Nothing like a little intimidation to liven up my ongoing meditation on a just society. To be threatened with e-mail violence by a Marine Corps major (ret.) steeped in righteousness — wow, how deliciously personal and unfair. What a lovely mixture of bile and adrenaline it sets to bubbling. What a temptation it creates to respond in kind.
Instead, I’ve decided to make this conversation — about violence, ignorance, idealism — public. This is bigger than both of us, sir.
I stand accused, for writing a column defending a young Marine deserter who fled apparent criminal abuse at the hands of fellow Marines (returning Iraq vets who acted as though they were haunted by the demons of PTSD), of “disrupting the good order and discipline” of the Corps, and of an almost treasonous failure, judging by the tone of the letter and the proposed punishment, to appreciate how good I’ve got it:
OK, there’s no nice, gentle way to put this, Major, but it’s time to shatter the myth that sustains far too many Americans:
Most U.S. military and quasi-military operations of the past century-plus have been brutally stupid and myopic, racist, cynical and wantonly destructive; they have served the interests not of the public but of various multinational corporations, from United Fruit to British Petroleum to Halliburton, under the banner of the dogma du jour (Manifest Destiny, anti-Communism, war on terror); far from protecting your freedom or mine, Major, they have promoted global poverty and instability and generated an undercurrent of intense anti-Americanism that, as the 9/11 attacks demonstrated, make us anything but safe; and the fear such attacks spawn are the greatest threat to such liberal “privileges” as free speech, the primary abuse of which is to threaten with violence those who still insist on exercising it.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen Smedley Butler, a two-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner who led U.S. actions in Latin America in the early part of the 20th century, famously lamented at the end of his career: “I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. . . . I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.”
With the somber anniversary of 9/11 looming, Major, we would do well to remember our role in the destabilization of the Middle East and the opening of the Pandora’s box of Islamic fundamentalism.
Most Americans haven’t the faintest idea who Mohammad Mossadegh was, which is a pity, not simply because he was a decent soul with an absolute faith in democracy, who was prime minister of Iran from 1951 until he was ousted in a covert U.S. operation in 1953, but also because . . . my God, what damnable ignorance on our part, and how it feeds the worst sort of patriotism: comic-book patriotism, I’m tempted to call it. In the latest issue, America battles the Axis of Evil.
Back in 1953, we were fighting Godless Communism, and there were Communists everywhere — under our beds, in the State Department and throughout the so-called Third World, where they were particularly easy to spot because they were popular and often democratically elected, and they talked about nationalizing their nations’ resources. Such were the crimes of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, Salvador Allende in Chile and, of course, Mossadegh (who threatened British Petroleum’s oil monopoly), all of whom, to great national trauma, were unseated by U.S. black ops coming to the rescue of multinational corporations about to lose their entitlements.
And all of these democratically elected leaders were replaced by bloodthirsty thugs, who brought decades of dark-age repression to their nations. Mossadegh was replaced by the Shah, father and son, whose quarter century of bloody rule ended when the ayatollahs, with their virulent hatred of the West, seized control. Remembering what happened to Mossadegh, they considered the United States the Great Satan.
Our murder of Iranian democracy, in short, led to the rise of radical Islam, which spread across the Middle East. The 1979 seizure of U.S. diplomats in Teheran “inspired Muslim fanatics around the world, including in neighboring Afghanistan, where the Taliban gave sanctuary to militants who carried out devastating attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001,” writes Stephen Kinzer in his excellent book “Overthrow.”
So, Major, put down your whip and pick up a book, sir. The simple-minded violence with which you threaten your enemies has brought the world to a state of acute crisis. You’ve been told you were defending freedom, but you’ve been serving fools.