-Bush II record includes:
* Democratic President Jimmy Carter's support for the repressive, longstanding U.S-sponsored dictatorships in places like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia and his announcement of the "Carter Doctrine," proclaiming the United States' right to employ violence to guarantee the United States' "vital interest" in the uninterrupted extraction of petroleum from the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
* The Reagan administration's funding (with congressional and Democratic support) of U.S. sponsored counter-insurgency efforts across all of Central America (not just Nicaragua,) leading to the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of civilians in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
* The 1986 U.S. bombing of the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, killing hundreds, including Libyan dictator Muamar al Quadaffi's infant daughter. (There was no evidence for the White House's claim that Libyan agents had been involved in the earlier bombing of a German disco in which seven U.S. military personnel were killed).
* The U.S.S. Vincennes shoot-down of a clearly marked civilian Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf in 1988, killing 290 civilians and possibly motivating Iran to become involved in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland. The ship's captain, who illegally crossed into Iran's territorial waters before blowing the defenseless commercial plane out of the sky, later received a "combat action ribbon" for this action. His "air warfare coordinator" received the Navy's Commendation Medal for "heroic actions" and "ability to maintain poise and confidence under fire."
* George H.W. Bush's (Bush I's) military assaults on Panama and Iraq. In the 1991 "Persian Gulf War," U.S. forces killed as many as 250,000 Iraqis, including large numbers of noncombatants. "Operation Dessert Strom" was ostensibly launched to punish the United States' longstanding dictator-client Saddam Hussein for invading Kuwait, a neo-feudal U.S. oil protectorate - an action Saddam had reason to think the U.S. approved. Numerous war crimes were committed by US forces (including the dropping of cluster bombs in areas where civilians were present) in an onslaught that was absurdly excessive relative to the force required to drive Saddam out of Kuwait. The Jordanian Red Crescent society counted 120,000 civilian casualties. American military veterans commonly described the 1991 U.S. "war in [on] Iraq" as a pitilessly one-sided "turkey shoot." The White House initially encouraged Iraqi Kurds and Shiites to rebel against Saddam but then permitted the Iraqi dictator it supposedly reviled as a "butcher" to pitilessly slaughter his domestic opposition. The U.S. military mercilessly slaughtered more than 2000 Iraqi troops, many waving surrender flags, who were moving defenselessly out of and away from Kuwait on what became known as "the Highway of Death." George Bush I crowed that the "turkey shoot" had ended the "Vietnam Syndrome" - that terrible affliction whereby ordinary American citizens subject their imperial masters' foreign policies to critical scrutiny.
* The Clinton administration's enforcement of mass-murderous "economic sanctions" against the devastated, heavily impoverished nation of Iraq. Clinton's future Secretary of State Madeline Albright infamously justified 500,000 resulting Iraq child deaths (as of 1996) as "a price worth paying" during an interview on national television. The sanctions only deepened the hold of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime over the Iraqi populace
* President Bill Clinton's decisions in the summer of 1993 to bomb a suburban Baghdad neighborhood in retaliation for an alleged Iraqi assassination plot against George H.W. Bush, and to attempt to justify that attack in the false name of the United Nations Charter, which permits unilateral military action only in defense against an armed attack and only when there is no opportunity to convenes the United Nations Security Council. The bombing killed killing six people, including a prominent Iraqi artist and her husband.
* The Clinton administration's decision to kill thousands of innocent African civilians by bombing a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan in loose "retaliation" for terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
* The Clinton administration bombed Serbia for 78 days in 1999 to force regime change there to punish a perceived challenger of U.S. global hegemony in the falsely proclaimed name of humanitarian concern for ethnic Albanians. U.S. and NATO bombs "destroyed villages, schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, the ecology, separating people from their limbs, from their eyesight, spilling their intestines, traumatizing children for the rest of their days....destroying a life the Serbians may never know again" (Blum, Rogue State, p. 7). Clinton's victims included 16 Serbian television journalists to discipline perceived ideological challengers of U.S. global hegemony (the government of Serbia). The sins for which Serbians were made to suffer? The Yugoslavian government's opposition to eastward U.S.-led NATO expansion and its insufficient enthusiasm for subordinating itself to the dictates of Western-led corporate globalization (seen in its "stubborn" refusal to privatize industry and the financial sector). Purported U.S. concerns for ethnic Albanians and Serbian democracy were laughable propaganda claims advanced to sell the imperial assault at home and abroad (for a useful discussion see Blum, Rogue State, pp. 210-212).
* The embrace by many top Democrats, including numerous senators who voted to authorize the war in Iraq, of "the idea of muscular foreign policy based on American global supremacy and the presumed right to intervene to promote democracy or to defend key U.S. interests long before 9/11, and they have not changed course since." As liberal political scientist Tony Smith noted two years ago, these leading Democrats developed "a vision of a Pax Americana strikingly reminiscent of [George W.] Bush's" .
THOSE IN GLOBAL POWER WHO REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE IMPERIAL CRIMES OF THE PAST...
As Paul Krugman seems to sense in relation to at least to Bush II's torture policies and Iraq invasion, those in U.S. power who deny the imperial crimes of the past are more than likely to repeat those transgressions as long as they retain the capacity to do so. The problem with Krugman and countless other elite Democrats is their at once partisan and doctrinally mandated failure (bi-partisan) to apply that truism to include the broad sweep of U.S. foreign policy. It is plainly delusional to believe that the Cheney-Bush administration's crimes are atypical, specifically Republican anomalies within the more broadly noble and benevolent record of U.S, foreign policy.
An Imperially "Usable Past": Obama's Historical Airbrush
For a case in point of the dangers resulting from such fantastic thinking, we need look no further than the current presidency of the open "American exceptionalist" Barack Obama. More than merely standing down from his obligation to investigate and prosecute the Bush II administration's torture practices and march to war on Iraq (Krugman and other U.S. liberals are naturally unconcerned about the march to war on Afghanistan), Obama is an especially energetic and prolific whitewasher of past U.S. crimes on the global stage - something that I have documented at great length on previous occasions . Just as Bill Clinton ritually proclaimed that the U.S. is "the world's greatest for peace and freedom, for democracy and security and prosperity," Obama has ritually proclaimed the U.S. "great force for good in the world" past, present, and future. The U.S. should never apologize for its actions abroad, Obama told CNN last, because...well, because we are so good and always have been.
As Obama wrote in the leading establishment foreign policy journal Foreign Affairs (an official organ of the Council on Foreign Relations) in the summer of 2007: "At moments of great peril in the last century, American leaders such as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy managed both to protect the American people and to expand opportunity for the next generation. What is more, they ensured that America, by deed and example, led and lifted the world - that we stood for and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond the borders."
In a 2007 campaign speech to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, Obama proclaimed his nationally narcissistic belief that "the magical place called America" was still "the last, best hope on Earth." Obama "reject[ed] the notion that the American moment had passed." He argued that "the new century" could be "another one...where we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the common good." The "world," Obama said, "cannot meet this centurt...without America." 
As the conservative military historian Col. Andrew J. Bacevich acknowledges, these sorts of formulations "render...history with all the details air-brushed away - no allusions to Vietnam, no reference to CIA coups and attempted assassinations, no mention of collaborating with venal autocrats like Cuba's Fulgencio Batista, Nicaragua's Anastasio Somoza Debayle, or the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos." Like Clinton and George W. Bush, Bacevich notes, Obama advances an imperially "usable past in which good eventually triumphs as long as American remains faithful to its mission...In this way, ideology serves as a device for sharply narrowing the range of policy debate." (A. Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism [New York: Metropolitan, 2008], p. 81).
During his recent trip to the Summit of the Americas, Obama said the following to the assembled leaders of Central and South America: "I think it's important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States' policy should not be interference in other countries, but that also means that we can't blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere." Obama smirked when Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega referred to the dark role of "Yankee troops" in Nicaraguan history. Obama also sarcastically thanked Ortega for not "blam[ing] me for things that happened when I was three years old." As John Caruso notes on the blog/zine A Tiny Revolution:
" ‘ Historic suspicions'? Yes, I imagine the International Court of Justice decision condemning the United States for its covert war against Nicaragua might have raised Nicaraguan suspicions of U.S. interference. And I guess the report of the UN's Historical Clarification Commission for Guatemala, documenting U.S. backing of the genocidal forces the U.S. had installed in the 1954 coup, might have made the Guatemalans suspicious as well. And I suppose watching U.S. planes, helicopter gunships, and warships destroying the El Chorrillo neighborhood of Panama during the 1989 invasion might also have given the Panamanians some suspicions about U.S. interference. (For just one second, imagine the U.S. reaction if Germany's Angela Merkel gave a speech in Israel calling out the ‘historic suspicions' of Jews regarding past German "interference" in their affairs. In fairness to Obama, he did subsequently refer to ‘past errors, where those errors have been made,' though he also said that discussion of those purported errors only rises to the level of ‘stale debates'; I'll leave the analogy to you.)." 
Iraq and "Af-Pak"
Consistent with Bacevich's observation on bipartisan American-exceptionalist faith and the related narrow foreign policy range, Obama's Iraq plan sustains Bush II's occupation of that country into the indefinite future. The new administration will keep at least 50,000 troops in Iraq well after the August 2010 combat troop withdrawal date he campaigned on. Many of the troops who stay will be in combat units re-designated as "Advisory" brigades, a new classification that George Orwell would appreciate. Obama's "withdrawal" plan "says nothing about the private contractors and mercenaries that are an essential part of the occupation and whose numbers may even be increased to cover functions previously provided by active-duty troops. ...It will leave in place the world's largest foreign embassy, as well as the world's largest CIA foreign station, in Baghdad." The U.S will maintain critical control over Iraqi skies and a significant naval and air presence "over the horizon." So much for a rapid end to the occupation, long supported by the great majority of Iraqis, not to mention most Americans since 2005.
Recently, Empire's New Clothes added occupation insult to injury during his visit to so-called "Camp Victory" in Iraq. Obama said that its time for the Iraqis to step up to the plate and "take responsibility" for the "democracy" and "sovereignty" the noble United States has so benevolently granted them. This was a nauseating thing to say more than six years into a brazenly imperial and petro-colonial invasion that Obama is finding ways to continue against the expressed will of the Iraqi people. Beyond the fact that Iraqis have been standing up against the foreign invaders in the name of national sovereignty since the beginning of the U.S. invasion, the mandatory doctrinal claim of benevolent U.S intent is Orwellian in light of the havoc we have wreaked in Mesopotamia, including more than 1 million killed, a vast out-exodus of the professional class and the near-collapse of Iraqi infrastructure, all following in the wake of an earlier devastating U.S. military attack and more than a decade of mass-murderous U.S.-led "economic sanctions. As the respected veteran Middle East journalist Nir Rosen recently said on "Democracy Now," we've created a Hell in Iraq, not a free democracy.
Obama has never been willing to acknowledge that Bush II's invasion of Iraq was a moral and legal crime. He has only been willing to criticize it as a mistake - a "strategic blunder" that was motivated, Obama feels, by the best of democratic intentions. At one noxious moment among many in his campaign, Obama said the following to autoworkers assembled at the General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin on February 13, 2008, just before that state's Democratic primary: "It's time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money putting America back together." For those who knew the depth and degree of the destruction inflicted on Iraq by two invasions, one ongoing, and more than a decade of deadly economic sanctions (embargo), this statement was nothing short of obscene. I had a hard time determining which of the candidate's assumptions was more nauseating: (a) the notion that the U.S. was trying to repair Iraq and (b) the assumption that we don't actually owe Iraq massive reparations for damages inflicted not only since 2003 but since 1991 at least.
Meanwhile, Obama is increasing the level of imperial violence in Afghanistan and in nuclear Pakistan. He brushed off Afghanistan president Karzai's plea for the U.S. to stop killing Afghans and for the U.S. to propose some sort of timeline for ending our illegal occupation of that country. Karzai's minimal assertions of national independence have irked Obama, who is increasing the U.S. force presence in Afghanistan, a legendary graveyard of empires.
Pakistan is added on to Afghanistan by Obama like Cambodia was added on to its neighbor Vietnam by President Nixon. This time however, the dangerous territorial expansion is openly acknowledged with Obama merging the two nations "into one theater of war, called Af-Pak" (Glen Ford).
Throughout the presidential campaign, Obama balanced his tepid criticism of the "ideological" Iraq invasion - an action he has never opposed on principled grounds - with saber-rattling calls for increasing U.S. investment in Bush II's supposed "good" and "appropriate" (and "not ideological") war on Afghanistan. Never mind that that colonial assault is just as illegal as the Iraq invasion and has killed far more innocent Afghani civilians than the number of Americans killed in the 2001 jetliner attacks for which the U.S. war on Afghanistan is hideously misplaced and monumentally criminal retribution.
No Blame for U.S. Slaughter in Western Afghanistan
Just yesterday (I wm writing this article on the morning of Thursday, May 7, 2009), Obama and his Hawkish Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to accept U.S. blame for the deaths of dozens of civilian noncombatants killed last Sunday by U.S. bombers in western Afghanistan. Obama expressed "deep U.S. regret" for this latest slaughter of Southwest Asian innocents. But taking responsibility was out of the question, apparently. The new "peace president" presumably sees doing so as inconsistent with his doctrinal claim that "we" are "the last, best hope on earth" and unquestionably "a force for good in the world."
Those in global power who fail to acknowledge the imperial crimes of the past are certain to repeat them.
* The number of endnotes that could be attached to this essay might easily run into the hundreds - an undertaking for which I sadly lack time and energy. Readers who wish to know sources for specific assertions and statements are free to write me.
1. It is especially important to appreciate the significance of the vicious, often explicitly genocidal "homeland" assaults on native-Americans, which set foundational racist and national-narcissist patterns for subsequent U.S. global butchery, disproportionately directed at non-European people of color. The deletion of the real story of the so-called "battle of Washita" from the official Seventh Cavalry history given to the perpetrators of the No Gun Ri massacre is no small detail. Denial about Washita and Sand Creek (and so on) encouraged US savagery at Wounded Knee, the denial of which encouraged US savagery in the Philippines, the denial of which encouraged US savagery in Korea, the denial of which encouraged US savagery in Vietnam, the denial of which (and all before) has recently encouraged US savagery in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's a vicious circle of recurrent violence, well known to mental health practitioners who deal with countless victims of domestic violence living in the dark shadows of the imperial homeland's crippling, stunted, and itself-occupied social and political order. Power-mad US forces deploying the latest genocidal war tools, some suggestively named after native tribes that white North American "pioneers" tried to wipe off the face of the earth (i.e., "Apache," "Blackhawk," and "Comanche" helicopters) are walking in bloody footsteps that trace back across centuries, oceans, forests and plains to the leveled villages, shattered corpses, and stolen resources of those who Roosevelt acknowledged as America's "original inhabitants." Racist imperial carnage and its denial, like charity, begin at home.
2. U.S. policy makers have preferred whenever possible for atrocities to be carried out quietly and impersonally (e.g. the US-imposed "economic sanctions" on Iraq and the econo-terrorist neoliberal mandates of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, for example) and indirectly, by non-American proxy forces like Augusto Pinochet's fascist butchers of the Chilean left (1973), the Central American death squads and contras of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the mass-murderous Suharto regime in Indonesia (1965-2001), the racist occupation state in Israel, and the gang of fascist thugs (whose leader expressed admiration for Pinochet) the US restored to client-state power in Haiti in 2004. Indirect and silent massacre is not always feasible, however, and there is thus a rich record of direct US engagement in the infliction of "absolute horror" abroad (e.g., the My Lai atrocities, the 1991 "Highway of Death," and the savage 2004 U.S. assaults on the Iraqi city of Fallujah).
3. Tony Smith, "It's Uphill for the Democrats: They Need a Global Strategy, Not Just Tactics for Iraq," Washington Post, 11 March, 2007, p. B01, available online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/ 2007/03/09/ AR2007030901884_pf.html
4. Paul Street "Obama's Audacious Deference to Power: A Critical Review of ‘The Audacity of Hope,'" ZNet Magazine (January 24, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=11936; Paul Street, "Imperial Temptations: John Edwards, Barack Obama, and the Myth of Post-World War II United States Benevolence," ZNet Magazine (May 28, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12928; Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO; Paradigm, 2008), p. 156
5. Barack Obama, "The American Moment: Remarks to Chicago Council on Global Affairs" (April 23, 2007), read at www.thechicagocouncil.org/dynamic_page.php?id=64.
6. John Caruso, "Historic Suspicions," A Tiny Revolution (May 1, 2009), read at http://www.tinyrevolution.com/mt/archives/002943.html
7. WIFR Television, CBS 23,