Western Terror: From Potosi
Origins of the culture of
by Andre Vltchek
Z magazine, December 2002
The 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 European powers.
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
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
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
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 brutally suppressed.
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
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 tyrant.
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.
It 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
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 universe'?
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
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).
The 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
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
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
All 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, I long 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
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 friendship.
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 tooled. 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
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 Potosi. 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 tar 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
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.
Andre 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 and Japan.