Making the World Safe for Hypocrisy,

The Terrorism Hype,

Free Speech - At a Price

excerpted from the book

Dirty Truths

by Michael Parenti

City Lights Books, 1996, paper



A closer look reveals that U.S. foreign policy is neither weak nor foolish, but on the contrary is rational and remarkably successful in reproducing the conditions for the continued international expropriation of wealth ...

... global finance capital ... has no dedication to human and social values. Capitalism has no loyalty to anything but itself, to the accumulation of wealth.


A myth is not an idle tale or a fanciful story but a powerful cultural force used to legitimate existing social relations. The interventionist mythology does just that, by emphasizing a community of interests between interventionists in Washington and the American people when in fact there is none, and by blurring over the question of who pays and who profits from U.S. global interventionism.
The mythology has been with us for so long and much of it sufficiently internalized by the public as to be considered part of the political culture. The interventionist mythology, like all other cultural beliefs, does not just float about in space. It must be mediated through a social structure. The national media play a crucial role in making sure that no fundamentally critical views of the rationales underlying and justifying U.S. policy gain national exposure.

... the United States has supported some of the worst butchers in the world: Batista in Cuba, Somoza in Nicaragua, the Shah in Iran, Salazar in Portugal, Marcos in the Philippines, Pinochet in Chile, Zia in Pakistan, Evren in Turkey, and even Pol Pot in Cambodia.

... Marxist and other leftist or revolutionary states do pose a real threat, not to the United States as a national entity and not to the American people as such, but to the corporate and financial interests of our country, to Exxon and Mobil, Chase Manhattan and First National, Ford and General Motors, Anaconda and U.S. Steel, and to capitalism as a world system.
The problem is not that revolutionaries accumulate power but that they use power to pursue substantive policies that are unacceptable to U.S. ruling circles. What bothers our political leaders (and generals, investment bankers, and corporate heads) is not the supposed lack of political democracy in these countries but their attempts to construct economic democracy, to depart from the impoverishing rigors of the international free market, to use capital and labor in a way that is inimical to the interests of multinational corporatism.


... under Allende, the danger was not that the economy was collapsing (although the U.S. was doing its utmost to destabilize it); the real threat was that the economy was moving away from free-market capitalism and toward a more equitable social democracy, albeit in limited ways.


(Third World elites seldom perish in revolutions. The worst of them usually manage to make it to Miami, Madrid, Paris, or New York.) They dread socialism the way the rest of us might dread poverty and hunger. So, when push comes to shove, the wealthy classes of Third World countries, with a great deal of help from the corporate-military-political elites in our country, will use fascism to preserve capitalism while claiming they are saving democracy from communism.



A socialist Cuba or a socialist North Korea, as such, are not a threat to the survival of world capitalism. The danger is not socialism in any one country but a socialism that might spread to many countries. Multinational corporations, as their name implies, need the entire world, or a very large part of it, to exploit and to invest and expand in. There can be no such thing as "capitalism in one country." The domino theory-the view that if one country falls to the revolutionaries, others will follow in quick succession-may not work as automatically as its more fearful proponents claim, but there usually is a contagion, a power of example and inspiration, and sometimes even direct encouragement and assistance from one revolution to another.


... liberal critics ... ask: "Why do we always find ourselves on the wrong side in the Third World? Why are we always on the side of the oppressor?" Too bad the question is treated as a rhetorical one, for it is deserving of a response. The answer is that right-wing oppressors, however heinous they be, do not tamper with, and give full support to, private investment and profit, while the leftists pose a challenge to that system.


it is necessary not to confuse subterfuge with stupidity. The policy is remarkably rational. Its central organizing principle is to make the world safe for the multinational corporations and the free-market capital-accumulation system.

Now even the palest economic nationalism, as displayed in Iraq by Saddam Hussein over oil prices, invites the destructive might of the U.S. military. The goal now, as always, is to obliterate every trace of an alternative system, to make it clear that there is no road to take except that of the free market ...




By any measure other than the peculiar one used by Washington policy makers and propagandists, the U.S. national security state is the greatest purveyor of terrorism in the world today and has been for some time.

Tallying only the death toll inflicted by US. armed forces or U.S.-backed surrogate forces around the world, the estimates are as follows: 3,000,000 in Vietnam, 1,000,000 in Cambodia, 1,000,000 in Mozambique, 500,000 to 1,000,000 in Indonesia, 600,000 in Angola, 300,000 in Laos, 250,000 in East Timor, 200,000 in Iraq, 200,000 in Afghanistan, 150,000 in Guatemala, 100,000 in Nicaragua, 90,000 in El Salvador, and tens of thousands in Chile, Argentina, Zaire, Iran (under the Shah), Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, Panama, Somalia, South Yemen, Western Sahara, and other countries.'

Against the blowing up of a building or an airliner, how do we measure this U.S.-sponsored terrorism? To be sure, we must not dismiss or make light of individual acts of terror. Yet we might wonder why they are the only ones that warrant publicity and condemnation. The wholesale terrorism of aerial massacres, death squads, mass executions, torture, and intimidation orchestrated by the U.S. national security state either goes unreported altogether or is represented as the legitimate activity of governments defending themselves from insurgencies and terrorists.

With the overthrow of most communist states, U.S. leaders face a shortage of adversaries needed to justify U.S. global interventionism. "Fighting terrorism" now takes the place of "fighting communism" as the rationale for a huge military state and a repressive national security apparatus at home and abroad, the true function of which is to keep the world safe for those who own it. The real danger we face is not from terrorism but from what is being done under the pretext of fighting it.



In the political realm, the further left one goes on the opinion spectrum the more difficult it is to gain exposure and access to larger audiences. Strenuously excluded from the increasingly concentrated corporate-owned media are people on the Left who go beyond the conservative-liberal orthodoxy and speak openly about the negative aspects of big capital and what it does to people at home and abroad. Progressive people, designated as "the Left' believe that the poor are victims of the rich and the prerogatives of wealthy and powerful interests should be done away with. They believe labor unions should be strengthened and the rights of working people expanded; the environment should be rigorously protected; racism, sexism, and homophobia should be strenuously fought; and human services should be properly funded.

Progressives also argue that revolutionary governments that bring social reforms to their people should be supported rather than overthrown by the U.S. national security state, that U.S.-sponsored wars of attrition against reformist governments in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Angola, and a dozen other countries are not "mistakes" but crimes perpetrated by those who would go to any length to maintain their global privileges.

To hold such opinions is to be deprived of any regular access to the major media. In a word, some people have more freedom of speech than others. People who take positions opposing the one outlined above are known as conservatives or right-wingers. Conservative pundits have a remarkable amount of free speech. They favor corporations and big profits over environmental and human needs, see nothing wrong with amassing great wealth while many live in poverty, blame the poor for the poverty that has been imposed upon them, see regulations against business as a bureaucratic sin, and worship at the altar of the free market. They support repressive U.S. interventions abroad and pursue policies opposed to class, gender, and racial equality.

Such rightists as Rush Limbaugh, William F. Buckley Jr., John McLaughlin, George Will, and Robert Novak enjoy much more exposure to mass audiences than left liberals and populists like Jim Hightower, Jerry Brown, or Ralph Nader. And all of them, conservatives and liberals, enjoy more exposure than anyone on the more "radical" or Marxist Left.

It is the economic power of the rich corporate media owners and advertisers that provides right-wingers with so many mass outlets, not the latter's wit and wisdom. It is not public demand that brings them on the air; it is private corporate owners and sponsors. They are listened to by many not because they are so appealing but because they are so available. Availability is the first and necessary condition of consumption. In this instance, supply does not merely satisfy demand; supply creates demand. Hence, those who align themselves with the interests of corporate America will have more freedom of expression than those who remain steadfastly critical.'

People on the Left are free to talk to each other, though sometimes they are concerned their telephones are tapped or their meetings are infiltrated by government agents and provocateurs-as has so often been the case over the years. Leftists are sometimes allowed to teach in universities but they usually run into difficulties regarding what they say and write and they risk being purged from faculty positions.' Leftists are free to work for labor unions but they generally have to keep their politics carefully under wraps, especially communists. People on the Left can even speak publicly, but usually to audiences that seldom number more than a few hundred. And they are free to write for progressive publications, which lack the promotional funds to reach mass readerships, publications that are perennially teetering on the edge of insolvency for want of rich patrons and corporate advertisers.

In sum, free speech belongs mostly to those who can afford it. It is a commodity that needs to be marketed like any other commodity. And massive amounts of money are needed to reach mass audiences. So when it comes to freedom of speech, some people have their voices amplified tens of millions of times, while others must cup their hands and shout at the passing crowd.

We were never "given" what freedoms we do have, certainly not by the framers of the Constitution. Recall that the Bill of Rights was not part of the original Constitution. It was added after ratification, as ten amendments. When Colonel Mason of Virginia proposed a Bill of Rights at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, it was voted down almost unanimously (Massachusetts abstained). Popular protests, land seizures by the poor, food riots, and other disturbances made the men of property who gathered in Philadelphia uncomfortably aware of the need for an effective central authority that could be sufficiently protective of the propertied classes. But such popular ferment also set a limit on what the framers dared to do. Belatedly and reluctantly they agreed during the ratification struggle to include a Bill of Rights, a concession made under threat of democratic agitation and in the hope that the amendments would ensure ratification of the new Constitution.

So the Bill of Rights was not a gift from that illustrious gaggle of rich merchants, land and currency speculators, and slaveholders known as our "Founding Fathers?' It was a product of class struggle. The same was true of the universal franchise. It took mass agitation from the 1820s to the 1840s by workers and poor farmers to abolish property qualifications and win universal white male suffrage. Almost a century of agitation and struggle was necessary to win the franchise for women. And a bloody civil war and subsequent generations of struggle were needed to win basic political rights for African Americans, a struggle still far from complete.

During the early part of the twentieth century a nationwide union movement in this country called the Industrial Workers of the World (the "Wobblies") struggled for the betterment of working people in all occupations. To win gains, the Wobblies had to organize, that is, they had to be able to speak out and reach people. To speak out, they had to confront the repressive tactics of local police who would beat, arrest, and jail their organizers. The

Wobblies discovered that if they went into a town with five hundred people instead of five, then the sheriff and his deputies could do little to stop them from holding public meetings.

The right to free speech was established de facto during the course of class struggle. The Wobblie free speech fights were simultaneously a struggle for procedural democracy impelled by a struggle for substantive economic democracy. This fight continued into the Great Depression, as mass organization and agitation brought freedom of speech to hundreds of local communities, where police had previously made a practice of physically assaulting and incarcerating union organizers, syndicalists, anarchists, socialists, and communists.

So it went with other freedoms and democratic gains like the eight-hour day, Social Security, unemployment and disability insurance, and the right to collective bargaining. All such democratic economic rights, even though they may be seriously limited and insufficiently developed, exist to some degree because of popular struggle against class privilege and class power.

Democracy is not a "precarious fragile gift" handed down to like some Grecian urn. Rather, it is a dynamically developing process that emerges from the struggle between popular interests and the inherently undemocratic nature of wealthy interests.

Dirty Truths

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