Thursday, May 01, 2008

by James Loewen (Photo credit to Sally McCay)

The deeper I get into this textbook, Lies My Teacher Told Me, the more agog I am. I have certainly been naïve when it comes to American history, and I am certainly guilty of having had, in my past, a too unrealistic view of American foreign policy and the domestic aims of its leaders. Chapter after chapter this book thrills me. I have the 1995 edition. There is now a revised 2007 edition. Can the following be true, that the neocons are following George Kennan’s view of the world? What kind of ideal America do they represent to the rest of the world in our name?

… the realpolitik view. George Kennan, who for almost half a century has been an architect of and commentator on U.S. foreign policy, provided a succinct statement of this approach in 1948, As head of the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department, Kennan wrote in a now famous memorandum:
  • We have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population, In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real test in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction—unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization.
Under this view, the historian or political scientist proceeds by identifying American national interests as articulated by policymakers in the past as well as by historians today. Then s/he analyzes our acts and policies to assess the degree to which they furthered these interests.

High school American history textbooks do not, of course, adopt or even hint at the American colossus view.... they omit the realpolitik approach. (p.210)

Looking at Kennan’s statement above, we can now see why we have been doing what we’ve been doing in the world. The next passage shows how this policy might have been applied to Iraq. In fact, Loewen’s comments about the Nixon past are so prescient about the Bush Jr. fiasco, I can hardly believe it.

Richard Rubenstein has pointed out, "the problem will not go away with the departure of Richard Nixon," because it is structural, stemming from the vastly increased power of the federal executive bureaucracy. Indeed, in some ways the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan-Bush administrations, a web of secret legal and illegal acts involving the president, vice-president, cabinet members, special operatives such as Oliver North, and government officials in Israel, Iran, Brunei, and elsewhere, shows an executive branch more out of control than Nixon's. Textbooks' failure to put Watergate into this perspective is part of their authors' apparent program to whitewash the federal government so that schoolchildren will respect it. Since the structural problem in the government has not gone away, it is likely that students will again, in their adult lives, face an out-of-control federal executive pursuing criminal foreign and domestic policies. To the extent that their understanding of the government comes from their American history courses, students will be shocked by these events and unprepared to think about them.

"Our country may she always be in the right," toasted Stephen Decatur in 1816, "but our country, right or wrong!" Educators and textbook authors seem to want to inculcate the next generation into blind allegiance to our country. Going a step beyond Decatur, textbook analyses fail to assess our actions abroad according to either a standard of right and wrong or realpolitik. Instead, textbooks merely assume that the government tried to do the right thing. Citizens who embrace the textbook view would presumably support any intervention, armed or otherwise, and any policy, protective of our legitimate national interests or not, because they would be persuaded that all our policies and interventions are on behalf of humanitarian aims. They could never credit our enemies with equal humanity. (p.223)

And going further, Marine Corp General S.D. Butler shows that this has been America’s aim, to dominate the world for the exclusive benefit of our national corporations, since at least 1900.

[Here’s] … a shot of the realism supplied by former Marine Corps Gen. Smedley D. Butler, whose 1931 statement has become famous:
  • I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras ‘right’ for American fruit companies in 1903. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. (p.214)

Finally, with following list of specific American wrong doings in the world community, an honest American can at least understand why the Reverend Jeremiah Wright could claim that American neocons' acts of terrorism in the world might be coming home to roost for average, more decent Americas. In short, the attack on America’s twin towers are the direct result of George Kennan’s policy, acted on through and by American neocons, though they were not always called by that name. We must not blame the average American for the neocon atrocities, but we can blame ourselves for our ignorance and naiveté. Perhaps we can even blame our textbooks for misleading us in so many areas. Remember, these are acts of terror as defined by our own government as to what constitutes a terrorist government.

  1. our assistance to the shah's faction in Iran in deposing Prime Minister Mussadegh and returning the shah to the throne in 1953;
  2. our role in bringing down the elected government of Guatemala in 1954;
  3. our rigging of the 1957 election in Lebanon, which entrenched the Christians on top and led to the Muslim revolt and civil war the next year; [why do they hate us?]
  4. our involvement in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba of Zaire in 1961;
  5. our repeated attempts to murder Premier Fidel Castro of Cuba and bring down his government by terror and sabotage; and
  6. our role in bringing down the elected government of Chile in 1973. [Also killing a young American.] (p.215)

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