Through all of my life there has been an odd and persistent bias on the part of otherwise honest Americans:
What America does overseas is always good and right. We do not speak against it.
The protests against the Vietnam War were an exception to this, of course, but that break from tradition involved less than half the country. Those people were quickly brought back into the mainstream, And they have supported more or less all subsequent US wars.
This belief – that US foreign actions are always good – is falling apart as we watch. I take this as a good thing, as one should not believe in Santa Claus forever.
The Polarization Trick
But before I explain how this great American fantasy is failing, let me explain the trick that has kept it going:
There is a polar opposite to the fantasy of angelic foreign affairs – the demonization of US soldiers. Americans generally see in polar opposites: Either the military is sacred, or else it is wholly evil.
Once you get people strongly polarized, they’ll stay that way – always opposing the other side and never seeing the truth in the middle.
So, nothing I say here today should be taken as an indictment of individual American soldiers. As with any group of people, some are better and some are worse. Some became soldiers with good motives (to protect people). Some few joined with bad motives (to kill and dominate). But the majority joined for a mundane reason: They needed a job. And more or less all of them joined when they were quite young.
So, aside from a few monsters, I am not going after soldiers. They’ve got plenty to deal with on their own and I’m not interested in making things harder for them.
It’s time to step away from this false polarization and to start looking for the truth. And, as I say, I think the great American fantasy is falling apart. Here are my reasons:
Reason #1: The military-industrial complex is too troubling to ignore.
The US government has troops in most of the countries in the world. Very few of us, myself included, can name all of the wars we are currently involved with. On top of that, we know that the military – and hundreds of private companies that work for them – are spying on all of us at all times. We may try to pass it off with cheap slogans, but we know the truth.
Reason #2: We’ve seen the government start wars.
Those of us old enough will remember that the State Department suckered Saddam Hussein into the first Gulf War. I won’t recount all the details, but they used a diplomat named April Glaspie to set it up. The story has been confused since then (four versions of the crucial transcript now exist), but lots of us saw it in real time.
We know from WikiLeaks revelations that that there were US Special Forces in Syria a year or more before last year’s almost-war, arming the rebels and training them to fight.
There can be no question that the US stands behind the current troubles in the Ukraine. If this YouTube recording is to be believed, we have US diplomats deciding who should be in power after the takeover… a takeover they staged during the Olympics when Putin would be restrained.
This is no defense of Putin, of course, but it is obvious that the US Department of State is setting up and tearing down governments. That’s a very dangerous line of work.
Reason #3: The Intimidator State lives among us.
The line between military and police in America is all but gone. Police departments sport military equipment and are filled with former soldiers. They use military tactics.
The public increasingly sees cops as dangers, not as friends. A young man recently commented to me, “Cops are bullies,” and he had good reason to think so. Being assaulted by a cop erases a thousand episodes of cop-worship TV.
A few honest and helpful police officers do still exist, but they are steadily disappearing, at least in my field of view. Police=Threat is reality to a huge number of Americans, and not without cause. Merge that with the military, and the image of the soldier-saint fails.
In The End…
I think we have to admit that foreigners are not crazy to see the US government as a threat. Some of them may be stuck in the polarization trick, but they are not wrong to think that our political class is dangerous. We think that too.