Tag Archives: American Imperialism

The Colonial Project that Never Ended

The recent shake up in the media over President Trump’s condolence call to the bereaved widow of Sgt La David Johnson, whose body was found after an ambush in Niger near the border with Mali, has shined a light on an all too murky subject. Putting Trump’s appalling dearth of empathy aside, we should look closer and honestly at why this soldier and the others who were killed were in Niger in the first place. One of 800 US military personnel, we are told that Johnson was there to “support and train the local forces to improve counterterrorism efforts.” But in this age of deliberate obfuscation with the so-called “war on terror” used as a blanket excuse for American militarism such a statement belies the real reasons for their presence on the continent.
          Many Americans couldn’t locate Niger on a map to save their lives but the global capitalist class can. They have had their talons there and across Africa for decades. In Niger, for example, the US military has been working with the French who once held the impoverished country as a colony and now exploit it for its rich resources. Meanwhile at least 63% of Nigeriens live under the global poverty line. And like most African nations they are forced to pay “debt” to the nations that once enslaved them for the “benefits” they received from centuries of European subjugation.

 

 

Today the ruse continues thanks to the cover of “counterterrorism” which justifies the presence of US and European troops and special forces in order to protect the interests of multi-national corporations who pillage resource rich regions across Africa. Niger alone has one of the world’s largest uranium deposits along with coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, and gold to name just a few.

          While it is true that violent extremism is a major problem from groups like Boko Haram or Al-Shabab, it is equally true that the global elite have exacerbated tensions and even fomented some by creating situations which pit one group against another. The brutal attack in Mogadishu earlier this month which killed hundreds and maimed thousands more, for instance, might have been the result of Trump’s pledge to “ramp up” attacks against the violent extremists of Al-Shabab. Incidentally, Somalia like Niger is rich in uranium.

 

The best response to the threats of Boko Haram and Al-Shabab come in the absence of militaristic aggression. It is African women, for instance, who have mounted the most effective campaigns to fight the brutality of Boko Haram. And as history has shown militarism generally destabilizes societal infrastructure and increases the suffering of the vulnerable and the oppressed. A perfect example of this is the US war against Afghanistan. The Pentagon along with many feckless feminists promoted it in part to “liberate women” from the Taliban. Sixteen years later we can see how that lie turned out. We can also take a look at Afghanistan’s vast mineral resources and opium to understand why the American Empire keeps the longest war in its history going.

 

It’s time to be brutally honest. The US soldiers killed in Niger may not have fully understood their role but they were not there “protecting the homeland” or “fighting for freedom.” They were not “liberating locals” either. They were employed to protect the capital investments of the global .01%. And when the mask is ripped off it becomes apparent that colonialism in Africa and around the globe never really ended. Quite the contrary. It has only morphed into a more insidious and noxious form of plunder in this desperate era of late stage, predatory capitalism. And the military, whether wittingly or not, is ultimately protecting the elite, their interests and their vast, ill-gotten wealth.

 

Kenn Orphan  2017

The Storytellers of Empire

The nature of Empire is inherently duplicitous.  It lies as much to the world as it does to itself, laboriously weaving myths of its supposed virtue in order to shroud the mass grave it sits upon. This makes it incapable of any meaningful reflection when it comes to its crimes. After all, such an exercise would ultimately be its undoing. And even though there are many examples of pseudo contrition the insatiable impulse for self-glorification is interwoven through its fabric.  War is what Empire lies about the most; and the American Empire is not “exceptional” in this regard. On the contrary.  It has become an expert at its execution.

Since its founding the United States has manufactured threats to hackneyed and meaningless concepts like “liberty” or “freedom” to justify aggressive expansion, domination and exploitation.  Its founding mythology rooted in the supremacist lie of “Manifest Destiny” has excused its unending militarism as a supposedly noble response to a “barbaric” world that needs to be “civilized.”  And the war against Vietnam is perhaps one of the greatest examples of that imperial overreach.  It claimed millions of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian lives. Millions more were maimed or displaced and at least 58,000 US troops lost their lives with many more coming home with broken bodies and lifelong psychic wounds. Today millions still suffer from the lasting effects of Agent Orange.

But in the years since this catastrophic war the American Empire has struggled to rebrand itself as the benevolent giant.  Unending forays into South and Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and beyond have also made this task next to impossible.  Enter the professional obscurantist.  To make this self delusion possible they are essential and there are few as adept at it than Ken Burns. In his new PBS documentary series entitled “The Vietnam War;” the “many sides” narrative is being peddled again.  And in an era where a sitting US president makes the “many sides” argument to defend the violence of white supremacists against anti-fascists, this worldview is more than troubling.

“The Vietnam War” is, unsurprisingly, a project funded by the Bank of America and billionaire reactionary David Koch.  And it relies heavily upon former CIA agents and military generals for “perspective.”  This is what makes a series like this so insidious.  They ultimately serve a way of thinking that make past imperialistic wars not only forgivable, but current and future ones appear almost palatable and even inevitable.

The real Vietnam War should be revisited, but it should not be cast as an intervention with noble intentions to assist one side in a civil war.  South Vietnam was an invention of French colonialism and, later, US election rigging as they understood that communist candidate Hồ Chí Minh was likely to win. None of this is to absolve the Viet Cong of the atrocities they committed; but they should be understood in the context of an indigenous group fighting against a foreign invader who possessed far more military might.  And for the war to make sense to us today it must be looked at in this light, as the deliberate result of blatant and brutal imperialism.

The storytellers of Empire ultimately serve one purpose, to extol the glory of the Empire.  This might at times take on the veneer of humanization or even remorse, but at their core these are stories that absolve its crimes by portraying an even playing field where there was none.  The real story of this war is written in innocent blood that indicts the powerful of their savagery.  Nothing less will suffice.

 

 

Kenn Orphan  2017

 

 

An accurate record by novelist Robert Gore of the American Empire’s war on Vietnam follows:

 

“Between 1965 and 1972, the US and South Vietnam air forces flew 3.4 million combat sorties, the plurality over South Vietnam. Their bombing was the equivalent of 640 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs, and South Vietnam got the brunt of it. The provincial capital district of Quang Tri, the northernmost South Vietnamese province, received 3,000 bombs per square kilometer. Between 1965 and 1973, the US Strategic Air Command launched at least 126,615 B-52 bomber sorties, again the majority of them targeted to South Vietnam.
 
In 1969, US units fired 10 million artillery rounds, and over the course of the war they expended almost 15 billions pounds of artillery shells. By the end of the war, formerly scenic South Vietnam featured an estimated 21 million craters, which wreaked havoc on the landscape and largely destroyed its agricultural-based economy. Keep in mind South Vietnam was the US’s ally. North Vietnam, the enemy, also sustained massive casualties and destruction.
 
Bombs and munitions weren’t the US’s only weapons. An estimated 400,000 tons of napalm, a jellied incendiary designed to stick to clothes and skin and burn, were dropped in Southeast Asia. Thirty-five percent of victims die within fifteen to twenty minutes. White phosphorus, another incendiary, burns when exposed to air and keeps burning, often through an entire body, until oxygen is cut off. The US Air Force bought more than 3 million white phosphorus rockets during the war, and the military bought 379 million M-34 white phosphorus grenades in 1969 alone. The US also sprayed more than 70 million tons of herbicide, usually Agent Orange, further decimating indigenous agriculture and destroying the countryside.
 
A “pineapple” cluster bomblet was a small container filled with 250 steel pellets. One B-52 could drop 1,000 pineapples across a 400-yard area, spewing 250,000 pellets. “Guava” cluster bombs were loaded with 640 to 670 bomblets, each with 300 steel pellets, so a single guava sent over 200,000 steel fragments in all directions when it hit the ground. Pineapples and guavas were designed to maim, to tax the enemy’s medical and support systems. Between 1964 and 1971, the US military ordered 37 million pineapples. From 1966 to 1971, it ordered 285 million guavas, or seven each for every man woman and child in North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia combined.
 
No other conclusion is possible: the US waged unrestricted (other than not using nuclear weapons) industrial war against the far less well-armed Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.
 
Most Americans think the My Lai massacre was an unfortunate anomaly. That delusion is a lingering tragedy of Vietnam. Plenty of villages were burned and leveled, farm animals and crops destroyed, and unarmed and visibly helpless women, children, and old people—generally counted as VC in the often meretricious statistics—murdered. Some of the villages contained Viet Cong, some did not, and that was often not the first concern or even a cited justification for US troops. The slaughter was frequently wanton, or indiscriminate vengeance for American troops killed or wounded, not to fight the enemy.”
Title artwork is Napalm Girl Vietnam by Brian Howell.

The Ones I Care About

Today I could not care less about who any American votes for or if they vote at all. Truly. I could not care less about the orange tinted megalomaniac or the Queen of Wall Street Wars. I could not care less about the corrupt duopoly or smug pundits. I could not care less about undecided voters or apathetic hipsters. I could not care less about celebrity festooned galas or rehearsed consolation speeches.

Today I choose to care about people like Berta Cáceres. She was an Indigenous Honduran environmental activist who was savagely murdered in her home by mercenaries of the right wing coup government that Hillary Clinton championed as Secretary of State and still defends to this day after scores of brutal murders like Berta, of Indigenous, environmental, LGBTQ and human rights advocates. She was almost wholly ignored by the US corporate media and virtually ignored by most of the so called progressive, liberal media, but I care about people like Berta today and every day.

berta-caceres-source-gristShortly before her murder Berta spoke these ominous words:

“We’re coming out of a coup that we can’t put behind us. We can’t reverse it. It just kept going. And after, there was the issue of the elections. The same Hillary Clinton, in her book, Hard Choices, practically said what was going to happen in Honduras. This demonstrates the meddling of North Americans in our country. The return of the president, Mel Zelaya, became a secondary issue. There were going to be elections in Honduras. And here, she, Clinton, recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency. There were going to be elections. And the international community—officials, the government, the grand majority—accepted this, even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity, not only in Honduras but in the rest of the continent. And we’ve been witnesses to this.”

When I see Clinton’s face I see Berta. When I hear Clinton speak about protecting and advancing the rights of women I hear Berta. And behind her I see millions of other women and others, mostly brown, black and red, who were slaughtered thanks to American imperialistic aggression or enslaved and impoverished thanks to American corporate pillage. I see sweatshop workers in Haiti slaving at their desks for Hanes where the US State Department under Clinton fought against a decent living wage. Or women in Libya attempting to hold their families together following the assault on the sovereign nation that Clinton championed against Gaddafi. The same “intervention” where she ghoulishly celebrated the aforementioned leaders gruesome murder at the hands of a mob. I see Palestinian women who have no voice thanks to decades long Israeli apartheid aided by the American taxpayer, a support which Ms. Clinton has vowed to increase in spades. I hear the faint voices of grandmothers at Standing Rock Sioux who are watching their children put in dog cages and shot with rubber bullets by a militarized police force, while Ms. Clinton remains silent.
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palestinian-women-hope-for-self-determination-photo-source-ma-an-news-agency

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Why do I focus on Clinton? Why not focus on the racist, misogynistic narcissist whose penchant for authoritarianism is legendary? Because American Liberals have given her a pass because she is a woman, or by either incredulously ignoring her obvious and egregious record or for the lie of “lesser evilism.” And because it is Clinton who will most likely ascend the throne of American Empire. That is almost assured. And because her resume is splattered with the blood of neocon aggression and the tears from neoliberal capitalist exploitation. Her agenda has been pre-formed in a chasm of corporate chicanery with war profiteers and earth destroyers calling the shots.

Americans can vote for whomever they wish. I really could not care less anymore since I have made my peace long ago with the fact that the entire thing is a sham anyway. As Green candidate Jill Stein eloquently said, the choices between a “proto-fascist and a corruption queen” are outrageous. And the absurdity of all of this is only the first sign of a dying Empire lashing out and writhing as it succumbs in fits and starts. It is emblematic of a culture of profound pathology corrupted by materialistic consumerism and horrendously disconnected to the ancient wisdom of a now perpetually assailed biosphere.

No matter who is selected for the puppet throne the only way forward now is activism outside the sham and the spectacle and the blood stained halls of Washington. And I choose to look to Berta and my fellow comrades for my inspiration in that regard, rather than the dung heap that is the American political and social class.

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Kenn Orphan 2016