This column was inspired by one of Rupert Murdoch’s tweets on September 6: “Big military brings peace through strength.” A cliched tweet by Murdoch isn’t what most people would consider a news hook. But it’s just the latest expression — caveman syntax perhaps included — of an insidious idea that anyone born in the United States has probably absorbed subliminally since the were old enough to talk. And the more I think about that wretched little maxim, the angrier I get.
The first question that popped into my head after reading Murdoch’s tweet was “Hitler had a big military. Why didn’t that bring peace through strength?” Or Japan — Tojo and the imperial cabinet had a big military in 1941. How come that didn’t bring peace?
If you start thinking in those terms, the unstated assumption behind the “peace through strength” cliche becomes obvious. It assumes that the power for which a “big military” is being advocated — usually the United States — is the “good guy,” and that it’s all those other “bad” countries that need to be deterred through superior strength. The same assumption is implicit in the standard “Chamberlain at Munich” rhetoric that’s unfailingly used to frame American relations with other countries deemed a “threat.” In this scenario, the United States is always the well-meaning but hapless Chamberlain, and the other country’s leader is a self-aggrandizing Hitler, a clear and present danger, emboldened by American weakness.
Maybe we should ask ourselves, though, whether America really is the good guy — or whether it’s the power that needs to be deterred. And if you look at its record of invasions, coups and support for terrorist groups and death squads since WWII, the United States is the hands-down winner as most aggressive power in the world. The overthrow of Arbenz, Mossadeq and Sukarno; the installation — and subsequent overthrow — of Diem, along with war crimes in Vietnam; support for Mobutu, for Central American death squads, and for Shell’s death squads in Nigeria and Indonesia; the wave of military dictatorships that swept South America with the help of the CIA and Operation Condor; the East Timor invasion; the destabilization of Afghanistan (the primary factor in the rise of Al Qaeda); the criminal aggression in Iraq (the primary factor in the rise of AQ Iraq and ISIS) … Someone should write a “Black Book of American Imperialism” as a companion volume to the one on communism.
In fact, if we take it back to the end of WWII, a central policy of the US and Britain was to remove communist and other left-wing anti-fascist resistance movements from their gains on the ground in the European and Pacific theaters, and install “provisional governments” headed by former Axis collaborators. And in 1945, the US replaced Germany and Japan as the world’s premier counter-insurgency power, undertaking decades of interventions whose primary purpose was to protect landed oligarchies against land reform, or to protect the ability of Western oil, mining and other extractive industry to loot the resources of the Third World.
So it only stands to reason that most of the rest of the world sees the United States as the Hitler in today’s Munich scenario, and recognizes a crying need to deter it from further aggression. But the United States has a name for countries that try to develop the military capability to deter American attack: Threats.