by Michael Parenti
City Lights Books, 2004, paper
What exactly does mean to love one's country?...
Maybe our superpatriots love this country
for its history One would doubt it, since so much of US history
is evidently unknown to them: the struggle for free speech that
has continued from early colonial times down to this day; the
fierce fights for collective bargaining and decent work conditions;
the long campaigns to extend the franchise to all citizens including
propertyless workers and women; the struggles to abolish slavery,
end racial segregation, and extend civil rights, to establish
free public education, public health services, environmental and
consumer protections, and occupational safety, and to impose a
progressive income tax and end wars of aggression, and other such
issues of peace and social justice.
Here certainly is a history that can make
one feel proud of one's country and love the valiant people who
battled for political and economic democracy. But many superpatriots
are wretchedly ignorant of this history, especially since so little
of it is taught in the school How unfortunate, for it would add
more substance to their love of country.
Also largely untaught is the darker side
of our history What is there to love about the extermination of
Native American Indian nations, a bloodletting that extended over
four centuries along with the grabbing of millions of acres of
their lands? There is nothing lovable about the systemic kidnapping
and enslavement of millions of Africans; the many lynchings and
murders of the segregationist era; the latter-day assassinations
of Black Panther Party members and other political dissidents;
the stealing of half of Mexico (today's Texas, New Mexico, Arizona,
California, and a portion of Colorado); the grabbing of Hawaii,
Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba; the blooddrenched conquest of the
Philippines; and the military interventions and wars of aggression
against scores of other countries.
Some superpatriots claim that they love America because of the
freedom it gives us. Yet most of them seem to love freedom only
in the abstract, for they cannot stand the dissidence and protests
that are the actual practice of a free people. They have trouble
tolerating criticisms directed against certain US policies and
institutions. If anything, superpatriots show themselves ever
ready to support greater political conformity and more repressive
measures against heterodoxy.
We might question the quality of the freedom
we are said to enjoy, for in truth we are not as free as we often
suppose. To be out of step in one's political opinions is often
to put one's career in jeopardy-even in a profession like teaching,
which professes a dedication to academic freedom.' The journalists
who work for big media conglomerates and who claim to be untrammeled
in their reportage overlook the fact that they are free to say
what they like because their bosses like what they say They rarely,
if ever, stray beyond the respectable parameters of the dominant
paradigm, and when they do so, it is at their own risk.
The major media in the United States are
owned by giant corporations and influenced by rich corporate advertisers
who seldom question the doings of the free-market profit system
at home and abroad. The assumptions behind US foreign policy go
largely unexamined in news analysis and commentary. Those who
have critical views regarding corporate power and US global interventionism
rarely get an opportunity to reach a mass audience.
US workers face one of the longest work years in the world. They
average only about ten days a year paid vacation, compared to
Western European workers who usually get thirty days. Even some
Latin American countries mandate one month paid vacation.
The superpatriot's America is a simplified ideological abstraction,
an emotive symbol represented by other abstract symbols like the
flag. It is the object of a faithlike devotion, unencumbered by
honest history. For the superpatriot, those who do not share in
this uncritical Americanism ought to go live in some other country.
If the test of patriotism comes only by reflexively falling into
lockstep behind the leader whenever the flag is waved, then what
we have is a formula for dictatorship, - not democracy... But
the American way is to criticize and debate openly, not to accept
unthinkingly the doings of government officials of this or any
... the American way is to criticize and debate openly, not to
accept unthinkingly the doings of government officials of this
or any other country.
Regarding cultural heritage, consider Iraq. That beleaguered country,
attacked and occupied by US forces, is regularly depicted in the
US press as in need of our guidance and uplift; we will teach
the Iraqis how to govern and care for themselves. Perhaps we should
recall that the Iraqis invented writing, founded the first school
of astronomy, and developed modern mathematics, using a kind of
Pythagorean theorem 1,700 years before Pythagoras. Beginning around
A.D. 800, they founded universities that imported teachers from
throughout the civilized world to teach medicine, mathematics,
philosophy, theology, literature, and poetry (at a time when Christian
Europe had long suppressed serious study of such subjects). For
thousands of years, the Iraqis wrote some of the greatest poetry,
history, and sagas in the world, and fashioned some of the most
imposing stone, metal, and clay artworks. With the Code of Hammurabi,
they brought forth the first legal system that protected the weak,
the widowed, and the orphaned. Twelve thousand years ago, they
invented irrigated farming, and became so proficient at it that
in the 1990s, despite sanctions imposed by the West, they still
managed to produce all the food they needed.
While political leaders boast about US military strength, they
say nothing about its costs: the distorted technology, material
waste, ecological devastation, enormous debt and high taxes, and
the neglect of social needs and infrastructure-not to mention
the terrible consequences that other countries must endure when
finding themselves on the receiving end of this superpower's military
The United States is Number One in certain other things [besides
military power and wealth] that are rarely if ever mentioned by
our leaders. Compared to other industrial nations, we are Number
One in homicides and death by firearms. The US murder rate among
young males is twenty times higher than in Western Europe and
forty times that of Japan. We are Number One in per capita prison
population and in financial bailouts, trade imbalances, and budget
This wealthiest of all nations has a public
debt that is the largest in the world. We also have schools that
are falling apart, public hospitals that are closing down, and
all sorts of essential public services that are being cut back
for lack of funds. So alongside the highly concentrated private
wealth there exists a growing public poverty. We are tops among
the Western industrial nations in the number of preschoolers living
in poverty and the number of people lacking medical insurance.
The USA is also Number One in family farms that are going broke,
genetically modified foods, the factory-farm use of pesticides
and herbicides, and the amounts of antibiotics and hormones injected
The United States is Number One in managers
per employees. A country like Japan, supposedly encumbered with
traditional hierarchy, has less than one-third the number of managers
per employees. In other words, while the leaders of US industry
complain about bloated government bureaucracies, they themselves
populate top-heavy bloated corporate bureaucracies.
The USA is also Number One among industrial
nations in income inequality and executive salaries. The number
of multimillionaires has increased by over 80 percent in the last
two decades. We also have the largest number of newly minted billionaires.
Average remuneration for chief executive officers (CEOs) of corporations
is anywhere from two to six times higher than CEOs abroad. A Fortune
magazine survey of a hundred of the nation's largest corporations
found that the typical CEO enjoyed a 14 percent rise in income
in 2002, bringing his or her total yearly pay to an average of
more than $13 million, irrespective of whatever
scandals or slumps the company underwent.
Meanwhile, stock options for these top tycoons continued to expand,
in some instances to astronomical levels. Thus the former chairman
of Tenet Healthcare, the nation's second largest hospital chain,
pulled in stock options worth $111 million in 2002.7 At the same
time, in many of these companies, employees were laid off or endured
wage freezes, cutbacks in benefits, or disappearing pension funds.
Patriotic ceremonies are more likely to commemorate the nation's
military history than its history of struggle for politico-economic
equality, peace, and social justice.
The message is clear: patriotism and militarism go together. A
flag in one hand, a weapon in the other, that is what makes America
The marriage of militarism to patriotism makes it difficult to
criticize the enormously bloated military budgets yearly allocated
by the US Congress, reaching well beyond $500 billion by 2003
(including the sums spent on the war in Iraq). According to a
General Accounting Office investigation, the Pentagon somehow
lost track of the enormous sum of $1.1 trillion over the last
several decades! As noted in one newspaper, "waste has become
ingrained in the Defense budget because opposition to defense
spending is portrayed as unpatriotic."
Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) charged, the Pentagon has
failed to address financial problems that dwarf those of anyone
else. "While vast sums of money are being siphoned off into
hidden coffers, Americas schools, hospitals and public services
are facing cutbacks and closures."
With the link between militarism and patriotism so firmly fixed,
any criticism of the military runs the risk of being condemned
as unpatriotic... Thus, critical issues about the mistreatment
of enemy prisoners and killing of unarmed civilians, massive budgetary
corruption and Pentagon mismanagement, and drug problems in the
ranks are ignored or downplayed.
The Italian fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, summed it up when
he said a man must be "a husband, a father and a soldier."
... In one phrase Mussolini makes clear that patriarchy and militarism
are essential components of reactionary patriotism.
One US Air Force captain, reminiscing about his bombing attacks
against the peasant population of Vietnam, made an explicit connection
between high-tech war, machismo, mindless patriotism, and nation-state
moral supremacy: "Flying a fighter plane is ... a macho thing,
maybe-an extension of your manhood. You do it, concentrate on
it, and under the circumstances it was damn hard for me to get
worried about the political implications of the war. It was a
chance for us to show our military power. We're basically patriotic,
conservative people. And ... we're blameless."
In 2003, on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, a lieutenant colonel
in the US Marines told his troops, "We are going to slaughter
the 51st Mechanized Division," an Iraqi unit, It would not
be a fair fight, he said. "My idea of a fair fight is clubbing
baby harp seals. We will hit them with everything we have."
Many superpatriots were exhilarated by the US aggressions perpetrated
against Grenada, Panama, and Iraq. Ronald Reagan, the Conqueror
of Grenada (a tiny island nation of 102,000 inhabitants), reflecting
upon his great military victory, hailed the venture as an example
of how the USA brings democracy and prosperity to other lands.
In fact, after Grenada was "liberated" by Reagan, its
unemployment rate skyrocketed. The new enterprises and development
projects and health and educational programs initiated by the
revolutionary New jewel movement were wiped out. Public services
were privatized or abolished outright. Farm collectives were driven
off the land to make way for privately owned golf courses to accommodate
North American tourists. Grenada was again made safe for neoliberal
capital penetration.'° The Reagan invasion served notice to
the Caribbean nations that they had better not try to develop
a collectivist social order that goes against the corporate free-market
way of doing things.
The same story can be told about Panama.
The 1989 US invasion brought a sharp increase in unemployment,
homelessness, economic misery, crime, drugs, and government corruption."
Nothing was gained except the deaths of several thousand Panamanians,
a US occupation, political repression of reformist groups, and
a boost in the opinion polls for President George H. W. Bush.
So with Iraq, which once had the best standard of living in the
Middle East. The 1991 attack on the country and the subsequent
dozen years of sanctions left that country with a shattered technological
infrastructure, a destroyed agriculture base, cholera and typhoid
epidemics, a spectacular rise in cancer rates in the areas contaminated
with depleted uranium, and over 200,000 deaths. So too with the
younger Bush's invasions of Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2003,
bringing more death, destruction, and deeper poverty for the people
of those countries, and a sharp-if temporary hike in popularity
for his presidency.
"Religious bondage shackles and debilitates
the mind, and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded
Every US president who goes to war enlists God as his ally. In
an appearance at the Southern Baptist Convention in 1991, the
elder Bush grew visibly tearful as he spoke about praying to God
before ordering the attacks that massacred tens of thousands of
Iraqi conscripts and civilians in the first Gulf War. During the
subsequent presidential campaign, he cited Jesus Christ himself
as the moral force another." And the Baptist Joint Committee
on Public Affairs announced, "We begin with the proposition
that God is neither Democrat nor Republican nor, for that matter,
American. God transcends all national and political affiliations."
On June 27, 2003, President Bush announced: "God told me
to strike at a! Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed
me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to
solve the problem in the Middle East." God told me? He instructed
me? Does it not become a cause for concern that the US president,
sounding like an Old Testament prophet, is justifying his war
policy by claiming to be in direct communication with the Almighty?
It is a worrisome chain of command.
... the Pentagon's Undersecretary for intelligence Lt William
G Boykin. In 2003, appearing in uniform before fundamentalist
Christian groups, Boykin announced that Bush "was not elected
by a majority of the voters... he was appointed by God."
... Explaining how he prevailed against a Muslim militia leader
in the 1993 Us invasion of Somalia, Boykin proclaimed, "I
knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real
God and his was an idol."
right-wing fundamentalist Randall Terry, founder of "Operation
Rescue' the terroristic campaign against abortion clinics, announced
that Christ worshipers have "a biblical duty to conquer this
nation." He told an audience of like-minded faithful: "I
want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you ....
Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty; we are
called by God to conquer this country. We don't want equal time.
We don't want pluralism."
chief justice of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist announced
"The 'wall of separation between
church and state' . . . should be frankly and explicitly abandoned."
Senator William Fulbright in 1966
"We are not God's chosen savior of
mankind but only one of mankind's more successful and fortunate
branches, endowed by our Creator with about the same capacity
for good and evil, no more or less, than the rest of humanity"
news columnist, Jon Carroll
"We are not the only democracy in
the world; we are not the only country that exhibits courage in
the face of adversity. We lie and cheat and steal and murder.
Any assumption that God conferred on us a special blessing is
not backed up by the facts. We fail to sign international treaties,
and we reserve the right to violate such treaties whenever we
feel like it. Is that because God speaks to our leaders as he
speaks to no others?"
New York Times correspondents around the world in 2003 found a
widespread opinion of the United States as "an imperial power
that has defied world opinion through unjustified and unilateral
use of military force."
At the heart of the secular religion of nationalism rests the
belief that the messianic nation's existence and its action are
so endowed with virtue as to place it beyond the commonplace rules
that govern individual morality. As a kind of supreme entity,
the nation knows no restraint other than what is imposed by the
limitations of its own desires and power. The most ruthless violence-insupportable
in civil society-is applauded as heroism when performed in the
name of the nation. 15 "Thou shalt not" becomes "Thou
shalt do anything by whatever means necessary if it can be said
to be in the national interest." Ergo, the willingness to
kill other human beings in combat is treated not only as morally
acceptable but as a heroic measure of one's patriotism. Instead
of going to jail, the perpetrators are honored with medals and
The state's irreducible essence rests in its capacity to wield
legally defined violence against its own citizens. In many instances,
the target is not just the criminal element but also political
dissenters who challenge the existing distribution of privilege,
wealth, institutional authority, and ideological orthodoxy.
In late 1990, while the legislators debated whether the United
States should engage in hostilities against Iraq, President Bush
pere went on record as saying, "I don't care if I get one
vote in Congress. We're going in." Bush understood that during
times of crisis and national peril-real or fabricated Congress
would not dare impeach the commander-in-chief for such a trifle
as an undeclared war, especially since so many of the lawmakers
were themselves fervent superpatriotic militarists.
Presidential usurpation of the warmaking
power took a final giant step in the aftermath of the September
2001 terrorist attacks that destroyed the twin towers of the World
Trade Center in New York and a wing of the Pentagon, with the
loss of some 3,000 lives. Congress voted outright to give the
president the power to decide when the nation should go to war.
This surrender of congressional power to the executive was itself
an unconstitutional forfeiture. In effect, Bush fils could now
unilaterally declare war whenever he wanted, a one-man decisionmaking
power usually enjoyed only by absolute monarchs and dictators.
And when Bush exercised that unconstitutional
power by going to war against Iraq in March 2003, in the face
of worldwide protests, the great majority of congressional lawmakers,
out of fear of seeming unpatriotic, fell into line, including
many who had initially opposed the war as ill-conceived and illicit.
Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.), speaking as if she were in the US Army rather than
in the US Congress, announced that now that our troops were committed
to action, we had to support our commander-in-chief. "I support
the president .... ...We are one team in one fight, and we stand
together," she proclaimed.
... citizens display an almost childlike trust and kneejerk faith
when politicians trumpet a need to defend our national security.
We should remind ourselves of what happened in Germany in the
1930s when Hitler and his Nazi thugs took power (financed by the
big moneyed cartels). The Nazis insisted that unquestioning obedience
and adulation be accorded the leader. It was governance by der
Feuhrerprinzip, the leader principle, the notion that the head
of state is the living embodiment of the state itself, the supreme
repository of the nation's virtues. It is a short step from the
cult of the nation (superpatriotism) to the cult of the leader.
In the case of Nazi Germany, the world reaped bitter fruit.
Democracy is not about trust; it is about distrust. It is about
accountability, exposure, open debate, critical challenge, and
popular input and feedback from the citizenry. It is about responsible
government. We have to get our fellow Americans to trust their
leaders less and themselves more, trust their own questions and
suspicions, and their own desire to know what is going on.
There is nothing like a war or a major
crisis to reduce adult citizens to mindless conformity, ready
to play "follow the leader" out of a perceived need
for national unity and a hope that our Reichfuhrer, the president,
will see us through the danger.
... the poliltico-economic rulers ... are the major progenitors
of superpatriotic ideology. (They play a crucial role in what
Cecilia O'Leary calls "managing rituals of mass allegiance.")
They promote flag reverence, loyalty oaths, and nationalistic
anniversaries. They urge the teaching of a sanitized version of
US history in public schools, and establish national shrines and
monuments. And they inaugurate the intensive propaganda campaigns
that depict one or another foreign leader, nation, or movement
as a threat to our national security. Patriotic pride is not enough.
They know that a surer way to rally support for their ventures
abroad is by inciting alarm at home. Behind all the Patriotic
cheer there lurks a heavy dose of patriotic fear.
John Foster Dulles was a wealthy corporate lawyer, conservative
Republican, and secretary of state in the Eisenhower administration.
"In order to bring a nation to support
the burdens of maintaining great military establishments, it is
necessary to create an emotional state akin to war psychology.
There must be the portrayal of external menace"
With each newly minted crisis, US leaders roll out the same time-tested
scenario. They start demonizing a foreign leader (or leadership
group'), charging them with being communistic or otherwise dictatorial,
dangerously aggressive, power hungry, genocidal, given to terrorism
or drug trafficking, ready to deny us access to vital resources,
harboring weapons of mass destruction, or just inexplicably "anti-American"
and "anti-West." Lacking any information to the contrary,
the frightened public ... are swept along.
There is nothing particularly original
in this interventionist scenario. It has been used for generations,
most recently against Allende in Chile, Qaddafi in Libya, the
New jewel movement in Grenada, Noriega in Panama, the Sandinistas
in Nicaragua, Milosevic in Yugoslavia, the FARC guerrillas in
Colombia, the Soviet-support revolutionary government in Afghanistan,
Chavez in Venezuela, Aristide in Haiti, and Saddam in Iraq ...
Once fear takes hold, evidence becomes largely irrelevant.
Throughout much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
the business-owned press stoked an antiradical hysteria among
the general public by targeting the "dangerous classes"
within the USA itself, specifically the poor, the underemployed,
and anyone who organized for decent paying jobs and better work
conditions. Labor agitation was stigmatized as a menace to the
American Way of Life.
True Americanism was equated with an uncritical
acceptance of the corporate business system. "Industrialists
joined publishers in branding labor activists as communist, anarchist
and un-American' writes O'Leary. "Graphics regularly pictured
Uncle Sam guiding American workmen away from the influence of
swarthy agitators. The term un-American first came into significant
usage as a political epithet during this period when 'true Americans'
used it against striking immigrant workers and later against any
militant opponents of the economic order, immigrant or native-born."
In 1886, during a time of substantial
labor unrest, Theodore Roosevelt, himself a rich employer, talked
of setting worker against worker in the name of patriotism: "My
men are hard-working laboring men, who work longer hours for no
greater wages than most of the strikers; but they are Americans
through and through. I believe nothing would give them greater
pleasure than a chance with rifles at one of the mobs." The
Ford Motor Company sponsored Americanization programs for its
employees: patriotism was equated with labor discipline and compliant
worker attitudes. Other business firms fashioned programs modeled
War often brings out the worst aspects
of superpatriotism. In 1917, as the nation plunged into hostilities
with Germany, domestic labor disputes were treated as acts of
outright disloyalty. President Woodrow Wilson warned that the
"masters of Germany" were using American liberals, socialists,
and "the leaders of labor" to "carry out their
designs." Federal and state authorities suppressed radical
publications, issued injunctions against strikes, harassed and
jailed labor organizers, and launched legislative hearings, mass
arrests, deportations, and political trials against labor militants.
About a thousand people were sentenced to prison for denouncing
the war as a "rich man's venture," some for as much
as thirty years.
In the 1930s, during the Great Depression,
corporations like Ford took matters into their own hands, hiring
mobsters and company thugs to beat union organizers and terrorize
strikers. Corporate-sponsored ultranationalist violence occurred
in other capitalist countries as well. During the rise of fascism
in Italy, Lithuania, Germany, Hungary, and Japan, "patriotic"
goon squads were hired by business owners to smash labor unions
and leftist political parties and publications.
Today America is a nation feeling itself under siege from its
criminal element. It is a land of gated communities, heavily guarded
apartment towers, and millions of households armed with guns ready
to dispatch unidentified trespassers. Fear of crime is supplemented
with fear of ethnic minorities, terrorists, immigrants, foreigners,
gays, feminists, rampaging teenagers, and outspoken peace protesters-in
what amounts to a generalized culture of fear.
Frightened people in want of protection do not desire rulers who
are overly scrupulous about the methods they use. They prefer
ones who are unfettered by the niceties of international law and
justice. They want leaders who will stop at nothing when dealing
with enemies who themselves purportedly will stop at nothing.
They believe we need to fight fire with fire; we need to be ruthless
and unsparing in order to prevent the evildoers from messing with
us; we must maintain our credibility as a great power by demonstrating
our willingness to act forcefully anywhere in the world. Just
as many Americans cheer the tough rogue cop who protects them
from sinister perpetrators at home, so do they rally around the
tough national leader who protects them from one or another perceived
In his New York Times column, that tireless and tiresome apologist
for US empire, Thomas Friedman, declared, "France is becoming
our enemy" and "This French mischief" is misleading
the European Union. For Friedman, the war against Iraq was the
"most important liberal, revolutionary US democracy-building
project" in decades, "one of the noblest things this
country has ever attempted abroad."
Plutocratic rulers are among the major purveyors of superpatriotic
enthusiasm but they rarely practice what they preach. They hail
the idea of a "healthy America," yet they resist universal
health-care programs, defund public health services, and work
closely with the giant pharmaceutical and insurance industries
to make health care highly profitable for a few corporations and
painfully expensive for the rest of us.
They urge us on to ever greater feats
of economic sacrifice and self-reliance, and tell us not to expect
"government handouts," while they and their giant firms
annually pocket hundreds of billions of dollars in government
loan guarantees, bailouts, risk capital, equity capital, export
subsidies, and enormously lucrative government contracts. They
insist that everyone should shoulder the burdens of public debt
and public expenditure, but they repeatedly push through tax cuts
for their wealthy class.
In addition, they regularly enjoy billions
in tax credits and tax write-offs, and often are outright tax
evaders. The Internal Revenue Service estimates that offshore
subsidiaries and tax havens cost the US Treasury $70 billion a
year and billions more in unpaid state and local taxes.'
Superpatriotic plutocrats also manifest
little interest in conserving America's environmental treasure.
Instead, they allow timber and mining interests and agribusiness
to plunder our natural terrain. They pursue fossil fuel and nuclear
energy policies that wreak havoc on our land, waters, and atmosphere.
They treat the natural resources of the country as so much disposable
material for fastbuck profits. They say they love America even
as they inflict gashing wounds upon its landscape.
After Adolph Hitler took state power in Germany in 1933, he set
about establishing a repressive reactionary government that abolished
labor unions, drastically reduced wages, eliminated worker benefits,
ignored occupational safety standards, privatized various state
enterprises, heavily subsidized big business, and drastically
cut taxes for the very rich. Hitler also pursued an aggressive
foreign policy that sent tremors across Europe. He annexed Austria,
the Czech Sudetenland and eventually all of Czechoslovakia, and
launched a massive arms buildup that augured a major war in Europe.
It was not long before numerous US corporate
giants, including Du Pont, Ford, General Motors, Texaco, General
Electric, Union Carbide, Westinghouse, Goodrich, Standard Oil
of New Jersey, J. P. Morgan, IBM, and ITT were doing a booming
business in the Third Reich, unable to resist the low wages, low
business taxes, and high profits. Henry Ford, Irénée
Du Pont, Tom Watson of IBM, Torkild Rieber of Texaco, and other
plutocrats became great admirers of Hitler. "American corporations
made a lot of money in Hitler's Germany; this, and not the Führer's
alleged charisma, is the reason the owners and managers of these
corporations adored him." There were other reasons why they
adored him. Some, like Henry Ford, openly shared Hitler's anti-Semitism,
and all of them welcomed his anticommunism, seeing Hitler as a
savior who would vanquish the Soviet Union and rescue Europe from
Red revolution. If the acts of political terror and mass murder
perpetrated by the Führer disturbed the US plutocrats, they
gave little sign of it.
When Hitler launched his war of conquest
in 1939, the US plutocrats willingly collaborated-and continued
to do so even after Germany and the United States became belligerents
in December 1941! Throughout occupied Europe, they made eager
use of the slave labor provided by Nazi authorities. According
to declassified documents from Dutch intelligence and US government
archives, Prescott Bush, father and grandfather of the two Bush
presidents, made lush profits off Auschwitz slave labor. His Union
Banking Corporation helped Thyssen make the Nazi steel that killed
Allied solders, and helped finance Thyssen's coal mines which
regularly worked Jewish prisoners to death. The Bush family is
heir to these Holocaust profits.
US-owned factories in Nazi occupied Europe
supplied the tanks, trucks, fighter planes, bombers, oil imports,
synthetic fuels, synthetic rubber, and advanced communication
systems that greatly enhanced the Nazis' capability to wage war.
Without these crucial materials, it would have been impossible
for German forces to kill American and other Allied troops, sink
American ships, and bomb British cities. Likewise, IBM prospered
in Germany and the occupied territories by supplying the technology
needed to identify, enslave, and exterminate millions of European
Jews and other victims."
Throughout the war, US corporate chiefs
were able to maintain direct ownership and control over their
German subsidiaries with minimal interference from the Nazis,
who were primarily interested in keeping war production going.
US authorities did nothing to stop the big companies from servicing
the Nazi war machine. President Roosevelt even gave an order not
to bomb US corporate properties in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe.
Thus, while the German city of Cologne was leveled, its Ford factory-providing
armed vehicles used to kill American troops-was untouched; after
a while it was used by German civilians as an air-raid shelter.
There was much propaganda at home praising
Big Business for building America's defenses and winning "the
war of production." US leaders needed Corporate America's
technology and oil resources as much as did the Nazis, so they
looked the other way and did nothing about the cozy relationship
between Hitler and US business. Trials and imprisonment would
have made it difficult for the corporate collaborators to assist
the US war effort, Charles Higham notes. Furthermore, the US government
feared that a scandalous exposure would have damaged public morale,
caused strikes, and perhaps incited mutiny in the military ranks.
With the advent of the Cold War which US leaders did so much to
provoke-it was considered all the more imperative to disregard
the Nazi collaborationist role played by Corporate America.
The story gets worse. After the war, rather
than being prosecuted for aiding and abetting the enemy, ITT collected
$27 million from the US government for damages inflicted on its
German plants by Allied bombings. And General Motors received
over $33 million for damages. Ford and other companies collected
considerable sums. Faced with class-action lawsuits in 1999-2000,
growing numbers of corporations admitted having used and profited
greatly from unpaid slave labor supplied from Nazi concentration
camps. But no US corporate manager has ever been prosecuted for
complicity in these war crimes. If this is patriotism, then what
... superpatriotic members of the Bush Administration who avoided
the draft included [George W. Bush, Dick Cheney] Karl Rove, Richard
Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, John Ashcroft, Elliott Abrams John Bolton,
Douglas Feith, and Andrew Card; so too Republican congressional
leaders Trent Lott, Dennis Hastert, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay;
and we must not forget right-wing media hawks like George Will,
William Kristol, and Rush Limbaugh.
If patriotism means supporting our troops, then no on more lacking
in patriotism than the ruling plutocracy. In 2003-2004, hundreds
of US troops who had been wounded in Iraq were warehoused for
months at places like Fort Stewart, Georgia, in hot, dirty, overcrowded
cement barracks waiting for medical treatment. They had to hobble
across the sand to use the bathroom, and had to pay for their
toilet paper. And only after protests from the US Senate did the
White House stop charging wounded soldiers $8.10 per day for their
Many of the badly wounded said that they
were seeing their pay and health benefits severely reduced now
that they were no longer fit for active duty. More than 200,000
veterans of earlier wars have had to wait six months or longer
for their first appointment with the Veterans' Administration.
Thousands have waited years to get into overcrowded and understaffed
VA hospitals to receive disability assistance, often being unable
to pay their own living expenses in civilian life. Not surprisingly,
a large portion of the homeless are veterans of past wars, some
with untreated mental and physical ailments.
In February 2002, at the very time he
was sending thousands of troops to fight in Afghanistan, Bush
junior proposed tripling the cost of medications to needy veterans.
In 2003 his administration announced it was cutting off access
to its health-care system for approximately 164,000 veterans,
and slicing out $1.5 billion in military housing and medical facility
funding. Also in 2003, while heaping praise on the men and women
doing military service, Bush refused a congressional request for
a relatively modest $275 million to cover veterans' health-care
needs. In his 2004 budget, he slashed $2 billion from the VA's
already insufficient funds.
... are our plutocratic rulers patriotic? Well, yes, they are,
but only when it serves their purposes and only when it does not
cost them anything. They are patriotic in that hollow abstract
way, a patriotism empty of content, a patriotism of showy flurries
and words, words, words. They may love their country but not the
people in it, not the taxpayers, not the voters, and certainly
not the poor souls who are sent off to fight their wars.
US leaders have long professed a dedication to democracy, yet
over the last half century they have devoted themselves to overthrowing
democratic governments in Guatemala, Guyana, the Dominican Republic,
Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Syria, Indonesia (under Sukarno), Greece
(twice), Argentina (twice), Haiti (twice), Bolivia, Jamaica, Yugoslavia,
and other countries. These governments were all guilty of pursuing
policies that occasionally favored the poorer elements and infringed
upon the more affluent In most instances, the US-sponsored coup
were accompanied by widespread killings of democratic activists.'
US leaders have supported covert actions,
sanctions, or proxy mercenary wars against revolutionary governments
in Cuba, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Iraq (with the CIA ushering
in Saddam Hussein's reign of repression), Portugal, South Yemen,
Nicaragua, Cambodia, East Timor, Western Sahara, and elsewhere.
US interventions and destabilization campaigns
have been directed against other populist nationalist governments,
including Egypt, Lebanon, Peru, Iran, Syria, Zaire, Venezuela,
the Fiji Islands, and Afghanistan (before the Soviets ever went
into the country).
And since World War II, direct US military
invasions or aerial attacks or both have been perpetrated against
Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, North Korea,
Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Libya, Somalia, and Iraq
(twice).2 There is no "rogue state' "axis of evil' or
communist country that has a comparable record of such criminal
aggression against other nations.
Be it a social democratic coalition government
as with Allende in Chile or Arbenz in Guatemala, a populist nationalist
one like Iran under Mossadegh, a MarxistLeninist government as
in Cuba and Vietnam, even a right-wing nationalist government
as Iraq under Saddam Hussein-all had one thing in common, a desire
to reclaim some portion of the land, natural resources, capital,
labor, and markets that had been preempted by local plutocrats
and giant foreign corporations.
In contrast, US leaders have been markedly
supportive of dictatorial capitalist client-states like Chile
(under Pinochet), the Philippines (under Marcos), Iran (under
the Shah), Zaire (under Mobutu), Peru (under Fujimoro), apartheid
South Africa, autocratic Turkey, feudal Saudi Arabia and feudal
Kuwait, and other autocracies like Turkey, Pakistan, and Nigeria.
In short, Washington policymakers are less critical of democracy's
real enemies than of capitalism's democratic opponents.
Washington has given arms and military training to fifty African
countries (out of a total of fifty-three), helping Africa to become
the most war-torn region in the world. During the 1990s alone,
thirty-two African countries experienced violent conflict.
All this well-fueled strife has enabled
the United States and other Western interests to attain control
of Africa's abundant resources. The more war-ravaged and poverty-stricken
are the African nations, the more ready they are to sell their
labor and natural resources at rock-bottom prices ... reminds
us that almost 80 percent of the strategic minerals that the USA
requires are extracted from Africa, including cobalt, platinum,
gold, chromium, manganese, and uranium, ingredients needed to
make jet engines, automotive vehicles, missiles, electronic components,
iron, and steel.
Africa also accounts for 18 percent of
US oil imports as compared to 25 percent from the Middle East...
... across the entire world, US policymakers have militarized
nation after nation to fuel the military capacities of cooperative
capitalist nations. In 2004, worldwide arms sales by the United
States to other countries was about $40 billion, much of it going
to nations like Saudi Arabia that do not even remotely maintain
a democratic facade. Since World War II the US government has
given some $240 billion in military aid to train, equip, and subsidize
some 2.3 million troops and internal-security forces in more than
eighty countries, not to defend these nations from outside invasion-since
few have ever been threatened by attack from neighboring countries-but
to protect ruling oligarchs and multinational corporate investors
from the dangers of domestic insurgency.
US policymakers have been pursuing total world domination. This
policy has been explicitly enunciated by a right-wing think tank
called Project for the New American Century (PNAC). A lengthy
report of September 2000 titled Rebuilding America's Defenses
lays out PNAC's vision for US global control, including a huge
boost in military spending, an unwillingness to be bound by the
restraints of international law, and a dramatic expansion of a
US military presence and use of force around the world.
Not only did the PNAC report serve as
a blueprint for the Bush administration, but many of PNAC's members
became White House policymakers, including Vice President Dick
Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary
of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary of State John Bolton.
Numerous other PNAC members came to occupy important posts in
the Bush administration, mostly in the Defense and State Departments.
The goal of the PNAC plan is to take full
advantage of America's unparalleled ability to maintain the United
States "as the world's preeminent power." The intent
is anything but defensive. Every means of coercion and domination
is to be assiduously pursued. Rebuilding America's Defenses even
hints that the United States might develop biological weapons
"that can target specific genotypes" in order to "transform
biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful
tool." "The goal," concludes Gregory Elich, "is
nothing less than to expose the entire globe to the threat of
US aggression while depriving relatively well-armed nations of
the means of defense
The PNAC report bemoaned the fact that
US public opinion might not go along with a totalistic global
policy unless it felt compelled to do so in response to "some
catastrophic and catalyzing event-like a new Pearl Harbor."
In another of those seemingly fortuitous happenings that work
so well for the plutocracy, the 11 September 2001 attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon served as just such a catastrophic
The disaster of 11 September 2001 ... Like another Pearl Harbor
... it mobilized public opinion behind US global objectives. After
9/11, and in keeping with the PNAC plan, Bush took a number of
First, he announced a "war on terrorism,"
inviting all the nations and organizations of the world to get
in lockstep behind his administration, declaring: "Either
you are with us or you are with the terrorists." Henceforth
all other countries were to be categorized as either cooperative
(accepting US hegemony) or adversarial (not letting US leaders
have their way in all things). Any recalcitrant nation ran the
risk of being targeted for US attack.
Second, the White House declared that
it would not be bound by any previous treaties or accords. International
law was now nothing but an irksome restraint that the world's
only superpower would brush aside whenever it wanted.
Third, Bush announced the US withdrawal
from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The nuclear arms race
was to resume, and the USA would win it handily by establishing
total domination of land, air, sea, and outer space.
Fourth, Bush removed the US signature
from the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court.
The court was a wonderful step taken by many nations to prosecute
leaders and operatives of any nation who violated the human rights
of others. Instead, US leaders pressured various countries to
grant immunity from prosecution for all US governmental and military
Fifth, the White House announced its right
to wage preemptive war against any nation it disliked. Various
countries were fingered as being on Uncle Sam's hit list some
of the same ones as listed in the PNAC plan: Iraq, Iran, North
Korea, and Syria for starters.
Sixth, war was pursued in Afghanistan,
and major military bases were established in several other Central
Seventh, a war of conquest was launched
against Iraq. The PNAC plan, published a full year before the
September 2001 attacks, shows that the Bush administration had
intended to take military control of the Gulf region whether or
not Saddam Hussein was still in power.
Eighth, the White House embarked upon
a massive escalation in military spending, with $176 billion allocated
in just the first six months of the war against Iraq. Given the
enormous deficit that resulted from this kind of spending and
tax breaks, Republicans called for cuts in the domestic budget,
specifically such frivolous luxuries as health care for the elderly,
disability assistance, environmental regulations and protections,
old-age pensions, and public education. So the Empire feeds off
The PNAC plan envisions a strategic confrontation
with China, and a still greater permanent military presence in
every corner of the world. The objective is not just power for
its own sake but power to control the world's natural resources
and markets, power to privatize and deregulate the economies of
every nation in the world, and power to hoist upon the backs of
peoples everywhere-including North America-the blessings of an
untrammeled global "free market." The end goal is to
ensure not merely the supremacy of global capitalism as such,
but the supremacy of American global capitalism by preventing
the emergence of any other potentially competing superpower ...
... the truth is US leaders are not dedicated to advancing social
justice and democracy in the world. Their real dedication ...
is to create a US-dominated free-market globalism. Such a patriotism
is better recognized by its real name: imperialism.
A 1997 Defense Department study concludes: "Historical data
show a strong correlation between US involvement in international
situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United
[The US] global force consists of about half a million troops
stationed at over 395 major bases and hundreds of minor installations
in some 120 nations, with large-scale deployment in 25 countries;
8,000 strategic nuclear weapons and 22,000 tactical ones; and
a navy greater in total tonnage and firepower than all the other
navies of the world combined, consisting of missile cruisers,
nuclear submarines, nuclear aircraft carriers, and destroyers
that patrol every ocean.
US bomber squadrons and long-range missiles
can reach any target, delivering enough explosive force to mangle
the infrastructures of entire countries-as demonstrated against
Iraq in 1990-1991 and Yugoslavia in 1999. US satellites and spy
planes survey the entire planet. In addition, the United States
is developing a capacity to conduct war from outer space. With
only 5 percent of the earth's population, the United States expends
more military funds than all the other major powers combined.
Real patriots educate themselves about the real history of their
country and are not satisfied with the flag-waving promotional
fluff that passes for history They find different things in our
past to be proud of than do superpatriots, such as the struggle
for enfranchisement, the abolitionist movement, the peace movement,
the elimination of child labor, and the struggle for collective
bargaining, the eight-hour day, occupational safety, and racial
justice and gender equality. In the real patriot's pantheon can
be found Tom Paine, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain,
Susan B. Anthony, Mother Jones, Big Bill Haywood, John Reed, Eugene
Victor Debs, Elizabeth Gurly Flynn, Jeanette Rankin, Rosa Parks,
Paul Robeson, A. J. Muste, Harry Bridges, Walter Reuther, Martin
Luther King-and the millions in the ranks who championed social
"all political power is inherent in the people, and all free
governments are founded on their authority and instituted for
their benefit; and that they have at all times an undeniable and
indefeasible right to alter their form of government in such a
manner as they may think expedient"
A twelve-year-old named Charlotte Aldebron reminds us that we
ought to give less attention to patriotism's icons and more to
its human content.
The American flag stands for the fact
that cloth ca be very important. It is against the law to let
the flag touch the ground or to leave the flag flying when the
weather is bad. The flag has to be treated with respect. You can
tell just how important this cloth is because when you compare
it to people, it gets much better treatment. Nobody cares if a
homeless person touches the ground. A homeless person can lie
all over the ground all night long without anyone picking him
up, folding him neatly and sheltering him from the rain. School
children have to pledge loyalty to this piece of cloth every morning.
No one has to pledge loyalty to justice and equality and human
decency. No one has to promise that people will get a fair wage,
or enough food to eat, or affordable medicine, or clean water,
or air free of harmful chemicals. But we all have to promise to
love a rectangle of red, white, and blue cloth.
... real patriots are internationalists. They feel a special attachment
to their own country but not in some competitive way that pits
the United States against other powers. They regard the people
of all nations as different members of the same human family.
Sooner or later Americans rediscover that they cannot live on
flag-waving alone. They begin to drift off into reality, confronted
by the economic irrationalities and injustices of a system that
provides them with the endless circuses and extravaganzas of superpatriotism,
heavy tax burdens, a crushing national debt and military budget,
repeated bloodletting in foreign lands, and sad neglect of domestic
needs, denying them the bread of prosperity and their birthright
as democratic citizens. We need a return to reality. We need to
unveil the lies and subterfuges that so advantage the wealthy
plutocracy. We need to pursue policies at home and abroad that
serve the real needs of humanity. Then can love our country-and
peace and justice too.
Michael Parenti page