The One-Sidedness of the American Perspective

Of course, it isn’t terrorism when we do it

Taking a step away from the discussion about drones (only momentarily, I promise!), Yves Smith has an importance piece at naked capitalism concerning the rhetoric used in discussing Cyprus’s recent “bailout” (although Ed Harrison would contend it’s more of a “bail-in“). Smith’s piece – titled Why Does No One Speak of America’s Oligarchs? – examines the double standard that exists in the American perspective of political commentary:

Russia’s oligarchs and “dirty money” are a distinctive national creation. Do you ever hear Carlos Slim or Rupert Murdoch or the Koch Brothers described as oligarchs? To dial the clock back a bit, how about Harold Geneen of ITT, which was widely known to conduct assassinations in Latin America if it couldn’t get its way by less thuggish means?

…there’s been a peculiar sanctimonious reluctance to apply the word oligarch to the members of America’s ruling class. Some of that is that we Americans idolize our rich, and the richer the better. No one looks too hard at the fact many of our billionaires started out with a leg up, parlaying a moderate family fortune (for instance, in the case of Donald Trump) into a bigger one, or having one’s success depend on other forms of family help (Bill Gates’ mother having the connection to an IBM executive that enabled Gates to license MS-DOS to them).

But the fact that some people have advantages and are able to make the most of them, isn’t the reason to pin the “o” word on America’s top wealthy. It’s that, like Simon’s prototypical emerging market magnates, they increasingly dominate our society and are running it strictly for own self interest and devil take the rest of us. And the results on important metrics are worse than in Russia. The Gini coefficient is a widely-used measure of income inequality. The Gini coefficient is worse (higher) for the US than for Russia.

Arguably, Smith leaves out the peculiar tendency of American culture to be incredibly aversive to self-criticism, instead preferring the cheap, cowardly comfort of self-affirmation.

Think about this: is there any (serious) equivalent for the label of “anti-American” for any other country in the world? And this isn’t just a peculiar quirk of a more close-minded segment of the population, it’s something that’s as rampant and pervasive as “U-S-A” and “We’re number 1” chants. The fact that criticisms of American society and/or state can be portrayed as “anti-Americanism” is indicative of just how deeply this aversion to criticism is.

But to tie this back into the discussion of drones, one must consider how this double standard can become particularly pernicious in the context of warfare. Yesterday, I posted a piece from the Associated Press discussing how drone strikes and constant drone surveillance were terrorizing local populations in Afghanistan and forcing families to flee from their homes. Last year, Stanford’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and NYU’s Global Justice Clinic paired up to release a damning report on CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, including testimony from victims of drone strike. One such individual, a student named Sadaullah Wazir, explained how US drone strikes had affected his life:

“Before the drone strikes started, my life was very good. I used to go to school and I used to be quite busy with that, but after the drone strikes, I stopped going to school now. I was happy because I thought I would become a doctor.” Sadaullah recalled, “Two missiles [were] fired at our hujra and three people died. My cousin and I were injured. We didn’t hear the missile at all and then it was there.” He further explained, “[The last thing I remembered was that] we had just broken our fast where we had eaten and just prayed. . . .We were having tea and just eating a bit and then there were missiles. . . . When I gained consciousness, there was a bandage on my eye. I didn’t know what had happened to my eye and I could only see from one.” Sadaullah lost both of his legs and one of his eyes in the attack. He informed us, “Before [the strike], my life was normal and very good because I could go anywhere and do anything. But now I am not able to do that because I have to stay inside. . . . Sometimes I have really bad headaches. . . . [and] if I walk too much [on my prosthetic legs], my legs hurt a lot. [Drones have] drastically affected life [in our area].”

It is important to consider the label of “terrorism” in this context. Does the constant overhead buzzing of drones, and the enduring threat of a Hellfire missile killing one’s family not terrorize people? Is Sadaullah, no longer able to attend school because of his injuries, not a victim of US state-sponsored terrorism? The ostensible objective of these drone strikes is to combat terrorism – but is counterterrorism – at least where drone strikes are concerned – really any different from terrorism itself? Here is an innocent civilian whose live has been forever impacted by the violence of state policies whose sole purported object is to exert political influence on a target population. Is that not the very definition of terrorism?

Obviously, this parsing out of terms can be expanded to include other instances of US state aggression, such as the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The point is not simply to challenge the occurrence of these events, but to question the validity of the language used to describe these things (nation-building, promoting democracy) paired against the reality of body counts, ruined infrastructure, and destroyed communities. Furthermore, it is important to understand how this doublespeak is disseminated by the government and its media apparatus. Who is responsible for inculcating and normalizing the use of these terms, and what is their stake in the matter?

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