…[King George III] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions….
–Declaration of Independence of the 13 United States of America, July 4, 1776
I think our interest is to favor the undertaking of the Road, as it will help bring the Indian problem to a final solution.
–General William Tecumseh Sherman, Commander of the U.S. Army West, 1876, talking about need for extermination” of the Indians to make way for the transcontinental railroad
Indians should leave their reservations and become more like us. They have a primitive lifestyle.
–U.S. President Ronald Reagan, 1988
Whole tribes have become extinct….For this destruction the coming of the white man is chiefly responsible. Neither in war nor in peace has the Indian been able to stand against or beside him….History teaches that inferior people must yield to a superior civilization in one way or another. They must take on civilization or pass out.
–The History of the United States, Garner & Lodge, 1906
When the missionaries came, we had the land and they had the bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the bible.
–Jomo Kenyatta (date unknown)
When I first returned home from military service Vietnam, I believed that U.S. political policies and the resultant brutal realities of our intervention in Vietnam represented an aberration in U.S. history.
Not long after return to civilian life I reexamined the history of Indigenous Americans and their treatment by European colonialists, and found that, in fact, what happened in Vietnam followed an entrenched historical pattern.
I had been born in Geneva, New York, which was called Kanadesaga during the 1700s when it was a central location for the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy.
In 1779, General George Washington of the Continental Army ordered General Sullivan to eradicate the Indians in central and western New York State with the following command: “The immediate objects are the total destruction of their settlements.
The Indian country is not to be merely overrun, but destroyed.” General Sullivan’s diaries, posthumously published, describe in proud detail the brutal murders of Indian men, women, and children, and destruction of food stocks, homes and other storage buildings, as Sullivan’s men marched in August and September 1779 from present day Elmira, New York, north to today’s Geneva and then west to Geneseo.
I thought, “My God, these horrific tactics and this kind of terror, and the attitudes of the military and their political leaders have not changed much in 190 years!”
In the 1870s, nearly 100 years after General Sullivan’s exploits, General Sherman of Civil War fame, head of the U.S. Army West, talked of “extermination” as a solution to the “Indian Problem.” Sherman was clearing lands to assure the continued westward expansion of the white settlers.
Again, the tactics used were so demonic as to be utterly shameful and almost beyond comprehension.
As the truth about my country’s shameful history began to sink in, I became psychically devastated. At first, I carefully kept my discoveries to myself as a deep secret.
I did not want to acknowledge that my heritage, the cultural ethos of the nation of my birth, was so scarred, so arrogant, that my own identity as an “American” citizen was psychologically at risk.
With whom could I begin to discuss these profound issues? If a historical pattern of arrogance, imperialism, and various forms of covert and overt intervention/aggression was, as I began to sense, my country’s real heritage, then how could I begin to heal, to become an authentic human being in a culture that seemed so plastic, and where increasing material consumption seemed to be the real religion?
Part of my pursuit of the truth about my country has led me to travel to different sections of the United States, and to some of the countries where the U.S. government has decided, for whatever reason, to be involved covertly as well as overtly.
I wanted to learn more about the attitudes of our own citizenry as well as the effects of U.S. forms of intervention and aggression on the peoples and cultures in places such as Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Cuba, Haiti, North and South Korea, Japan, Iraq, and Israel/Palestine, among others.
In order to pursue our national “security” interests – i.e., to be able to continue the exploitation of people and natural resources which enables us to meet the insatiable, unlimited demands of the American Way of Life (AWOL)–U.S. foreign policy must carry out campaigns of illegitimate and illegal aggression.
In order to conduct these unacceptable (if known) activities without impairing the moral and political standing of the U.S., either domestically or internationally, the policies must occur in such a manner that the official responsibility of the U.S. government can be disclaimed. This principle is called “plausible deniability.”
Thus the use of various covert actions, counterinsurgency and special warfare operations, “low intensity” warfare, and the proliferation of “American assets” trained and assisted in the skills of mayhem and terror, have become an essential aspect of U.S. foreign policy. They assure the “stability” necessary for corporate rape and profiteering and the unchecked continuation of AWOL.
Let’s examine the record. For example, recent U.S. concerns about insurgencies threatening “stable” economics within Mexico and Colombia follow an old, old pattern. These are two countries where I have spent time examining the cultures, the insurgencies, and the effects of U.S. “involvement.”
There have been at least 11 documented military interventions into Mexico since 1836, and 6 interventions into Colombia since 1868. This history is part of a long, sordid record of U.S. military incursions throughout Latin America (at least 112 interventions into 23 Latin American countries since 1831), and worldwide (at least 550 interventions into the sovereignty of over 100 countries since 1798).
More insidiously, the U.S. has engineered thousands of major and minor covert operations throughout the world – destabilizing and overthrowing governments, plotting assassinations, etc. The U.S. has threatened the use of nuclear weapons on more than 20 occasions, and used them at least twice.
This record indicates that the USA is the most extensive and destructive empire in human history. Hans Koning declared in Columbus: His Enterprise (Monthly Review Press, 1976), “What sets the West apart is its persistence, its capacity to stop at nothing.”
Astute U.S.-born cultural historian Lewis Mumford concluded in Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970), “Wherever Western man went and goes, slavery, robbery, lawlessness, culture wreaking, and the outright extermination of both wild beasts and tame men accompany him.”
And MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, long-time diagnostician of the nature and extent of the U.S. political-economic empire, continues to remind us that the U.S. government and its policies will not tolerate genuine self-determination (i.e., democracy), at home or abroad, under any circumstances that threaten our freedom to rob and pillage (our “fifth freedom”) for the benefit of a few.
In fact, as he and other historical scholars dare point out, there is an overwhelming, documented record of extreme hostility directed by the U.S. government against democratic efforts.
One of England’s most renowned playwrights, Harold Pinter, who learned about empire from understanding his own country’s history, has declared “the crimes of the U.S. throughout the world have been systematic, remorseless, and fully documented, but nobody talks about them.”
And social critic Gore Vidal has bemoaned that virtually all people born in the United States have been conditioned to believe that Americans possess neither empire nor a ruling class.
The tragedy for me, as I mentioned earlier, is that this ruthless empire happens to be the nation of my birth, of my heritage. I assume this psychic tragedy is experienced by millions of other U.S. Americans as well.
And though I began a healing process long ago, my realization about empire continues to be painful for me, a one-time true believer in the American Way of Life (AWOL) and all that I thought it stood for. Healing has necessitated coming to terms with this reality, talking about it, striving to expose and address the incredible lies and harm being done, and articulating an alternative way of walking the talk, and talking the walk.
It isn’t easy, but this path of yearning to speak and live truth as a global citizen, finding others along the way doing the same, is a liberating journey.
Never before has it been so important to present a truthful perspective of the dark history of tenacious U.S. hegemony, arrogance, ignorance, and racism.
One of the significant contributions veterans of the U.S. military and security/intelligence establishment can offer the U.S. citizenry, and the global audience beyond, is an honest, experiential critique and exposé of the multiple costs to the cultural, ecological, material, and spiritual world exacted by an empire driven by the insatiable demands of AWOL and its corporations.
This is, to me, the importance of organizations like Veterans For Peace. The importance of veterans’ contributions cannot be underestimated in striving to formulate a healthy, sustainable eco-conscious paradigm to replace our plundering, imperialistic one.
The perspective of veterans who are struggling to preserve conscience and integrity enables our nation to see more clearly the lies and myths of self-righteous empire; the pain and suffering that our policies and values have wreaked upon the world’s people, including our own, and the earth’s precious resources; and that striving for genuine truth and justice, though often painful, is an important process in recovering imagination and beginning the transformation toward a new paradigm rooted in sacredness, nonviolence, and sustainability.
Perhaps we will recover the ability to see with our hearts, and not just our eyes and minds so often corrupted by greed.
The dispossession of Indigenous peoples, arguably the ancient owners of land in the Western hemisphere, became the defining and enabling experience of the “American Republic.”
From this experience came the arrogant inference, still vital today, even if wounded, that Europeans built a new economy through hard-earned, possessive individualism, and a new Lockean, liberal politics.
This profound LIE continues to be a fundamental belief underlying the political, economic, and cultural life of the United States.
A popular U.S. history text after the turn of the century, The History of the United States (Garner and Lodge, 1906), attributed the genocide of the original “Americans” since the arrival of Columbus to “the coming of the white man,” boasting that “neither in war nor peace has the Indian been able to stand against or beside him…. History teaches that inferior people must yield to a superior civilization in one way or another. They must take on civilization or pass out.”
In other words, they must become assimilated or be eliminated. This racism, this arrogance, is deeply embedded in U.S. consciousness, this belief that “children of darkness” elsewhere, or “savages”, stand in the way of progress and liberation.
How we–so-called advanced, progressive people–can be so blind to our plundering of the earth and her ecosystem, and to the cultural relationships that form the indispensable foundation for our evolutionary survival, is perhaps one of the great mysteries of our time. Who is calling who “savage” or “children of darkness”?
The white man’s burden of winning the West has now turned into winning the world – seeking a global, homogenous culture of imposed materialism. The U.S. possesses but 4.6% of the world’s population but absolutely insists on a way of life (”national security”) that collectively consumes at least 25% of the world’s resources while producing similar percentages of corresponding pollution.
And when all the “First World” (and former “Second World”/Socialist) populations are included, 25% of the world’s population consumes approximately 85% of the world’s resources. This leaves 75% of the world’s people in the “Third World” (5.25 billion) squeezed with but 15% of the resources.
This is truly the Mother of all structural problems and spiritual challenges. Without comprehensively addressing and correcting this disparity, our species (and many other species) has absolutely no hope for survival; in fact, our extinction is assured.
Western appetites, coming almost as a birthright without any thought, absolutely require political-economic policies that assure continued theft and exploitation around the world.
This is the fifth and only freedom that the U.S. seriously defends and fights for. Such rapaciousness has been rationalized to allow us as a people to feel okay about our brand of intervention. We are always told that U.S. foreign intervention is necessary in order to promote “manifest destiny,” to preserve the “Monroe Doctrine,” to fight evil “Communism,” or, more recently, to combat “narcotrafficking” and “narco-guerrillas,” and now “terrorism.”
To the uninformed these pretexts sound reassuringly good and noble. But as many of us know from experience, the results are repression, unjust and inhumane practices, often times invisible (”low intensity warfare”), and, discovered or not, so horrific as to be almost beyond the comprehension of most citizens.
Meanwhile, protection of the interests of corporations and a wealthy elite by United States government policies continues unchecked.
Sadly, these practices and policies are absolutely inevitable unless the fundamental ethos of the U.S. culture undergoes a profound reexamination and radical transformation of the heart. In U.S. empire’s wake, everybody and everything has become an endangered species.
Assimilate into the religion of consumption or be eliminated for being in the way.
In the post-Vietnam era of U.S. history, politicians initially bemoaned the emergence of the “Vietnam Syndrome.” This national “sickness” – the political inability to dispatch U.S. military personnel into foreign interventions unless the action is to be of short duration, and decisive with minimal U.S. casualties – has proven to be politically frustrating.
However, it has led to the increasing sophistication of the military doctrine euphemistically called “low intensity warfare,” a fancier, expanded version of the older counterinsurgency doctrine. “Low intensity warfare” is not really less intensive for its victims elsewhere, but it intends to be “low visibility warfare” to the U.S. population at home, enabling U.S. and transborder corporate economic interests to be forcefully but “quietly” shaped and nourished through a variety of military, paramilitary, covert, economic, political, and communication methods.
As mentioned above, if the U.S. population knew of the existence or true nature of this intervention, many would disapprove. Thus, politically, “plausible deniability” is an important “necessity” for conducting illegitimate and illegal aggression without impairing the moral and political standing of the United States. Thus covert actions have become the primary course of operation.
Now, in the early part of the 21st century, we are in the post-Cold War era of unipolar, Pax Americana, “neoliberal” economics, where the only acceptable political, even moral, value is a privatized, “free” global market – absolutely unfettered world capitalism.
Everything and everybody is now or is designed to be for sale to the highest bidder, including culture and spirituality. All life is rapidly becoming commodified, privatized, and unregulated.
The United States government and the corporate economic forces that control it are the most significant driving forces behind the spread of this “no limits” model, pushing it on us with religious fervor.
And the more addicted the citizenry becomes to increased consumption, the more entrenched these politics become. Under this model the transborder corporations now have the power to force national governments to defend corporate interests whenever such interests are in conflict with those of the people whose interests the governments have been elected to protect.
Now the U.S. has revived the older scorched earth campaigns against Indigenous peoples, calling it overwhelming “shock and awe.”
The imposition of this neoliberal policy requiring global economic reconstruction (privatization and deregulation) and cultural homogenization (assimilation or elimination) could be called war by another name.
It tries to force everyone into a consumptive and cash, versus subsistence, economy; it accelerates downsizing of employment and increases the number of contingency employees; and it is threatened by standards designed to protect our sacred environment and fair and safe working conditions for employees, because such standards interfere with the goal of maximizing profits for the few.
Furthermore, this model dramatically increases the misery level for growing numbers of the human population, contributing to marked increases in psychological stress and alienation, malnourishment, disease, and premature death. And it dramatically speeds up the depletion of sacred, finite natural resources while increasing pollution, foolishly threatening the health of our earth’s ecosystem, risking extinction of our entire species and all life as we know it. It is a fatal war against the people, especially the growing numbers of “have nots,” and the earth.
The current Indigenous organizing within southern Mexico in response to imposition of the neoliberal economic model is one clear illustration of the clash between paradigms.
The Indigenous live a relatively autonomous, culturally established subsistence model within the local carrying capacity of nature, having struggled to survive for five centuries since the European conquest.
The new, “progressive” model aggressively insists that the Indigenous assimilate into a consumption and cash dependency model, where profits and greed of distant owners dictate the end of local autonomy, of culture, of nature.
Many people throughout Mexico, the United States, and the remainder of the world resonate with the Indigenous struggle, and are enraged by the systematic campaign of repression being waged against them by the Mexican government with the assistance of U.S. intelligence, military, and counterinsurgency resources.
In April 1998 a Veterans For Peace (VFP) delegation traveled to the southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca to learn more of the U.S. role there.
A report was prepared, Veterans For Peace Tour Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico, Bring Back a Story of National Shame, Ours, by VFP delegation member Wilson “Woody” Powell (May 7, 1998, available from Woody at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, see research booklet, The Slippery Slope: U.S. Military Moves into Mexico (updated April 1998) by this author, viewable on the Nonviolence Web .
A number of other organizations such as Pastors For Peace and Global Exchange also regularly dispatch delegations and observers to southern Mexico to document the continued repression and the U.S. role in it.
VFP members and chapters around the U.S. are part of increased national efforts to expose the role of the U.S. in its various forms of imperialism and arrogance.
Whether to expose U.S. support of counterinsurgencies against the poor in Colombia and Mexico; or to close the School of Americas (SOA); or to make reparations to the besieged people of Iraq after more than 20 years of sanctions, bombings, U.S. ground invasions, occupations and torture that have murdered, maimed, and displaced millions; or to lift the sanctions and illegal blockage against Cuba; or to support a new campaign to disarm the world of small arms; or efforts to convince the U.S. government to sign the International Land Mine Treaty, etc., etc.; the activities of VFP and others are very important.
A popular movement for a new peace through genuine justice is enhanced when we share our thoughts and activities with one another. It stimulates ideas and can be spiritually uplifting.
It is difficult to confront and expose the crimes and transgressions of our country as it continues to shroud itself in self-righteousness.
We may often feel lonely, and certainly frustrated. But by working together we can build support for a new perspective that exposes and discontinues the old lies and myths.
We can offer courage to one another as we take part in building a new conscience for the transformation of ourselves in the many interstices that exist within the disney fantasy called the United States of America, a corporatocracy and oligarchy masked as a democracy.
OCCUPY worldwide now offers the people everywhere basic principles for the exercise of popular power – obstruction of business as usual everywhere, while rebuilding thousands of locally food and simple tool sufficient autonomous communities in every sustainable bioregion of the earth.
Industrial civilization is on a collision course with life itself. Enabling our independency from this plundering vertical power system is critical for the dignified survival of our and many other species. It is our responsibility to do so. We need you!
S. Brian Willson