Western Terror: From Potosi to Baghdad
North American empire is admired by some, condemned by others, but
feared by all. There are those, including the British prime minister,
who see it as the mighty defender of the civilized world’s
values. For many people, it is the world’s most potent terrorist
state—mostly those who have tasted the brutality of U.S. foreign
policy in dozens of unfortunate places all over the world.
But is the responsibility for the pitiful state of today’s
world exclusively American? Is the United States unique in its ruthlessness,
after all? Is there anything new and creative in its post-colonial,
arrogant, and thuggish approach towards the world?
The answer to both questions is “No.”
There is nothing original in the desire of the U.S. to impose its
western economic and cultural will upon the rest of the planet.
For centuries, the world had been terrorized and plundered by numerous
Disregard for the interests of people with different skin color,
cultures, philosophies, religions, languages, ways of life, and
socio-economic structures, is not something recently invented in
Washington DC or New York City. All European empires built their
fortunes by plundering the world. Silver from the mines of Potosi,
spices from the Indonesian archipelago, precious stones and even
trade in human beings from Africa, all paying for gigantic palaces,
museums and theaters, for cathedrals and municipal buildings—for
almost everything that we now call “western civilization.”
Not unlike the present day, the rest of the world always had a free
choice, “be with us or be against us.” To be “with
us” meant (and still means) “to serve us.”
We must never forget that the West behaved as if it had an inherited,
but undefined, right to profit from the misery of the rest of the
world. In many cases, the conquered nations (for many cases, read
most of the nations of the world) had to give up their own culture,
their religions, even their languages, and convert to our set of
beliefs and values that we defined as “civilized.” The
West has never doubted that its cause is the only one that is just,
its religions the only ones that lead to God, its greed (whether
it is called capitalism or the market economy) the only pure and
honest expression of human nature.
During the colonial era, Europe acted like a brutal thug. In comparison
to its colonial armies, any present-day terrorist group looks like
nothing more than a bunch of second-graders. Colonial powers (past
and present) vigorously imposed religious, racial, and other dogmas.
No opposition was tolerated. Any kind of expression of dissent,
especially that coming from men and women of enslaved nations, was
European terror and greed has, for centuries, plundered the great
civilizations of Africa, Central and South America, the Middle East,
and Asia. No official apology has ever been issued; no compensation
has ever been paid. The topic is taboo, even though the plunder
continues in a post-colonial manner, utilizing so-called globalization,
and the increasing power of unaccountable multi-national companies.
Most left-wing European intellectuals conveniently place the
burden of responsibility exclusively on the shoulders of the United
States, its government, and its companies. Shockingly, Europe, by
cashing in on its few half-hearted critics of U.S. foreign policy,
somehow manages to feel morally superior.
The same is happening in South America. While the U.S. terror against
sovereign Latin nations and their progressive governments and movements
in the 20th century is well remembered, the terror of the Spanish
conquest seems to have been forgotten and forgiven, at least by
the ruling whites, regardless of their position (on the right or
the left) in the political spectrum.
It is unnecessary to say that the Latin American system
of power is one of the most cynical examples of European colonial
legacy: most of the continent is still ruled by the European minority,
while indigenous populations are discriminated against by ruling
elites that feel closer to the West than to their own countries.
Brazil, for instance, has the fourth-worst disparity of income distribution
in the world, and Chile (often hailed as an economic star performer)
is not far behind.
U.S. bashing is very much the vogue in cafes of Santiago de Chile.
It would be just and appropriate if the U.S. were to be criticized
for its countless crimes, such as the orchestration of the coup
against Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973 or its support for
the abortive coup against Hugo Chavez earlier this year. But Allende
is now looked down upon by most Chileans, the result of long decades
of a successful brainwashing campaign. Chavez is no longer celebrated
as a great reformist, friend of the poor, and the only truly brave
and democratic South American leader, Almost everyone in Chile,
including those who call themselves leftists, have accepted right-wing
propaganda that labels Chavez as a populist demagogue and would-be
South American intellectual hostility towards the U.S., and its
supine admiration of everything European, is often based more on
unsatisfied desire to suffer from the European cultural superiority
complex rather than any real opposition to the U.S. foreign policy.
Many intellectuals in South America are of European stock, holding
at least one European passport (granted because of their “blood”)
and desperately need to demonstrate their European identity to themselves,
and to the whole world. Many of these pseudo-leftists are not really
against the U.S., they are against everything American in general,
good and bad, from Big Mac’s to original cultures of the South
American continent and its indigenous people.
Without mentioning European plunder, rape, and murder in Central
and South America, without speaking of racist European-descent rulers
who are still in control of the majority of Latin American countries
and their economies, singling out U.S. policy towards Latin America
as only responsible for the current situation would be out of context.
is worth noting that many Latin intellectuals who are always ready
to ridicule “big brother in the North” as the exclusive
culprit, are simultaneously hostile to any serious opposition to
the new world order. Their worst nightmares, it seems, are about
people like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who dares to address
the grievances of the poor world that is not particularly white.
U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America has been reprehensible
for decades and centuries. It can justly be described in one word—terrorism.
But again, the U.S. is not the one that invented the wheel, nor
is it the only one that sits on the wagon. Even its worst excesses
have not managed to exterminate 20, 50 or, as was the case during
the French invasion to Grenada in the 17th century, even 100 percent
of the population of the territories of its modern day colonies.
Eduardo Galeano wrote in his “Open Veins of Latin America,”
“Spain owned the cow, while Europe drank the milk.”
Geopolitics have changed. The U.S. and its companies now own many
cows, including those in Latin America. But do you hear that contented
sucking sound coming from Europe and the Far East? While Japan is
often justifiably attacked for its stubborn refusal to apologize
openly to Korea and the other countries that it occupied before
and after the Second World War, Europe still treasures its shameful
colonial past. If it were only the past, let it be—but European
world rule gave birth to the present global power structure and
provided the foundation for today’s world order, for American
imperialism, and for one-way cultural globalization.
Remarkably, European justifications have existed virtually unchallenged
until recently. Hardly anyone in Europe or in the United States
spends sleepless nights wondering why four out of the five countries
that belong to the UN Security Council—the UK, France, Russia,
and the U.S.—are former and, to some extent, present colonial
powers with absolutely no moral mandate to advise the world on what
is right and wrong.
While preparing to invade Iraq because of some unconfirmed speculations
that it has weapons of mass destruction, the world is supposed to
feel comfortable knowing that several western powers like UK, France,
Russia, and the U.S. are sitting on enormous arsenals of such weapons
and proudly admitting it. In the distant, and not so distant, past,
all four nations have terrorized dozens of countries and regions
all over the world. Who gave them a mandate to be sole masters of
The answer is, of course, “nobody.” But, somehow, everything
is justified by a blurry dogma and popular belief in the West, perfected
during several centuries of European colonial rule. The finished
product was a conviction that defining “civilization”
and, above all, deciding what is “right” and “wrong,”
should take place in European capitals and, lately, in Washington,
instead of anywhere else in the world.
Should those butchered by the French, the British, the Americans,
and the Russians reserve the right of a pre-emptive strike based
on their justifiable fear and concern that what had been done to
them once might be done again? That would be unthinkable. That would
be defined as “terrorism.” It’s only us, only the
West, that can make decisions on such important matters.
At present, geopolitically irrelevant countries, such as the
UK, Russia, and France (is there anything that makes them more important
than much bigger non-western nations, except a determined belief
in their cultural and racial superiority?), representing nobody
but themselves, are on the Security Council making sure that their
voices are heard. Other enormous nations and geographical and cultural
blocks, are not allowed to participate in world decision-making.
Why has France, with about sixty million people, the right to veto
UN resolutions, while India, with over one billion, has not? Why
is the British vote more powerful than those of all Latin America
and Africa combined?
Considering this, can we really talk of a U.S.-dominated world,
or should we admit that a fraternity of western countries rules
the world, as it has done for centuries?
It is a fraternity that rules the rest of the world by virtue of
its control of the UN Security Council and the world economy and
culture. It controls linguistics by polluting the languages of the
world with terms such as freedom, democracy, and liberty, words
that have lost their meaning, but are still supposed to define western
superiority, as well as by many other means. It is a fraternity
with its cultural, political, and imperialistic roots firmly planted
in all parts of the body of the old continent.
In the recent past, Spain celebrated the 500th anniversary of the
discovery of the “New World”—in reality the beginning
of one of the most perverted and sadistic chapters in the history
of humanity. During the Spanish conquest, the colonized nations
were given the choice referred to earlier: be with us (become our
slaves and bury your culture and free will forever) or be against
us (be tortured to death or exterminated).
French still cling to their idea of a Francophone world—for
that, read “the part of the world where the French language
was pushed down the throat of the colonized people.”
Writing these words in Hanoi, from my window I can see a corner
of the central jail, now a national monument of Vietnam, that commemorates
the victims of brutal torture and executions performed by French
colonizers on the local people. As in so many other places colonized
by European powers, the inhabitants of Indochina were stripped of
their dignity, robbed, and enslaved. It seems that everyone in the
world recalls the dreadful brutality of the U.S. armed forces in
Vietnam, but hardly anyone wants to remember French terror in Indochina.
The only ones who seem to remember are the Vietnamese and the other
inhabitants of Indochina’s nations. Of course, nobody speaks
French in Vietnam anymore, apart from a few very old men and women.
The naiveté of the French would be almost touching, if it wasn’t
so monstrous: how can a nation torture, kill, and steal from another
nation for decades, then return and wonder why almost no one wants
to learn their language.
Half-hearted criticism of the present U.S. foreign policy by European
intellectuals will not lift the burden of the responsibility that
the old continent should feel for the present state of the world.
For centuries, the world had been assaulted by European greed, enriching
one small continent at the expense of the rest of the planet. After
the Second World War, the U.S. surpassed Europe as the prime world
ruler; while improvement is not always visible, there should be
little or no doubt that the situation would be much worse if Europe
had retained its control over the world.
Consider the tens of millions of victims in Central and South America,
the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East and Asia; massacres of native
people in North America and Australia, mostly performed by the first
and second generation of European immigrants, the 100 Years War,
the 30 Years War, the First World War, the Holocaust and the Second
World War. This is only a short summary of the dark side of the
glorified western civilization under European leadership. In the
20th century alone, over 100 million men, women and children murdered
in the wars, conflicts and the Holocaust.
Noam Chomsky calls the U.S. “an offspring of Europe.”
Despite its claim to be culturally diverse, the United States is
based almost exclusively on western/Christian values. President
George W. Bush is a Christian fundamentalist, not a Muslim or Buddhist
scholar. The U.S. Senate still looks like an exclusive, rich, white
boys club. One wonders; how many Congresspeople were influenced
by Confucian philosophers, how many of them ever studied Shinto
or Islam? How many Supreme Court justices ever learned languages
such as Thai, Swahili, Quechua or Mandarin?
members of the loosely defined club of the rich nations (call it
the OECD or anything you choose, but it generally consists of the
U.S. and Canada, western and central Europe, Japan, Singapore, Hong
Kong, Australia, and New Zealand), have more or less identical global
interests. Criticism of U.S. foreign policy by its allies, if it
occurs at all, is half-hearted and serves mostly short-term domestic
interests, as in the recent 2002 elections in Germany, for instance.
The United States acts in the interest of the members of the club
of the rich and against those of the majority of the world that
remains poor and is mainly controlled by “bandit” governments
friendly to the business interests of the rich world. It therefore
enjoys the wholehearted support of the political and economic establishment
in Europe and several rich countries in Asia.
While the U.S. prefers to play its role openly, other ruling states
are much more discreet. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, the so-called
Gulf War, was funded by Japan and Germany, countries that preferred
to shed cash instead of sending their combatants.
Of course, in order to create some sort of vision of the global
democracy and political and intellectual diversity, various European
governments express disagreement with the U.S. foreign policy from
time to time. Such altercations typically last no more than several
days or weeks before the U.S. is again promised support and eternal
No matter how brutal the U.S. aggression— whether in Vietnam,
Laos, Cambodia, Grenada or indirectly in El Salvador, Guatemala,
Chile, Nicaragua and elsewhere—no European or rich Asian country—nor
any other member of the rich part of the world—ever came to
the rescue of the innocent victim. Even the very rare diplomatic
condemnations of U.S. acts of terror were extremely vague.
The rich world has common interests, and pursues them consistently
and ruthlessly. The poor world that makes up the overwhelming majority
of our planet, has common interests as well, but is effectively
prevented from defending them. The United States does the shooting,
and the rest of its allies carry, reload and hold the gun. Call
it “partnership,” “cooperation,” or whatever
word you choose—the outcome is the same: the world dictatorship
is enforced by one group, not by one country.
The U.S. is not the only country responsible for the present day
global dictatorship. However, it is the most visible one. It does
most of the shouting and shooting. It often wears ugly military
fatigues. It has incredibly bad speechwriters and government members
like Rumsfeld, a man who looks like he could do some very ugly things
with one’s body and brain if allowed. The U.S. is still too
much in love with itself, too willing to brag about its power to
the rest of the world.
Europe is old and much more cynical. It knows the game. It doesn’t
offer too many words, doesn’t send too many soldiers unnecessarily.
While the young friend across the Atlantic does all the yelling
and bombing voluntarily, it concentrates on its favorite activity
of making and saving money.
But, don’t be fooled. If threatened, if its power were to be
challenged, if its position in the world was ever put in doubt,
the old continent would become active again to defend what it believes
is its right to maintain its privileged position.
The world is being increasingly divided into the rich and
poor, into the powerful and powerless, into those who suffer and
those who make others suffer. Responsibility for this morally contemptible
situation lies equally at the doorsteps of the old and the new world.
The most brutal chapter of human greed and terror probably started
during the conquest of what is now Mexico. Or maybe it started in
the corridors of devilishly cold silver mines, high in the Andes,
in Potosí. Or maybe much earlier. It continues until now. Before
the Spanish conquest, the Inca Empire had not been perfect. Of course,
no human society can be. Iraq under Saddam Hussein is very far from
perfection, too. But we had no right then, and we do not have the
right now, to enter foreign lands, to kill men and women, to change
their rulers, to impose our interests.
After long decades and centuries of cooperation between the old
and the new colonial powers, Europe has a unique chance to prove
that it is different, that it has changed, that it repents its past
and is willing to come to the defense of those who are defenseless.
If it can say “No” to the U.S. war plans instead of using
vague diplomatic language that no one can figure out, there can
be some hope for pluralism, for a world that is not dominated by
a single ideology and just one set of interests.
If Europe goes along with the attack on Iraq or stands on the sidelines
as it did in Indochina and Central America during the reign of U.S.
terror, it will have to bear the same moral responsibility as its
offspring, the United States.
Vltchek is an American writer raised in Prague. He has been working
for European, Asian and Latin American newspapers and magazines,
mostly covering wars and conflicts. He is presently chief editor
of the international web-based journal WCN. He lives in Vietnam