from the book
by Michael Parenti
published by St. Martin's Press,
American Virtue and "Anti-Americanism"
The press sometimes will criticize US
foreign policy as "ill-defined," or "overextended,"
but never as lacking in virtuous intent. To maintain this image,
the news media say little about the US role in financing, equipping,
training, advising, and directing the repressive military apparatus
that exists in US client states around the world, little about
the mass killings of entire villages, the paramilitary death squads,
the torture and disappearances.
The brutality does not go entirely unnoticed.
But press reports are usually sporadic and sparse, rarely doing
justice to the endemic nature of the repression, rarely, if ever,
showing how the repression functions to protect the few rich from
the many poor and how it is linked to US policy. Thus when Time
magazine devoted a full-page story to torture throughout the world,
the US came out looking like Snow White.
Following the official line, the national
media will readily deny that the United States harbors aggressive
intentions against other governments, and will dismiss such charges
by them as just so much "anti-American" propaganda and
as evidence of their aggressive intent toward us. Or the media
will condone the aggressive actions as necessary for our national
security or implicitly accept them as a given reality needing
For instance, in 1961 Cuban right-wing
emigres, trained and financed by the CIA, invaded Cuba, in the
words of one of their leaders, to overthrow Castro and set up
"a provisional government" that "will restore all
properties to the rightful owners." Reports of the impending
invasion circulated widely throughout Central America, but in
the United States, stories were suppressed by the Associated Press
and United Press International and by all the major networks,
newspapers, and news-weeklies. In an impressively unanimous act
of self-censorship, some seventy-five publications rejected a
report offered by the editors of the Nation in 1960 detailing
US preparations for the invasion. Fidel Castro's accusation that
the United States was planning to invade Cuba was dismissed by
the New York Times as "shrill... anti-American propaganda,"
and by Time as Castro's "continued tawdry little melodrama
of invasion." When Washington broke diplomatic relations
with Cuba in January 1961 (after Castro started nationalizing
US corporate investments and instituting social programs for the
poor), the Times explained, "What snapped U.S. patience was
a new propaganda offensive from Havana charging that the U.S.
was plotting an 'imminent invasion' of Cuba."
Yet, after the Bay of Pigs invasion proved
to be something more than a figment of Castro's anti-Americanism,
there was almost a total lack of media criticism regarding its
moral and legal impropriety. Instead, editorial commentary referred
to the disappointing "fiasco" and "disastrous attempt."
Revelations about the full extent of US involvement, including
the CIA training camp in Guatemala, began to appear during the
post-invasion period in the same press that earlier had denied
such things existed. These retrospective admissions of US involvement
were discussed unapologetically and treated as background for
further moves against Cuba. Perspectives that did not implicitly
assume that US policy was well intentioned and supportive of democratic
interests were excluded from media commentary.
The Nonexistence of Imperialism
While Washington policy-makers argue that
US overseas intervention is necessary to protect "our interests,"
the press seldom asks what "our interests" are and who
among us is actually served by them. As we have seen in regard
to Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and other cases, "defending
US interests" usually means imposing a client-state status
on nations that might strike a course independent of, and even
inimical to, global corporate investment. This is rarely the reason
given in the national media. Rather, it is almost always a matter
of "stopping aggression," or "protecting our national
security," or punishing leaders who are said to be dictators,
drug dealers, or state terrorists.
References may occasionally appear in
the press about the great disparities of wealth and poverty in
Third World nations, but US corporate imperialism is never treated
as one of the causes of such poverty. Indeed, it seems the US
press has never heard of US imperialism. Imperialism, the process
by which the dominant interests of one country expropriate the
land, labor, markets, capital, and natural resources of another,
and neo-imperialism, the process of expropriation that occurs
without direct colonization, are both unmentionables. Anyone who
might try to introduce the subject would be quickly dismissed
as "ideological. Media people, like mainstream academics
and others, might recognize that the US went through a brief imperialist
period around the Spanish-American War. And they would probably
acknowledge that ;there once existed ancient Roman imperialism
and nineteenth-century British imperialism and certainly twentieth-century
"Soviet imperialism." But not many, if any, mainstream
editors and commentators would consider the existence of US imperialism
(or neo-imperialism), let alone entertain criticisms of it.
Media commentators, like political leaders,
treat corporate investment as a solution to Third World poverty
and indebtedness rather than as a cause. What US corporations
do in the Third World is a story largely untold. In tiny El Salvador
alone, US Steel, Alcoa, Westinghouse, United Brands, Standard
Fruit, Del Monte, Cargill, Procter & Gamble, Chase Manhattan,
Bank of America, First National Bank, Texaco, and at least twenty-five
other major companies reap big profits by paying Salvadoran workers
subsistence wages to produce everything from aluminum products
and baking powder to transformers, computers, and steel pipes-
almost all for export markets and all done without minimum-wage
laws, occupational safety, environmental controls, and other costly
hindrances to capital accumulation. The profits reaped from the
exploitation of a cheap and oppressed labor market in an impoverished
country like El Salvador are much higher than would be procured
in stateside industries. Of the hundreds of reports about El Salvador
in the major broadcast and print media in recent years, few, if
any, treat the basic facts about US economic imperialism. Nor
does the press say much about El Salvador's internal class structure,
in which a small number of immensely rich families own all the
best farmland and receive 50 percent of the nation's income. Nor
is much said about how US military aid is used to maintain this
privileged class system.
What capitalism as a transnational system
does to impoverish people throughout the world is simply not a
fit subject for the US news media. Instead, poverty is treated
as its own cause. We are asked to believe that Third World people
are poor because that has long been their condition; they live
in countries that are overpopulated, or there is something about
their land, culture, or temperament that makes them unable to
cope. Subsistence wages, forced displacement from homesteads,
the plunder of natural resources, the lack of public education
and public health programs, the suppression of independent labor
unions and other democratic forces by US-supported police states,
such things-if we were to believe the way they remain untreated
in the media-have nothing much to do with poverty in Latin America,
Africa, and Asia.
Doing the Third World
Despite a vast diversity of cultures,
languages, ethnicity, and geography, the nations of Latin America,
Africa, and Asia, with some exceptions, show striking similarities
in the economic and political realities they endure. Lumped together
under the designation of the "Third World," they are
characterized by (1) concentrated ownership of land, labor, capital,
natural resources, and technology in the hands of rich persons
and giant multinational corporations; (2) suppressive military
forces financed, trained, equipped, and assisted by the United
States-their function being not to protect the populace from foreign
invasion but to protect the small wealthy owning class and foreign
investors from the populace; (3) the population, aside from a
small middle class, endure impoverishment, high illiteracy rates,
malnutrition, wretched housing, and nonexistent human services.
Because of this widespread poverty, these nations have been mistakenly
designated as "underdeveloped" and "poor"
when in fact they are overexploited and the source of great wealth,
their resources and cheap labor serving to enrich investors. Only
their people remain poor.
For the better part of a century now,
successive administrations in the United States have talked about
bringing democracy and economic advancement to the "less-developed"
peoples of the Third World, when in fact, the overriding goal
of US policy toward these countries has been to prevent alternate
social orders from arising, ones that would use the economy for
purposes of social development and for the needs of the populace,
rather than for the capital accumulation process. The purpose
of US policy has been not to defend democracy, in fact, democracies-as
in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Indonesia (1965), and Chile
(1973)- are regularly overthrown if they attempt to initiate serious
economic reforms that tamper with the existing class structure.
The US goal is to make the world safe for multinational corporate
exploitation, to keep things as they are while talking about the
need for change and reform.
In all this, the US corporate-owned news
media have bee, intentionally or not, actively complicit.
Control and Propaganda
Michael Parenti page