Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lies We Are Told: The Untold History of the United States

Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

The reality exposed in this essential book by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, a companion to their documentary series on Showtime, is that  the United States of America is a typical rapacious and predatory imperialist power: typical in its racism and arrogance—expressed in the term “American exceptionalism”—while its technological killing capacity dramatically exceeds that of prior imperialist powers. One of the book’s great values lies in cataloguing chronologically the litany of crimes committed by the USA, although, in my view, it would have been more accurate to start the narrative with the colonization of North America rather than with the Spanish-American war.

No matter; the revelations in the book more than suffice. From a purely historical perspective, I suppose the most heinous crime must be the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Everyone “remembers” these events, but their meaning has been obscured by the associated atrocities of that war. The book reveals what is generally recognized by historians but remains unspoken in the mass media: that these bombings were totally unnecessary to effect the surrender of the Japanese government, which repeatedly sought a cessation to fighting while balking at the US demand for “unconditional surrender,” fearing it implied the elimination of the Emperor.

Of course, as history has subsequently revealed, the restoration of a stable capitalist economy required an ongoing Japanese emperor. However, the USA needed an excuse to explode the newly developed atom bomb, warning the world and especially its new rival, the Soviet Union, of its extraordinary and unique (if only for a limited time) capability. If anyone doesn’t believe this version of events, I suggest they read the book as well as the referenced literature. Actually, I recommend this book for everyone interested in current affairs.

The manufacture of consent, that Machiavellian art so perfected by the Nazis through use of the Big Lie (a falsehood so massive and bold that the public believes it must be true), is an essential ingredient of US foreign policy. The anti-communist preoccupations of the entire US post-war political machine are expressed in the recorded racist and chauvinist epithets of its various presidents, who draw on the image of the Western gunslinger even while perpetuating the myth that USA does not seek an empire. Cold War crises were repeatedly provoked by the US state and military community, policemen for global capitalism, in belligerent contention with the Soviet Union for world domination.

The actions of the Kennedy administration in triggering the Cuban missile crisis are particularly instructive here. The installation by the US of medium range ballistic missiles in Turkey in 1961 was the direct antecedent to Khrushchev’s placement of similar weapons in Cuba, which was reckless but legal under international law—unlike Kennedy’s subsequent naval blockade. The real but totally unknown (at least to me) reciprocal disengagement by both sides as a resolution of the Cuban missile crisis speaks to the truth of this interpretation. If you don’t believe me, read The Untold History! That the US power elite, both individual actors as well the media, should contrive to keep these historical facts hidden from the American people for decades speaks to the Big Lie technique.
The current jingoist and pusillanimous nature of the American people testifies to the success of this disinformation program as much as to the selective amnesia of its citizens. The working class’s identification with the objectives of the ruling elite is a sure road to fascism and war. Anyone who doubts the military-industrial complex’s overarching control on US foreign policy need only look to Barack Obama’s expansion of Bush’s “war on terror” through targeted assassinations by drones and his articulation of the USA as the “one indispensable nation.”

With Oliver Stone involved, I suspect the Untold History will be as compelling on TV as it is in print. And for a left analysis of global capitalism, see also Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin’s recent book The Making of Global Capitalism. Panitch and Ginden recently spoke at the Bookshelf. While their book assiduously avoids mention of US postwar military adventures, it details how the US state apparatus has transformed global economic and social relations to serve the needs of international Capital, creating a “world after its own image.” It is not a pretty picture.

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