This is the first of a multi-part series which will look at the United States’ various global machinations and exploits of third-world nations post World War II. There will be a particular focus on the explicit brutality and scale of mass murder that has been perpetrated over the decades, which many may not be aware of.
The United States of America became a true global superpower following World War II. Most of the US’ industrial rivals were either severely weakened or totally destroyed by the war, whereas the US benefitted enormously from the war. American production more than tripled whilst its mainland national territory was never under attack. Even before the war, the US had been by far the leading industrial nation in the world – as it had been since the turn of the century. After WWII however, it almost literally possessed 50% of the world’s wealth whilst controlling expansive areas. There had rarely, if ever, been a time in history when one power had had such overwhelming control of the world.
The architects of American policy were well aware that the US would emerge from WWII as an unprecedented global power, and were busy – during and after the war – with carefully planning how to shape the postwar world with the dominance of the US firmly entrenched.
The Grand Area
During World War II, study groups of the State Department and Council on Foreign Relations developed plans for the postwar world in terms of what they called the “Grand Area,” which was to be subordinated to the needs of the American economy.
The Grand Area was to include the Western Hemisphere, Western Europe, the Far East, the former British Empire (which was being dismantled), the incomparable energy resources of the Middle East (which were then passing into American hands as the US pushed out rivals France and Britain), the rest of the Third World and, if possible, the entire globe. These plans were to be implemented as opportunities allowed.
The Third World, according to a 1949 State Department memo, was to “fulfill its major function as a source of raw materials and a market” for industrial capitalist societies.
George Kennan, an instrumental US diplomat and historian, one of the group of foreign policy elders known as “The Wise Men“, observed in a briefing for US ambassadors to Latin American countries in 1950, that a major concern of US foreign policy must be “the protection of our [i.e. Latin America’s] raw materials.” He asserted that a dangerous heresy (as reported by US intelligence) was spreading through Latin America – “the idea that the government has direct responsibility for the welfare of the people.”
However, such policies weren’t first postulated by postwar liberals like Kennan. Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State had already pointed out 30 years earlier the operative meaning of the Monroe Doctrine, “the United States considers its own interests. The integrity of other American nations is an incident, not an end.”
Wilson, the great apostle of self-determination, agreed that the argument was “unanswerable,” though it would be “impolitic” to present it publicly.
Wilson put this philosophy into action by, among other things, invading Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where his soldiers murdered and destroyed, demolished the political system, left US corporations firmly in control and set the stage for brutal and corrupt dictatorships.
The US’ “commitment” to democracy
In multiple high-level documents, US planners stated that the primary threat to the new US-led world order was Third World nationalism—sometimes called ultranationalism: “nationalistic regimes” that are responsive to “popular demand for immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses” and production for domestic needs.
The planners’ basic goals, repeated over and over again, were to prevent such “ultranationalist” regimes from ever taking power – or if, by some chance, they did take power, to remove them and to install governments that favour private investment of domestic and foreign capital, production for export and the right to move profits out of the country. The United States thus expected to rely on force, and makes alliances with the military, so they could be relied upon to crush any indigenous popular groups whose popularity may get out of hand.
The US has consistently been opposed to the idea that governments of third-world nations respond to the needs of their own population, instead of those of US investors. A study of the inter-American system published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London concluded that, while the US pays lip service to democracy, its real commitment is to “private, capitalist enterprise.” When the rights of investors are threatened, democracy has to go. If these rights are safeguarded, killers and torturers – democratic or not – will do just fine.
Parliamentary governments were barred or overthrown, with US support and sometimes direct intervention, in Iran in 1953, in Guatemala in 1954 and 1963, in the Dominican Republic in 1963 and 1965, in Brazil in 1964, in Chile in 1973 (amongst other instances).
The Threat of a Good Example
No country is exempt from this treatment, no matter how small or unimportant. In fact, it’s the weakest, poorest countries that often arouse the greatest hysteria.
Take Laos in the 1960s, which was one of the poorest countries in the world at the time. As soon as a very low-level social revolution began to develop, the U.S. Air Force and CIA together subjected Laos to a murderous “secret bombing” campaign where 580,000 bombing missions took place over a 9-year campaign – virtually wiping out large settled areas in such operations. The American general public were in the dark till 1969 when the bombing campaign was eventually disclosed; yet most were still oblivious to how large-scale the campaign actually was.
When Grenada, a tiny Caribbean country which had a population of less than 100,000, began to undergo a mild social revolution, the US quickly moved to destroy the threat. When the United States invaded Grenada in 1983, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff explained that, in the event of a Soviet attack on Western Europe, a hostile Grenada could interdict oil supplies from the Caribbean to Western Europe and the US wouldn’t be able to defend their beleaguered allies. As comical as this may sound, that kind of story helped mobilise public support for aggression, terror and subversion.
The invasion played out like a badly scripted geopolitical opera. The invaders used photocopies of tourist maps, since the U.S. military had no maps of its own for the country. Communication was so confused that one officer had to call his base in North Carolina from a pay phone to request air cover. After an American bomb was mistakenly dropped on a mental hospital, dazed patients wandered aimlessly as heavily armed fighters emerged from surrounding cinnamon and allspice plantations.
The US attack against Nicaragua was justified by the claim that if the US doesn’t stop them there, they’ll be pouring across the border at Harlingen, Texas – just two days’ drive away. (For educated people, there were more sophisticated variants, just about as plausible.)
As far as American business is concerned, Nicaragua could disappear and nobody would notice (the US campaign against it was justified by suggestions that waves of Nicaraguans would stream across the border) . The same is true of El Salvador. But both were subjected to murderous assaults by the US, accounting for hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
Why would a superpower like America go to such lengths against seemingly insignificant countries?
The reason is that the weaker and poorer a country is, the more dangerous it is as an example. If a relatively small and poor country like Grenada can succeed in bringing about a better life for its people, other nations with greater populations, land mass and resources may ask, “Why not us?”
This was also true for Indochina, which is relatively much bigger and possessed fairly significant resources. Although Eisenhower and his advisers said much about its rice, tin and rubber, the real fear was that if the people of Indochina achieved some semblance of independence, the people of Thailand would emulate it. If that worked, it would spread to Malaya, and pretty soon Indonesia would also pursue an independent path. If this chain reaction occurred, very quickly a significant part of the Grand Area would have been lost.
Chile (a fairly large nation with plentiful resources) was, according to Kissinger, a “virus” that would “infect” the region with effects all the way to Italy. Continuing with another analogy, US planners from Secretary of State Dean Acheson in the late 1940s to the present warned that “one rotten apple can spoil the barrel.” The danger was that the “rot” – social and economic development – may spread. This “rotten apple theory” is otherwise known as the domino theory.
When the US was planning to overthrow Guatemalan democracy in 1954, a State Department official pointed out that,
“Guatemala has become an increasing threat to the stability of Honduras and El Salvador. Its agrarian reform is a powerful propaganda weapon; its broad social program of aiding the workers and peasants in a victorious struggle against the upper classes and large foreign enterprises has a strong appeal to the populations of Central American neighbours where similar conditions prevail.”
The ‘stability’ the US wanted was security for the “upper classes and large foreign enterprises.” If that could be achieved with formal democratic devices, OK. If not, the “threat to stability” posed by a good example has to be destroyed before the virus infects others.
A study by Lars Schoultz, a leading academic specialist on human rights in the area, said:
“US aid has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens.”
This aid has nothing to do with how much a country needs aid, only with its willingness to serve the interests of – primarily US – wealth and privilege. Broader studies by economist Edward Herman revealed a close correlation worldwide between torture and US aid, and that both also correlate independently with improving the climate for business operations. In comparison with this entirely selfish guiding principle, matters such as torture and butchery pale into insignificance.
Countries that have attempted to reverse the pattern, such as Guatemala under the democratic capitalist governments of Arévalo and Arbenz, or the Dominican Republic under the democratic capitalist regime of Bosch, became the target of US hostility and violence.
Another key method is military influence. The US has always tried to establish relations with the military in foreign countries, as it is a tried and tested method to overthrow a government that has gotten out of hand.
The Kennedy administration prepared the way for the 1964 military coup in Brazil, helping to destroy a Brazilian system which was becoming too independent. The US gave enthusiastic support to the coup, while its military leaders instituted a neo-Nazi-style national security state with torture and repression that inspired a rash of similar developments in Argentina, Chile and other parts of the hemisphere. This time, ranging roughly from the mid sixties to the eighties is an extremely bloody period.
The military typically proceeded to create an economic disaster, often following the prescriptions of US advisers, and then moved to hand the problem over to civilians to administer. Overt military control was not required as new devices become available – for example, economic controls exercised through the International Monetary Fund.
In return for its loans, which were much needed in desperate times, the IMF imposed “liberalization” – an economy open to foreign penetration and control and with sharp cutbacks in services to the general population. These measures placed power even more firmly in the hands of the wealthy classes and foreign investors and reinforced the classic two-tiered societies of the Third World – the super rich (and a relatively well-off professional class that serves them) and an enormous mass of impoverished, suffering people. The indebtedness and economic chaos left by the military pretty much ensured that the IMF’s rules would be followed.
Tanks occupying the area near the Central Station in Rio de Janeiro on April 1, 1964
Brazil is an instructive case. It is so well endowed with natural resources that it ought to be a relatively prosperous nation, and it also boasts significant industrial development. But, thanks in good measure to the 1964 coup and the highly praised “economic miracle” that followed (not to speak of the torture, murder and other devices of “population control”), the situation for many Brazilians at one point became almost untenable.
Josenir Nascimento, head of a local municipal association, was quoted as saying in the O Globo newspaper,
“It’s like a poor family, living in an impoverished home, suffering from hunger, but with a Ferrari parked outside… and all the money is spent on maintaining the car.”
Although the situation has improved over the last 15 years, Brazil currently still ranks 49.3 in the Gini coefficient index, with the richest 10% of Brazilians receiving 42.7% of the nation’s income, while the poorest 34% receive less than 1.2%. In Rio de Janeiro, about a fifth of its population of six million live in several hundred favelas (slums), situated on steep, neglected land largely beyond the control and services of city authorities, and the nation’s housing deficit is around 7 million units.
The situation was similar throughout Latin America. In Central America, the number of people murdered by US backed forces since the late 1970s comes to roughly 200,000, as popular movements that sought independence and social reform were decimated.
These achievements qualify the US as an “inspiration for the triumph of democracy in our time,” in the admiring words of the liberal New Republic. Tom Wolfe says the 1980s were “one of the great golden moments that humanity has ever experienced.” What is clear though is that the “success” of the US has come at the expense of many other nations and peoples who have suffered terribly from direct and indirect US measures.
Source: Adapted from Noam Chomsky’s “What Uncle Sam Really Wants”