Perhaps it’s unfair, since this was said in the heat of a debate with Bill Maher. But this is how my friend Glenn Greenwald described the US last Friday night:
It’s amazing for you to say “Look at all these Muslims. The minute you give them a little freedom, they go wild and they start being all violent” … How can you be a citizen of the United States, the country that has generated more violence and militarism in the world over the last five or six decades and say “Look at those people over there? They are incredibly violent”?
I’m very much with Glenn on American denial about the consequences of our own actions. I’m with him in believing that we have a very dangerous capacity to whitewash our own sins and highlight those of others. I do think the US – mainly since 9/11 – has been generating violence on a large scale, most recently by invading and occupying Iraq and not providing minimal security for its inhabitants, leading to a sectarian bloodbath bigger even that Syria’s current horror.
But really: the US has generated more violence and militarism in the last sixty years than any other country? Has Glenn heard of the Cultural Revolution? Or the reign of Pol Pot? Or the brutal legacy of Stalin?
Or the invasion and suppression of Central Europe by the Soviets? Or the Chinese campaign to immiserate Tibet? Or the Rwandan civil war? Or the Balkan atrocities (which the US helped stop)? Or the civil war in Congo? Or Bashir Assad in Syria? Or Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war? Or the brutal repression of the Iranian regime in 2009?
Yes, we need to look our own recent militarism and war crimes with a clear eye. But America has not been the most violent and militaristic country on the planet over the last six decades. We are not inherently a force for good – no country can be. We are all humans prone to human failings and crimes. But I’m not going to stand by and have the US equated with the Soviet Union and Mao’s China and Saddam’s Iraq and Assad’s Syria without a protest.