On a state visit to Chile on Monday, President Barack Obama deflected questions about U.S. support for the late Augusto Pinochet's brutal dictatorship by warning against the risks of becoming "trapped by our history." But a clear and present danger to the United States is that it is being trapped instead by false and misleading narratives.
Contrary to Obama's repeated advice to look forward not backwards, there is today a critical need to understand the past in order to develop wiser policies for the future, both domestically and internationally.
Indeed, there may be no more important mission for U.S. democracy than for the American people to demand that the government bring to the surface its secret history, which has burrowed deeper and deeper underground since the end of World War II.
Examples of why a truthful history is so important can be found in the hottest issues of today, from the war in Libya to the resurrection of "free-market" extremism just 2-1/2 years after it helped collapse the world's financial system and cost millions of Americans their jobs.
Regarding Libya, the major U.S. news media already is repeating many of the journalistic errors made in the early phases of previous conflicts against regimes led by U.S.-designated villains.
For instance, NBC spent much of Monday touting a story from "intelligence sources" about a supposed intercept of a Libyan government communique' ordering bodies from the morgue to be scattered near sites of U.S. aerial bombings. When reporters found no evidence that this tactic was actually being used, NBC correspondents gave themselves credit for heading it off.
No attention was given to the other possibility -- that U.S. propaganda experts or the Libyan opposition had planted the intercept story as a tactic to whip up more animosity toward the Libyan government and to deflect criticism of the U.S. bombings if they did kill large numbers of civilians.
Remember during the early days of the Persian Gulf War in 1990, the first Bush administration collaborated with Kuwaitis in exile to float a propaganda tale about Iraqi soldiers tearing newborn babies from hospital incubators. The ugly image rallied the American people behind a brutal aerial bombing campaign that slaughtered many Iraqi women and children.
In 2003, heading toward another war with Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed that a U.S. communications intercept caught an Iraqi official plotting to hide weapons of mass destruction from United Nations inspectors. It turned out that Powell had invented the most incriminating words and simply inserted them into his presentation to the U.N.
During that same war hysteria, the major U.S. news media, including the New York Times, hyped other propaganda about Iraq's WMD, including lies from the Iraqi opposition, thus paving the way to the U.S. invasion.
Now, the Times is justifying a new regime-change war in a Muslim country by citing, as flat fact, that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. However, there remains substantial doubt that Libya had anything to do with that attack. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Through the US Media Lens Darkly."]
Still, the Times' lead editorial on Tuesday used Gaddafi's supposed role in the Pan Am 103 bombing as its only cited example of a crime that justified treating the Libyan dictator differently than other tyrants in the Middle East who also have resorted to violence to put down popular uprisings.
The Times' editors wrote, "There is no perfect formula for military intervention. It must be used sparingly -- not in Bahrain or Yemen, even though we condemn the violence against protesters in both countries. Libya is a special case: Muammar el-Qaddafi is erratic, widely reviled, armed with mustard gas and has a history of supporting terrorism."
It is hard not to conclude that the Times is simply applying the old formula that Muslim countries led by U.S.-designated villains can be freely attacked, while those led by "moderate Arabs" -- i.e. dictators who are not viewed as threats to U.S. or Israeli interests -- should be free to be as oppressive as they choose.
That old double standard, dating back at least to 1953 and the ouster of Iran's democratically elected but nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, is one of the top reasons for the anti-Americanism that pervades much of the Muslim world.
If the American people understood this real history of U.S. relations toward the Middle East -- rather than simply swallowing the latest propaganda morsels -- they might have a much deeper awareness of "why they hate us" and be less susceptible to silly answers, like George W. Bush's "they hate our freedoms."