For eight seasons, Game of Thrones has been watched by millions of viewers around the world. The show is known for its at times gruesome fictional depictions of Medieval life. In its penultimate episode, fans of the show were enraged by the dark and violent turn of Daenerys Targaryen. Daenerys uses her dragon to murder nearly one million innocent people even though the military of Queen Cerci Lannister had formally surrendered. Since the early seasons, Daenerys branded herself as a "breaker of chains" who sought not only to win the Iron Throne but also to abolish its oppressive function. Those who are angry at the fictional television character should note that the history of U.S. foreign policy is significantly worse than anything Daenerys or the entire seven kingdoms have accomplished.
Like Daenerys Targaryen, millions of Americans have been led to believe that the U.S. is a force for good in the world. Political and economic elites have narrated the history of the U.S. as a progressive development, one that first involved the "revolution" against the British Empire and then the abolition of formal chattel slavery almost a century later. The U.S. has since gone on to grace the world with its heroic motives to free the world from tyranny and oppression just as it had done against the British Crown. At least that's what the powers that be control the U.S. have told us since so-called "independence."
The U.S.' expansionist project has thus been portrayed as having the same goals as Daenerys Targaryen. Just as the colonialists brought "civilization" to the native and the African through genocide and enslavement, the American republic brought democracy and liberty to the supposedly backwards people of nations such as the Philippines at the expense of millions of lives in the late 19th century to early 20th century. Under the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny, the U.S. was ordained by god to pillage and plunder Latin America and all lands west and south of its colonial borders. It was in these massacres of indigenous inhabitants that the U.S. gained the economic and military power to export its ruthless capitalist and white supremacist relations worldwide.
The U.S. was an "exceptional" society and justified in its global endeavors from the very beginning. Indeed, the Monroe Doctrine explicitly stated that U.S. military intervention was necessary to ensure the independence and protection of Latin American nations from Spanish incursion. Unlike the Dragon Queen, the U.S. never possessed benevolent intentions. Rather, American exceptionalism provided a strong justification for whatever crimes were committed in the name of liberty and democracy. As a rising empire, the U.S. could posit itself as an emerging and system that carried out domination in a more "civilized" and "democratic" manner. But make no mistake, domination and exploitation formed the basis of U.S. foreign policy because domination and exploitation were at the root of its settler colonial system.
Daenerys Targaryen's "breaker of chains" slogan is a useful metaphor for the ideology that would guide U.S. foreign policy after World War II. The U.S. strategically positioned itself during the two imperialist world wars of the twentieth century to become the world's economic and military superpower. Twenty-seven million Soviet citizens died fighting fascism while the U.S. denied entrance to Jews fleeing Nazism, used nuclear weapons to intimidate the Soviet Union, boosted its military production through the lend-lease system, and fought to wrestle control of Japanese colonial possessions to the East. The U.S. falsely portrayed its participation in World War II as a successful military intervention that prevented the rise of fascism. Ever since, U.S. foreign policy elites have told us that war is an effective tool for spreading American-style democracy and freedom abroad against so-called dictators and tyrannical regimes.
What has transpired in Game of Thrones helps us understand U.S. foreign policy since 1945 except on a much larger and more destructive scale. U.S. expansionism since the end of World War II has killed an estimated 20-30 million people worldwide in 37 victim nations. During the so-called "Forgotten War" in Korea, the U.S. used napalm to level over seventy percent of the country and murder three million people. A similar number of people were killed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam war, with the U.S. also contaminating millions of Vietnamese with poisonous Agent Orange chemicals. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, it not only caused the deaths of over a million Iraqis over an eight-year period but also ensured long-term social death by infecting the population with depleted uranium.
This only scratches the surface of the massive devastation caused by U.S. foreign policy. In recent years, the U.S. has murdered hundreds of thousands in Syria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan by providing military support to proxy wars, drone strikes, and sanctions. Palestinians have been killed in the thousands by U.S.-backed Israeli invasions of Gaza since 2009 alone. The truth is that the U.S. is such an effective killing machine that the number of casualties produced by its war ventures are too numerous to track. In this way, Daenerys Targaryen cannot compete with the massive destruction of existing U.S. foreign policy.
Unlike Game of Thrones, which is a fictional television show based in a pre-capitalist epoch, U.S. foreign policy is a critical component of the identity of an entire nation. This nation, the United States, stands at the head of a global capitalist system. Despite causing the deaths of millions through foreign policy alone, the U.S. has been touted as the most exceptional and advanced society in human history by its rulers. U.S. elites claim that foreign policy represents the values of democracy, liberty, and freedom. U.S. foreign policy has also been credited for making the United States the wealthiest country on the planet.
That wealth, however, is derived from endless scorched earth warfare and the historic plunder of a cruel and crisis-ridden capitalism system. The U.S. capitalist system is not equally distributed. Eighty percent of people in the U.S. live paycheck to paycheck. Three individuals own more wealth than half of the U.S. population. Black median wealth is $1700. The legacy of slavery and white supremacy live on, with Black Americans comprising of over one-third of the 2.2 million prisoners in the United States. These conditions are protected at home and exported abroad through U.S. foreign policy.
The U.S. has been at war nearly every year of its existence. Endless U.S. warfare began when the first English colonizers arrived on the shores of what is now the United States. Stolen labor and stolen land allowed the U.S. to spread its "Empire of Liberty" abroad at the expense of millions of African and Indigenous lives. While fans of Game of Thrones continue to struggle with the brutality of their hero Daenerys Targaryen, U.S. foreign policy makes the Dragon Queen look like a dove in comparison. We live in a period where not even fictional corporate media entertainment can outdo the massively destructive history of U.S. foreign policy. This should concern us most of all.