El Salvador Guatemala Movies United States US Hypocrisy US Terrorism War

The American Dance of Life: A Handful of Unrelated but Connected Notes on the U.S. and War

The American Dance of Life: A Handful of Unrelated but Connected Notes on the U.S. and War

Diego Rivera’s portray at the starting of this text is known as “Gloriosa victoria” (“Glorious Victory”) and was carried out by him in 1954 as a protest towards the U.S. overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected authorities that very same yr. At the portray’s middle, U.S. Sec. of State John Foster Dulles shakes palms with the new (Washington-approved) president of Guatemala whereas behind them different U.S. officers hand out cash to Guatemalan troopers.

This previous Memorial Day, one vet who wasn’t honored by anybody but me was my Uncle Adam on my dad’s aspect. He died just a few years in the past, my final older relative. A civilian for god is aware of what number of many years, he was nonetheless a corporal at coronary heart. And he had the mouth to show it. If there was a model of Scrabble for less than four-letter phrases, he would’ve by no means misplaced a recreation.

But the necessary factor is that this. In case you’re a vet like he was, once you die the authorities abruptly seems out of nowhere to explain your demise as the passing-on of an American hero, all previous crimes absolved. The VA might have scorned your declare that your most cancers resulted out of your tour of obligation at Space 9 of the Nevada Atomic Check Website, or it might have turned a blind eye to the signs you suffered after your publicity to napalm in Vietnam, or it might have been aggravated by your declare that you simply returned from Afghanistan with PTSD, but when you’re lifeless every part’s forgotten and the White Home bellows —

This man’s a hero!

You see, that’s the way it occurs. They bury you as a hero to cover the incontrovertible fact that when alive they handled you want shit.


One occasion from virtually thirty years in the past left an indelible impression on me. It illustrated for me how society as an entire, together with each establishment and product and leisure that’s half of it, more and more turns into a mass-delivery gadget for saturating us with the propaganda vital for protecting us synced to what’s psychologically required of us to ensure that the nation’s financial elites to retain energy — and develop wealthier. Simply assume of how typically we purchase a tee-shirt emblazoned with the identify of the firm which manufactured it. This exhibits how the U.S. financial (and cultural) system has conditioned us to do what would have been thought-about unattainable years in the past: to fork up our hard-earned money for the “privilege” of promoting a producer’s product with no value to the firm! We’ve turned ourselves into strolling billboards for company America’s additional enrichment.

But that’s solely the small-fry stuff.

On Tremendous Bowl Sunday 1991, whereas Frank Gifford and his colleagues introduced the recreation on ABC, their play-by-play commentary was spliced with reside war-updates from the community’s then-top newscaster, Peter Jennings.  After some time, it was inconceivable for the viewing viewers to inform which was the principal attraction: the recreation or the conflict. But in actuality, the query was irrelevant. The fact was that ABC had created a brand new variety of occasion, a hybrid type of exercise which switched effortlessly again and forth between the “pastime” of actual blood being spilled in an actual warfare and one other pastime, the soccer recreation’s extremely disciplined athletic violence. A tremendous simultaneity had been achieved: the crowd’s roar was like a split-personality screaming in 2 voices directly — one voice cheered on Baghdad’s obliteration, the different shouted for operating again Otis Anderson as he plunged off-tackle towards MVP immortality.

This show of athletics and patriotism was strengthened by a Disney-influenced halftime present that featured a blond baby, surrounded by a refrain of different youngsters, singing, “You are my hero, you are everything I want to be” in honor of US service individuals in the Gulf. As the boy’s sweetly warbled track turned the Florida air into an oozing goo of patriotic emotion, upbeat photographs of US army personnel periodically flashed on the TV. All this exercise quickly led to a particular message, projected on the stadium’s big display in addition to on televisions throughout the nation, from President Bush. In his message, the president extolled the virtues of preventing a conflict by which goodness (i.e., the US) would conquer evil (i.e., Iraq). As halftime ended and the 2 groups ready to renew their battle on the area, followers waved flags and a patriotic jolt higher than any crack excessive swept by way of the stadium crowd and the nation’s tens of millions of TV viewers.  When the kickoff occurred, someplace in the Center East an Iraqi goal was undoubtedly leveled, detonated by a high-tech US weapon. The crowd cheered.

In the midst of such patriotism-infused cultural occasions, with people who find themselves able to kill for his or her nation bonding in all places in a euphoria of nation-love, it’s troublesome to be a nonconformist, which is why the concept of turning the entire of society right into a sprawling propaganda machine appeals to the 1 %.

Occasions like the 1991 Tremendous Bowl increase politics to the degree of pure spectacle.  Such occasions — with their efforts to induce a trance-like nationwide delight, and their emphasis on the wholesomeness of the army mentality and the ethical purity of these in energy — usually are not confined solely to the US and are usually not with out precedent in the previous. An instance of that is Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Triumph of the Will, the German movie that may be a basic of Nazi propaganda and which incorporates many of the similar parts that the 1991 Tremendous Bowl/Gulf struggle extravaganza included. Riefenstahl’s movie is alive, not with obvious hatred, but with the obvious energy of goodness. Triumph is a feast of the pictures of such goodness: blond younger males smiling and expressing male solidarity, buxom ladies working onerous for the nationwide good, a really feel for the middle-European magnificence of German cities and countryside, and a night-time political rally at Nuremberg which, with lit torches and an virtually churchly environment, appears, not like an earthly political occasion, but moderately like a futuristic mass in honor of every thing mysterious and noble in the galaxy. The movie’s function was to create in the hearts of “good” Germans a way of grand nationwide future, a euphoric consciousness of their historic mission to reorganize life on the planet in the identify of a better good that solely they, amongst the world’s peoples, have been succesful of comprehending. Nazism’s deepest realities — racism, hatred of democracy, its perception in the usefulness of genocide — have been hidden in the movie behind pictures of pleased nuclear households and people dedicated to conventional values. In the finish, of course, these romanticized conventional values killed 6 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of different individuals.

Simply as Triumph obscured the particulars of Nazism’s character as a hate philosophy, so the 1991 Superbowl spectacle obscured the particulars of the US elite’s political/financial ambitions with regard to the center east.  It additionally hid some of the struggle’s dirtier particulars — as an example, the US authorities’s willingness to show its troops (and then to disclaim it did so) to chemical and organic weapons, and additionally the Pentagon’s coverage of killing Iraqi civilians as a method of making an attempt to pressure the inhabitants into eradicating Saddam Hussein from energy. The burial of such particulars shouldn’t shock us. Like Riefenstahl’s movie, the objective of the 1991 Superbowl spectacle was to not present us with goal war-related info whereas the recreation was going on, but relatively to control individuals emotionally. Adopting methods just like the ones utilized in the pro-Nazi documentary, ABC and the White Home employed wholesome-looking photographs for the function of instilling in the viewer a grandiose sense of nationwide superiority. All of that is half of the language (phrases, symbols, photographs) of our American id, our (theoretically) plain wholesomeness.


None of us can escape it. It might be solely a noise in the distance now, but it’s rising louder. As hundreds of ft drum the floor, a procession of refugees, most of them from Central America, march towards the U.S.’s southern border.

These are the individuals who make up Trump’s hated “caravan.”

Nevertheless it’s incorrect to hyperlink the caravan difficulty solely to Trump. Doing so not solely misses the level, it trivializes the level to the brink of irrelevance.

The level is that this: Why are they marching right here? Is it just because they’re jealous of U.S. wealth and need a piece of the pie? Or is it out of pure malice; do they get a sick thrill out of the concept of stealing U.S. residents’ jobs?

It’s stated that these in the know — the insiders with safety clearances, the higher-ups, the specialists — perceive higher than we do what’s going on in the world. The widespread knowledge assures us of that. Theoretically, it’s exactly such higher understanding that has led the U.S. Customs and Border Safety division of the Division of Homeland Safety to more and more resist immigration from the southern Americas. Equally, it prompted Obama to deport extra immigrants from Latin America than any president previous to him. It’s additionally why Trump, Obama’s successor, now talks in reverent tones a few Superb Wall, which supposedly will shield us from Latin America’s unwanteds.

What, although, is that this development’s objective? What do “those in the know” know that has persuaded them this can be a good concept? What secret info do they possess that purportedly makes them higher capable of grasp this concern than we’re?

Nicely, no matter it’s, it will probably’t be so coated up that we will’t find it. Why not? All that’s required of an environment friendly knowledge-hunter is a robust cussed streak, rather a lot of digging in the darkish, a expertise for scavenging and a low tolerance for b.s.

From 1980–1992, El Salvador was torn by violence precipitated by its military-led authorities. Even with all the assets made out there to it as the end result of U.S. help, the authorities couldn’t suppress in style dissent over its damaged guarantees to extend financial fairness and political democracy. One purpose for the authorities’s problem was that in response to its earlier acts of repression, by 1980 the most necessary left and progressive formations in the nation had shaped an umbrella group, Farabundo Martí Nationwide Liberation Entrance (FMLN), whose guerillas fought the elites’ armies.

As Washington appeared on, the authorities it propped up resorted to much more violence to revive order. Though some of these incidents — like the rape and homicide by El Salvadoran Nationwide Guardsmen of 4 churchwomen from the U.S. who have been sympathetic to the rural poor and different oppressed sectors of the inhabitants  — brought on outrage amongst American residents, the White Home continued in its help of the regime. As Jeffery M. Paige wrote in an essay on the state of affairs throughout that interval, “It is clear that El Salvador would fall tomorrow without United States military aid.”

But the U.S. wasn’t merely serving to out with assist; it was, in reality, collaborating. One dimension of Washington’s dedication to help the El Salvadoran authorities was to contain our personal army in coaching Salvadoran models in counterinsurgency. The most prized of these models was the Atlacatl Battalion, which quickly after its creation turned well-known for its relentlessness all through El Salvador.

Created in 1981, the battalion was a rapid-response unit which specialised in battling leftist guerrillas. Designed to be an exemplary preventing staff, its objective was broader than merely killing FMLN guerillas. It was additionally meant to be a kind of dwelling commercial for proving to people in the U.S. “how American money and training could transform the Salvadoran army into a professional fighting force.”

What “professional fighting force” meant on this occasion was that the unit’s effectivity in the subject entailed massacres and different varieties of unlawful violence (e.g., purposeful killing of noncombatants, and so on.). Nevertheless, since El Salvador’s rulers have been prepared to crush any left-leaning peasant, employee or scholar calls for which could conflict with its U.S. patron’s monetary or different regional pursuits, Washington continued to think about the nation an ally. The U.S. remained unbudging on this relationship all through the 1980s, regardless of what occurred.

And lots occurred.

One of these issues, a mass killing perpetrated by the Atlacatl Battalion in the village of El Mozote, was detailed in the 1993 “Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador.” After invading the village, the battalion murdered everybody they discovered, after dividing them into teams. First, they slew the males, who have been principally agricultural laborers and farmers with meager landholdings, then the ladies, then the youngsters. Though preliminary dying totals have been estimated to be in the 200-plus vary, later searches of specific websites in the village — like Santa Catarinain church the place ultimately greater than 135 our bodies have been discovered, virtually all underneath age twelve — expanded the verified quantity an excessive amount of greater, someplace in the vary of 794-1000.

The Fact Fee additionally cited in its 319-page report many different incidents of war-crime-level brutality, together with 118 civilians killed near Lake Suchitlán, an space supposedly underneath insurgent management, and the 1989 slaying of “six Jesuit priests, a cook, and her 16-year old daughter . . . at the Pastoral Centre of José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador.”

Additional, the UN stories that in complete 75,000 El Salvadorans have been killed throughout the 1980-1992 interval, with 85 % of the civilian deaths brought on by “agents of the State, paramilitary groups allied to them, and the death squads,” with the FLMN inflicting solely 5 %.

As Michael J.  Hennelly’s essay “US Policy in EI Salvador” (1993) at the Protection Technical Info Middle (DTIC) establishes, throughout this similar interval “the military and political role played by the US government was one of the most significant aspects of the Salvadoran war.” He reinforces this level by tabulating the greenback quantities spent by the U.S. on army trainers, specialised interrogation courses, army hardware, and so forth., plus “over $4 billion in assistance to help ensure the survival of the Salvadoran government”. Hennelly calculates that these expenditures amounted to “about one million dollars a day in US assistance” throughout the interval.

His remaining judgment is that the operation was properly value the funding.

The proof’s in the pudding, I assume. 75,000 individuals lifeless apparently isn’t a debit in his rose-colored-glasses account. Neither was the coincident destruction of a lot of the financial infrastructure upon which the poorer and working courses depended for survival. It’s all half of the recreation referred to as Empire.

Now it’s years later. Some of the youngsters born again then, adults now, are approaching us. They’re half of the caravan talked about earlier, males and ladies plodding ahead, infants crying, a ragged column winding northward. What drives them?

In lots of instances, as in El Salvador, the refugees are in flight from poverty and violence, residues of the hurt executed by U.S. insurance policies to their nations. These insurance policies, neocolonial/imperialist in nature, prioritized alliances with dictators whereas methodically retarding these nations’ unbiased political and financial improvement as half of a U.S. technique for ensuring no leftist reformers mobilized enough numbers of individuals to jeopardize U.S. plans for the space.

Yet one more instance of this U.S. strategy is its operations in Guatemala, notably in relation to that nation’s thirty-plus yr civil warfare, which stretched from the 1960s into the 1990s.

In 1999 the Guatemalan Fee for Historic Clarification launched a report, Reminiscence of Silence, on human rights violations and mass killings throughout the Guatemalan authorities’s repression of leftist anti-government forces. In the report’s Introduction, editor Daniel Rothenberg described the interval as

a thirty-four yr battle cast by the Chilly War, strongly influenced by U.S. overseas coverage, and so extreme that the fee decided that the state dedicated genocide towards its personal indigenous individuals.

Relating to the genocide accusation, in 2013 the Guatemalan courts discovered Common Ríos Montt, one of the dictators who led the authorities throughout the battle, responsible of genocide towards the Mayans, Guatemala’s indigenous individuals and the hardest hit of all the inhabitants sectors attacked by authorities forces and demise squads. Though sentenced to 80 years in jail, his conviction was later overturned. He died in a helicopter crash earlier than he could possibly be retried.

The query right here is why, as documented by Reminiscence of Silence, did the U.S. beneath the Reagan administration advise, practice and present worldwide cowl for Guatemalan models that killed over 100,000, principally Mayan, individuals and disappeared numerous others? Though Reagan was suggested by the CIA of Guatemalan President Ríos Montt’s approval of such killings at the peak of the dying squads’ bloodbath spree in the early 1980s, Reagan nonetheless lauded Montt in a December four,1982 assertion following a gathering with him in Honduras. “I know,” Reagan pronounced, “that President Rios Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment” whose “country is confronting a brutal challenge from guerrillas.”

The “brutal challenge” talked about right here by Reagan was a lie. As Reminiscence of Silence factors out, 93 % of all deaths throughout the Guatemalan authorities’s conflict towards its personal individuals have been perpetrated by Guatemala’s government-supported demise squads, not by Reagan’s fantasy of an evil enemy’s brutality. The report additionally confused that U.S. involvement in the battle “had significant bearing on human rights violations during the armed confrontation.”

No marvel, given the quantity of cash we poured into the nation. The quickest option to point out the degree of help given by the U.S. to the Guatemalan authorities in the latter half of the final century is to view a small slice of that help. From 1980-1986, U.S. assist to Guatemala grew from $11 million to $104 million But U.S. involvement in Guatemalan politics didn’t start in the 1980s. It started lengthy earlier than.

But such is the energy of our authorities’s tradition of non-transparency that it is ready to excommunicate such info from our nation’s official histories. Which is why traditionally the U.S. seems to be with distaste at critical investigative journalists and out-of-the-box analysts in the mould of Angela Davis, I.F. Stone, and Alexander Cockburn.

But even when buried info is unburied in the modern world, the media reburies it underneath so many pundit interpretations of what it supposedly signifies that the info is as soon as once more misplaced. What’s left afterward is society’s background noise: the ghostly echo of many simultaneous specialist monologues dissolved right into a soup of infinite chatter, not one element of which is sensible anymore.

Given this context, it’s no shock that as a nation we all know so little in the present day about Washington’s relationship with Guatemala. A relationship that additionally consists of a problem not talked about right here but: the CIA overthrow in 1954 of a democratically elected Guatemalan authorities led by President Jacobo Árbenz, an occasion believed by many to have precipitated many years of U.S.-provoked  dying and ruination in the nation.

Philip Rothenberg, Reminiscence of Silence’s editor, described the overthrow and its aftermath this manner: “In the mid-1950s, a successful ten-year democratic process that challenged the status quo was overthrown with support from the United States.” He then additional states that from the coup onwards the U.S. exerted vital management “through overt and covert means” over Guatemalan politics for many years. This management consists of the so-called civil warfare, which was truly a conflict between a succession of U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictatorships and the individuals of their very own nation, individuals preventing to recapture some of the freedom and hope they’d skilled throughout the Árbenz interval of leftist democratic reform. A interval which we, the U.S., delivered to a violent finish.

The story of this violation of worldwide regulation is another story that, if advised in the U.S. together with the story of our intervention in El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America, would assist us to raised perceive the caravans of refugees which periodically march towards our southern border.

Whether or not we perceive the cause for them coming or not, they maintain coming. The purpose for his or her coming is not any shock. It’s not as a result of the caravans consist of rabid mobs foaming at the mouth to steal our livelihoods. It’s not as a result of, as Carson Tucker instructed on Fox TV on July 17, 2018, that there’s a plan afoot for assimilating darker-skinned refugees from Latin America for the function of “changing election outcomes here by forcing demographic change on this country.”

The caravans head right here not for these causes but for others. They migrate in vital half as a result of over the many years U.S. insurance policies have left (and typically nonetheless depart) catastrophe of their wake: fractured economies, austerity budgets formed by the IMF and World Financial institution, big gulfs between poor and wealthy, and drug lords and road gangs filling the gaps left by corrupted political management.

As we speak, fleeing violence and poverty at house, many Central People head north to the U.S. That is irony in the type of the darkest black humor. In-flight for his or her lives, asylum-seekers give up homelands wrecked by U.S. neocolonialism, then migrate towards the U.S. in hope of a greater future! Such is the life of the worldwide poor underneath superior capitalism. Continuously caught between a rock and a tough place, they need to settle for assist even from these imperial outsiders liable for a lot of the hardship they’ve suffered.


I noticed an fascinating fellow final night time in Philadelphia on the nook of Chestnut St. and 2nd Ave., solely a block or so from the Indian restaurant the place Suman (my spouse) and I ate earlier.

He was one of these guys you will discover in any metropolis, a bearded character who is aware of the way to appeal to a crowd together with his shenanigans. Dressed cleanly, though, in pale loose-fitting garments that appeared like they’d been in and out of a thousand laundromats on the incorrect aspect of the tracks over the years, he wore a child’s get together hat, the sort formed like a cone and secured in place by a rubber band beneath the chin. Enjoying the buffoon, but nonetheless displaying his smarts, he glanced merrily at his rising quantity of listeners. An artist of the nonstop soliloquy, full with punchlines and melodramatic facial expressions, his oratory soared like an MC who by no means noticed an viewers he didn’t love. I couldn’t sustain with the whole lot he stated, but at one level he talked about a neighborhood referred to as Star-Spangled Estates, then some time later joked, “If you’re gonna pull yourself up by the bootstraps, you best buy a new pair of colorful Nike laces first, so when you get where you’re going they’ll know you’re the man!”

The crowd beloved him. A marvel of streetsmart articulacy, he was on a roll. Later, as he introduced his spiel to conclusion, he did a kind of bump-and-grind to punctuate his phrases, then twirled in a circle and instantly stood nonetheless, holding his arms, palms upward, in the air, with a plastic statue of liberty on one palm and a toy automated weapon on the different —

“Oh yeah, folks, let me teach you the American dance of life! Let me show you how to let it all hang loose!”

The swarm of onlookers, which had grown a lot bigger by then, roared their approval for his efficiency. It was his look that made their hearts exit to him. For them, for all of us, he was the spitting picture of an previous Uncle Sam down on his luck.

The authorities should have fired him years in the past, then outsourced his job to god is aware of the place.


Quite than expressing a fact, the phrase “The land of the free and home of the brave” impersonates a fact.

The phrase is a lure like the lure on a fishing line. We are supposed to chew down on it in a gluttonous spasm of patriotic starvation, solely to have a hook rip open the roof of our mouth, then anchor itself unbudgingly in the wound.

That is how we’re caught. How groupthink triumphs.

Revolting towards such a actuality is sensible. But to revolt doesn’t imply lecturing individuals about what they need to do. It means working alongside individuals so we will study collectively the right way to rework ourselves right into a relentless mass pressure for a revolutionary reorganization of the nation and a reinvention of values.

The wars are all over the place. Wars at residence. Imperial wars abroad. Our wrestle could also be complicated, but our objectives aren’t. We should struggle injustice and inequity wherever we discover them inside the U.S., and cease exportation of violence, homicide, and oppression to different lands. We don’t want reform, we’d like revolution.

Robert Bohm is a author on tradition and a poet. His most up-to-date ebook of poems is What the Hen Tattoo Hides (2015, West Finish Press, New Mexico). He has been a political activist since his tour of obligation with the military in 1967-68. Over the years, he has labored on wide selection of points, together with antiwar, labor, racism and schooling. He’s presently working on a guide about the U.S. left’s failure to develop new methods and techniques for confronting superior capitalism. Of his six books, one is a nonfiction work on India, his spouse’s homeland the place they’ve spent a lot time in the southern state of Karnataka. Learn different articles by Robert.