THE THREAT OF A GOOD EXAMPLE
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
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
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
Tucson, AZ 85751
tel 602-296-4056 or 800-REALSTORY
other Noam Chomsky books published by Odonian Press
Secrets, Lies, and Democracy
The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many
Uncle Sam Really Wants