Review of The Violent American Century
John W. Dower. Chicago: Haymarket. 2017
The Violent American Century is important reading for Psychohistorians. It shows us the history of the militarists who dominate American thinking and spending. Dower exposes the hypocrisy in our claims of reducing violence worldwide. The book is especially important now that Trump is the commander in chief who casually mentions using nuclear bombs against North Korea and has added 60 billion dollars to our already bloated military budget. The new budget of $639 billion does not count huge expenditures on veterans medical and psychological care http://www.pgpf.org/Chart-Archive/0053_defense-comparison.
American have permitted this. The Violent American Century illustrates how we as a nation have become inured to endless war. John Dower documents the history of what happened.
The US was the only power left intact after World War Two. The USSR revived enough to contest us in the cold war of escalating military spending. However, with the fall of the USSR, Pax Americana triumphed. Stalemates in Korea and Vietnam had called Pax Americana into question. The unwinnable war on terror should continue to call that into question but it doesn’t. Our huge investment in “black operations“ abets proxy wars, arms sales and supports for authoritarian regimes.
Obama sold the Saudis 115 billion dollars’ worth of arms. Trump recently sold them 110 billion. The Saudis are our allies in war and in oil. Fifteen of the nineteen terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center were Saudis. It looked like a Saudi operation. The Saudis were not punished, Iraq was. It does not seem to matter that Iraq didn’t even have the nuclear weapons that Bush insisted threatened us further. It also didn’t matter that the Saudis rule in an iron fisted theocratic dictatorship which forbids all opposition and in religious extremism imprisons half of their population, the female half, in an existence of vastly diminished lives. Saudi women must wear a full length, cumbersome black body and head covering outside of the house. They cannot drive. They are segregated to the back of every space except the home. They cannot work outside of the home or travel without the permission of a male relative. Omnipresent religious police enforce these restrictions.
The US bombed Iraq into utter destruction. Iraq was cited as a horrendous dictatorship. This is what we destroyed when we decimated that nation in the name of democracy and defeating dictatorship. Contrary to popular imagination, Iraqi women enjoyed far more freedom under Saddam Hussein’s secular government than women in other Middle Eastern countries. In fact, equal rights for women were enshrined in Iraq’s Constitution in 1970, including the right to vote, run for political office, access education and own property. Today, these rights are all but absent under their U.S. backed government.
Prior to the devastating economic sanctions of the 1990s, Iraq’s education system was top notch and female literacy rates were the highest in the region, reaching 87 percent in 1985. Education was a major priority for Saddam Hussein’s regime, so much so that in 1982 Iraq received the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) award for eradicating illiteracy. But the education system crumbled from financial decay under the weight of the sanctions pushing over 20 percent of Iraqi children out of school by 2000 and reversing decades of literacy gains. Today, a quarter ofIraqi women are illiterate, more than double the rate for Iraqi men (11 percent). Female illiteracy in rural areas alone is as high as 50 percent. Women were integral to Iraq’s economy and held high positions in both the private and public sectors, thanks in large part to labor and employment laws that guaranteed equal pay, six months fully paid maternity leave and protection from sexual harassment. In fact, it can be argued that some of the conditions enjoyed by working women in Iraq before the war rivaled those of working women in the United States. In their paid maternity leave, they were better than we.
It wasn’t until the 1991 Gulf War and U.S.-led economic sanctions against the regime that women’s rights in Iraq began to deteriorate. The sanctions in particular had devastating consequences for the one million Iraqi civilians who slowly starved to death, over half of them children https://muftah.org/was-life-for-iraqi-women-better-under-saddam/#.WSibIhPyvUQ. Perhaps only a dictator like Hussein was able to loosen the hold of orthodox religion that dwarfs Middle Eastern women’s lives.
The Saudis are our allies in war and in oil, democracy notwithstanding. Their dictatorship is tolerated. Interestingly, the US is the ostensibly sworn enemy of terrorism yet we terrorize in aerial bombings of population centers, and support some of the bloodiest most misogynist right wing dictators.
Branding the post-World War two period as peaceful is disingenuous. “The more subtle and insidious dimensions of post war US militarization-namely, the violence done to civil society by funneling resources into a gargantuan, intrusive and ever expanding national security state-goes largely unaddressed in arguments fixated on numerical declines in violence. Since World War Two we have helped to create wars. The result is 60 million killed, and refugees beyond number. In addition to direct violence, we have created harsh, conflict related economic sanctions which cripple water systems and all other health and hygiene systems. The result in massive infant and child mortality- are uncounted-
We do not count as violence the psychological and social violence by combatants and noncombatants alike. Conservatively 20% of the 300,000 US troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer or will from PTSD. More troops die from suicide than combat. One in 6 civilians in areas affected by war have mental disorders (p.6).
Our Pentagon’s proclaimed mission is “full spectrum dominance in every domain: land sea, air, space and information” (P. 9). Bases designed for halting the spread of communism did not close when the USSR fell. They are now augmented by smaller usually covert CIA operated “lily pad” operations, “also called “black”, operations because they are secret (P.10) The spread of nuclear weapons can lead to their use on purpose or by accident leading to a nuclear winter of global starvation and death. Nuclear policy paranoia masquerading as “strategic realism” guides US nuclear policy (P.11).
There have been many opportunities for the US to reevaluate its perpetual war. Reagan was stung by the US defeats in Vietnam and Korea. Instead of learning as the French did before him when they attempted to hold on to imperialism domination of Vietnam, Reagan was determined to defeat the Vietnam syndrome, i.e. the need to admit that the time for colonial domination is over. Reagan launched what he grandiosely called. “Operation” Fury”. He celebrated victory over the tiny island of Grenada (P.55-56). I cannot help but notice that in every US war since, our enemies have neither an air force, nor military might.
Instead of learning from the defeat of the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. The US funded the SOA (School of the Americas) to give covert support to right wing South American regimes that cooperated with US businesses in allowing the US government and US companies to brutally exploit their resources. In just one example, Operation Condor involved covert operations helping to kill thousands to support brutal dictators in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (P. 59). Anyone promoting social justice or criticizing brutal dictatorships could be labeled a Communist and murdered. Dower points out that School of the Americas displaced, tortured, and murdered more people than did the USSR and its Eastern European satellites 1960-1990 when the USSR fell (P. 69).
These are just a few of the many predatory and violent actions of our government that Dower uses to illustrate the past violence in which we as a nation have participated. He points out that now we are involved in an even more endless war, the “Global War on Terror”, which justifies endless global expansion of America’s global reach.
Dower’s book is well worth reading. It gives useful and indeed crucial information to psychohistorians. In this brief review, I have barely touched the range of the violence on which Dower reports. There are two areas that Dower should explore but doesn’t. One which is crucial to understanding American tolerance for endless war, is that the area in which the US most dominates the world is the military. US military spending in World War Two helped us pull out of the Great Depression. Our leaders have never converted to a peacetime economy since. We are the world’s number one producer of war machinery of all kinds. Our leaders need war to keep profits going for what C. Wright Mills called the US military Industrial complex. Dower’s book would have been even better had he included an analysis of the economic factors in maintaining perpetual war.
Another area he neglected is of particular interest to psychohistorians. That is, an exploration of the psychology of perpetual war: what does perpetual war do to the population that permits it? In the last paragraph on the last page of his fine book, Dower brings in a salient psychological observation: “The mystique of exceptional virtue, does not accommodate serious consideration of irresponsibility, provocation, intoxication with brute force, paranoia, hubris, reckless and criminal actions, or even criminal negligence (P.125). Had he explored that powerful statement further, this fine book would have been even better.