Democracy in the Industrial
Force and Opinion
excerpted from the book
by Noam Chomsky
Hill and Wang, 1992, paper
No belief concerning US foreign policy is more deeply entrenched
than the one expressed by New York Times diplomatic correspondent
Neil Lewis, quoted earlier: "The yearning to see American-style
democracy duplicated throughout the world has been a persistent
theme in American foreign policy. " The thesis is commonly
not even expressed, merely J presupposed as the basis for reasonable
discourse on the US role in the world.
The faith in this doctrine may seem surprising.
Even a cursory inspection of the historical record reveals that
a persistent theme in American foreign policy has been the subversion
and overthrow of parliamentary regimes, and the resort to violence
to destroy popular organizations that might offer the majority
of the population an opportunity to enter the political arena.
In the client states of the Third World, the preference for democratic
forms is often largely a matter of public relations. But where
the society is stable and privilege is secure, other factors enter.
Business interests have an ambiguous attitude towards the state.
They want it to subsidize research and development, production
and export (the Pentagon system, much of the foreign aid program,
and so on), regulate markets, ensure a favorable climate for business
operations abroad, and in many other ways to serve as a welfare
state for the wealthy. But they do not want the state to have
the power to interfere with the prerogatives of owners and managers.
The latter concern leads to support for democratic forms, as long
as business dominance of the political system is secure.
If a country satisfies certain basic conditions,
then, the US is tolerant of democratic forms, though in the Third
World, where a proper outcome is hard to guarantee, often just
barely. But relations with the industrial world show clearly that
the US government is not opposed to democratic forms as such.
In the stable business-dominated Western democracies, we would
not expect the US to carry out programs of subversion, terror,
or military assault as has been common in the Third World.
... the United States was committed to restoring the traditional
conservative order. To achieve this aim, it was necessary to destroy
the anti-Fascist resistance, often in favor of Nazi and Fascist
collaborators, to weaken unions and other popular organizations,
and to block the threat of radical democracy and social reform,
which were live options under the conditions of the time. These
policies were pursued worldwide: in Asia, including South Korea,
the Philippines, Thailand, Indochina, and crucially Japan; in
Europe, including Greece, Italy,
France, and crucially Germany; in Latin
America, including what the CIA took to be the most severe threats
at the time, "radical nationalism" in Guatemala and
Bolivia. Sometimes the task required considerable brutality. In
South Korea, about 100,000 people were killed in the late 1940s
by security forces installed and directed by the United States.
This was before the Korean War, which Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings
describe as "in essence" a phase-marked by massive outside
intervention-in "a civil war fought between two domestic
forces: a revolutionary nationalist movement, which had its roots
in tough anti-colonial struggle, and a conservative movement tied
to the status quo, especially to an unequal land system,"
restored to power under the US occupation. In Greece in the same
years, hundreds of thousands were killed, tortured, imprisoned
or expelled in the course of a counterinsurgency operation, organized
and directed by the United States, which restored traditional
elites to power, including Nazi collaborators, and suppressed
the peasant- and worker-based Communist-led forces that had fought
the Nazis. In the industrial societies, the same essential goals
were realized, but by less violent means.
Once its institutional structure is in
place, capitalist democracy will function only if all subordinate
their interests to the needs of those who control investment decisions,
from the country club to the soup kitchen. It is only a matter
of time before an independent working-class culture erodes, along
with the institutions and organizations that sustain it, given
the distribution of resources and power. And with popular organizations
weakened or eliminated, isolated individuals are unable to participate
in the political system in a meaningful way. It will, over time,
become largely a symbolic pageant or, at most, a device whereby
the public can select among competing elite groups and ratify
their decisions, playing the role assigned them by progressive
democratic theorists of the Walter Lippmann variety. That was
a plausible assumption in the early postwar period and has proven
largely accurate so far, despite many rifts, tensions and conflicts.
European elites have a stake in the preservation
of this system, and fear their domestic populations no less than
the US authorities did. Hence their commitment to Cold War confrontation,
which came to serve as an effective technique of domestic social
management, and their willingness, with occasional mutterings
of discontent, to line up in US global crusades. The system is
oppressive, and often brutal, but that is no problem as long as
others are the victims. It also raises constant threats of large-scale
catastrophe, but these too do not enter into planning decisions
shaped by the goal of maximization of short-term advantage, which
remains the operative principle.
David Hume, First Principles of Government
... the easiness with which the many are
governed by the few; and to observe the implicit submission with
which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of
their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is brought
about, we shall find, that as Force is always on the side of the
governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion.
'Tis therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and
this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments,
as well as to the most free and most popular.
The comparison between the Soviet and US satellites is so striking
and obvious that it takes real dedication not to perceive it,
and outside of Western intellectual circles, it is a commonplace.
A writer in the Mexican daily Excelsior, describing how US relations
with Latin America deteriorated through the 1980s, comments on
the "striking contrast" between Soviet behavior towards
its satellites and "US policy in the Western Hemisphere,
where intransigence, interventionism and the application of typical
police state instruments have traditionally marked Washington's
actions": "In Europe, the USSR and Gorbachev are associated
with the struggle for freedom of travel, political rights, and
respect for public opinion. In the Americas, the U.S. and Bush
are associated with indiscriminate bombings of civilians, the
organization, training and financing of death squads, and programs
of mass murder"-not quite the story in New York and Washington,
where the United States is hailed as an "inspiration for
the triumph of democracy in our time" (The New Republic).
In El Salvador, the journal Proceso of the Jesuit University observed:
The so-called Salvadoran "democratic
process" could learn a lot from the capacity ( for self-criticism
that the socialist nations are demonstrating. If Lech Walesa had
been doing his organizing work in El Salvador, he would have already
entered into the ranks of the disappeared-at the hands of "heavily
armed men dressed in civilian clothes"; or have been blown
to pieces in a dynamite attack on his union headquarters. If Alexander
Dubcek were a politician in our country, he would have been assassinated
like Hector Oqueli [the social democratic leader assassinated
in Guatemala, by Salvadoran death squads, according to the Guatemalan
government]. If Andrei Sakharov had worked here in favor of human
rights, he would have met the same fate as Herbert Anaya [one
of the many murdered leaders of the independent Salvadoran Human
Rights Commission CDHES]. If Ota-Sik or Vaclav Havel had been
carrying out their intellectual work in El Salvador, they would
have woken up one sinister moming, Iying on the patio of a university
campus with their heads destroyed by the bullets of an elite ammy
The comparison was broadened in a seminar
on Christian opportunity and mission called by the Latin American
Council of Churches in San Jose, Costa Rica, reported in Mexico's
leading daily. Participants contrasted positive developments in
the Soviet Union and its domains with the circumstances of Central
America, "marked by United States intervention and the rightward
tum of control of govemment power." The pastoral letter "Hope
against Hope" announced at the end of the meeting went on
to say that in this context, "military, institutional, financial,
political and cultural powers, means of communication, as well
as the power of some churches 'indifferent to social problems'
will be deployed with greater force in Central Arnerica, 'with
serious consequences for the impoverished majority"'; the
reference is presumably to the fundamentalist churches backed
by the US in an effort to divert the poor population from any
struggle for amelioration of the conditions of this meaningless
life on earth. The decade of the l980s "was notable in the
region for the growth of the gap between rich and poor, a political
rightward tum and a conservative offensive on the economic front."
The goal of the Central American peace plan was to "put the
Nicaraguan revolution on neoliberal-democracy tracks and to defend
governments such as the Salvadoran." With these results achieved,
the US-backed regimes and their sponsor will "bury the demands"
about human rights and social justice.
The same comparison was drawn by the [exilted]
Guatemalan journalist JulioGodoy after a brief visit to Guatemala.
He had fled a year earlier when his newspaper, La Epoca, was blown
up by state terrorists-an operation that aroused no interest in
the United States; it was not reported, though well known. At
the time, the media were much exercised over the fact that the
US-funded joumal La Prensa, which was openly aligned with the
US-run forces attacking Nicaragua, had missed an issue because
of a shortage of newsprint, an atrocity that led to passionate
diatribes about Sandinista totalitarianism. In the face of this
crime, Westem commentators could hardly be expected to notice
that the US-backed security forces had silenced the one small
independent voice in Guatemala in their usual fashion. This is
simply another illustration of the total contempt for freedom
of the press in Westem circles, revealed as well by the silence
that accompanies the violent destruction of the independent Salvadoran
press by state terror, the routine closure of newspapers under
absurd pretexts and the arrest and torture of joumalists in the
Israeli-occupied territories and sometimes in Israel proper, the
stomming of the headquarters of a major South Korean broadcasting
network by riot police to arrest the leader of the union on the
charge that he had organized labor protests, and other such contributions
to order and good form.
Eastern Europeans are, "in a way,
luckier than Central Americans," Godoy wrote: "while
the Moscow-imposed government in Prague would degrade and humiliate
reformers, the Washington-made government in Guatemala would kill
them. It still does, in a virtual genocide that has taken more
than 150,000 victims . . . [in what Amnesty International calls]
a 'government program of political murder'." That, he suggested,
is "the main explanation ' for the fearless character of
the students' recent uprising in Prague: the Czechoslovak Army
doesn't shoot to kill.... In Guatemala, not to mention El Salvador,
random terror is used to keep unions and peasant associations
from seeking their own way"-and to ensure that the press
conforms or disappears, so that Western liberals need not fret
over censorship in the "fledgling democracies" they
applaud. There is an "important difference in the nature
of the armies and of their foreign tutors. " In the Soviet
satellites, the armies are "apolitical and obedient to their
national government," while in the US satellites, "the
army is the power," doing what they have been trained to
do for many decades by their foreign tutor. "One is tempted
to believe that some people in the White House worship Aztec gods-with
the offering of Central American blood." They backed forces
in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua that "can easily
compete against Nicolae Ceausescu's Securitate for the World Cruelty
Godoy quotes a European diplomat who says,
"as long as the Americans don't change their attitude towards
the region, there's no space here for the truth or for hope."
Surely no space for nonviolence and love.
One will search far to find such truisms
in US commentary, or the West in general, which much prefers largely
meaningless (though self-flattering) comparisons between Eastern
and Western Europe. Nor is the hideous catastrophe of capitalism
in the past years a major theme of contemporary discourse-a catastrophe
that is dramatic in Latin America and other domains of the industrial
West, in the "internal Third World" of the United States,
and the "exported slums" of Europe. Nor are we likely
to find much attention to the fact, hard to ignore, that the economic
success stories typically involve coordination of the state and
financial-industrial conglomerates, another sign of the collapse
of capitalism in the past sixty years. It is only the Third World
that is to be subjected to the destructive forces of free market
capitalism, so that it can be more efficiently robbed and exploited
by the powerful.
It is often not appreciated how profound and deeply rooted is
the contempt for democracy in the elite culture, and the fear
When political life and independent thought
revived in the 1960s, the problem arose again, and the reaction
was the same. The Trilateral Commission, bringing together liberal
elites from Europe, Japan, and the United States, warned of an
impending "crisis of democracy" as segments of the public
sought to enter the political arena. This "excess of democracy"
was posing a threat to the unhampered rule of privileged elites-what
is called "democracy" in political theology. The problem
was the usual one: the rabble were trying to arrange their own
affairs, gaining control over their communities and pressing their
political demands. There were organizing efforts among young people,
ethnic minorities, women, social activists, and others, encouraged
by the struggles of benighted masses elsewhere for freedom and
independence. More "moderation in democracy" would be
required, the Commission concluded, perhaps a return to the days
when "Truman had been able to govern the country with the
cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers
and bankers," as the American rapporteur commented.
Irving Kristol adds that "insignificant
nations, like insignificant people, can quickly experience delusions
of significance." But as a leading neoconservative, he has
no time for the softer means of manufacture of consent, which
are, in any event, not warranted for insignificant people outside
the domains of Western civilization. Hence the delusions of significance
must be driven from their tiny minds by force: "In truth,
the days of 'gunboat diplomacy' are never over.... Gunboats are
as necessary for international order as police cars are for domestic
These ideas bring us to the Reagan Administration,
which established a state propaganda agency (the Office of Public
Diplomacy) that was by far the most elaborate in American history,
much to the delight of the advocates of a powerful and interventionist
state who are called "conservatives" in one of the current
corruptions of political discourse. When the program was exposed,
a high official described it as the kind of operation carried
out in "enemy territory"-an apt phrase, expressing standard
elite attitudes towards the public. In this case, the enemy was
not completely subdued. Popular movements deepened their roots
and spread into new sectors of the population, and were able to
drive the state underground to clandestine terror instead of the
more efficient forms of overt violence that Presidents Kennedy
and Johnson could undertake before the public I had been aroused.
In accordance with the prevailing conceptions, there is no infringement
of democracy if a few corporations control the information system:
in fact, that is the essence of democracy. The leading figure
of the public relations industry, Edward Bernays, explained that
"the very essence of the democratic process" is "the
freedom to persuade and suggest," what he calls "the
engineering of consent." If the freedom to persuade happens
to be concentrated in a few hands, we must recognize that such
is the nature of a free society. Since the early twentieth century,
the public relations industry has devoted huge resources to "educating
the American people about the economic facts of life" to
ensure a favorable climate for business. Its task is to control
"the public mind," which is "the only serious danger
confronting the company," an AT&T executive observed
eighty years ago. And today, the Wall Street Journal describes
with enthusiasm the "concerted efforts" of corporate
America "to change the attitudes and values of workers"
on a vast scale with "New Age workshops" and other contemporary
devices of indoctrination and stupefaction designed to convert
"worker apathy into corporate allegiance." The agents
of Reverend Moon and Christian evangelicals employ similar devices
to bar the threat of peasant organizing and to undermine a Church
that serves the poor in Latin America, aided by intelligence agencies
and the closely linked international organizations of the ultra-right.
Bernays expressed the basic point in a
1928 public relations manual: "The conscious and intelligent
manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses
is an important element in democratic society.... It is the intelligent
minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and
A properly functioning system of indoctrination has a variety
of tasks, some rather delicate. One of its targets is the stupid
and ignorant masses.
They must be kept that way, diverted with
emotionally potent oversimplifications, marginalized, and isolated.
Ideally, each person should be alone in front of the television
screen watching sports, soap operas, or comedies, deprived of
organizational structures that permit individuals lacking resources
to discover what they think and believe in interaction with others,
to formulate their own concerns and programs, and to act to realize
them. They can then be permitted, even encouraged, to ratify the
decisions of their betters in periodic elections. The rascal multitude
are the proper targets of the mass media and a public education
system geared to obedience and training in needed skills, including
the skill of repeating patriotic slogans on timely occasions.
Control over investment, production, commerce, finance, conditions
of work, and other crucial aspects of social policy lies in private
hands. Unwillingness to adapt to this structure of authority and
domination carries costs, ranging from state force to the costs
of privation and struggle; even an individual of independent mind
can hardly fail to compare these to the benefits, however meager,
that accrue to submission. Meaningful choices are thus narrowly
limited. Similar factors limit the range of ideas and opinion
in obvious ways. Articulate expression is shaped by the same private
powers that control the economy. It is largely dominated by major
corporations that sell audiences to advertisers and naturally
reflect the interests of the owners and their market. The ability
to articulate and communicate one's views, concerns, and interests-or
even to discover them-is thus narrowly constrained as well.
The United States is near the limit in its safeguards for freedom
from state coercion, and also in the poverty of its political
life. There is essentially one political party, the business party,
with two factions. Shifting coalitions of investors account for
a large part of political history. Unions, or other popular organizations
that might offer a way for the general public to play some role
in influencing programs and policy choices, scarcely function
apart from the narrowest realm. The ideological system is bounded
by the consensus of the privileged. Elections are largely a ritual
form. In congressional elections, virtually all incumbents are
returned to office, a reflection of the vacuity of the political
system and the choices it offers. There is scarcely a pretense
that substantive issues are at stake in the presidential campaigns.
Articulated programs are hardly more than a device to garner votes,
and candidates adjust their messages to their audiences as public
relations tacticians advise. Political commentators ponder such
questions as whether Reagan will remember his lines, or whether
Mondale looks too gloomy, or whether Dukakis can duck the slime
flung at him by George Bush's speechwriters. In the 1984 elections,
the two political factions virtually exchanged traditional policies,
the Republicans presenting themselves as the party of Keynesian
growth and state intervention in the economy, the Democrats as
the advocates of fiscal conservatism; few even noticed. Half the
population does not bother to mark the ballots, and those who
take the trouble often consciously vote against their own interest.
... during the Reagan years. The population
overwhelmingly opposed the policies of his Administration, and
even the Reagan voters in 1984, by about three to two, hoped that
his legislative program would not be enacted. In the 1980 elections,
4 percent of the electorate voted for Reagan because they regarded
him as a "real conservative." In 1984, this dropped
to 1 percent. That is what is called "a landslide victory
for conservatism" in political rhetoric. Furthermore, contrary
to much pretense, Reagan's popularity was never particularly high,
and much of the population seemed to understand that he was a
media creation, who had only the foggiest idea of what government
policy might be.
It is noteworthy that the fact is now
tacitly conceded; the instant that the "great communicator"
was no longer of any use as a symbol, he was quietly tucked away.
After eight years of pretense about the "revolution"
that Reagan wrought, no one would dream of asking its standard-bearer
for his thoughts about any topic, because it is understood, as
it always was, that he has none. When Reagan was invited to Japan
as an elder statesman, his hosts were surprised ... to discover
that he could not hold press conferences or talk on any subject.
Their discomfiture aroused some amusement in the American press:
the Japanese believed what they had read about this remarkable
figure, failing to comprehend the workings of the mysterious occidental
... unless the rich and powerful are satisfied, everyone will
suffer, because they control the basic social levers, determining
what will be produced and consumed, and what crumbs will filter
down to their subjects.
Consider political commentator Michael Kinsley, who represents
"t~7 left" in mainstream commentary and television debate.
When the State Department publicly confirmed US support for terrorist
attacks on agricultural cooperatives in Nicaragua, Kinsley wrote
that we should not be too quick to condemn this official policy.
Such international terrorist operations doubtless cause "vast
civilian suffering," he conceded. But if they manage "to
undermine morale and confidence in the government," then
they may be "perfectly legitimate." The policy is "sensible"
if "cost-benefit analysis" shows that "the amount
of blood and misery that will be poured in" yields "democracy,"
in the conventional sense already discussed.
As a spokesman for the establishment left,
Kinsley insists that terror must meet the pragmatic criterion;
violence should not be employed for its own sake, merely because
we find it amusing. This more humane conception would readily
be accepted by Saddam Hussein, Abu Nidal, and the Hizbollah kidnappers,
who, presumably, also consider terror pointless unless it is of
value for their ends. These facts help us situate enlightened
Western opinion on the international spectrum.
Such reasoned discussion of the justification
for terror is not at all unusual, which is why it elicits no reaction
in respectable circles just as there is no word of comment among
its left-liberal contributors and readers when the New Republic,
long considered the beacon of American liberalism, advocates military
aid to "Latin-style fascists ... regardless of how many are
murdered" because "there are higher American priorities
than Salvadoran human rights."
Appreciation of the "salutary efficacy''
of terror-to borrow John Quincy Adams's phrase-has been a standard
feature of enlightened Western thought. It provides the basic
framework for the propaganda campaign concerning international
terrorism in the 1980s. Naturally, terrorism directed against
us and our friends is bitterly denounced as a reversion to barbarism.
But far more extreme terrorism that we and our agents conduct
is considered constructive, or at worst insignificant, if it meets
the pragmatic criterion.
The guiding principle is clear and straightforward: their terror
is terror, and the flimsiest evidence suffices to denounce it
and to exact retribution upon civilian bystanders who happen to
be in the way; our terror, even if far more extreme, is merely
statecraft, and therefore does not enter into the discussion of
the plague of the modem age. The practice is understandable on
the principles already discussed.
Sometimes, the adaptability of the system
might surprise even the most
The continuity of US policy is well illustrated by the record
of the Atlacatl Battalion, "whose soldiers professionally
obeyed orders from their officers to kill the Jesuits in cold
blood," Americas Watch observed on the tenth anniversary
of the assassination of Archbishop Romero, proceeding to review
some of the achievements of this elite unit, "created, trained
and equipped by the United States." It was formed in March
1981, when fifteen specialists in counterinsurgency were sent
to El Salvador from the US Army School of Special Forces. From
the start, the Battalion "was engaged in the murder of large
numbers of civilians." A professor at the US Army School
of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, described its soldiers
as "particularly ferocious": "We've always had
a hard time getting [them] to take prisoners instead of ears."
In December 1981, the Battalion took part in an operation in which
hundreds of civilians were killed in an orgy of murder, rape,
and burning-over 1000, according to the Church legal aid office.
Later it was involved in the bombing of villages and the murder
of hundreds of civilians by shooting, drowning, and other methods,
the vast majority being women, children, and the elderly. This
has been the systematic pattern of special warfare in El Salvador
since the first major military operation in May 1980, when six
hundred civilians were murdered and mutilated at the Rio Sumpul
in a joint operation of the Salvadoran and Honduran armies, a
slaughter revealed by Church sources, human rights investigators,
and the foreign press, but not the US media, which also have their
psychological warfare function.
The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights
alleged in a letter to Defense Secretary Cheney that the killers
of the Jesuits were trained by US Special Forces up to three days
before the assassinations. Father Jon de Cortina, Dean of Engineering
at the Jesuit University in El Salvador where the priests were
murdered, alleged further that the US military instructors were
the same US soldiers who were trapped in a San Salvador hotel
a few days later, in a highly publicized incident. In earlier
years, some of the Atlacatl Battalion's worst massacres occurred
when it was fresh from US training.
The nature of Salvadoran army training
was described by a deserter who received political asylum in Texas
in July 1990 after the immigration judge rejected a State Department
request that he be denied asylum and sent back to E1 Salvador.
In this "fledgling democracy" the wealthy are immune
from conscription; rather, teenagers are rounded up in sweeps
in slums and refugee camps. According to this deserter-whose name
was withheld by the court, for obvious reasons-conscripts were
made to kill dogs and vultures by biting their throats and twisting
off their heads, and had to watch as soldiers tortured and killed
suspected dissidents, tearing out their fingernails, cutting off
their heads, cutting a body to pieces "as though it was a
toy and they played with the arms for entertainment," or
starving and torturing them to death. Recruits were told that
they would be assigned the same tasks, and that torturing people
and animals "makes you more of a man and gives you more courage."
In another recent case, an admitted member
of a Salvadoran death squad associated with the Atlacatl Battalion,
Cesar Vielman Joya Martinez, testified on his first-hand experience
in state terror, providing detailed information about the murder
operations with the complicity of US intelligence advisers and
the government to the highest level, including evidence extremely
relevant to the murder of the Jesuit priests. His testimony is
corroborated by an associate who also defected, in allegations
to a Mexican rights commission. After an initial pretense that
it would investigate Martinez's story, the Bush Administration
proceeded to make every effort to silence him and ship him back
to probable death in El Salvador, despite the pleas of human rights
organizations and Congress that he be protected and that his testimony
be heard. The treatment of the main witness to the assassination
of the Jesuits was similar.
It might be noted that the treatment of
the murdered Jesuit intellectuals themselves is not really different.
Their murder and the judicial inquiry (such as it is) received
attention, but not what they had to say. About this one will find
very little, even when it would take no initiative to discover
it. For example, the August 1990 conference of the American Psychological
Association in Boston had a series of panels and symposia dealing
with the work of Father Martin-Baro, including one in which the
videotape of his California talk shortly before his assassination
was played. The conference was covered by the Boston Globe, but
not these sessions. On the day they were held, the Globe preferred
a paper on male facial expressions that are attractive to women.
First things first, after all.
When Antonio Gramsci was imprisoned after
the Fascist takeover of Italy, the government summed up its case
by saying: "We must stop this brain from functioning for
twenty years." Our current favorites leave less to chance:
the brains must be stopped from functioning for ever, and we agree
that their thoughts about such matters as state terrorism had
best not be heard.
The results of US military training are
evident in abundance in the documentation by human rights groups
and the Salvadoran Church. They are graphically described by Reverend
Daniel Santiago, a Catholic priest working in El Salvador, in
the Jesuit journal America. He reports the story of a peasant
woman, who returned home one day to find her mother, sister, and
three children sitting around a table, the decapitated head of
each person placed carefully on the table in front of the body,
the hands arranged on top "as if each body was stroking its
own head." The assassins, from the Salvadoran National Guard,
had found it hard to keep the head of an eighteen-month-old baby
in place, so they nailed the hands onto it. A large plastic bowl
filled with blood was tastefully displayed in the center of the
To take just one further example, striking
because of the circumstances, we may turn back to January 1988,
when the US completed its demolition of the Central America peace
accords, exempting its murderous clients from the provisions calling
for "justice, freedom and democracy," "respect
for human rights," and guarantees for "the inviolability
of all forms of life and liberty." Just as this cynical success
was being recorded, the bodies of two men and a teenage boy were
found at a well-known death squad dumping ground, blindfolded
with hands tied behind their backs and signs of torture. The nongovemmental
Human Rights Commission, which continues to function despite the
assassination of its founders and directors, reported that thirteen
bodies had been found in the preceding two weeks, most showing
signs of torture, including two women who had been hanged from
a tree by their hair, their breasts cut off and their faces painted
red. The reports were given anonymously, in fear of state terror.
No one failed to recognize the traditional marks of the death
squads. The information was reported by the wire services and
prominently published in Canada, but not by the US national press.
Reverend Santiago writes that macabre
scenes of the kind he recounts are designed by the armed forces
for the purpose of intimidation.
People are not just killed by death squads
in El Salvador.-they are decapitated and then their heads are
placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just
disemboweled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed
genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are
not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from
their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to
kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh
falls from their bones while parents are forced to watch.... The
aesthetics of terror in El Salvador is religious.
The intention is to ensure that the individual
is totally subordinated to the interests of the Fatherland, which
is why the death squads are sometimes called the "Army of
National Salvation" by the governing ARENA Party, whose members
(including President Cristiani) take a blood oath to the "leader-for-life,"
The armed forces "scoop up recruits"
from the age of thirteen, and indoctrinate them with rituals adopted
from the Nazi SS, including brutalization and rape, so that they
are prepared for killing with sexual overtones, as a religious
rite. The stories of training "are not fairy tales";
they are "punctuated with the hard evidence of corpses, mutilated
flesh, splattered brains and eyewitnesses." This "sadomasochistic
killing creates terror," and "terror creates passivity
in the face of oppression. A passive population is easy to control,"
so that there will be plenty of docile workers, and no complaints,
and the sociopolitical project can be pursued with equanimity.
Reverend Santiago reminds us that the
current wave of violence is a reaction to attempts by the Church
to organize the poor in the 1970s. State terror mounted as the
Church began forming peasant associations and self-help groups,
which, along with other popular organizations, "spread like
wildfire through Latin American communities," Lars Schoultz
writes. That the United States should turn at once to massive
repression, with the cooperation of local elites, will surprise
only those who are willfully ignorant of history and the planning
Father Ignacio Ellacuria, rector of the
Jesuit University before he was assassinated along with Father
Martin-Baro, described El Salvador as "a lacerated reality,
almost mortally wounded." He was a close associate of Archbishop
Romero and was with him when the Archbishop wrote to President
Carter, pleading in vain for the withdrawal of aid from the junta.
The Archbishop informed Father Ellacuria that his letter was prompted
"by the new concept of special warfare, which consists in
murderously eliminating every endeavor of the popular organizations
under the allegation of Communism or terrorism . . ." 73
Special warfare-whether called counterinsurgency, or low-intensity
conflict, or some other euphemism-is simply international terrorism-and
it has long been official US policy, a weapon in the arsenal used
for the larger sociopolitical project.
The same has been true in neighboring
Guatemala. Latin America scholar Piero Gleijeses writes that in
the traditional "culture of fear," ferocious repression
sufficed to impose peace and order; "Just as the Indian was
branded a savage beast to justify his exploitation, so those who
sought social reform were branded communists to justify their
persecution. " The decade 1944-54 was a unique departure,
marked by "political democracy, the strong communist influence
in the administration of President Jacobo Arbenz (1951-54), and
Arbenz's agrarian reform"-"years of spring in the country
of eternal tyranny," in the words of a Guatemalan poet. Half
a million people received desperately needed land, the first time
in the country's history that "the Indians were offered land,
rather than being robbed of it":
A new wind was stirring the Guatemalan
countryside. The culture of fear was loosening its grip over the
great masses of the Guatemalan population. In a not unreachable
future, it might have faded away, a distant nightmare.
The Communist Party leaders were regarded
by the US Embassy as the sole exception to venality and ambition.
They "were very honest, very committed," "the only
people who were committed to hard work," one Embassy official
commented. "This was the tragedy," he added: they were
"our worst enemies," and had to be removed along with
the reforms they helped to implement.
The nightmare was restored in a coup organized
by the CIA, with the cooperation of Guatemalan officers who betrayed
their country in fear of the regional superpower, Gleijeses concludes.
With regular US support, the regime of terror and torture and
disappearance has been maintained, peaking in the late 1960s with
direct US government participation. As the terror somewhat abated,
there was "a wave of concientizacio' (heightening of political
awareness)," largely under Church auspices. It inspired the
usual reaction: the army "intensified the terror, murdering
cooperative leaders, bilingual teachers, community leaders, and
grassroots organizers"-in fact, following the same script
as in El Salvador and Nicaragua. By the early 1980s, the terror
reached the level of wholesale massacre in the Indian highlands.
The Reagan Administration was not merely supportive but enthusiastic
about the achievements of their friends.
Recall that the Guatemalan generals are
moderates who observe the pragmatic criterion. When Indians who
had fled to the mountains to survive drifted back, unable to cope
with the harsh conditions and begging forgiveness, "the army
was generous," Gleijeses observes: "It no longer murdered
the supplicants, except now and then, as a reminder."
When order was once again restored, the
generals accepted US advice and instituted a democratic facade,
behind which they and their allies in the oligarchy would continue
Rousseau's classic lament that people are born free but are everywhere
Those who adopt the common-sense principle that freedom is our
natural right and essential need will agree with Bertrand Russell
that anarchism is "the ultimate ideal to which society should
approximate." Structures of hierarchy and domination are
fundamentally illegitimate. They can be defended only on grounds
of contingent need, an argument that rarely stands up to analysis.
As Russell went on to observe seventy years ago, "the old
bonds of authority" have little intrinsic merit. Reasons
are needed for people to abandon their rights, "and the reasons
offered are counterfeit reasons, convincing only to those who
have a selfish interest in being convinced.... The condition of
revolt," he went on, "exists in women towards men, in
oppressed nations towards their oppressors, and above all in labour
towards capital. It is a state full of danger, as all past history
shows, yet also full of hope."
Whether the instinct for freedom is real or not, we do not know.
If it is, history teaches that it can be dulled, but has yet to
be killed. The courage and dedication of people struggling for
freedom, their willingness to confront extreme state terror and
violence, are often remarkable. There has been a slow growth of
consciousness over many years, and goals have been achieved that
were considered utopian or scarcely contemplated in earlier eras.
An inveterate optimist can point to this record and express the
hope that with a new decade, and soon a new century, humanity
may be able to overcome some of its social maladies; others might
draw a different lesson from recent history. It is hard to see
rational grounds for affirming one or the other perspective. As
in the case of many of the natural beliefs that guide our lives,
we can do no better than to choose according to our intuition
The consequences of such a choice are
not obscure. By denying the instinct for freedom we will only
prove that humans are a lethal mutation, an evolutionary dead
end; by nurturing it, if it is real, we may find ways to deal
with dreadful human tragedies and problems that are awesome in
Few in the South would contest the judgment of the Times of India
that in the Gulf crisis the traditional warrior states-the US
and UK-sought a "regional Yalta where the powerful nations
agree among themselves to a share of Arab spoils . . . [Their]
conduct throughout this one month [January-February 1991] has
revealed the seamiest sides of Western civilization: its unrestricted
appetite for dominance, its morbid fascination for hi-tech military
might, its insensitivity to 'alien' cultures, its appalling jingoism...."
The general mood was captured by Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns
of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who wrote that in the Arab countries "the
rich sided with the US government while the millions of poor condemned
this military aggression." Throughout the Third World, "there
is hatred and fear: When will they decide to invade us,"
and on what pretext?
Within the US, the major issue remains
the unraveling of the society under the impact of the Reagan-Bush
social and economic programs. These reflected a broad elite consensus
in favor of a welfare state for the rich even beyond the norm.
Policy was designed to transfer resources to privileged sectors,
with the costs to be borne by the general population and future
generations. Given the narrow interests of its constituency, the
Administration has no serious proposals to deal with the consequences
of these policies.
It is therefore necessary to divert the
public. Two classic devices are to inspire fear of terrible enemies
and worship of our grand leaders, who rescue us just in the nick
of time. The enemies may be domestic (criminal Blacks, uppity
women, subversives undermining the tradition, etc.), but foreign
demons have natural advantages. The Russians served the purpose
for many years; their collapse has called for innovative and audacious
tactics. As the standard pretext vanished, the domestic population
has been frightened-with some success-by images of Qaddafi's hordes
of international terrorists, Sandinistas marching on Texas, Grenada
interdicting sea lanes and threatening the homeland itself, Hispanic
narcotraffickers directed by the arch-maniac Noriega, and crazed
Arabs generally, most recently, the Beast of Baghdad, after he
underwent the usual conversion from favored friend to Attila the
Hun after committing the one unforgivable crime, the crime of
disobedience, on August 2, 1990.
The scenario requires Awe as well as Fear.
There must, then, be foreign triumphs, domestic ones being beyond
even the imagination of the cultural managers. Our noble leaders
must courageously confront and miraculously defeat the barbarians
at the gate, so that we can once again "stand tall"
(the President's boast, after overcoming Grenada's threat to our
existence) and march forward towards a New World Order of peace
and justice. Since each foreign triumph is in fact a fiasco, the
aftermath must be obscured as the government-media alliance turns
to some new crusade.
The barbarians must be defenseless: it
would be foolish to confront anyone who might fight back. Moreover,
the notable rise in the moral and cultural level of the general
population since the 1960s, including the unwillingness to tolerate
atrocities and aggression, a grave disease called "the Vietnam
syndrome," has further limited the options. The problem was
addressed in a National Security Policy Review from the first
months of the Bush presidency, dealing with "third world
It reads: "In cases where the U.S.
confronts much weaker enemies, our challenge will be not simply
to defeat them, but to defeat them decisively and rapidly."
Any other outcome would be "embarrassing" and might
"undercut political support," understood to be thin.
The intervention options are therefore restricted to clandestine
terror (called "low-intensity conflict," etc., often
assisted by mercenary states), or quick demolition of a "much
weaker enemy." Disappearance of the Soviet deterrent enhances
this second option: the US need no longer fight with "one
hand tied," that is, with concern for the consequences to