By Edward Curtin
The past is not dead; it is people who are sleeping. The current night and daymares that we are having arise out of murders lodged deep in our past that have continued into the present. No amount of feigned amnesia will erase the bloody truth of American history, the cheap grace we bestow upon ourselves. We have, as Harold Pinter said in his Nobel address, been feeding on "a vast tapestry of lies" that surrounds us, lies uttered by nihilistic leaders and their media mouthpieces for a very long time. We have, or should have, bad consciences for not acknowledging being active or silent accomplices in the suppression of truth and the vicious murdering of millions at home and abroad.
But, as Pinter said, "I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory."
No one is more emblematic of this noble effort than David Ray Griffin, who, in book after book since the attacks of 11 September 2001, has meticulously exposed the underside of the American empire and its evil masters. His persistence in trying to reach people and to warn them of the horrors that have resulted is extraordinary. Excluding his philosophical and theological works, this is his fifteenth book since 2004 on these grave issues of life and death and the future of the world.
In this masterful book, he provides a powerful historical argument that right from the start with the arrival of the first European settlers, this country, despite all the rhetoric about it having been divinely founded and guided, has been "more malign that benign, more demonic than divine." He chronologically presents this history, supported by meticulous documentation, to prove his thesis. In his previous book, Bush and Cheney: How They Ruined America and the World, Griffin cataloged the evil actions that flowed from the inside job/false flag attacks of September 11th, while in this one -- a prequel -- he offers a lesson in American history going back centuries, and he shows that one would be correct in calling the United States a "false flag empire."
The attacks of 11 September 2001 are the false flag fulcrum upon which his two books pivot. Their importance cannot be overestimated, not just for their inherent cruelty that resulted in thousands of innocent American deaths, but since they became the justification for the United States' ongoing murderous campaigns termed "the war on terror" that have brought death to millions of people around the world. An international array of expendable people. Terrifying as they were, and were meant to be, they have many precedents, although much of this history is hidden in the shadows. Griffin shines a bright light on them, with most of his analysis focused on the years 1850-2018.
As a theological and philosophical scholar, he is well aware of the great importance of society's need for religious legitimation for its secular authority, a way to offer its people a shield against terror and life's myriad fears through a protective myth that has been used successfully by the United States to terrorize others. He shows how the terms by which the U.S. has been legitimated as God's "chosen nation" and Americans as God's "chosen people" have changed over the years as secularization and pluralism have made inroads. The names have changed, but the meaning has not. God is on our side, and when that is so, the other side is cursed and can be killed by God's people, who are always battling el diabalo.
He exemplifies this by opening with a quote from George Washington's first Inaugural Address where Washington speaks of "the Invisible Hand" and "Providential agency" guiding the country, and by ending with Obama saying "I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being." In between we hear Andrew Jackson say that "Providence has showered on this favored land blessings without number" and Henry Cabot Lodge in 1900 characterize America's divine mission as "manifest destiny." The American religion today is American Exceptionalism, an updated euphemism for the old-fashioned "God's New Israel" or the "Redeemer Nation."
At the core of this verbiage lies the delusion that the United States, as a blessed and good country, has a divine mission to spread "democracy" and "freedom" throughout the world, as Hilary Clinton declared during the 2016 presidential campaign when she said that "we are great because we are good," and in 2004 when George W. Bush said, "Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom." Such sentiments could only be received with sardonic laughter by the countless victims made "free" by America's violent leaders, now and then, as Griffin documents.
Having established the fact of America's claim to divine status, he then walks the reader through various thinkers who have taken sides on the issue of the United States being benign or malign. This is all preliminary to the heart of the book, which is a history lesson documenting the malignancy at the core of the American trajectory.
"American imperialism is often said to have begun in 1898, when Cuba and the Philippines were the main prizes," he begins. "What was new at this time, however, was only that America took control of countries beyond the North American continent." The "divine right" to seize others' lands and kill them started long before, and although no seas were crossed in the usual understanding of imperialism, the genocide of Native Americans long preceded 1898. So too did the "manifest destiny" that impelled war with Mexico and the seizure of its land and the expansion west to the Pacific. This period of empire building depended heavily on the "other great crime against humanity" that was the slave trade, wherein it is estimated that 10 million Africans died, in addition to the sick brutality of slavery itself. "No matter how brutal the methods, Americans were instruments of divine purposes," writes Griffin. And, he correctly adds, it is not even true that America's overseas imperialistic ventures only started in 1898, for in the 1850s Commodore Perry forced "the haughty Japanese" to open their ports to American commerce through gunboat diplomacy.
Then in 1898 the pace of overseas imperial expansion picked up dramatically with what has been called "The Spanish-American War" that resulted in the seizure of Cuba and the Philippines and the annexing of Hawaii. Griffin says these wars could more accurately be termed "the wars to take Spanish colonies." His analysis of the brutality and arrogance of these actions makes the reader realize that My Lai and other more recent atrocities have a long pedigree that is part of an institutional structure, and while Filipinos and Cubans and so many others were being slaughtered, Griffin writes, "Anticipating Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's declaration that 'we don't do empire,' [President] McKinley said that imperialism is 'foreign to the temper and genius of this free and generous people.'"
Then as now, perhaps mad laughter is the only response to such unadulterated bullshit, as Griffin quotes Mark Twain saying that it would be easy creating a flag for the Philippines:
We can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.
That would have also worked for Columbia, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and other countries subjugated under the ideology of the Monroe Doctrine; wherever freedom and national independence raised its ugly head, the United States was quick to intervene with its powerful anti-revolutionary military and its financial bullying. In the Far East the "Open Door" policy was used to loot China, Japan, and other countries.
But all this was just the beginning. Griffin shows how Woodrow Wilson, the quintessentially devious and treacherous liberal Democrat, who claimed he wanted to keep America out of WW I, did just the opposite to make sure the U.S. would come to dominate the foreign markets his capitalist masters demanded. Thus Griffin explores how Wilson conspired with Winston Churchill to use the sinking of the Lusitania as a casus belli and how the Treaty of Versailles's harsh treatment of Germany set the stage for WW II.