War Whores
Why Do They Hate Us?

excerpted from the book


the difference in world view between the United States
and everybody else

by Nicholas Von Hoffman

Nation Books, 2004, paper

The name "war whores" ... the ladies and gentlemen of the media who whooped, hollered and thigh-slapped the United States into and through Gulf II. Day in and day out, hour after hour, on the TV cable news channels especially, they tingled with happy excitement as they strained to infect viewers (and less often, readers) with the upside of death and disfigurement.

However much war may depress advertising and ruin the news budgets of the big media corporations, it gooses the ratings and it makes stars of the on-air performers-and heroes, too. As the war grew close to starting, HBO showed Live from Baghdad, a docudrama glamorizing war whoredom. The true-to-life version of the show was available around the clock as the war whores promoted themselves and their careers in real time on their TV channels. Their glistening eyes, their happily agitated voices, their perturbed, gulping deliveries, their stagy bathos added to the erotic energy they invested in their talk of freedom, courage and victory over the non-resisting foe.

The Pentagon did a one-eighty from Gulf I to Gulf II in handling the media. Instead of keeping the reporters back and away from the action, the two and a half thousand of them who turned up to cover the walk-over which was called a war were invited to be "embedded," or to be the guests of military units of all and every description. The arrangement was much criticized by people who thought that "embedded" meant the same as "co-opted," which it does, but what can you expect? During the Second World War General Eisenhower referred to war correspondents as "assimilated officers" or "quasi-staff officers." The armed services are not going to tolerate obnoxious neutral personalities floating around in their midst, even if it were psychologically possible for the correspondents to keep themselves emotionally separated from the men and women they were living with.

War whores and respectable workaday reporters alike take the side of the army they are with, as John Steinbeck understood when, looking back on his stint as a war correspondent in World War II, he wrote, "We were all part of the war effort. We went along with it, and not only that, we abetted it. Gradually it became a part of us that the truth about anything was automatically secret and that to trifle with it was to interfere with the war effort. By this I don't mean that the correspondents were liars. They were not . . . It is in the things not mentioned that the untruth lies . . . Yes, we wrote only a part of the war but at the time we believed, fervently believed, that it was the best thing to do. And perhaps that is why, when the war was over, novels and stories by ex-soldiers, like The Naked and the Dead, proved so shocking to the public which had been carefully protected from contact with the crazy, hysterical mess."

Pouting because others have not pureed the informational food necessary for thought and sulking because others have failed to honestly, fairly and truthfully do the thinking for people distracted by refinancing their homes is a form of political infantilism not indulged in outside the American hemisphere. In other countries grownups know that the truth teat does not exist and, if it did, they wouldn't get to suck on it anyway because the government would have it locked up somewhere.

After the official war was over and the body bags and casualties continued to dribble back from Iraq to Dover Air Force Base in Maryland, a grumbling could be heard here and there across the biosphere. The people, or at least some of the people, were complaining that they had been jobbed.

Americans have a notion that if there is a Food and Drug Administration to guarantee the purity of what they put in their mouths, a similar mechanism ensures the purity of what goes into their brains. It's easier to believe that than to dope it out for themselves, taken up as they are with more important things than war and peace, like pro football and self improvement. After the fact, after it has begun to dawn on them that they have been had, they phone the call-in programs or vote on the Internet or gripe to whoever will listen to them about media bias. But under the vast crystal curve, the reason the war whores prosper is because the people are their johns.

". . . You have now become a great people, and we have scarcely a place left to spread our blankets. You have got our country but you are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon us.

"You say that you are sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to his mind, and, if we do not take hold of the religion which you white people teach, we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right and we are lost. How do you know this to be true? We understand that your religion is written in a book. If it was intended for us as well as for you, why has not the Great Spirit given it to us, and not only to us, but why did he not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that book, with the means of understanding it rightly? We only know what you tell us about it. How shall we know when to believe, being so often deceived by the white people?"

A century of military occupations and what Americans call "aid" to Haiti has brought neither democracy nor prosperity but one hellacious, heart-breaking turn after another. In Cuba and the Philippines in the early years of the 20th century the United States brought to bear its civilizing influence by suppressing local self-government. Not too much blood was spilt by the meddling in Cuba, where American-style democratic institutions led to a succession of hapless governments, to people getting poorer, the foreign investors getting richer, and American organized crime getting the gambling concessions and pimping the Cuban girls to the tired businessmen from E1 Norte. Then Fidel Castro and the Communists arrived, and the story of this nation, derailed from whatever course it might have taken if it had been allowed self-determination, is yet to be played out.

In the Philippines, another nation whose destiny is yet to be fixed, the missionary nation-building was more sanguinary. Teddy Roosevelt, the loudest voice among the imperial visionaries who took over the country, abominated his little brown Philippine brothers, calling them "Tagal bandits . . . Chinese half-breeds . . . savages, barbarians . . . apaches" and more. For viciousness and flouting of the rules of war, if such are to be taken seriously, the American behavior suppressing the "Philippine Insurrection" was as grizzly as anything which transpired in the Vietnam War. One soldier wrote to tell the home folks that, "last night one of our boys was found shot with his stomach cut open.

Immediately orders were received from General Wheaton to burn the town and kill every native in sight; which was done to a finish. About a thousand men and women were reported killed. I am probably growing hard-hearted for I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin and pull the trigger."

Lessons in democracy for the people of the Philippines proceeded on principles which Palestinian Arabs will have no trouble recognizing. "If they fire a shot from a house," wrote an American trooper, "we burn the house down and every house near it, and shoot the natives so that they are pretty quiet in town now." Whether these lessons in the rule of law and representative government are responsible for it, the last fifty years of life in this nation have been constant strife. The Communist-armed insurgency after World War II has been followed by dictatorship, war-lordism and gangsterism, and years of sporadic fighting in the southern islands between Muslim irregulars and the Philippine army and its American advisers.

During the first years of the Wilson administration (1913-1921) the gringos decided to butt into the revolutionary battle Mexicans were carrying on to rid themselves of dictatorship. After sending a succession of ad hoc diplomatic agents, ignorant of the language and the people, to meddle in the revolution, a United States naval flotilla seized the port of Vera Cruz at the cost of many Mexican lives. After Pancho Villa had raided New Mexico, killing a bunch of Americans, the United States retaliated by dispatching an army, under General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, into the mountains and deserts of northern Mexico in a failing attempt to capture the famous revolutionary-cum-bandit. This Mexican cockup bears similarities to another American army sloshing and slashing around the Hindu Kush after Osama bin Laden.

American motives in Mexico were disinterested, as they always are. Only nations on the outside of the biosphere have selfish motives. America is the Johnnie Appleseed of democracy, spreading self-rule wherever it bombs or sends in the Marines. It is ever so, as Woodrow Wilson told the idiot bean-eaters on the south side of the Rio Grande: "We are seeking to counsel Mexico for her own good and in the interest of her own peace and not for any other purpose whatever. The government of the United States would deem itself discredited if it had any selfish or ulterior purpose in transactions where the peace, happiness and prosperity of a whole people are involved. It is acting as its friendship for Mexico, not as any self interest, dictates." Not a word about the oil, the cattle, the mineral, and the banking interests of the United States, to say nothing of the British Empire whose navy was dependent on Mexico for bunker oil to drive its new Dreadnaught-class battleships.

Wilson's missionary activities in Mexico achieved an increased hatred and resentment against the United States for its theft of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, etc., and for its bullying and its interference. Revolution or no revolution, American oil and mining companies carried on as before, operating closed enclaves to which Mexican government officials were denied entrance, which paid no taxes, built no schools, and enjoyed their imperial prerogatives until Mexico finally exercised its national sovereignty and kicked the companies out, setting off talk, north of the border, of war. Were it to have come to another American military tourist excursion, doubtless it would have been carried out with much "public diplomacy"-the new Washington euphemism for propaganda-about how it was being done to liberate the Mexicans from the follies of their own self-rule.

In the colonial era, American conduct did not shock people in other nations whose armies were doing the same things in other places. A look at the former French, English, Dutch, and Portugese colonies in Africa and elsewhere makes it obvious that the American legacy is no worse but no better. That's the point-it is not better. The Americans stole fewer countries than some others did, and they may not have murdered as many as did the soldiers of other nations, who were killing not in the name of the cross and democracy but for king, kaiser, tzar, or emperor. Call it nation building or call it the white man's burden, the Americans were not especially bad. But they were not especially good. When it came to raping and pillaging, they were average, but this is not what the People of the Dome believe.

When, again under Wilson, we fought the war to end all wars, it was to make the world safe for democracy. It was Wilson and his principal collaborator, Herbert Hoover, who first made generosity an instrument of foreign policy. "Food relief is now the key to the whole European situation," Wilson wrote. "Bolshevism is steadily advancing westward, has overwhelmed Poland and is poisoning Germany. It cannot be stopped by force but it can be stopped by food." Wilson's thought, recast in nobler, missionary terms, was passed on to the American public by Herbert Hoover, who was in charge of the relief program: "It is America's mission, our opportunity to serve. FOOD WILL WIN THE WORLD." Wilson said that, "no man could worship God on an empty stomach," even as his secretary of state, Robert Lansing, contributed the observation that, "Full stomachs mean no Bolsheviks."

This giving away of the inventory by Uncle Sam has aggravated some Americans ever since. They cannot accept or understand that there is as much policy as there is charity in these donations. Since Wilson, foreign aid has been perfected so that it subsidizes corporate U.S. agriculture while preventing poor countries from developing profitable agriculture or feeding themselves; it shows conclusively that generosity can be a two-way street.

Americans will quarrel over how, who, or what to rescue or save, but the idea that the nation ought to be off doing it is challenged only by a few.

You can hear the Wilsonian altruism in George Bush's speech announcing the American invasion: "We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization I and for the religious faiths they practice. We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of L that country to its own people." Not that we're interested in ~ the oil in Iraq; no, America is a nation on a mission. The `~ Reverend President spelled it out: "America has done this kind of work before. Following World War II, we lifted up j the defeated nations of Japan and Germany and stood with them as they built representative governments. We committed years and resources to this cause. And that effort has been repaid many times over in three generations of friendship and peace. America today accepts the challenge of helping Iraq in the same spirit-for their sake, and our own."

Luckily, Americans are born double jointed at the shoulder which allows them to pat themselves on the back with little strain. The comforting, self-administered pats have laid to rest doubt about the future of Iraq. As the World War II song went, this will be a case of "We Did It Before And We Can Do it Again," referring to American disinterested beneficence in bringing back Japan and Germany from the ruins. Another Marshall Plan and some more innate American goodness will bring forth an Iraq which will be a model of Arab democracy at the heart of the Middle East. The New Baghdad, with running water and electricity, will cause Arabs everywhere to take one look, swoon and, as soon as smelling salts have been administered to the large nostrils of their Semitic noses (see the editorial cartoons of Arabs in the American press), to jump up, overthrow their slimy despots and establish democracies with stock market and banking laws of such crystalline transparency that foreign direct investment will zoom heavenward. Notice-not one direct mention of oil.

Nonetheless, the missionaries had second thoughts. American officials got an idea what was waiting for them the first night they bedded down in one of Saddam's palaces, though, if they'd had any sense, they would not have set foot in Iraq because they would have remembered what Dick Cheney had said years before, on February 16,1992, after Gulf I, m a moment of clairvoyance and candor:

If we'd gone into Baghdad . . . we'd have had to put a lot of forces in and run him (Saddam Hussein) to the ground someplace. He would not have been easy to capture. Then you've got to put a new government in his place and then you're faced with the question of what kind of government are you going to establish in Iraq? Is it going to be a Kurdish government or a Shia government or a Sunni government? How many forces are you going to have to leave there to keep it propped up, how many casualties are you going to take through the course of this operation?

[In the U.S.] the need for praise is almost a national vice. Other people in other countries do have things to do, like sowing seeds, harvesting potatoes, and building automobiles to export to the United States, hence sometimes the hosannas dribble off. Americans make up for these occasional praise deficits by producing spasms of self-laudification seldom seen since Louis XIV. Louis, the Sun King, specialized in flashing his golden glory to keep the common folk abashed and abased; dictators indulge in gorgeous militaristic festivals, balancing bad economies with hot air and rhetoric instead of ample food and a healthy diet. Americans have their non-stop talk-a-thon about being the greatest country in the world, the richest, the freest, the most religious, wisest, the bravest, land of opportunity, etc., which embarrasses others and has finally given America a case of macrocephaly, or fat-headedness. The people outside the dome know that America has had marvelous moments and every so often has come near to being the country it claims to be, but they also know, which Americans don't, that this is one of the nation's down periods and that makes the bragging all the more divisive. They don't hate us, but even as they admire America for so much they see us for what we are.

A routine has been perfected in which Americans go to international conferences, attack what's going on, announce they will not abide by the conferences decisions, place themselves above, beyond, and outside rules and obligations agreed to by many other nations and then go into angry paranoia mode when people from the beyond answer them with criticism and irritation. Everybody, except the British, are after them. They see bogeymen crawling in the windows and pouring through keyholes of the doors. The Americans and the Israelis, another bunch which holds little brief for multinational cooperation, are the only winners in the world with a persecution complex. Behold America, and its little Middle Eastern twin, bristling with nuclear devices, advanced weapon systems, absolute air and naval domination, tanks the size of barns zipping across the countryside, and yet the Americans cower in the corner, positive that super forces- which must be from outer space because there are none so strong as they on earth-are mobilizing to smash them. The people outside the dome understand that the United States is so powerful that it is invulnerable, absolutely undefeatable. Inside the dome Americans are convinced that their country could be destroyed by al Qaeda and the other terrorists ...

Inside the terrarium there is a constant drip of reassurance as the people are praised for their gallantry and told that they are a besieged breed battling for human rights. Mostly they battle the traffic on the way home from the office, but the air is heavy with reports of continuous, ongoing strife. It's all struggles and war: against cancer, teen drinking, teen pregnancy, drugs, illiteracy, terrorism, child abuse, drunk driving, diabetes, rape of the environment, pornography, starvation in less developed countries, ignorance, poverty, intolerance, heart disease, AIDS.

When they look into their mirrors, do Americans see tough, brave faces, heads wound round with bloody bandages? Do they hear, from the speakers blaring from every elevator and in every shopping mall, the martial beat of the drum, the toot of a flute, and "Yankee Doodle Dandy"?

Every year thousands dress up in 18th- and 19th-century military uniforms to reenact battles of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars in which the good and the brave win and suffer no casualties. They do not reenact the big battles of the 20th century, those of the Somme or of Kursk, where hundreds of thousands perished. Innocent of knowledge of the terrible slaughters of more recent history, America's heroes don camouflage suits and spend weekends bouncing about the countryside fighting paint-ball battles.

The men who fought at Iwo Jima and Normandy are entering their eighties; the men who fought in the Mekong Delta are into their fifties. The people younger than these veterans, now more than half the population, have no memories and no experience of those violent rampages. Their wars are Rambo and the other heart-stopping celluloid foolishness where we are young and brave forever.

They enroll in survivalist programs, join camouflage jump suit cults, play x-games. Those who don't join in the actual outdoor activities watch on television, not infrequently inside a thirty-foot, air-conditioned, motorized trailer with an HDTV satellite dish, parked on a camping site in a manicured wilderness with a view. They are "toughing it," convinced, as are most Americans, that they are undergoing the adversity which builds character and leadership. Fed by the television ads, Americans wobble between a past which never was and a present which never will be. It is a fantasy life nobody else shares.

Work has its own place in the national theology. Working till you drop in the traces wins you a patch of ground among the honored dead. The work ethic beats out the peace ethic or the love ethic. The blue collar man is the best kind of man. Can you hear the factory whistle blowing? Can you see him with his lunch pail and square-toed, high top shoes? The fixation on work has Americans believing that the people on the other side of the terrarium walls are drones. The long vacations taken by the French and the Germans are a species of immorality, the low stress social life of the Nordics is decadent and economically degenerate. Other people don't put in enough time on the job, which makes America the straining Atlas of the Rockefeller Center statue, holding up the world.

The Atlas of Greek mythology was stuck keeping the world up over his head as a punishment for having taken the wrong side in the battle with the Titans. This Atlas believes that he is being punished for having taken the right side and gotten nothing for it but grief, ingratitude and the burden of running the world. Europe's ingratitude is a stock theme in politicians' speeches and editorials. It is like sour cud, brought up repeatedly to show how unappreciated America is for all it has done for others, and how little others have done for it. The people in the dome insistently repeat that twice, three times if you count keeping out communism, America has saved Europe, but no one is grateful. No one gives a helping hand to Atlas when he tears a meniscus or rips a tendon while protecting the peoples of the earth. Since others won't recognize the debt, a resentful America memorializes itself in an outpouring of books and movies and patriotic half-time shows in the football stadiums where sports fans are comforted by the reminder that they live in a land of selfless heroism.

The past we know is the past we need for the present we have; it shows us an idealistic, altruistic, heroic America ready to lay down the lives of its children for others, though the beneficiaries may not appreciate the sacrifices made for them. For such purposes World War II is of precious memory for it was-we remind you-the good war, the right war, the unambiguous war, the Manichean war of us versus pure evil. It may have been so, but many an American then was not too keen to fight it. That past, too, has been prettied up for current requirements.

Franklin Roosevelt won reelection in 1940 by promising that Americans wouldn't fight the good war. When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, America did not rush to arms as the British and French did. More than two years went by before the United States went to war. Had Pearl Harbor not been bombed and had Hitler not declared war on the United States at the same time, America might have stayed neutral and let the Nazis win.


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