I watched John Pilger’s The War on Democracy last night. Highly recommended. It’s a detailed account of many of the dirty tricks the US has got up to in Central and South America over the last 60 years, particularly its covert contribution to regime change when it suited the US: by and large, this meant replacing democracies with dictatorships.
It was quite clear that the US government has never cared about what conditions were like for people in its ‘back yard’, that in fact it would happily contribute to torture etc. All the US government cares about is economic and political control of these countries, by whatever means. One American who was tortured by another American in one of these countries said people often seem to think of Abu Ghraib as a one-off instance, whereas if you look at US history, it is the norm.
What I liked was the attention to evidence through interviews and CIA documents. This isn’t much to ask, in a way, but often you don’t get it. This is why I generally don’t go with conspiracy theories, because they are nearly always complacent if not shoddy in this respect when you look into them. I think the reason for this is that the proponents are more interested in seeing what they want to see, rather than what is actually there, which is usually a lot more interesting!
Anyway, it was hilarious repeatedly seeing footage of US government denials of involvement in regime change, alongside the documents (often CIA) and interviews which proved the opposite. As it said on the cover, you should never believe anything until it’s officially denied!
I also liked his take that the US is simply behaving like empires do. This is why I don’t go with the demonization of the US that you get. And at least the US has a mechanism for getting rid of corrupt leaders i.e. elections. I’m glad I don’t live in China’s back yard, because I think they would be a lot less equivocal about getting rid of what doesn’t suit them, like Tibetan society, for example. The modern US could never have got away with that.
A point that was emphasised was human dignity, and that this is precisely what fascism takes away. There was a long interview with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela at the start. (In my opinion, with his recent backing of Mugabe, Ahmadinejad et al, he is starting to lose the plot.) And this was his point, that what he wanted for his people was not the wealth that Americans felt to be so important, but dignity.
I think that when a society is essentially competitive, as the whole world is increasingly becoming, then it tends to divide people into better and worse, winners and losers. This makes it hard for those who do not ‘get on’ in the conventional sense to respect themselves, i.e. to have dignity. Fascism is an extreme of this, where you have an authoritarian ruling elite, and everyone else is considered like rubbish, ‘poor white trash’.
The film ended on a hopeful note, describing the new wave of democracy that is happening in South America. It is pre-Obama, however, and I think it remains to be seen how the US will behave in South America under its new President. It is worth remembering what the BBC's US political correspondent Matt Frei said a while back: Obama is not Bush, but America is still America.