Democracy in the Industrial Societies

Force and Opinion


excerpted from the book

Deterring Democracy

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 battalion.

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 Prize."

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 it arouses.

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 order."

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 systematically."

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 mind.

... 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 table.

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," Roberto d'Aubuisson.

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 record.

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 to rule.

Rousseau's classic lament that people are born free but are everywhere in chains

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 and hopes.

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 scale.

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 threats."

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 itself.

Deterring Democracy

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