No country is exempt from U.S. intervention, no matter how unimportant. In fact, it's the weakest, poorest countries that often arouse the greatest hysteria.

Take Laos in the 1960s, probably the poorest country in the world. Most of the people who lived there didn't even know there was such a thing as Laos; they just knew they had a little village and there was another little village nearby.

But as soon as a very low-level social revolution began to develop there, Washington subjected Laos to a murderous "secret bombing," virtually wiping out large settled areas in operations that, it was conceded, had nothing to do with the war the US was waging in South Vietnam.

Grenada has a hundred thousand people who produce a little nutmeg, and you could hardly find it on a map. But when Grenada began to undergo a mild social revolution, Washington quickly moved to destroy the threat.

From the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 till the collapse of the Communist governments in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, it was possible to justify every US attack as a defense against the Soviet threat. So when the United States invaded Grenada in 1983, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff explained that, in the event of a Soviet attack on Western Europe, a hostile Grenada could interdict oil supplies from the Caribbean to Western Europe and we wouldn't be able to defend our beleaguered allies. Now this sounds comical, but that kind of story helps mobilize public support for aggression, terror and subversion.

The attack against Nicaragua was justified by the claim that if we don't stop "them" there, they'll be pouring across the border at Harlingen, Texas-just two days' drive away. (For educated people, there were more sophisticated variants, just about as plausible.)

As far as American business is concerned, Nicaragua could disappear and nobody would notice. The same is true of El Salvador. But both have been subjected to murderous assaults by the US, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and many billions of dollars.

There's a reason for that. The weaker and poorer a country is, the more dangerous it is as an example. If a tiny, poor country like Grenada can succeed in bringing about a better life for its people, some other place that has more resources will ask, "why not us?"

This was even true in Indochina, which is pretty big and has some significant resources. Although Eisenhower and his advisers ranted a lot about the rice and tin and rubber, the real fear was that if the people of Indochina achieved independence and justice, the people of Thailand would emulate it, and if that worked, they'd try it in Malaya, and pretty soon Indonesia would pursue an independent path, and by then a significant area of the Grand Area would have been lost.

If you want a global system that's subordinated to the needs of US investors, you can't let pieces of it wander off. It's striking how clearly this is stated in the documentary record-even in the public record at times. Take Chile under Allende.
Chile is a fairly big place, with a lot of natural resources, but again, the United States wasn't going to collapse if Chile became independent. Why were we so concerned about it? According to Kissinger, Chile was a "virus" that would "infect" the region with effects all the way to Italy.

Despite 40 years of CIA subversion, Italy still has a labor movement. Seeing a social democratic government succeed in Chile would send the wrong message to Italian voters. Suppose they get funny ideas about taking control of their own country and revive the workers' movements the CIA undermined in the 1940s?

US planners from Secretary of State Dean Acheson in the late 1940s to the present have warned that "one rotten apple can spoil the barrel." The danger is that the "rot"-social and economic development-may spread.

This "rotten apple theory" is called the domino theory for public consumption. The version used to frighten the public has Ho Chi Minh getting in a canoe and landing in California, and so on.
Maybe some US leaders believe this nonsense- it's possible-but rational planners certainly don't. They understand that the real threat is the "good example."

Sometimes the point is explained with great clarity. When the US was planning to overthrow Guatemalan democracy in 1954, a State Department official pointed out that "Guatemala has become an increasing threat to the stability of Honduras and El Salvador. Its agrarian reform is a powerful propaganda weapon: its broad social program of aiding the workers and peasants in a victorious struggle against the upper classes and large foreign enterprises has a strong appeal to the populations of Central American neighbors where similar conditions prevail."

In other words, what the US wants is "stability," meaning security for the "upper classes and large foreign enterprises." If that can be achieved with formal democratic devices, OK. If not, the "threat to stability" posed by a good example has to be destroyed before the virus infects others.

That's why even the tiniest speck poses such a threat, and may have to be crushed.


from the book What Uncle Sam Really Wants, published in 1993
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other Noam Chomsky books published by Odonian Press

Secrets, Lies, and Democracy
The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many

What Uncle Sam Really Wants