Dr Paul Atwood AP. D.R.
Mohsen Abdelmoumen: In one of your works, you asserted that the war is the American way of life. Can you explain us your words ?
Paul Atwood:The land that eventually became the United States began in the early 17th Century as a colony of Britain which was then in the early stages of empire building. So the U.S. began as an outpost of empire that required the conquest of the native peoples living along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Britain was competing with other empires as well like Spain, France, Portugal and the Netherlands. Britain was also creating the first stages of modern capitalism. The New England and Virginia companies that established her first colonies were joint stock companies created to make a profit. They were the ancestors of the modern corporation. In order to render the fish, fur, lumber, and plantations profitable the indigenous people had to be defeated and even exterminated and slaves had to be imported. All this was done with extreme violence and the racism that accompanied it. By the middle of the 18th Century American colonial elites, and many ordinary farmers and artisans too, decided that they no longer wished to pay exorbitant taxes to the British government. The American elites reasoned that they should reap the benefits of the so-called “New World” and not share them with Britain. At independence the infant U.S. was a narrow ribbon of small states hugging the Atlantic but within 59 years the U.S. armed forces marched across 3,000 miles of land conquering Britons again, Spaniards, French, Mexicans and numerous native peoples and taking their land. No other nation in history enlarged its territory so broadly and rapidly. Of course Americans justified this onslaught with an ideology that claimed they were superior and were establishing a better civilization. After a bloody Civil War to prevent the country from splitting in two the U.S rapid speedily industrialized and fostered a modern army and navy with industrial and highly destructive weapons and began to compete on the world stage with other empires, including newly emergent Germany and Japan, for those areas of the world not already under the rule of others, and plotted to pilfer territories from the weakest empires. In 1898 the U.S. went to war with Spain and effectively annexed its remaining colonies of Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines and Guam. When Filipinos rose in revolt because the U.S denied them their promised independence they were crushed with over 200,000 Filipinos losing their lives. At about the same time it took over Hawaii against the will of its natives and established a berth for the new navy at Pearl Harbor. Shortly later the U.S. entered the already ongoing war in Europe now known as the First World War and as a result became the richest most economically powerful nation on earth, displacing Britain in that role. Since WWI did not resolve the major issues between the competing empires the outcome soon led to the Second World War from which the U.S. emerged as the most militarily powerful nation. Although Japan was already defeated and seeking peace terms the U.S. employed atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki largely to send a message to the other nation that had emerged from the dust of war though not as powerful as the U.S., namely the Soviet Union. The Great Depression of the 1930s had played a major role in fostering war. By 1944 the U.S. war production chief, fearing a reoccurrence of mass unemployment when 12 million soldiers returned from overseas, declared that the U.S. needed a “permanent war economy.” For that a permanent enemy would be required and international communism fit the bill. However just as threatening to U.S. plans for the post-war world was the emergence of nationalism and independence movements among former European and Japanese colonies. Opposed to communism and nationalism because they both shut American capital investment out, at least on the terms the U.S. desired, the U.S. then entered war in Korea, which soon led also to war with China. No sooner had that war subsided than the U.S. began to intervene militarily and covertly in numerous nations in what Americans now called the “Third World” like Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Egypt, Iraq and many other nations in order to force them into the system the U.S. was creating now known as “Globalism.” Thus from the very outset the U.S. has relied on war and the development of empire, a new form of empire it is true but empire nevertheless.
Has the American military-industrial complex a vital need to create an enemy to be able to exist?
When the U.S. leapt upon the global stage of empire in the late 19th Century the overriding goal of American global strategy was the “Open Door” policy. That meant that the U.S. and its economic and political elites wished every supply of resources, markets and cheap labor should be open to American penetration on American elite terms. The policy sounded generous since it seemed to imply an open door for all but because the U.S. had become the premiere economic power it had advantages others did not and therefore could close doors to the competition. That was the primary reason the U.S. wished Germany and Japan defeated and definitely not because they posed military threats to the U.S. itself. They posed a threat to the open door in Europe and Asia. American elites also wished to weaken their “allies” who were also competitors and to procure as many of their tributaries as possible to benefit their plans. None of this was achievable without resort to arms. The Great Depression threatened American domestic stability as never before and the dangers to the elite strategy came from both right and left. Ultimately the depression and its attendant extreme unemployment was resolved by putting enormous numbers of young men in arms (and many in government financed industry, including women.) Many existing corporations were given contracts that guaranteed profit and many new ones developed that still exist. Thus many of the giant corporations that today dominate the U.S. economy owe their existence, indeed their continued existence, to war and the threat of war. At the close of WWII strategists worried about what the 12 million returning veterans would do if they found themselves in unemployment lines again. At the same time many of the nation’s major corporations and the banks that financed them (along with debt) had come to depend upon government guarantees of profit in their war contracts. Thus, many faced bankruptcy and insolvency when these contracts would expire. The answer was the “permanent war economy” and as noted above this required permanent enemies. By propagandizing incessantly that communism and other “isms” threatened American national security the citizens were brainwashed into allowing much of national income to be mis-spent on vast military procurements to the increasing detriment to national welfare. It was outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower who popularized the term “military-industrial complex” and warned of its capacity to trump the elected branches and mechanisms of government – which has most certainly come to pass though the complex should more accurately be called the “military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media complex.” While the USSR and China and all other forms of communism, as well as liberal nationalism, were seized upon as the permanent enemies, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 portended disaster to the enormous corporations now dependent upon government welfare and the claimed threats to national security and so no sooner had the communist menace evaporated than Saddam Hussein, a tin pot dictator, was claimed to be the reincarnation of Hitler. At this point the U.S. began militarily intervening throughout the Muslim world, fostering hatred and resistance. American elites then claimed this defiance of U.S. intrusion constituted another existential security threat. The result was ever growing military budgets and declining finances for health and education, jobs and other forms of national social benefits.
Did the warmongering theories of the American neoconservatives disappear totally or were they straightened by strategic need under the presidency of Obama?
Neo-conservative ideology was already in evidence by the 1960s and gained even more traction when the U.S. was defeated by Vietnam. Neo-Cons could not fathom how a much smaller weaker nation had triumphed. Their simpleminded answer was that the Soviet Union and China had to have been responsible. Therefore, when much to their amazement, the USSR collapsed in the early 1990s they began to argue that a golden moment had arrived to seize global hegemony. They and their allies in the military demanded “full spectrum dominance” in every sphere-militarily, economic, political, cultural, and even sought supremacy in outer space (where top secret weapons exist today and no one among the public has any idea of their capacity!). When Barack Obama was a U.S. senator he was among the few who opposed the war in Iraq so when he campaigned for president in 2008 and promised to end that war and turn his attention to restoring the economy the public believed him and elected him on that basis. I, for one, cannot determine whether he was lying and deliberately deceiving the electorate or whether, once he entered office, became overwhelmed by the real ruling class in the U.S. who dominate behind the scenes and are elected by no one. Many American citizens believe that the Democratic party is something like the opposite of the Republicans but nothing could be further from the truth. As Noam Chomsky avers, there is one party with two wings and at this stage neither are “liberal” though some Democrats believe that the working and middle classes should get a few larger crumbs from the workings of the economy that is actually supported by their labor. While a majority of Americans wish U.S. troops to be withdrawn from the Middle East their “representatives” are taking their sweet time until robotic instruments of death and destruction can take their place. Indeed, American drone strikes throughout many Muslim nations are far more intense than under Bush II. Meanwhile the Obama administration now claims that China is the principal threat to American dominance in East Asia and the Pacific and has begun what promises to be a massive military buildup throughout the region to which China is responding by bolstering its own forces, thereby increasing the possibility of war eventually between the nuclear armed titans. Most American citizens do not oppose the drone strikes because they have been propagandized to believe that these are a cheaper way to keep them “safe” from “terrorism” and even though it is certain that such strikes actually increase the hatred of the U.S. and in reality promote violent strikes against Americans, even at home. The media, which is supposed to hold government accountable, is in fact dominated by banks, oil corporations and military contractors, so they shed not a ray of light on these facts. The illegal (under international law) wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the assaults on many other countries, are costing trillions of dollars that could be employed to remedy the social and economic catastrophe of the last decade. Obama’s promise to restore economic security has come to nothing after giant banks and quasi-official lending agencies that essentially deprived millions of their homes, jobs and life savings were compensated for their losses by taxpayers. These dominant institutions now engage in the same practices that brought on the “Great Recession,” and economic activity on Wall Street involves far more sterile speculation that enriches insiders than real productive investment that would bring jobs back. The “official” unemployment rate is a falsehood that suppresses the fact that millions are jobless with few prospects and millions are homeless or on the verge of homelessness. Meanwhile university and college students are in debt up to their necks, and are unable to find jobs that will help them pay those debts. The current generation of young people will not be able even to approach the living standards of their parents and there is nothing accidental or mysterious about this abominable state of affairs. A great deal of the neo-conservative program involved plans to discipline the working and middle classes. Under Obama these groups are being slowly reduced to wage serfs lorded over by new predator barons who make their counterparts in the late 19th Century look like amateurs. One can only hope that a new social movement will emerge that is capable of addressing these problems, and will have the stomach for the battles and opposition from the wealthy minority that will ensue. A major component of any such social and political movement must emphasize international cooperation, especially as the dangers of climate change increase, and not be deluded into believing that fellow humans elsewhere are to blame. If the circumstances that brought on two global wars are repeated the future will be grim.
Can we say that the United States are a democratic country while the scandal Prism revealed by Snowden demonstrated that all the planet is put under listening by the NSA ?
At least a decade ago a number of individuals who worked for the National Security Agency began to warn their fellow citizens that the NSA was already spying on them on a colossal scale. These people were intimidated, and threatened, and lost their positions. Recently the chief of National Security, James Clapper, actually lied publicly to Congress about this spying in what the law states is a serious crime and was not punished. Polls show that most citizens remain largely indifferent to NSA violations of the American Constitution because the official claim is that this protects them from “terrorists.” Yet the NSA actions bespeak the contempt that the highly privileged have always had toward the American people. Laws are something that elites do not have to obey unless somehow renegade members of their club threaten their golden goose. It has always been thus. The U.S. Constitution was modeled in great part upon the British system whereby a House of Lords had effective veto over the House of Commons. In the infant U.S. the two houses were called the Senate and House of Representatives. Note that only 55 men drew up this document and all were either chosen by fellow elites or chose themselves to “represent” the nation. All were rich bankers, businessmen or slaveholding plantation owners (25 owned slaves, including George Washington, the richest man in the U.S.). Note too that all were concerned to blunt the potential of genuine democracy. In fact only about 25% of the total population was enabled to vote, in most cases property qualifications were the criteria. In fact the few who were allowed to vote could not vote for the Senate until 1913. Prior to that the upper chambers of state legislators (themselves self-chosen members of the elite) chose U.S. Senators to ensure that seats would be held by other trusted elites. No women could vote, nor slaves, nor most free blacks, nor natives, and most of the white male population was denied voting rights until the third and fourth decade of the 19th Century. Americans are told that they possess fundamental liberties known as the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. But few are taught that the majority of the Founders were opposed to granting these rights. They were adopted because the elites feared the Constitution would not be ratified and put into effect unless these key provisions were added. Of the ten the First Amendment protects freedom of speech and assembly, but this is always under attack. It is the keystone of all the other liberties since without the freedom to protest all the others would have long since been trampled.
Note the following statements from two of the most idolized of the “Founders.”
…our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The Senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability. » James Madison
« All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government. Can a democratic assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy. Their turbulent and uncontrolling disposition requires checks. » Alexander Hamilton
By the late 19th Century the system was so transparently corrupt that high officials were openly called the senator from the Standard Oil Company or the representative from the Bank of Morgan. To this day the Senate is a millionaires’ club and if one arrives un-millionaired he or she can be sure that upon retirement (assuming he or she has not contradicted elite interests) they will be generously compensated. While eventually all born in the U.S. were given the “right” to vote the candidates for national office are vetted by powerful interests before their names ever appear on ballots and political campaigns are public relations circuses in which much is promised but little delivered. Obama is a perfect case in point. Elected officials who genuinely desire to serve popular interests are few and relatively rare, and are usually outvoted by those who serve power on bended knee with their grasping hands outstretched. Unless elite interests are promised protection potential candidates will not be allowed on the national stage. Many citizens are aware of the charades that take place every few years; that is one reason –that and despair that anything will really change- that fewer than 25% of citizens actually vote. Rarely do elected officials listen to the voice of those people who do vote. During campaigns two key things are needed- money and votes. In order to acquire votes numerous promises are made but most of the money comes from powerful corporate and banking interests with concerns fundamentally different from those of voters. When it comes time to keep the promises or serve the money the choice for most elected officials is clear. Some democracy!
Do not you think that the American position pro-Israel and her interventionist politics and warrior prevent that States as Algeria, my country, maintain normal relations with the United States which think only of their own interests and those of Israel ?
When Britain decided to withdraw from its colony of Palestine in 1947 and turn it over to the United Nations the U.S. and Soviet Union played the major roles in the decision to divide the territory into two separate states. When first confronted with the decision about what to do about Palestine the U.S. leadership split, with a majority not favoring a Jewish state. This was primarily because the Second World War had depleted the U.S. supply of oil and most American elites wanted to cultivate good relations with Arab oil producers, especially Saudi Arabia. The USSR, for its part knew that many among the Jewish refugees in Europe in the wake of the Nazi extermination program were socialists or communists and believed they would serve Soviet interests in the region. U.S. politics played a role in President Truman’s decision to endorse the division of Palestine, especially the need to win the Jewish vote in upcoming elections and to obtain Jewish campaign contributions. To some extent American guilt over doing nothing to aid persecuted Jews before and during the war also contributed but at the same time many U.S. citizens were deeply anti-Semitic and did not want so-called “refujews” to enter the U.S. either. So ultimately the U.S. pressured numerous nations to vote in favor of the partition. American elites eventually came to view Israel as a ‘strategic asset” in the Middle East against Arab nationalism, and Soviet influence, and today the “war on terror.” As your readers know the independent state of Palestine never came into existence. A number of Israeli historians have shown that at the time of Israel’s creation those Israelis in power calculated that they should temporarily accept the partition of Palestine but later use growing military power to annex all of the land that Jewish scripture claims belongs exclusively to Jews (and that contention includes land now controlled by Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria!). That is exactly what has been transpiring since 1948 and the U.S. government has colluded with this plan despite American rhetoric that it supports a Palestinian state. Obviously no Palestinians were asked what they desired, nor did they have any voice. All Arab and Muslim countries that could vote then did so against partition but were outnumbered in the UN vote. When the new state of Israel was declared in 1948 Egypt, TransJordan, Iraq, and Syria invaded. Honesty impels me to say that these countries were more interested in annexing territory from Palestine for themselves than serving the interests of Palestinians but they were defeated by the Israelis, who committed atrocities in order to drive some 800,000 Palestinians from the land and used the First Arab Israeli War to acquire about half of the territory that was intended for a Palestinian state. Many Israeli leaders at the time, including David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister, declared openly that Israel would eventually do whatever it took to acquire all of the Palestinian land and that is exactly what Israel has been doing ever since. In 1956 the U.S halted Britain’s, France’s and Israel’s attempt to crush Gamal Abdul Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal, primarily to avoid all-out war in the Middle East. Since then the U.S. has provided massive economic and military aid to Israel going so far as to pretend that Israel has not developed nuclear weapons in violation of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty which Israel refuses to sign. Obviously all this has resulted in difficult, strained, and violent relations with much of the Arab and Muslim public who rightly see U.S. rhetoric on behalf of Palestine as hypocritical. Many believe that the U.S. engaged in war with Iraq primarily to serve Israeli interests since Saddam Hussein’s government posed no threat to the U.S. Meanwhile, since Saudi Arabia needs to continue its relationship with the U.S. it has become what amounts to a de facto ally of Israel. I cannot speak directly to U.S relations with Algeria today. I know that the U.S. initially supported France’s attempt to stifle Algerian independence, and I do know that the U.S. wishes Algeria to remain in the European orbit. Let me recount a depressing experience I had some time in the early 1990s. A young man visited my office. He was not a student at my university but knew that our institute tried to aid veterans to cope with the often miserable consequences of their experiences, and he wished simply to talk. He told me, with tears, that he had been a member of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces and that he had been sent to Algeria during the Civil War of the 1990s. He said that he and his team used cosmetics to darken their skin and put on native Algerian clothing and headwear. Then with indigenous Algerians shouting Islamic slogans in Arabic they all ran through villages killing innocent people, including women and children. I was shocked but also knew that U.S. forces routinely did such things though they are kept secret from the general public. I could also see that this young man was profoundly sorry for what he had done and was desperately seeking to salve his conscience. He had been brainwashed to believe that he was killing the enemies of the U.S. but he now knew better. He could get no benefit from the American Veterans Administration because the campaign was top-secret and no official records of what he had done were kept. He would not tell me his name and I never saw him again.
We notice a gap between the American people who refuses the war and his political leaders who make a commitment militarily in several continents, especially in the Arab-Muslim world. In your opinion, to what is due this gap ?
In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 most of the American people rallied behind President Bush II and the flag. Only a minority understood that the U.S. already had plans to invade Afghanistan because the Taliban refused to cooperate with American plans to tap energy resources in Central Asia and carry them through a pipeline in that country. The attacks became the rationale to invade Afghanistan. There is much evidence that some in the highest positions of the U.S. government were aware that some sort of attack was coming but waited and allowed them to occur. As the Neo-Conservative document “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” asserted just months before the attacks, the U.S. needed to take advantage of the collapse of the Soviet Union and take control of much of the world but needed “a new Pearl Harbor” in order to mobilize the masses. In 2003 when Bush invaded Iraq on the basis of outright lies about Iraq’s threat to the Middle East and the U.S. itself, many hundreds of thousands of Americans demonstrated in opposition to the invasion, and millions in many other countries. Unfortunately, these protests died quickly thereafter and only small minorities continued their public opposition. The corporate dominated media-both liberal and right wing- broadcast incessant propaganda endorsing Bush’s claims. Thus a majority of Americans fell into the trap of believing that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was allied with Osama bin Laden. Polls show that a majority still believe this. The U.S. assault on Iraq was a major war crime and the suffering caused to the Iraqi people was, and continues to be, immense. At the same time the U.S has broadened these initial assaults now to include Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, by proxy in Syria, and other nations as well. Far from refusing these assaults most of the American public has meekly gone along with them. Many Americans who do oppose the war do so from a sense of outrage at the grief, misery and torment our country is visiting on innocent civilians but many others do not oppose these onslaughts for moral reasons. Instead they focus only selfishly on the trillions of dollars spent that they think could repair the American economy, which to a degree is true. But there are opponents who also believe that the U.S. owes a profound moral debt to the peoples our government has assailed. We cannot undo the crimes that have already been committed but we believe the U.S. Treasury should pledge massive resources to help Iraq and Afghanistan (and other states) to recover. It is highly unlikely this will ever transpire. So if there is a “gap’’ between the American public and its government as you avow, it does not stem from ethical and moral disgust at the tragic consequences to the peoples of the Arab and Muslim world. I am sorry to say.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Paul Atwood?
Dr. Paul L. Atwood is Senior Lecturer in American Studies Department and Director of Research of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and its social consequences, at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War and has written several books, including “War and Empire: The American Way of Life” (Pluto Press, 2010). His research interests focus on the US Foreign Relations, 20th-century American Political and Social history.