Does the ordinary American know what the American Government has been doing to the other peoples of the world?
There are three ways to know what is going on in the world. A person can have a vague idea of what is going on, or can have some information that makes the picture more intelligible, or, finally, can have all the publicly available information that offers a (reasonably) clear view of the world.
The Americans that have a (reasonably) clear understanding of what is going on in the world are a minority. The Americans that have a fairly intelligible picture of the world are more numerous, but are also a minority.
The majority of the Americans have (at least) a vague idea of what is going on. There are no ignorant people. Or better, there are no stupid (or naive) people in this world, except those that have a biologically damaged brain; a rather rare case.
But, what does having a “vague idea” mean? Let us try to explain it by recounting some facts that are part of the American reality:
The ordinary American has a vague idea of McCarthyism and its negative aspects. The same holds about J. Edgar Hoover of the F.B.I.
Most Americans have a general idea about the nuclear tests carried out by the US Government for decades in Nevada and about the cancers that killed tens of thousands of Americans, civilians and military. (Two books, “American Ground Zero,” Carole Gallagher, MIT Press, 1993, and “Justice Downwind,” Howard Ball, Oxford U. Press, 1986, testify to this.)
Vietnam is more than a vague memory, it is part of the American psyche. The My Lai massacre, though a minor incident in a long series of similar atrocities, cannot be ignored by the ordinary Americans.
The same holds for the defoliant “Agent Orange”, as there are thousands of American soldiers and their progeny that are victims of the poison used by the American Government. The tremendously greater number of the Vietnamese victims is usually ignored.
Maybe, the majority of Americans have a very sketchy idea about the contents of Daniel Ellsberg’s “Pentagon Papers”, nevertheless, they are aware of the (“disagreeable”) existence of these papers.
What about the “School of the Americas” (SOA)? “Since 1946, the SOA has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers and policemen. Among its graduates are many of the continent’s most notorious torturers, mass murderers, dictators and state terrorists.” (George Monbiot, Commentary of Nov. 01,’ 01).
Maybe, not every American knows of the existence of the SOA, but it is probable that quite a few Americans have “heard” about it.
Do not Americans in their majority know about the Noriega case and the implication of the CIA, etc, no matter how patchy this knowledge is?
Was not Oliver North, “Iran-gate”, etc all over the US media for months? Does the ordinary American need the details of the case to feel that there is something wrong (and immoral) about the behavior of the US Government.
Is the Gulf War and its aftermath with the hundreds of thousands of dead children because of the US embargo, unknown to the US population?
Do the ordinary Americans really believe that the Bosnia and Kosovo cases were “humanitarian interventions” by the US?
No matter how much harm Hollywood, etc have done as conduits of the official propaganda, do not the Americans have access to the (well-documented) stories about the US “deeds” in Chile (Jack Lemmon in “Missing”), Greece, Latin America, etc (thru the Gavras films and other film-makers)?
The list of cases of “vague knowledge” by the majority of Americans could go on and on. It is not necessary.
However, the basic flaw with the world view of the ordinary American is not knowledge, “vague” or other, it is the BELIEF, as opposed to knowledge, by the ordinary Americans, instilled from childhood, that the American Government cannot be but BENEVOLENT, that America is “GOOD” (according to Bush).
Although this belief is contradicted by the rationality of the facts of the (even incomplete) knowledge, it seems that people can suppress that knowledge and stay with the belief.
Again, we can test this claim through an example from the reality of life: In late 1974, a few weeks after the fall of the (US supported) “1967 dictatorship” in Greece, there took place a big rally in downtown Athens. The main speaker was Mikis Theodorakis, the great Greek composer.
I was standing at the fringe of the crowded area. At some point, two American males, in their early sixties, walked towards where I was standing, as they were heading up the street, after passing through the crowd. Both were laughing loudly and they were mimicking with mirth the sounds of the speaker.
When they reached the point I was standing, I spoke to them and told them that what they were hearing was very serious stuff, as it had to do with the dictatorship and that not only Theodorakis but a great number in the crowd were people that had been tortured by the American supported dictatorship.
One of them, a rather mild and kindly person, told me politely and with certainty: “Americans do not torture people.” His belief in America’s goodness seemed to be deep.
This is what I could not recount to that American, because of the place and the circumstances:
“After I had been subjected to the ‘falanga’ (bastinado) treatment, I was thrown into a solitary confinement cell, where I was kept for fifteen days… This consists of no nourishment, no water, no cigarettes, and no access to the toilet…
“One does not usually mind the lack of food, but the lack of water is excruciating, especially after torture which leaves one without an ounce of moisture in the body…
“I was fortunate enough, on the second morning, to fall on (to have) a guard who was either half-human or had not yet received his day’s orders and allowed me to go to the toilet, where I managed to drink from the water pipe leading into the turkish (type) toilet, my hands and my lips touching the excrements others like myself had left floating there…”
(“Barbarism in Greece” by James Becket, with a foreword by Senator Claiborne Pell, Walker and Company, New York, 1970, p. 63, 64. Becket is a Harvard Law School graduate.)
The author of the above text is Yiannis Leloudas, a Greek poet and archaeologist. He was twenty-eight at the time he was tortured in 1967. The English is his own (except for the two parentheses added for clarification). The text was included as an affidavit in Becket’s book. I met Leloudas in 1975, during the trial of his torturers. I was impressed with the modesty and kindness of the man.
One of the torturers of Leloudas was Security Police Inspector Basil Lambrou, “who sits behind his desk which displays the red , white, and blue clasped-hand symbol of American aid. He tries to show the prisoner the absolute futility of resistance: ‘ You make yourself ridiculous by thinking you can do anything. The world is divided in two. There are the communists on that side and on this side the free world. The Russians and the Americans, no one else. What are we? Americans. Behind me there is the (Greek) government, behind the government is NATO, behind NATO is the U.S. You can’t fight us, we are Americans’ “.
(Becket, p. 16). Of course, what Lambrou meant by “Americans” was the US Government, not the ordinary Americans. The last time I heard about Lambrou was a few years ago. He was living in comfortable retirement on the island of Euboea, about 50 miles North-East of Athens.
(NOTE: “Bastinado: A punishment consisting of beating the soles of the feet with a stick”- Merriam Webster’s. Mikis Theodorakis’s right foot needs a specially designed shoe, as his foot was permanently injured during a bastinado session in the late ’40s in the hands of Greek torturers under the auspices of General James Van Fleet of the US Army.
By the way, the music heard from loudspeakers as a blue-colored bus is entering Kabul with celebrating people of the Northern Alliance all over it, as was shown in the news a couple of days ago, is one of the songs of Theodorakis’s “Ballad of Mauthausen.”
The ballad tells “the story of life and death at the Nazi concentration camp of Mauthausen, in Austria, where a great number of Jews, and some political prisoners, were held during the last (World) War.”
One of the songs expresses “the anguish of a Jewish prisoner on learning that the woman he loves has been taken to the gas chamber.” This powerful music of Mikis, dedicated to the suffering of the Jews, was played by the Muslims in Kabul! This, indeed, is a world in confusion. END of NOTE)
So, this belief of the ordinary Americans in the benevolence of the US Government is expressed as PATRIOTISM, by waving little paper flags, etc. To attack patriotism is a very difficult and risky enterprise. When in 1775, Dr. Samuel Johnson in the company of his friends in a London tavern, “suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apothegm,” we are told by James Boswell, Johnson’s friend, that at this apothegm “many will start”.
The apothegm: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” (“The Life of Samuel Johnson” by James Boswell, The Folio Society, London, 1968, Vol. I, p. 527)
In conclusion: Can the ordinary Americans , even on the basis of vague knowledge, answer the enormous question, “Why do the peoples of the world hate America (i.e. the US Government)?” (The word “hate” was used by Bush himself!)
The answer is: Yes, they can.
What can the ordinary Americans do to make this a morally better world? The least they can do is NOT to encourage the US elite to use violence, by waving little paper flags.