Vicious fanatics are trying to kill us and destroy our country. They’re blowing up our soldiers overseas. They’ve infiltrated our country. We must defend ourselves against these mad-dog berserkers before it’s too late.
This litany has been repeated by corporate-controlled media and politicians for years now, pumping fear into us. It is used to justify a massive ongoing war that has killed hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings and almost bankrupted the USA.
But is it really true? Who started this war? When did it begin? The history of this conflict reveals a different story than the one continually beamed at us. The Romans were the first Westerners to try to dominate and plunder the Middle East; the Christian crusaders followed, then nineteenth-century imperialists. From the Arabs’ perspective, the barbarians keep descending on them from the north, and they keep throwing them out. In the past hundred years the attacks have intensified as new treasure has been discovered: vast reserves of black, liquid gold under the desert sands.
During World War One, the British persuaded the Arabs to fight on their side by promising them independence. Thousands of them died in battle for the Brits because of this promise of freedom. But after the victory Britain refused to leave. It maintained control by installing puppet kings — Faisal in Iraq and Ibn Saud in Saudi Arabia — to rule in its interest.
After World War Two, Britain and the USA pressured the United Nations into confiscating Arab land to form the state of Israel, making the Arabs pay for the crimes of the Germans. In addition to providing a nation for the Jews, Israel would be a forward base for Western economic and military power in the Middle East. To the Arabs it was another European invasion of their territory.
In the early 1950s, the USA and Britain overthrew the government of Iran because it tried to nationalize its oil industry, which was under Western control. We installed the Shah as dictator, and he promptly gave the oil back to us. Then he began a twenty-five year reign of terror against his own people. His secret police jailed, tortured, or killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians who opposed him. Since they knew he was kept in power only by American military aid, they began hating the USA. They finally ousted the Shah, but then the CIA started subverting the new government, trying to bring it down. At that point the Iranians fought back by holding US Embassy officials hostage, which was a mild response, considering what we had done to their country.
In the mid 1950s, Egypt decided to nationalize the Suez Canal and use the income from it to help their people out of poverty. They were willing to pay its British and French owners the full market value for their shares, but Western governments and Israel responded violently, invading and bombing Egypt into submission.
Countries have the right to nationalize their resources as long as they pay a fair compensation, so what Iran and Egypt wanted to do was legal. The Western response, though, was illegal aggression in violation of international law and the United Nations charter. It roused in its victims a deep resolve for revenge.
The USA and Britain committed similar atrocities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Indonesia, and Afghanistan. We overthrew their governments, installed dictators, undermined their economies — all to strengthen our business interests. In every nation where we now have terrorism, we had first assaulted them. America is under attack only because it is on the attack. It’s no wonder they hate us. Imagine how we would feel if a foreign country were doing this to us. We’d be fighting back any way we could.
Since they don’t have our military power, they’re resisting with the only weapons they have: guerrilla warfare. As Mike Davis wrote, “The car bomb is the poor man’s air force.” The rich have Stealth bombers, the poor have Toyota Corollas, both filled with explosives. The bombers are much bigger and kill many more people. Since 9-11 the USA has killed over three hundred thousand — a hundred times more than died in the World Trade Center. The overwhelming majority have been civilians. We are the top terrorist, armed to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction. As Martin Luther King stated with simple eloquence: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government.”
Our politicians and media have created an image of fiendish terrorists who “hate us for our freedom.” But they really hate us for subjugating them. Since we started the aggression, the attacks won’t end until we leave their countries.
Even fanatics like al-Qaeda aren’t really aggressors. They’re fighting a defensive war, trying to force us out. The Western media never publish their demands because they are so reasonable. They basically come down to, “Go home and leave us alone. Pull your soldiers, your CIA agents, your missionaries, your corporations out of Muslim territory. If you do that, we’ll stop attacking you.” Nothing about destroying the West or forcing it to become Islamic. Just that the West should stay in the West.
If people knew this — knew how easy it would be to stop terrorism — they wouldn’t want to fight this war. That’s why the media ignore al-Qaeda’s demands. Western leaders don’t want people to see that the war’s real purpose isn’t to stop terrorism but to control the resources of this region. They actually want the terrorism because that gives them the excuse they need — the threat of an evil enemy.
As Hermann Goering, Hitler’s assistant, declared:
“Naturally the common people don’t want war…. But…it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship…. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
Goering was right about the democracies that existed both then and now. In these, the people’s influence in politics is regulated to ensure that only pro-capitalist parties have a chance. Corporate financing, winner-take-all elections, ballot-access laws, and slanted media coverage effectively exclude alternatives. Democracy means power is in the hands of the people. But the real power in our society — economic power — remains firmly in the hands of the rich elite, enabling them to control politics — and us — to a large degree.
Capitalism is always at war. The violence, though, is often abstract: forcing us either to accept low-paying, exhausting jobs or starve; denying us adequate health care, education, and economic security; convincing us that human beings are basically isolated, autonomous units seeking self gratification. But when this doesn’t suffice to keep their profits growing, the violence becomes physical, the cannons roar, and the elite rally us to war to defend “our” country and destroy the fiendish enemy. Motivating us to kill and die for them requires a massive propaganda campaign — America is under attack! — which we confront whenever we turn on their media.
Why do they do this? Are they monsters?
No, they’re not. They’re just human beings serving an inhuman system. Capitalism is inherently predatory. It demands aggressive growth. It’s either dominate or go under.
This drive for domination is the root cause of war, and until we eliminate it, we’re going to continue killing one another. Eliminating it requires a global struggle to bring down oligarchic capitalism and replace it with democratic socialism. Political democracy must be expanded and extended into the economic sphere. We, the people of the world, have to take control of the forces that shape our lives. This is the basis for building a society in which we can all fully develop as human beings. Once we achieve this, we’ll have a real chance at lasting peace.
We can do this! It’s no more difficult than other evolutionary challenges humanity has mastered. The best program I’ve found for achieving it is the Socialist Equality Party.
William T. Hathaway is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. His latest book, Radical Peace: People Refusing War, presents the experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists in the USA, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Chapters are posted on a page of the publisher’s website at http://media.trineday.com/radicalpeace. He is also the author of Summer Snow, the story of an American warrior in Central Asia who falls in love with a Sufi Muslim and learns from her an alternative to the military mentality. Chapters are available at www.peacewriter.org.