The Korean Genocide Part 2: The US Occupation and its Imperial Context



(In the first part of this four part post, I detailed something of the history of Korea
before US partition. I showed that a strong sense of national unity among Koreans
had, if anything, only been strengthened by Japanese imperial rule. I ended by
mentioning the strategic situation which faced the Soviet Union when the US
decided to partition Korea. As I continue, readers may be surprised by much of
what I detail herein, but these are not previously unknown facts, they are simply
things that are studiously neglected by teachers and textbook writers.)
The US strategic approach to the world mutated during World War II. At first the strategic plan
for the post-War world had called for the retention of a “Grand Area” under German
hegemony. That planning changed as it became clear that the Soviets were winning against Germany, eventually transforming into an uneven global bipolar paradigm which was the basis for the “Cold War”.1 Germany was no longer to be at the centreof a Grand Area, while Russia was. Moreover, of the four Grand Areas, the three notunder Soviet control were to be a Western condominium under US hegemony. Indeed, one of the many things that the Korean War allowed the US to achieve was the stimulation of the Japanese economy desired because it was to be the centre of one of the Grand Areas.2
The strategic logic of the Grand Area strategy was that of securing strategic
resources, the same type of logic which had led the Japanese into potentially openended
imperial aggression. The “Grand Area Strategy” was not about opposing
communism, it was about US domination. It was intended to secure the “limitation of
any exercise of sovereignty” in “an integrated policy to achieve military and
economic supremacy for the United States.”3 This strategy came from planning
conducted by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) prior to the US entry into the
war. Seeing the potential disruption to trade of the nascent World War, the council
concluded that “as a minimum, the American ‘national interests’ involved the free
access to markets and raw materials in the British Empire, the Far East, and the
entire Western hemisphere.”4 Their recommendation, therefore, was for “complete
re-armament”, but as Hossein-zadeh points out they were soon thinking beyond the
defeat of the Axis powers:

Although the Grand Area was designed as a war-time economic and military
framework in reaction to Germany’s expansionist policies, the United States
also simultaneously made tentative plans for beyond the war: to expand the
Grand Area to include continental Europe once the Axis Alliance was
defeated, thereby making the Grand Area global: The Grand Area, as the
United States-led non-German bloc was called during 1941, was only an
interim measure to deal with the emergency situation of 1940 and early 1941.
The preferred ideal was even more grandiose – one world economy
dominated by the United States. The Economic and Financial Group [of the
Council] said in June 1941, “the Grand Area is not regarded by the Group as
more desirable than a world economy, nor as an entirely satisfactory


The creation of a bipolar system favoured both sides, facilitating the construction of
a Soviet empire as well as that of US empire. This would certainly explain the
contradiction between Stalin’s rhetoric and behaviour. Many see Stalin as having
been obeisant to superior Western strength: “To accommodate the United States
and other Western powers in the hope of peaceful coexistence, Stalin often
advised, and sometimes ordered, the pro-Moscow communist/leftist parties in
Europe and elsewhere in the world to refrain from revolutionary policies that might
jeopardize the hoped-for chances of coexistence. The Soviet leader ‘scoffed at
communism in Germany,’ writes historian [D.F.] Fleming, ‘urged the Italian Reds to
make peace with the monarchy, did his best to induce Mao Tsetung to come to
terms with the Kuomintang and angrily demanded of Tito that he back the
monarchy, thus fulfilling his (Stalin’s) bargain with Churchill.’”6 But Stalin also threw
the first punch in the war of words which was a key element of the Cold War – if
only as a disingenuous theatrical display. Indeed, both Stalin and Churchill
preceded US officials in both declaring implacable enmity for implicit or explicit
ideological reasons in February and March of 1946.7
But Churchill spoke at the behest of US officials. Moreover, out of the public arena,
also in February, George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” was written. In this Kennan
concurred that the Soviet Union was by its very nature an enemy. Of course, the
Soviet Union had been severely battered by World War II and was not naturally as
wealthy and powerful as the US so Kennan could not actually make any claims that
such enmity constituted a military threat. He concluded, “it is not entirely a military
threat, I doubt that it can be effectively met entirely by military means.”8
Nevertheless he made the danger posed seem high and Dean Acheson
commented that ‘his predictions and warning could not have been better.’9
Acheson’s emphasis should be seen in context of his later comment that he felt it
necessary “to bludgeon the mass mind of ‘top government’ with the Communist
threat.”10 He described this process in the following terms, recalling an address in
1947: “In the past eighteen months, I said, Soviet pressure on the Straits, on Iran,
and on northern Greece had brought the Balkans to the point where a highly
possible Soviet breakthrough there might open three continents to Soviet
penetration. Like apples in a barrel… the corruption of Greece would infect Iran and
all to the east. It would also carry infection to Africa through Asia Minor and Egypt,
and to Europe through Italy and France….” Such hyperbole, as Chomsky points out,
was patently disingenuous as Acheson was in a position to know that his threats
were completely implausible.11 Fear of the Soviet threat began to make an impact in
the US news media in 1948, at a time when Soviet society, and in particular the Red
Army, was on the verge of total collapse.


The other key part of the containment paradigm under which the US was to operate
was established by the passage of NSC-68 through Congress. In Mark Moyar’s
words President Harry Truman “was reluctant to embrace NSC-68, but events –
especially the Korean War – led him to accept its main tenets by the middle of
1950.”12 Brian Bogart has this to say: “Along with then Secretary of State Dean
Acheson, and without any expertise in Russian history or Soviet affairs, Nitze
convinced – some say coerced – Truman into recognizing the Soviet Union as an
evil and imminent threat, and into signing NSC-68 and launching the Cold War. After
NSC-68 was signed, it needed the approval of Congress. Post-Cold War documents
suggest that the Korean War was triggered by Americans and South Koreans for
this purpose.”13 The Soviet Union was officially designated as an inextricably
essential enemy, eternally hostile and aggressive, who could never be negotiated
with unless they completely renounced their ideology and embraced Western norms
and systems of governance.14 This established the preeminence of the military as
the key economic consideration for US governments. It also enshrined a policy of
the perpetual maintenance of US military supremacy.15 In other words the US was
to be put in a endless state of wartime economic functioning. The espoused
ideological opposition to communism was merely a tool to facilitate a highly
militarised interventionist global hegemony. Ironically, or perhaps revealingly,
Kennan’s famous ‘X’ article (an article published in Foreign Affairs under the
pseudonym ‘X’ which many consider the ideological basis of containment) about
Soviet power made much the same observation of the instrumental motives behind
the Soviet Union’s show of adherence to Marxist-Leninist ideology.16
The fact is that the US aimed to create, almost at a stroke, the largest empire in
human history, trading on unprecedented economic and military predominance to
create permanent dominion. Where all other major industrial areas of the world had
been destroyed or crippled by the war, US industry had grown rapidly, accounting
for fully half of the entire world’s manufacturing capacity by the war’s end, and
growing to 60% by 1950.17 They had retained all of their gold reserves which had
reached 75% of the world’s total reserves in the 1930s thanks to the dogged
pursuance of debts incurred in the previous World War.18 On the same subject, they
had broken their previous record as the largest creditor state in history.19 The US
had an unparalleled degree of political capital, the cruelties of Axis occupation
making it widely seen as a liberator. Less tainted than other allies by imperialist
practices, colonial people’s viewed it as genuinely adherent to the Atlantic Charter’s
prromise to “respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under
which they will live….”20 The US was able to use such advantages to further its
dominance by creating supranational economic institutions – the Bretton Woods
institutions of the “World Bank” and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – which it
could effectively control. The US directly appoints the president of the World Bank,
while both it and the IMF were created with voting powers assigned almost
exclusively on the basis of who put the most money in. The US thus bought over
one third of the votes of the World Bank at the outset, and had a similar percentage
of IMF votes.21 (Since that time voting rights have become even more skewed in
favour of powerful states and the Bretton Woods institutions have been transformed
into a tool for allowing those powerful states to exercise effective economic
sovereignty becoming, in Naomi Klein’s words, “the primary vehicles for the
advancement of the corporatist crusade.”)22
The US also played a large role in deciding the constitution of the United Nations. In
effect the United Nations became a tool of US foreign policy. As Noam Chomsky

The dominant élite [US] view with regard to the UN was well expressed in
1992 by Francis Fukuyama, who had served in the Reagan-Bush State
Department: the UN is “perfectly serviceable as an instrument of American
unilateralism and indeed may be the primary mechanism through which that
unilateralism will be exercised in the future.” His prediction proved accurate,
presumably because it was based on consistent practice going back to the
early days of the UN. At that time, the state of the world guaranteed that the
UN would be virtually an instrument of US power. The institution was greatly
admired, though élite distaste for it increased notably in subsequent years.
The shift of attitude roughly traced the course of decolonization, which
opened a small window for “the tyranny of the majority”: that is, for concerns
emanating from outside the centers of concentrated power that the business
press calls the “de facto world government” of “the masters of the universe.”
When the UN fails to serve as “an instrument of American unilateralism” on
issues of élite concern, it is dismissed. One of many illustrations is the record
of vetoes. Since the 1960s the US has been far in the lead in vetoing Security
Council resolutions on a wide range of issues, even those calling on states to
observe international law. Britain is second, France and Russia far behind.
Even that record is skewed by the fact that Washington’s enormous power
often compels the weakening of resolutions to which it objects, or keeps
crucial matters off the agenda entirely Washington’s wars in Indochina, to cite
one example that was of more than a little concern to the world.23

united nations building in nyc

Thus the Korean War served as a crucial catalyst to achieving the crucial militarised
component of US dominance, and Cumings joins those who focus more broadly on
US imperialism (Chomsky, Kolko, Hossein-Zadeh, Bacevich, Johnson and many
more) in iterating the centrality of the Korean War in transforming US society,
creating the “military-industrial complex” and facilitating global domination, because
it allowed NSC-68 to be enacted and validated, however deceptively. Cumings also
emphasises the late-1949 NSC-48 which established a “Monroe Doctrine”-like right
of intervention to prevent sovereign entities from, among other things, “general
industrialisation” which might come at the cost of “comparative advantage”.24 Thus
the Korean War was not merely a catalyst for the establishment of domestic and
international institutions of empire, it was a prime exemplar of the manner in which
military force was to be used to enforce imperial hegemony. To understand why
genocide was employed, it is necessary to examine precedents adopted by the US
from the British empire.
The use of the term “comparative advantage” is telling. Taken from the classical
economist David Ricardo, it is, consciously or unconsciously, a dishonest way of
referring to Kennan’s “pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain a
position of disparity.”25 Thus the continuity of imperial practices with those of the
British, who also utilised Ricardo as an excuse for preventing development among
dependencies. Ricardian liberalism played the role that the Friedmanite
neoliberalism and monetarism of the Washington Consensus plays today – that of
“useful foolishness” to use Hudson’s words.26 In arrogating to itself such a wide
imperium, the US had a problem. Billions of people were in the process of achieving
independence from formal colonial control, how then would the US ensure that their
resources remained at its disposal as was called for in Grand Area planning? In
order to do that one must maintain the dependency that attends colonial economic
relations. In the early 19th century Britain had already started extending such
relations without formal control as has already been described. To do so, they
employed Ricardo and Adam Smith. Korean economist Ha Joon Chang quotes
Friedrich List in 1840 who wrote:

It is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit
of greatness he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up in order
to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him. In this lies the secret
of the cosmopolitical doctrine of Adam Smith, and of the cosmopolitical
tendencies of his great contemporary William Pitt and of all his successors in
the British Government administrations.
Any nation which by means of protective duties and restrictions on navigation
has raised her manufacturing power and her navigation to such a degree of
development that no other nation can sustain free competition with her. can
do nothing wiser than to throw away these ladders of her greatness. To
preach to other nations the benefits of free trade, and to declare in penitent
tones that she has hitherto wandered in the paths of error. and has now for
the first time succeeded in discovering the truth.27

Kicking away 9781843310273_1_1

There was a further problem for the US explained by Michael Hudson:

…[T]he U.S. balance of payments had reached a surplus level unattained by
any other nation in history. It had an embarrassment of riches, and now
required a payments deficit to promote foreign export markets and world
currency stability. Foreigners could not buy American exports without a means
of payment, and private creditors were not eager to extend further loans to
countries that were not creditworthy.
The Korean War seemed to resolve this set of problems by shifting the U.S.
balance of payments into deficit. Confrontation with Communism became a
catalyst for U.S. military and aid programs abroad. Congress was much more
willing to provide countries with dollars via anti-Communist or national
defense programs than by outright gifts or loans, and after the Korean War
America’s military spending in the NATO and SEATO countries seemed to be
a relatively bloodless form of international monetary support. In country after
country, military spending and aid programs provided a reflux of some of the
foreign gold that the United States had absorbed during the late 1940s.28

Obviously, this was not a sustainable solution – in fact it was the 2nd Indochina War
which half-forced and half-facilitated a more long-term solution. Unsustainable it
may have been, but there is a certain elegance to combining in one single
programme a massive change (the creation of the Cold War) which militarised
society and provided both the weaponry and ideological pretext for intervention in
maintaining a newly minted empire while yet addressing the unwelcome effects of
the desired economic predominance by providing currency but in such a way that,
since it came in the form of military aid, could be used to deepen dependency whilst
not providing any means for unwelcome economic development.
To understand how such a system might work it is necessary to examine some
exemplars of US “neocolonial” practices. For clients the US may often choose the
established latifundistas29 of the traditional imperialist. Galeano describes the role
of the latifundia: “Subordinated to foreign needs and often financed from abroad…
the present-day latifundio [is] one of the bottlenecks that choke economic
development and condemn the masses to poverty and a marginal existence in Latin
America today. … [I]t merely needs to pay ridiculously low or in-kind wages, or to
obtain labor for nothing in return for the laborer’s use of a minute piece of land.”30
Simultaneously, however, the US has shown a preference for two other forms of
client oligarchy – kleptocracy and militarised authoritarianism. These are not
exclusive categories, with many regimes embodying all three.
The US love of kleptocrats can be seen in their choice of whom to elevate when
overthrowing or attempting to overthrow various governments. US invasions of
Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti led to the instalation of Batista, the Duvaliers, and the
Somozas – all notorious for corruption and brutality.31 Mobutu Sese Seko, who
came to power “in a military coup designed by the United States,”32 would steal an
estimated $5 billion in his US supported time as dictator.33 The Contras were mainly,
according to one NSC staffer, “liars motivated by greed and the desire for power,
and charged that the war had become a business for them. They attacked bridges,
electric generators, but also state-owned agricultural co-operatives, rural health
clinics, villages and non-combatants.”34 Manuel Noriega was known for certain to be
dealing drugs from 1971, but remained on the US payroll and continued to get
diplomatic support until 1986. By this stage he was no longer involved in the drug
This is very far from a complete list of corrupt US clients, and is not because, as is
often construed, the US was completely amoral with regard to its choice of clients,
not caring if they were brutal and venal. The orthodox criticism is that the US only
cared for leaders that were friendly to US commercial interests and (during the Cold
War) were steadfastly anticommunist, without any reference to their venality or
brutal treatment of their own people. This attitude is supposedly exemplified by
Franklin Roosevelt’s comment about Somoza: “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s
our son of a bitch.” 36 Far from being neutral on the question of venality, there is an
obvious strategic imperative which explains why, despite some political cost, the US
has preferred to extend patronage to those it knows to be corrupt, namely that the
corrupt and the greedy will put the interests of their paymasters ahead of those of
their own people.
A similar logic to the preference for venality also applied to a preference for brutal
authoritarianism. The US developed a particular facility for creating military
dependence by fostering a military élite reliant on US military aid and faced with a
hostile populace, often accompanied by varying degrees of insurgent activity or civil
war which bore the hallmarks of war systems.37 In Iran, for example, the CIA’s first
coup, considered at the time “its greatest single triumph,”38 installed the Shah
Mohammed Reza Pahlevi in a position of supreme power. The CIA “wove itself into
Iran’s political culture.”39 They created SAVAK, a notorious “intelligence” agency,
trained in torture by the CIA40 and supported by the CIA and DIA in a domestic and
international dissident assassination programme.41 Repression was at its peak
between 1970 and 1976 resulting in 10,000 deaths.42 By 1976 Amnesty
International’s secretary general commented that Iran had ‘the highest rate of death
penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture that
is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record of human rights than
Iran.’43 Nafeez Ahmed cites the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) who detail
an extensive police state of intense surveillance and informant networks and torture
“passed on to it” by US, UK and Israeli intelligence. Ahmed quotes the FAS on
methods including “electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and
pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the
extraction of teeth and nails.”44 The US attitude to such repression can be seen in
the official reaction to the unrest developing in the late 1970s. Aside from US
officials consistently urging and praising military responses to protest action,
including inevitable massacres,45 the US ambassador objected strongly to a
reduction in repression. In June 1978 he reported his finding that, “the Shah’s new
directives to his security forces, such as instructions to desist from torture… are

Hard on the heels of Operation Ajax, which overthrew Iran’s government, was
Operation Success in Guatemala. According to Carlos Figueroa Ibarra, the US
operation was the “principle cause” of the overthrow of the Arbenz government47 –
not a communist government but in the words of Ambassador “Pistol-packing” Jack
Puerifoy, who had worked closely with the CIA, “if the president is not a communist,
he will certainly do until one comes along.”48 What followed was a 35 year “dirty
war”. As I have already pointed out the “dirty war” designation is a myth, often used
as a cover for genocide. Although there were guerillas in Guatemala the findings of
two truth commissions make it clear that this was a case of “government repression
and terror rather than guerilla warfare.”49 The UN estimates that over 200,000 were
killed. 93% of tortures, disappearances and executions were committed by
government forces; 3% by guerilla’s and 4% described as “private”. “In a majority of
the massacres committed by the state, especially by the army, the
counterinsurgency strategy led to multiple acts of savagery such as the killing of
defenceless children, often by beating them against walls…; impaling the victims;
amputating their limbs; burning them alive; extracting their viscera while still alive
and in the presence of others… and opening the wombs of pregnant women.” A
favoured way of torturing to death was to stab someone then throw them into a pit
where they would be burnt to death.50 As Adam Jones notes: “Finally, the
Commission’s report took the important step of labeling the Guatemalan
government’s campaign as genocidal. All Maya had been designated as supporters
of communism and terrorism, the report noted, leading to ‘aggressive, racist and
extremely cruel . . . violations that resulted in the massive extermination of
defenseless Mayan communities.’”51
In 1963 when the President, General Manuel Ydigoras Fuentes who was nearing
the end of a 6 year term, allowed the return of a popular reformist exile, who the US
felt likely to become the next president, the US instigated a coup to bring Colonel
Enrique Peralta Azurdia to power. Peralta inaugurated his presidency by having
eight political and union leaders murdered by means of driving over them in rockladen
trucks.52 By this time Guatemala was experiencing protest action in cities and
a small guerilla movement in the country, incorporating remnants of a nationalist
military uprising crushed in 1960, largely by the CIA’s aerial bombardment.53 The
US pushed for a military response.54 From 1960 military assistance began a steady
climb, peaking in 1963 at the time of the coup but continued at a high level
thereafter.55 In 1966 the US began taking more of an active role.56 From this point,
and through the seventies, death squads increased in number, coinciding with an
increase in US personnel – reaching 1000 Green Berets in addition to advisors,57 in
a country with an army of only 5000.58 The Green Berets gave instruction on
“interrogation”, while US pilots dropped napalm on those unfortunate enough to be
in a ‘zona libre’ – a free-fire zone.59
The “war” was conducted primarily against noncombatants, involving mainly
massacres of Mayans and “forced disappearances” or tortures and executions of
those considered politically suspect. This is true to such an extent that none of the
accounts I have read of the “war” actually mentions combat or the deaths of
guerillas.60 The initial guerilla movement was “all but wiped-out” by 1968,61 but a
stronger movement arose in 1970s.62 As with Argentina’s “dirty war” the guerillas
became the rationale for a war against the civilian population.63 The atrocities, in
turn, must surely have fuelled the insurgency. As Greg Grandin remarks,
“Guatemala was one of the first Latin American countries to develop both a socialist
insurgency and an anticommunist counterinsurgency. Practices the United States
rehearsed in Guatemala would be applied throughout Latin America in the coming
Guatemala went through the transition to “façade democracy” of the kind that was
to become notorious under the regime of José Napoléon Duarte in El Salvador, and
might equally be equated to Nuri al-Maliki’s sectarian terror state in Iraq. As Julio
Godoy wrote in The Nation in 1990: “In Guatemala and El Salvador the electoral
alternative that emerged during the 1980s as a response to the 1979 Sandinista
triumph in Nicaragua, and to the guerilla warfare at home, is hypocritical and empty
of democratic content. Under the electoral façade – the civilian regimes in
Guatemala and El Salvador are just a public relations game, aimed at the
international community – almighty armies rule these countries, with a discretionary
degree of public presence.”65 In Guatemala this transition saw “a passing from the
open terror that distinguished old dictatorships to the clandestine terror that was the
most popular resource amongst the military dictatorship.”66 “Clandestine terror” and
military dictatorship disguised in “façade democracy” was far bloodier than “open
terror” with the greatest single period of genocidal mass murder occurring in the
early 1980s. As Jones relates: “In just six years, some 440 Indian villages were
obliterated and some 200,000 Indians massacred, often after torture, in scenes fully
comparable to the early phase of Spanish colonization half a millennium earlier. The
genocide proceeded with the enthusiastic support of the Reagan administration in
the US, which reinstated aid to the Guatemalan military and security forces when it
took power in 1981.”67

On the surface events in Iran and Guatemala suggest that US neocolonialism
follows a materialist pattern, with events being driven by the profit motive. In Iran
events were triggered by a threat to the extremely lucrative agreement between Iran
and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Corporation. In 1950 “the AIOC earned some £200 million
profit from its Iranian operations, but only paid the Iranian government £16 million in
royalties, profit share and taxes. … In fact, the British government, a Labour
government, was receiving substantially more in taxes from the AIOC’s Iranian
operations than the Iranian government itself. And this was a company in which the
British government held a 51 percent interest. The injustice was compounded by
the fact that Iranian oil cost more in Iran than it did in Britain with the Royal Navy in
particular, receiving substantial discounts. The Iranians could buy oil from the Soviet
Union at a cheaper price than they could buy it from the AIOC.”68 Popular opposition
to the renewal of the agreements set in train events which ended with the
nationalisation of Iran’s oil industry.69 In response the UK enlisted US co-operation
in a very comprehensive and meticulous plan for destabilisation and overthrow of
the Iranian government, beginning with two years of very severe economic warfare
which dragged Iran to the edge of a precipice.70 Planning began in Nicosia,
involving both the CIA and the Security Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as
MI6)71 but was finalised by the SIS.72 The CIA’s involvement was in direct
contravention of US policy, which supported Mossadeq, and Frank Wisner, head of
covert operations, commented that at times the “CIA makes policy by default.”73
The “London Draft” of “Operation Ajax” clearly drew on more than a century of
British experience in informal imperialist manipulation. It must have been quite an
education for the CIA as it became the standard model for many future overthrow
operations. The irony is that almost none of it went according to plan. The
propaganda and economic warfare programmes were very successful but all of the
clever manoeuvres planned for the actual coup fell flat.74 The US succeeded in the
end by throwing money at the problem, hiring goons to riot,75 attack Tudeh
(communist) gatherings,76 and even to conduct false-flag riots disguised as Tudeh.77
The US bribed Mullahs78 and used a combination of threats and bribery on
officials.79 The US had learnt from the British, but had invented their own style of
using massive injections of cash and profligate violence which was not clandestine,
but was loosely deniable.
Though not intended for public consumption,80 the draft Ajax plan typified the
duplicity and Orwellianism of Cold War documents. It opened: “The policy of both
the U.S. and UK governments requires replacement of Mossadeq as the alternative
to certain economic collapse in Iran and the eventual loss of the area to the Soviet
orbit. Only through a planned and controlled replacement can the integrity and
independence of the country be ensured.”81 Of course, the circumstances which
were cited as justification were entirely and deliberately the result of the British led
economic warfare programme, but, in case the point had been missed, it continued
later: “Both governments consider the oil issue of secondary importance at this
time, since the major is the resolve for both governments to maintain the
independence of Iran.”82
In Guatemala the profit motive is even further to the fore. As mentioned, Walter
Bedell Smith and Allen Dulles, planners of both Iran and Guatemala coups, had
links to the United Fruit Company (UFC). The reformist Arbenz government
expropriated uncultivated UFC land for the purposes of land reform and paid only
the $525,000 at which the UFC had valued the land for tax purposes. The UFC
wanted $16 million.83 In the final analysis, however, maintaining a situation of
economic dependence is not only a means by which surpluses can be extracted to
the benefit of commercial interests, the neglected fact is that it is also a mode of
domination, and the ongoing decades of US intervention in Guatemala cannot be
explained by an immediate concern for the profits of the UFC, no matter how well
connected. The overthrow of the Arbenz government ended reformist, redistributive
and developmentalist programmes.84 The cost of the ensuing “war”, in both the
destruction of property and the diversion of economic resources, was estimated to
have reached 121 percent of gross domestic product by 1990.85 The burden of this
fell on the poor, and more particularly on the Mayan majority, ensuring the
continuance of the crushing genocidal poverty alluded to by Eduardo Galeano:

The slaughter that is greater but more hidden – the daily genocide of poverty
– also continues. In 1968 another expelled priest, Father Blase Bonpane,
reported on this sick society in the Washington Post: “Of the 70,000 people
who die each year in Guatemala, 30,000 are children. The infant mortality rate
in Guatemala is forty times higher than in the United States”.86

The inevitable stratification leads to a situation where the interests of landowning
oligarchs, like those of the military, are tied firmly to those of the imperial power, not
those of Guatemala. Likewise, a corrupt comprador class, not necessarily separate
from the military and landowners, receives the benefit of US “aid” by acting as local
Thus one can see that there truly was an elegance to the militarised imperial
system invented by the US. Client leaders needed the military aid furnished to them
in order to suppress populations made restive by the very economic policies forced
on them by the US. They were not only economic dependencies, but military
dependencies, not dependent to guard against foreign aggression but to guard
against their own people. At the same time, in Hobsonian fashion, the military aid
involved funnelled public monies from the US (taken as tax from the citizenry) into
the hands of military industrialists who constituted a strategic asset. When things
weren’t going the right way, as with Guatemala, the produce of the military-industrial
complex would be brought to bear in order to inflict genocide and thus weaken the
nation-state sufficiently to impose or re-impose dependence. In less drastic cases,
the US might use other strategic capabilities, particularly covert and financial, which
while not perhaps constituting genocide per se are certainly undertaken in the spirit
of genocide.
Moreover, the Korean War was not merely crucial in creating the military and
ideological institutions of imperial dominance, it was more specifically crucial in
constituting one of the Grand Areas centred on a reconstructed industrially powerful
Japan.88 Essentially they recreated exactly Japan’s imperial East Asian Co-
Prosperity Sphere after having sacrificed so much to destroy it, but this time it was a
securely subordinated dependency of the US.
As I have already detailed, however, perpetual weakness can only be imposed on
those who were already weak, and those who have access to independent power,
such as the Shah, cannot be relied on to remain faithful. Korea already had
sophisticated industry and infrastructure and an educated population. Since the
former were owned by Japan, nationalisation would be cost-free and was nigh
inevitable. As Harry Truman’s friend Edwin Pauley, would report to him in 1946:
“Communism in Korea could get off to a better start than practically anywhere else
in the world. The Japanese owned the railroads, all of the public utilities including
power and light, as well as all of the major industries and natural resources.
Therefore, if these are suddenly found to be owned by The People s Committee
(The Communist Party). They will have acquired them without any struggle of any
kind or any work in developing them. This is one of the reasons why the U.S should
not waive its title or claim to Japanese external assets located in Korea until a
democratic (capitalistic) form of Government is assured.”89
Being dominated by nationalist sentiment Korea made a poor candidate as a
dependency of the West or even, as has been discussed, of the USSR. Further,
with the political landscape being dominated by those on the left who had most
effectively resisted the Japanese, the chances of a unified Korean regime arising
which would go along with privatisation, foreign ownership of industry, and
liberalisation were about nil. Added to this was the situation in China, where the
sustainability of the feckless, corrupt, fascistic Guomindang (GMD) must surely
have been doubted by some in US policy circles.
The US occupation of South Korea began ominously. Famously the soon to be
commander of the US occupation, General Hodge, was widely, if inaccurately,
reported as referring to the Koreans as “the same breed of cat as the Japanese.”90
Ironically Hodge actually opined that Koreans viewed collaborator police as the
“same breed of cat” as Japanese police,91 but the apocryphal version would, as it
turned out, be far more truly reflective of Hodge’s future actions than his actual
words. Despite a State Department determination that Korea was a “pacific” victim
of Japan’s imperialism,92 Hodge, reflecting other opinions in Washington, declared
prior to the arrival of US occupation forces that Korea was “an enemy of the United
States . . . subject to the provisions and the terms of the surrender”.93 The US acted
to maintain the Japanese occupation of Korea, not disarming the Japanese and
thrice advancing the arrival of US forces at the behest of the Japanese in Korea.94
When Hodge announced the retention of the Japanese regime soon after arriving
on September 8, the uproar was so great that General MacArthur in Tokyo
intervened to replace the Japanese Governor-General95 and Chief of Police with US
personnel after Japanese MPs shot dead two Korean protesters on September
In August, before US forces arrived, many People’s Committees sprang up in the
south.97 This led to the declaration in Seoul of a Korean People’s Republic on
September 6 distinct from that declared in the north.98 This KPR was left-wing in
orientation but did include centrist and right-wing leaders and had a broad popular
base,99 though many conservatives refused invitations to join.100 The key figure of
this movement was Yo Un-hyong whose “political views were a mixture of
Christianity, Wilsonian democracy, and socialism.” He was popular with Koreans
and many from the US.101 Other founder members of People’s Committees included
Kim Dae Jung, the distinctly non-Communist Catholic who would later become ROK
president (his participation in a People’s Committee being one of the grounds under
which he was condemned to death by the military government in 1980).102 Hodge,
however, refused to recognise or deal with the southern KPR.103 In December of
1945 he declared war of the People’s Committees and on communism, in which
category he included “leftists, anticolonial resistors, populists and advocates of land
It should be remembered that years of Japanese rule had exacerbated the already
stark inequality of Korean society, the rural masses of the south, their plight greatly
worsened by war, were in 1945 in not merely a miserable state, but a desperate
one.105 The only people who opposed land reform and the redistribution of
Japanese property were a very narrow group mainly consisting of wealthy
collaborators who feared that the taking of Japanese property would lead to further
redistribution, and poorer collaborators such as those who had served in the police
forces.106 A report to Washington from September 15, 1945 reads:

The most encouraging single factor in the political situation is the presence in
Seoul of several hundred conservatives among the older and better educated
Koreans. Although many of them have served the Japanese, that stigma
ought eventually to disappear. Such persons favor the return of the
Provisional Government and although they may not constitute a majority they
are probably the largest single group.

But, as Cumings points out, they were very clearly intervening on behalf of the
smallest group, not the largest.107
Syngman Rhee was picked as presumptive leader of South Korea by some in the
US, and flown in on MacArthur’s personal aeroplane on October 16. This was done
against US State Department objections.108 Rhee in many respects can be seen as
a model of the sort of “nationalist” leader that the US would later install in Viet Nam
and Afghanistan and would attempt to install in Iraq. One can compile a list of
remarkably similar characteristics that could, with little alteration, be applied to
Ahmed Chalabi, Ngo Dinh Diem or Hamid Karzai:


1) US residency – Rhee had lived most of his long life in exile, primarily (nearly
40 years) in the US. He was educated in the US. In fact, October 1945 was
the first time he had set foot in Korea for 26 years.109
2) Intelligence ties – Rhee was transported to Korea by the Office of Strategic
Services (OSS) who wished to pre-empt the return of other exile leaders and
to circumvent the State Department.110 He was accompanied by an “advisor”
named M. Preston Goodfellow, a former newspaper owner and editor who
had been deputy director of the OSS.111 Goodfellow was retained on active
service as an adviser to Rhee.112
3) Limited political base – Rhee had headed the exile Korean Provisional
Government from 1919 until 1925 when he was impeached and expelled
from the KPG for embezzling funds.113 From then on he “haunted and
irritated Foggy Bottom”,114 alienating the State Department by falsely claiming
leadership of the ineffectual KPG.115 Some (for example Carter Malkasian)116
claim that somehow Rhee’s WWII era anti-Japanese rhetoric made him
popular in Korea. Somewhat more realistically Stueck writes: “Despite his
absence in the United States, he was widely known in Korea and highly
respected, in part because of his advanced age… which in Korea’s
patriarchal society was considered a source of wisdom.”117 What this meant,
though, was that he was suitable as a figurehead not as a leader, so much
so that even the left-wing dominated KPR named him as Chairman without
his knowledge.118 He was also that thing most beloved of all empires for
thousands of years – part of a distinct minority. He was a Christian, a
Protestant even, and, as in Viet Nam, Christians were more inclined than
others to adopt the anti-Communist cause as evidenced by the flight south of
Christians in both countries.
4) Nationalist veneer – I use the word veneer in part because there are some
who see Rhee’s entire career as a power and money grab.119 Indeed, there is
not one thing that I know of that Rhee did which could not be interpreted as
being about the advancement and enrichment of Syngman Rhee. Remember
that his vocal anti-Japanese stance first gained him power (and access to
funds) in the KPG and then was part of his incessant attempts to establish
his non-existent leadership in US eyes. His subsequent anti-Communist
stance was equally the only way of maintaining the US support which was
his only real source of power. It is true that as a young man he was a political
prisoner, but unfortunately for those who would use this to establish his antiimperialist
credentials, it was the Korean Yi dynasty which locked him up. As
mentioned, corrupt individuals are also beloved of US imperialists and
corruption militates against nationalism. Rhee had a style of corporatist
clientalist corruption akin to the “crony capitalism” of Ferdinand Marcos. By
1960 his government’s corruption (coinciding with election rigging) had
“reached unbearable levels” and protest was so widespread that he was
forced to resign.120
5) Brutal authoritarianism – This has already been discussed as a propensity,
like corruption, in the US empire’s choice of clients. Rhee’s regime and
successor dictatorships were highly repressive. Rhee himself presided over
the killing of far more of his own people than the brutal regime of the DPRK,
did (as will be discussed in Part 4 of this post). Cumings avers that:
“American policy, of course, never set out to create one of the worst police
states in Asia.”121 This is a bold but completely baseless assertion. Naturally
there are unlikely to be any documents in which officials put forward the
suggestion or imperative to create a brutal police state, but if this was a
matter of policy then one would hardly expect to find such a document
anyway. The available evidence is that the US cleaved to him when his
record of political violence was amply clear and that there is an established
pattern of preference for repressive rulers. This applies to the military
dictators who would later rule Korea, under whom the CIA created Korean
CIA (KCIA) became a watchword for torture and murder by the early
6) Disapprobation of US analysts – As mentioned the US State Department had
little love for Rhee. This puzzling commonality is part of a broader trend –
that of actual policy being in direct opposition to the recommendations of top
analysts. I have discussed this trend or tendency in considerable detail with
relation to Indochina. Rhee was also an early example of a client opposed by
CIA analysts. As early as March 1948 a CIA report read: “The Korean
leadership is provided by that numerically small class which virtually
monopolizes the native wealth and education of the country… Since this
class could not have acquired and maintained its favored position under
Japanese rule without a certain minimum of collaboration, it has experienced
difficulty in finding acceptable candidates for political office and has been
forced to support imported expatiate politicians such as Syngman Rhee and
Kim Ku. These, while they have no pro-Japanese taint, are essentially
demagogues bent on autocratic rule.” It was noted that the unpopular regime
was “ruthlessly brutal”, made up of “extreme rightists” who retained
“substantially the old Japanese machinery” which effected “a high degree of
control over virtually all phases of the life of the people.”123 This seeming
incoherence of contradictory views can actually be interpreted as evidence of
the strength of coherence in imperial policies which continue in a systematic
fashion with very little reference to the stated policies of those who
theoretically should be shaping actual policy, as will hopefully become ever
more obvious in the reading of this work.

Thus, early in the occupation the US had thrown it’s weight behind a small grouping
of collaborator oligarchs to which they had added Syngman Rhee and the KPG.
What this grouping had going for it was control of the police forces and of gangs of
murderous fascist-style street gangs – the most notorious of whom were made up
of exiles from the north. Opposing them were the southern Communist Pak Honyong
and the aforementioned Yo Un-hyong.124 The latter had plenty of charisma and
political appeal, but neither youth gangs or police support “both essentials for
leadership in the increasingly violent climate of South Korean politics.”125 Those who
weren’t of the right-wing also had to contend with repression by the US occupation
forces who soon became so unpopular that after a mere three months of occupation
even Hodge reported that “[t]he word pro-American is being added to pro-Jap,
national traitor and collaborator.”126 Cumings explains that “[t]he American
occupation chose to bolster the status quo and resist a thorough reform of colonial
legacies, it immediately ran into monumental opposition from the mass Of South
Koreans. Most of the first year of the occupation, 1945-46, was given over to
suppression of many people’s committees that had emerged in the provinces. This
provoked a massive rebellion that spread over four provinces in the fall of
1946….”127 The US response was brutal, and involved the first of a 7 year long
“series of massacres” that would take hundreds of thousands of lives.128
The right-wing, however, was seriously split, particularly between Rhee and KPG
leader Kim Ku.129 After a 1946 election which extended only a very limited franchise
to male property owners and in which “[p]artisan police activity ensured that Rhee’s
forces would win a sizable majority…”,130 Rhee’s faction took control of an “Interim
Legislative Assembly”. Rhee and Kim Ku, however, were still at each other’s throats.
Each aimed to establish themselves as autocrat and in 1947 the CIA warned that
the authoritarianism of the right-wing would drive moderates into the left-wing camp,
which it duly did.131
A further election in May 1948 was opposed by leftists, centrists and many on the
right because it was a clear step towards the permanent division of Korea.
According to Stueck: “Ultimately, their failure to participate, together with the highly
partisan activities of police and youth groups, enabled Rhee and his allies to win
handily.”132 600 people were killed in the months leading up to the election and once
more major and bloody guerilla revolts broke out.
On the island of Cheju (Jeju), completely cut off from any DPRK involvement,
rebellion occurred in response to the violent repression of a political demonstration
in March of 1948.133 The response which involved US personnel, ROKA, and rightwing
paramilitaries brought over from the mainland, was one of incredible brutality.
Cheju had a population of 300,000134 and at the peak of the rebellion had only
30,000 “guerillas”.135 In fact the armed core of real “guerillas” who had firearms
numbered only 500136 the rest were peasants armed with farm implements and
sharpened bamboo resisting the widespread destruction of villages (20,000 homes
were destroyed)137 and the murders and massacres of those individuals or
communities deemed to be supporters of the rebellion.138 The normal enumeration
of civilian deaths on Cheju is given as “more than 30,000”. 33,000 was the amount
admitted to by the ROK news agency itself.139 Estimates of 100,000 deaths are not
unknown, however, and a recent study suggests 80,000 deaths, more than one
quarter of the population.140

In Yosu ROKA troops who refused to deploy to Cheju formed the basis of another
rebellion, again brutally suppressed with US involvement and supervision:141 “This
unorganized rebellion of the ROK army’s Fourteenth Regiment in Yosu was soon
suppressed under the direction of the KMAG, but the operation was also
accompanied by widespread violence by rightists against innocent civilians, as was
the case in Cheju.”142 The rebels executed hundreds of police, officials and
landlords, but even after the rebellion was quelled rightist revenge was brutal. A US
source reported that “loyal troops were shooting people who they had the slightest
suspicion… of giving cooperation to the communist uprising.”143
About 1000 Yosu rebels fled to the mountains and formed the nucleus of a more
organised guerilla movement. A CIA estimate put guerilla numbers at 3500-6000 in
early 1949, but many were armed only with clubs and bamboo spears.144 Those
small arms that were used seemed entirely of Japanese or US origin with no Soviet
weapons ever being captured.145 The methods of repression remained similar under
the continued leadership of James Hausman, who styled himself “father of the
Korean Army”.146 The US had made it clear to Rhee through Goodfellow that
continued US support was contingent on brutal repression of guerilla activity.147
Ostensibly US occupation forces left in June 1949, but there was a continuity of
“advisers” who were “constantly shadowing their Korean counterparts and urging
them to greater efforts.”148 The guerilla movement was effectively crushed by early
1950, but with links now established to the DPRK, US analysts believed there was a
likelihood of further “subversion”.149 Moreover even without communist activity there
was no long-term consolidation of even the ROK as a state and of the division of
Korea, let alone of the Rhee regime which remained as unpopular as ever. Rhee
ran the country with a fairly isolated clique, his “kitchen cabinet” being made up
primarily of people from the US and Koreans who had, like him, spent lengthy times
as residents of the US.150 On 30 May 1950, less than a month before what is
conventionally termed the outbreak of the Korean War, a comparatively “free”
election proved utterly disastrous for Rhee. By this stage his regime was already in
what Cumings describes as “total disarray”151 and the election resulted in only 49
seats out of 210 for the coalition which supported Rhee.152 Indeed, despite
restricted suffrage favouring the more wealthy only 31 of 210 incumbents were
returned. 126 independents were elected and Rhee’s own KNP only had 24
candidates of 154 elected.153 The National Assembly was now dominated by
moderates, many associated with Yo Un-hyong.154 (Yo had been assassinated in
1947 having become known as “the most shot at man in South Korea”155 and having
been refused, despite multiple requests, any protection by the US authorities.156)
During the period from World War II to 1950 major US actions had consistently
worked to create a lasting division of Korea. For example, when in 1947 a “Joint
Commission” was reconvened to consult with Korean groups over “unification” (a
word whose very usage implies that there were two distinct Koreas), the US
submitted a list of groups which must be consulted which included at least one
entirely fictional union of 1 million members and whose total membership was
calculated at about 70 million, 8 times the population of South Korea.157 The USSR,
whose strategic interests coincided to a degree, certainly seemed more supportive
of moves towards unification. This may, however, have been mostly a matter of
empty gestures required in order assuage their somewhat independent clients. It
was the continued Soviet insistence that no party who did not agree to a period of
trusteeship could be consulted by the aforementioned Joint Commission which
combined with the actions of the US and its clients to create an unbreakable
impasse.158 It was also the Soviet Union which took one of the most fateful steps of
all. When cholera broke out in the US zone in 1946 the Soviets blocked the
shipment of desperately needed chlorine south.159 This was the groundwork for the
economic separation of two fundamentally interdependent parts of a single country.
This was more profound, certainly, than the political division which would hardly
have been sustainable if economic intercourse remained. It left a North
Korea/DPRK with only 14% arable land and a relatively dense population which has
not been able to reliably supply its own people with food.160 It left the agricultural
South Korea/ROK stuck in a state of “underdevelopment”, medieval land tenure
conditions, and considerable grave poverty which a contemporary journalist
described as “primitive misery… squalor and poverty and degradation.”161

1 Ismael Hossein-zadeh, The Political Economy of US Militarism, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006, pp 45-6.
2 Reinhard Drifte, “Japan’s Involvement in the Korean War”, in James Cotton and Ian Neary (eds), The Korean War in History, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989, pp 120-134.
3 The Council on Foreign Relations, quoted in Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, p 15.
4 Hossein-zadeh, The Political Economy of US Militarism, pp 44-5.
5 Ibid, pp 45-6.
6 Ibid, pp 77-8, quote from D. F. Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins ,New York: Double Day, 1961, p 1060.
7 Steven L. Spiegel and Fred L. Wehling, World Politics in a New Era (2nd ed.), Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1999, pp
136, 143.
8 Efstathios T. Fakiolas, ‘Kennan’s long telegram and NSC-68: a comparative theoretical analysis.’ East European Quarterly, Vol. 31, No.4 (Jan 1998), p 420.
9 Ibid.
10 Quoted in Noam Chomsky, World Orders Old and New. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, p 27.
11 Noam Chomsky, ‘The Old and the New Cold War’ (1980) in Noam Chomsky, The Chomsky Reader. New York:
Pantheon, 1987, p 211.
12 Moyar, Triumph Forsaken, p 426 n 53.
13 Brian Bogart, ‘America Programmed for War’, Zmag, 25 September 2005. Retrieved 29 December 2005 from Note that Bogart cites as his source Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao and the Korean War, by Sergei N. Goncharov, Lewis, and Xue Litai which is generally taken as indicating the opposite conclusion. This issue will be examined further.
14 Nitze, “NSC 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security”.
15 Fakiolas, “Kennan’s long telegram and NSC-68”, pp 421-3.
16 Robert L. Hutchings, ‘X + 9/11: everything I needed to know about fighting terrorism I learned from George F. Kennan’, Foreign Policy, 143 (July-August 2004), p 70.
17 Stuart Bruchey, “Some Deeper Currents in the Recent Past”, in John F. Walker and Harold G. Vatter (eds), The History of the U.S. economy since World War II, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1996, p 33.
18 Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press,
2003, p 23.
19 Ibid., p 16.
20 Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston S. Churchill, The Atlantic Charter, 14 August 1941. Retrieved 8 January 2010
21 The Bretton Woods Agreements, 31 July 1945, Article V, Section 3; Article XI, Section 3; Article XX, Section 4. Retrieved 10 January 2010 from
22 Klein, The Shock Doctrine, p 163.
23 Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, pp 29-30.
24 Cumings, The Korean War, pp 211-4 et passim.
25 ‘Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain a position
of disparity… We should cease to talk about vague and… unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of
living standards, and democratization.’ ‘Policy Planning Study 23’, 1948. Quoted in Noam Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants, Berkeley: Odonian Press, 1992, pp 9-10.
26 Hudson, Super Imperialism, p 32.
27 Ha Joon Chang, “Kicking away the ladder: globalisation and economic development in historical perspective”, in Jonathan Michie (ed.) The Handbook of Globalisation, Cheltenham and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2003, p 388.
28 Hudson, Super Imperialism, pp 24-5.
29 A Spanish term for large landowners.
30 Galeano, The Open Veins of Latin America, p 60.
31 James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, New York: The New Press, 1994, p 14;
32 Blum, Killing Hope, p 158.
33 Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States, p 169.
34 Ibid, p 166.
35 Blum, Killing Hope, pp 306-8.
36 Saul Landau, “Bolivia’s Election Deserves a History Lesson,” Progreso Weekly, 15-21 December 2005. Retrieved 8 January 2006 from
37 The essence of a war system is that no decision should be reached.
38 Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, London: Penguin, 2007, p 105.
39 Ibid.
40 Blum, Killing Hope, p 72.
41 Roger Morris, “The Undertaker’s Tally (Part 1): Sharp Elbows,” TomDispatch, 1 February 2007. Retrieved 2 February 2007 from
42 Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States, p 173.
43 Blum, Killing Hope, p 72.
44 Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq, Gabriola Island, BC: New Society, 2003, pp 38-9.
45 Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror, pp 43-5.
46 Ibid, p 45.
47 Carlos Figueroa Ibarra, “The culture of terror and Cold War in Guatemala,” Journal of Genocide Research (2006), 8(2), June, p 192.
48 Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes, p 107.
49 Frederick H. Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States: From Counterinsurgency to the War on Terror, Atlanta and London: Clarity Press and Zed Books, 2004, p 45.
50 Ibid, pp 45-7.
51 Jones, Genocide, p 77.
52 Blum, Killing Hope, p 231.
53 Ibid, p 148.
54 Ibid, p 230.
55 Ibarra, “The culture of terror and Cold War in Guatemala”, p 199.
56 Blum, Killing Hope, p 232.
57 Ibarra, “The culture of terror and Cold War in Guatemala”, p 201.
58 Blum, Killing Hope, p 232.
59 Ibid, p 233.
60 Admittedly this is due to their focus on genocide or human rights abuses, but it is indicative of how, as with the Argentine “dirty war” actual combat was a secondary consideration.
61 Blum, Killing Hope, p 235. According to Blum this was the indirect result of the terrorism directed against the rural
62 Jones, Genocide, p 77.
63 See
64 Greg Grandin, “History, Motive, Law, Intent: Combining Historical and Legal Methods in Understanding Guatemala’s 1981–1983 Genocide,” in Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan (eds), The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p 339.
65 Julio Godoy, “Return to Guatemala: Unlike East Europe Fear Without Hope,” The Nation, 5 March 1990, p 310.
66 Ibarra, “The culture of terror and Cold War in Guatemala,”, p 201.
67 Jones, Genocide, p 77.
68 Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried, p 165.
69 Roger Owen, State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Middle East (3rd ed.), London: Routledge, 2004, p 80.
70 Engdahl, A Century of War, p 111.
71 Donald Wilber, CIA Clandestine Service History, “Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran, November 1952-August
1953,”, 1954, p 5. Retrieved 16 April 2010 from
72 Ibid, p 9.
73 Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes, p 95.
74 Ibid, p 99.
75 Ibid, p 103.
76 Ibid, p 95.
77 Ibid, p 102.
78 Ibid, p 95.
79 Ibid, passim.
80 It was not available to the public until 2000.
81 London Draft of the TPAJAX Operational Plan, 1953, p 1. Retrieved 16 April 2010 from
82 Ibid, p 5.
83 Blum, Killing Hope, p 75.
84 Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States, p 43.
85 Ibid, p 47.
86 Galeano, The Open Veins of Latin America, p 113.
87 Godoy, “Return to Guatemala”, p 309.
88 Doug Stokes, “Why the end of the Cold War doesn’t matter: the US war of terror in Colombia” Review of International Studies (2003), 29, p 585.
89 FRUS (1946). Vol. 8, pp. 706-9, quoted in Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 199.
90 William Stueck and Boram Yi, “’An Alliance Forged in Blood’: The American Occupation of Korea, the Korean War, and the US-South Korean Alliance”, Journal of Strategic Studies, 33:2 (2010), p 184.
91 FRUS, 1945, Volume 6, p 1135.
92 Cumings, The Korean War, p 104.
93 Stueck and Yi, “’An Alliance Forged in Blood’”, p 183.
94 Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 189.
95 Stueck and Yi, “’An Alliance Forged in Blood’”, p 186.
96 William Stueck, The Korean War:An International History, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995, p 20.
97 Cumings, The Korean War, p 106.
98 Ibid, p 108.
99 Stueck, The Korean War, p 20.
100Stueck and Yi, “’An Alliance Forged in Blood’”, p 181.
101Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 191.
102Cumings, The Korean War, p 114.
103Stueck, The Korean War, p 20.
104Cumings, The Korean War, p 110.
105Jeon and Kim, “Land Reform, Income Redistribution and Agricultural Production in Korea”, pp 255-7.
106Stueck and Yi, “’An Alliance Forged in Blood’”, p 181.
107Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, pp 193-4.
108Ibid, p 195.
110Cumings, The Korean War, p 58.
111Ibid, p 135.
112Allan R. Millett, The War for Korea, 1945-1950: A House Burning, Lawrence: Kansas University Press, 2005, p 64.
113Stueck, The Korean War, p 15.
114Cumings, The Korean War, p 106.
115Ibid, p 58.
116Carter Malkasian, The Korean War: 1950-1953, Oxford: Osprey, 2001, p 11.
117Stueck, The Korean War, pp 20-1.
118Ibid, p 20.
119Lee Wha Rang, “Who Was Rhee Syngman?”, Kimsoft, 22 February 2000. Retrieved 5 October 2011 from
120Stephen Kotkin and András Sajó, Political Corruption in Transition: A Skeptic’s Handbook, Budapest: Central European University Press, 2002, p 171.
121Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 209.
122Press reports began to surface in the early 1970s. The ‘revelations’ were not news to people in the ROK, but culminated in an Amnesty International report in 1975 with testimony such as: ‘I was taken to KCIA headquarters, my hands tied together and I was tied to a chair. I was not allowed to have any sleep. At night they would drag me to the basement where they would beat me with a long heavy stick, and jump on me. By morning I would not be able to walk, I would be forced to crawl back upstairs. They were trying to make me confess that I was a spy. This kind of treatment went on for several days, and for a time I was unable to use my legs. Even so, they continued to tie me onto a chair every day for five days. Of course my legs were terribly swollen. Finally I put my thumbprint on the confession they had prepared. At my trial I denied what I had confessed under torture. On cloudy days now I have a lot of pain in my body.’ (Amnesty International, Report of an Amnesty International Mission to the Republic of Korea: 27 March – 9 April 1975 (2nd Printing), London: Amnesty International Publications, 1977, p 37.) It should be understood that the exposure of these practices of torture did not bring them to an end.
123Cumings, The Korean War, pp 106-8.
124Stueck, The Korean War, p 23.
125Stueck, Rethinking the Korean War, p 45.
126Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 198.
127Ibid, p 192.
128Dong Choon Kim, “Forgotten war, forgotten massacres: the Korean War (1950-1953) as licensed mass killings,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(4), December, p 528.
129Stueck, The Korean War, p 23.
131Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 211, n. 36.
132Stueck, The Korean War, p 27.
133Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 36.
134Cumings, The Korean War, p 121.
135Ibid, p 123.
136Kim, “Forgotten War…”, p 528.
137Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 36.
138Kim, “Forgotten War…”, p 528.
139Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 38.
140Cumings, The Korean War, p 121.
141Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 41.
142Kim, “Forgotten War…”, p 528.
143Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 40.
144Ibid, p 43.
145Ibid, p 47.
146Cumings, The Korean War, p 134.
147Ibid, pp 135-6.
148Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 48.
149Stueck, The Korean War, p 30.
150Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 214.
151Cumings, The Korean War, p 145.
152Gye-Dong Kim, “Who Initiated the Korean War”, in James Cotton and Ian Neary (eds), The Korean War in History, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989, p 40.
153Stueck, Rethinking the Korean War, p 196.
154Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 64.
155Ibid, p 24.
156Marilyn B. Young, “Sights of an Unseen War”, review of Bruce Cumings The Origins of the Korean War. Vol. 2: The Roaring of the Cataract, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, in Diplomatic History, 1 June 1993, pp
157Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War, p 39.
158Stueck, The Korean War, p 24.
159Millett, The War for Korea, p 50.
160John Feffer, “Mother Earth’s Triple Whammy: Are We All North Koreans Now?”, Foreign Policy in Focus, 17 June
2008. Retrieved 20 June 2008 from
161Harold R. Isaacs, No Peace in Asia, pp 7–8. Quoted in Stueck and Yi, “’An Alliance Forged in Blood’”, p 192.

The Korean Genocide – Part 1, Before the US Occupation.


(Author’s note: I was intending to be writing a long overdue piece about why the one should never refer to “The Iraq War” but rather “The Iraq Genocide”. It is daunting. You cannot simply make such a case in 1000 words, at least not in any way that convince or even empower anyone who was not already firmly of that opinion.  In these circumstances I feel it is worth going back to another enormous brutal US genocide which is never, ever discussed as such – the Korean Genocide. A Korean had commented on my facebook page that my cover photo, Picasso’s Massacre in Korea depicted the “genocide of antiimperialists”.
It is no coincidence that I chose that painting. Korea saw the development of a style of genocide which was later to be repeated by the US in Laos, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq. In a four part series (adapted from an even longer work) I will detail 1) Korea before US Occupation, 2) US Occupation Period and the US Imperial Context, 3) June 1950: Who Started It?, and (by far the longest part) 4) Korean War or Korean Genocide?)

The premise of this blog is that the most significant post-World War II US military actions are acts of genocide. Genocide can be said to mean “war” undertaken against a whole population, not against its military nor, in any immediate sense, its military capacity (see my previous post about the nature and meaning of genocide). Further, the manner in which the US commits genocide is under the guise of fighting wars. In fact, these are best viewed as “war systems” in that, far from seeking military victory, the US sought to avoid decisions (even victorious decisions) in favour of extending the period of violence for as long as was feasible. The prototypical example was the Korean War, wherein attempts to achieve a military decision were abandoned in favour of an “attrition” strategy. This was putatively aimed at forcing a negotiated settlement, but the US itself was clearly the greatest impediment to reaching a settlement.
Korea, like Viet Nam and Iraq, was targeted because of two crucial circumstances. Firstly, it was potentially strong independent nation state and, secondly, it was vulnerable. The Korean Genocide served the ends of both the US and the USSR. The origins of the military advance south by DPRK forces on June 25, 1950 that initiated the “Korean War” are still surrounded by impenetrable mysteries and unanswered questions, and there is legitimate space for the intriguing possibility of tacit or conspiratorial collusion between the US and USSR.
The reader may well object already to my misuse of the term genocide, but allow me to anticipate some objections and make some observations. Genocide does not mean extermination or even intended extermination. The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG) specifically uses the phrase “in whole or in part”, and for good reason.
Consider what is generally held as the ultimate exemplar of genocide, the Judeocide committed by Germany in Europe. The Germans never intended to exterminate all of the world’s Jews. Even confining the matter to European Jewry, there was a huge problem simply in defining who was and was not a Jew. They had to rely ultimately on confessional identification to define an alleged ‘race’.
As Yehuda Bauer wrote: “One can see how confused Nazi racism was when Jewish grandparents were defined by religion rather than so-called racial criteria.”1 As well as the fact that many with Jewish heritage would inevitably successfully evade detection, in the Nuremburg Laws (and later when deciding who to kill at Wannsee), exemptions were made on various criteria, such as being a decorated war hero. In fact, when it comes to the killing aspect of genocide, inconsistency, hypocrisy and schizophrenic dissonances are the norm.
Equally, genocide is not the exclusive domain of irrational and evil perpetrators. The very point of coining the term genocide, as will be explained, was to indicate a strategic paradigm with a functional logic. Irrationality is therefore a moot point and I prefer to distinguish between “functional” and “dysfunctional” genocides. Equally, “evil” is in the eye of the beholder. The hateful and racist rhetoric of the Nazis is an unavoidable feature of their existence, but in most instances of genocide there is a predilection for highlighting the evidence of fanaticism and hatred for the official villains (those at odds with Western interests)2 while ignoring identical statements made by Western personnel or their allies. In the case of the US there are plenty of instances of significant officials using fanatical, hateful or exterminationist language regarding communists, Asians, Arabs or Muslims.
Racism is a consciously inculcated trait used by the US, as by others, to harness not just hateful and violent tendency, but also infantilisation and a elevated sense of self which conveys both the right and duty of intervention and the wielding of imperial power (the “White Man’s Burden”). Racism also has its own logic, which may cause dysfunction when applied by the overzealous. On the whole, however, US genocides are highly functional strategically oriented imperial genocides. A point I neglected to make in my previous post about the meaning of genocide, and one well worth remembering, is that genocide is employed in order to achieve goals that cannot be achieved by military means. Lemkin related this back to the “imposition of [the genocidal power’s] national pattern” on the victim group, or on the land which they inhabit (after they have been cleansed therefrom). That is, however, to impose a predetermined end to genocide, whereas in empires which are not based around contiguous land formations it is not exceptional for genocide to be used simply as a way of weakening and immiserating a local population to facilitate the imposition of imperial power (which is itself often defined as the replication of power structure not dissimilar to Lemkin’s description but without reference to “nation”). In King Leopold’s Congo, for example, of an estimated 30 million there was a population decline of ten to thirteen million people from 1885 to 1908 from “murder, starvation, exhaustion and exposure, disease, and plummeting birth rates.”
There was little effort, at that stage, to impose a national pattern on the people or the land (although that did come later when Belgium took over). In fact, further to what has already been mentioned with regard to genocide being used for ends which cannot be achieved with military means, it may be obvious to some readers that in fact there is more strategic incentive to commit genocide in instances of informal imperialism or neocolonialism. Formal imperialism can be imposed by military means, taking over the reins of power from above. It only runs into trouble when it is imposed on a genos with enough consciousness to expect self-determination. This is what occurred in Iraq under the British (which I will discuss at some future time) and Korea poses similar challenges to imperial power.

Korea has a long stable history of political unity dating from 668 CE until it was divided in 1945.3
As impressive as that is, the Koreans go further, tracing the origins of their nation to the 3rd millennium BCE,4 and their written history (albeit initially written by Chinese) precedes political unity by a millennium.5 Relations with neighbours Japan and China have varied considerably over the centuries, but it is fair to say that, as with many other Asian polities a national identity cohered sharply in reaction to the inescapable presence of China. Before there even was a Korea, there was an established tradition of heroic resistance to foreign incursion,6 and another, seen by some as portentous, of drawing foreign powers into internecine conflict.7 The 16th and 17th centuries saw Korea fight off major Japanese and Manchu invasions.8 By the time Western interests turned their eyes towards Korea, there was a general hostility towards all foreigners, which probably had its first inklings in the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.9 The attitude of what is referred to as the “Hermit Kingdom” is summarised by Cumings as: “We have nothing. We need nothing. Please go away.”10

Western liberal imperialists did not, and do not, recognise anyone’s right to be left alone. Kanghwa Island, near Inchon, became a magnet for foreign gunboats. The French landed in 1866 and were pushed back. A heavily armed US schooner in that same year sailed up the Taedong river towards Pyongyang, opening fire on the angry crowd which gathered on the banks only to be grounded by the tide, the crew massacred. Five years later this provided the pretext for a US attack on Kanghwa.
650 Koreans were killed in what was referred as the “Little War with the Heathen”.11 Japan, like the Western powers, also sent gunboats to Kanghwa.12 In the end it was the US that succeeded first in “opening” the Hermit Kingdom. Britain, France and the US imposed conditions, such as extraterritoriality for their citizens (meaning they weren’t subject to Korean law when in Korea), which violated Korean sovereignty. In Cumings’s words: “Korea was now fully hooked into the system of unequal treaties….”13
Cumings makes the following comparison between liberal imperialism and the long-standing tributary relationship between Korea and China, a summary which works equally well for contemporary neocolonialism:

“The Sino-Korean tributary system was one of inconsequential hierarchy and real independence, if not equality. The Western system that Korea encountered, however, was one of fictive equality and real subordination. It was the British who did the most to propel the doctrine of sovereign equality around the world, confounding and undermining their imperial practice with an abstract, idealist theory that transferred notions about the free market to international politics…. [A]s Karl Polanyi put it, ‘in the liberal theory, Great Britain was merely another atom in the universe… and ranked precisely on the same footing as Denmark and Guatemala.'”14

It was Japan, however, that came to dominate, albeit in a very Western mode of domination, based on “unequal treaties” and economic “advisers”.15 Japan felt that to even keep pace with the West, it had to dominate Korea.16 Its initial inroads were made in pursuing the same policy as the British in exploiting late 19th century droughts to subvert Korean sovereignty, establishing the ability to force Korea to export food during subsequent droughts, causing devastating suffering.17 From the 1880s onwards Japan aspired to complete domination of Korea.18 This led to war with China in 1894-5,19 and Japan’s acquisition of Taiwan.20 Russia was the next obstacle, rebuffing a Japanese offer of accommodation over Manchuria and Korea due to what is generally held to be racist arrogance.21
The 1904-5 Russo-Japanese war, fought mostly over Manchuria,22 ended in Japanese victory. The door was open to complete Japanese domination, and in 1910 Korea was annexed.23 Western powers extended their blessing in exchange for Japanese recognition of their own colonial privileges.24
The Japanese occupation of Korea was brutal and it was hated. Gavan McCormack poses the question of whether it could be considered genocide:

In the Korean context, Japanese colonialist policy was undoubtedly designed to destroy “Korea” as a “national group” by assimilating it within Japan. However, such measures by other twentieth-century colonialist regimes have not elsewhere been held genocidal. There has been, so to speak, a colonialist exemption, and if that exemption is to be now closed, both logic and morality demand that it be closed against all colonialist powers, not just Japan. In the overall context of the century, the use of the term “genocide” carrying as it does extreme legal and moral oppobrium, to describe acts committed by imperial Japan but not to describe any acts committed by the Western powers must be problematic. If Japan was genocidal in China or elsewhere in Asia, what then shall we say of the French in Algeria or Indochina, the Americans in Korea and Indochina and the Gulf, the Russians in Chechyna?25

For obvious reasons I do not believe that there should be or is a “colonialist exemption”. People do not exempt Germany for colonialist genocide in Southern Africa nor in Eastern Europe which was an equally colonial enterprise. What they exempt is the acts of the Western powers who were victors in WWII which and thus have to be circumspect when (accurately) accusing Italy and Japan of genocides which bear such a close resemblance to these unmentionable instances. McCormack is suggesting that the norm of a politicised discourse is a definitional norm because one simply cannot apply “extreme legal and moral opprobrium” to the actions of Western imperialists, notwithstanding the immense death and suffering brought about. Once again “genocide” loses all meaning and becomes simply another term for “evil” reserved for those who are official enemies.
Prior to annexation the Japanese faced considerable guerilla resistance, but this was all but wiped out by 1910.26 When the annexation did take place:

At least half a million Koreans took part in demonstrations in March and April, with disturbances in more than six hundred different places. In one of the most notorious episodes, Japanese gendarmes locked protesters inside a church and burned it to the ground. In the end Japanese officials counted 553 killed and over 12,000 arrested, but Korean nationalist sources put the totals at 7,500 killed and 45,000 arrested.27

Once annexation had taken place there was a decade of particularly oppressive rule:

…[T]he Government General had grown into a powerful machine of centralized bureaucratic control that undertook the wholesale transformation of Korea’s political, educational, and social structures. It also created the institutions of a modern economy by building a transportation and communications network linking the entire country and creating new monetary and financial systems. In the process of these modernizing efforts, the Koreans were effectively deprived of freedom of assembly, association, press, and speech, and initial efforts were made to liquidate the very concept of a Korean identity. Under the draconian administration of Governor General Terauchi, Korea now entered that dark epoch of developmental shock known to its chroniclers as the “period of military rule,” a term that in English hardly conveys the crushing impact of the Japanese army and police on every aspect of Korean life.28


The memorial tablet for March 1st Movement in Pagoda park, Seoul.

The military rule period culminated in a mass mobilisation of protest in 1919 and a particularly bloody repression, but one which provoked international outrage and a backlash in Japan itself.29
After this period the level of oppression gradually and unevenly diminished – “if neither the depth nor the tempo of colonial reform went far in meeting the Koreans’ legitimate demands, the more overtly arbitrary and oppressive aspects of Japanese administration were at least muted throughout the empire during this decade, and the effort to construct modern economic facilities and institutions in the colonies continued apace.”30 The Koreans were not to be “assimilated” as McCormack suggests, but rather incorporated, as Koreans, under Japanese hegemony (another indication that the “national pattern” imposed by genocide does not need to be that of the nation of those who commit genocide). In light of this, Japan was now viewed as a “respectable colonial power”31 which tells us something about the standards of the time. If anything the promise of assimilation into a “Greater Japanese Race” was a false one akin to British promises to coloured people that they too could essentially become British though they would never be accepted as such.
Even now “Koreans” who have lived in Japan for multiple generations are denied citizenship and “Japanese families still pore over genealogies to make sure their daughters’ fiancés have no ‘Korean blood.’”32 There were however, significant efforts to degrade Korean culture (and emplace aspects of Japanese culture) which amply fulfil Lemkin’s cultural criteria for genocide.33
The Japanese brought considerable economic infrastructure, industrial development and education.
They acted in the developmentalist manner often falsely attributed to Western imperialists more inclined to extraction of raw materials and the destruction of local economies. Even this, however, was of little or no immediate benefit to the mass of Koreans whose national economy was enslaved to the needs of Japan. Indeed, it seems inevitable that this colonial developmentalism had nothing to do with paternalistic ideologies of empire (although the Japanese did have their own equivalent of the White Man’s Burden) and everything to do with strategic considerations. One of two strategic approaches in Japanese thought was the “northern advance” strategy which held sway in the Army.
This would see the Japanese project power into North East Asia, ostensibly as a defence against Russian/Soviet threats.34 The obvious role for the Korean peninsula in such a scenario was as a form of beachhead with a developed industrial and transport infrastructure along with a native population capable of operating such.

Groundbreaking ceremony of Gyeongbu Line at Busan, 1901.
World War II saw an elevation of some loyal Koreans by the manpower hungry Japan to positions of bureaucratic power and to commissions within the military.35 Simultaneously there was a surge of active resistance with Koreans making up the largest single ethnic group among the guerillas resisting the Japanese in Manchuria.36 Anti-Japanese activity was to become the key source of legitimacy in the post-war era based on perceived dedication, sacrifice and efficacy. As Keith Pratt puts it the Koreans populated their world with heroes and villains and up until June 1950 (and to a large extent thereafter) the only significant factor in terms of leadership (notwithstanding differences in ideology) was whether one had been a resistor (hero) or a collaborator (villain).37 This greatly favoured Kim Il Sung, who was particularly effective as an anti-Japanese guerilla leader and whom the Japanese had inadvertently boosted by media features pitting him against Korean quislings such Kim Sok-won [later an important General in the Army of the Republic of Korea (ROKA)] who was part of the “Special Kim Detachment” of the Japanese Army (specifically formed to combat Kim Il Sung).38
The communists were aware of Kim’s standing and “just before the Manchurian guerrillas returned to Korea, the top leaders such as Kim Il Sung, Kim Chaek, Choe Hyon, Kim Il, and Choe Yong-gon agreed among themselves to promote Kim Il Sung as the maximum figure, for reasons that included his wider reputation and his personal force. By some indexes the others outranked him; Kim Chaek and Choe Hyon stood higher than Kim in Chinese communist hierarchy.”39 Kim wasn’t in the same completely unrivalled position that Ho Chi Minh was consolidating in Vietnam, but he was a clear front runner and was both charismatic and politically able. Years of bitter violent struggle alongside disparate inchoate guerillas “left Kim Il Sung with a conviction: unity above all else, and by whatever means necessary….”40 That is to say, Korean unity, not proletarian and/or peasant unity.

Something of the significance of Kim’s success as a guerilla can be gleaned from the fact that the ROK insisted that the DPRK leader was an imposter, a criminal who had taken the famous guerilla’s name. This lie was adhered to and believed by South Koreans until 1989.41 Indeed, it was not only Kim who sported such nationalist credentials in the DPRK regime. The DPRK would become what Cumings refers to as a “guerilla state” with positions of authority occupied by those who had fought the Japanese and had “impeccable credentials” of suffering and loss.42
The DPRK regime came about due to the Soviet occupation of North Korea. The day after the bombing of Nagasaki, the US unilaterally declared a division of Korea along the 38th parallel and an intention to occupy the southern part.43 From the Soviet perspective this meant ceding control of Seoul to the US. It meant that the greatest concentration of communists, in the South, would be under US occupation while the greatest concentration of Christians would be under Soviet occupation. It meant dividing the agricultural South from a North which was not, and is still not, able to even securely feed its population. Yet the Soviets acceded with great willingness. To understand why this occurred in such a manner and to understand subsequent US/USSR actions is quite straightforward. All of these events make perfect sense if one abandons notions of the relevance not only of ideology, but of culture and, for that matter, of leader’s personalities. If it helps, one might abandon the baggage that is attached when discussing state acts by envisaging instead competing criminal syndicates engaged in a constant dialectic of conflict, accommodation and co-operation in various areas of interest.
The Soviets stood to gain access to ice free ports. This was more tangible than anything the US might want, but fundamentally less important. Hence Stalin was quite prepared to cede the entire peninsula to the US rather than risk the consequences of a US defeat after the Chinese entered the war in force.44 The USSR was faced with a problem in that they stood to gain precisely nothing, in all likelihood, from a unified Korea under Kim Il Sung. Though Kim’s faction of communist guerillas had been based in the Soviet Union for a time, he was fiercely nationalistic and, for good reasons, had no great love or trust for Stalin’s regime (even though Stalin was officially the “Great Leader” to all Korean and Chinese Communists).45 Further, all Korean Communist factions had, to a greater or lesser extent, very strong bonds with the CCP and PLA in China, whose potentially dangerous independence was soon to loom much larger in Soviet calculations than access to Korean ports. Thus the Soviets stood to gain far more from a constrained and dependent Communist regime ruling a fragile half-state than it would gain with an officially ideologically aligned, but fully independent, Communist regime ruling over a potentially strong state of unified Korea. As William Stueck comments, “…for the present a divided peninsula served Soviet interests better than a unified one….”46 Where I would differ from Stueck is in his clear implication that a unified Korea would ever be likely to serve “Soviet interests” in the Cold War paradigm of imperialism.

1 Yehuda Bauer, “The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, 1933-1938,” excerpt from A History of the Holocaust, New
York: Franklin Watts, 1982. Reprinted in Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide:
Analyses and Case Studies, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990, p 345.
2  I will use the notion of “the West” which has connotations of Eurocentric culture (and cultural
imperialism), whiteness, liberalism/”capitalism” and material/economic hegemony; as well being redolent of a
hegemonic/imperial history. For consistency I do not use the alternative terminology of “the North” even in instances
where it might be more relevant.
3 Peter Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War (2nd ed.), London and New York: Longman, 1997, p 2.
4 Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, New York: W. W. Norton, 1997, p 23.
5 Ibid, p 25.
6 Ibid, p 33.
7 Ibid, p 34.
8 Ibid, pp 76-9.
9 Ibid, p 89.
10 Ibid, p 87.
11 Ibid, pp 96-7.
12 Ibid, p 99.
13 Ibid, p 107.
14 Ibid, p 95-6.
15 Mark R. Peattie, “The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945” Peter Duus (ed.), The Cambridge History of Japan:
Volume 6, The Twentieth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, p 225.
16 Akira Iriye, “Japan’s Drive to Great Power Status” in Marius B. Jansen (ed.), The Cambridge History of Japan:
Volume V, The Nineteenth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, p 758.
17 Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. London, New York: Verso, 2001 , p 92.
18 Peattie, “The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945”, p 224.
19 Iriye, “Japan’s Drive to Great Power Status”, p 759.
20 Ibid, p 767.
21 Peattie, “The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945”, p 226.
22 William C. Fuller Jr., “The Imperial Army” in Dominic Lieven (ed.), The Cambridge History of Russia: Volume II,
Imperial Russia, 1689-1917. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p 542.
23 Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 145.
24 Hata, “Continental expansion, 1905-1941”, p 278.
25 McCormack, “Reflections on Modern Japanese History in the Context of the Concept of Genocide”, p 270.
26 Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 146.
27 Ibid, p 145.
28 Peattie, “The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945”, pp 230-1.
29 Ibid, p 234.
30 Ibid, p 235.
31 Ibid.
32 Bruce Cumings, “Why Memory Lingers in East Asia”, Current History, September 2007, p 259.
33 Keith Pratt, Everlasting Flower: A History of Korea, London: Reaktion Books, 2006, p 225 et passim.
34 ‘Northern advance and southern advance were somewhat more ambiguous terms. The first was generally understood
to mean a policy of continental expansion from the Korean peninsula through Manchuria into China proper; the
second was understood to mean expansion from Taiwan into south China and Southeast Asia. Army-first meant that
the army would carry the main burden of expansion, whereas navy-first implied that the navy would. There was a
tendency for greater Japanism [which sought to make Japan a Great Power] to go hand in hand with northern
advance, which in turn implied continental expansion and an army-first policy. Little Japanism tended to be
associated with the southern advance and navy-first positions.’ Hata, “Continental expansion, 1905-1941”, p 271.
35 Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 176.
36 Ibid, p 160.
37 Pratt, Everlasting Flower, pp 235-40.
38 Bruce Cumings, The Korean War, New York: The Modern Library, 2010, pp 53-4.
39 Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 195.
40 Cumings, The Korean War, p 55.
41 Ibid, p 46.
42 Ibid, p 56.
43 Ibid, p 104.
44 Ibid, p 30.
45 Ibid, p 57.
46 William Stueck, Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History, Princeton and Oxford:
Princeton University Press, 2002, p 33.

A follow up to my piece on Guardian Death Squad doco – Maggie O’Kane on Democracy Now!


Further to my last post, producer/writer Maggie O’Kane has appeared on Democracy Now! to talk about “James Steele: America’s Mystery Man in Iraq”. Democracy Now! is not really a mainstream media product with a mainstream audience and it appears that some things are slightly altered for such an audience, but not all. One thing that is interesting is that DN! shows a preference for referring to “James Steele: America’s Mystery Man in Iraq” as “Searching for Steele”. Whose choice that was, I don’t know. It may have been felt that to original title was too unsubtle in emphasising Steele, or it may have been too reminiscent of Austin Powers, or both. It is a good reminder, however, that choosing to emphasise Steele in the title is an editorial decision taken at the expense of both credibility and sensation – something that should in theory be total anathema.

  1. Now O’Kane makes explicit the link that the film was so pointedly coy about – Steele was sent by Rumsfeld in order to create a torture programme (she still avoids that he was sent to create a death squad programme as such). Now we have three US officials inculpated – Steele, Rumsfeld and Coffman – while the carefully constructed question mark remains over Petraeus. Still no mention of Negroponte and Casteel, nor any mention of the innumerable officers and officials in the military, the DoD and the State Dept. who knew exactly what the “Salvador Option” meant and who were all actively or passively complicit. Instead we have a little potted narrative (O’Kane doesn’t have time to read the full script) about how all the grunts that witnessed the horrors in Samarra were too scared to talk to the Guardian because of Bradley Manning’s fate (why?) apart from one brave soul, Neil Smith, who was 21 at the time (20 according to the Guardian article), lives in Detroit and is a born again Christian. O’Kane was quite eager to provide the colour of the biographical detail – a standard journalistic practice, but nevertheless a propaganda technique.
  2. Thanks in part to the real journalism of Allan Nairn (discussing El Salvador) O’Kane is forced to follow Goodman’s lead in acknowledging that the main victims were civilians. However, despite the obvious contradiction, she clings throughout to the “counterinsurgency” and “human intelligence” claims. You can’t get “human intelligence” (“humint”) for use in “counterinsurgency” (“COIN”) by torturing civilians. I’ve already detailed this, but it is worth watching the way O’Kane goes to some effort to apply the “counterinsurgency” frame. She summarises the official punchline at the end of the interview. She takes the very well trodden path of pretending to be almost caught off-guard by being asked to give an editorialised summary. This too is pretty standard for journalists, but is a propaganda or rhetorical technique. A long segment on DN! such as this always ends with Goodman inviting a summary. Obviously O’Kane expects it, but she pretends to do the whole “well, if I was forced to summarise, I’d have to say…” technique which BBC always uses to allow its reporters in the field to tell the audience what to think. Using that platform she tells us torturing 14 year old boys is just what war is all about “…and that’s called counterinsurgency.”
  3. Once again, nothing new is revealed. We are told again that the Wikileaks revelations of FRAGO 242 in 2011 are inexplicably more important than the hundreds of eyewitness accounts, and thousands of mutilated corpses, and stunningly frank official admission that happened 7 or 8 years ago. (For me, this is particularly fascinating. I sometimes analyse propaganda as a necessary adjunct to doing other stuff, but this is the first time that I have become aware that there is a specific alternative dialect of Newspeak. In this case “Wikileaks” means “double-plus good” on DN! in exactly the same way that “patriot” means “double-plus good” on Fox. Whether employed by instinct or by calculation, there is a different idiom or register that is used in exactly the same way as mainstream Newspeak to exactly the same effect. This excites me quite a bit because I think this will give me a much better insight into the likes of the Guardian and also alternative media such as Democracy Now! I may start compiling mainstream and alternative Newspeak dictionaries – reader submissions welcome). O’Kane’s explanation for rehashing old material is that, apparently, no one ever put two and two together before. Once again, these universalising claims are a very standard part of British propaganda. Every time the media colludes with power to lie to people in Britain, they later use phrases like, “nobody could have predicted…”, “everybody felt…”, “we all believed…” “no-one doubted…”. It is a natural outgrowth of a very standard British rhetoric/propaganda technique. If someone on the BBC wants to tell you what to believe they don’t say that to believe otherwise is unpatriotic, or wimpy and effeminate, or evil and against motherhood – they tell you that everyone already believes it “without doubt”. This is much more effective if you have the gravitas to pull it off. So when O’Kane tells us that no-one really put it together before, what she means is that people like herself, and organs like the Guardian, studiously ignored the blindingly obvious and now she feels compelled to point out that “everybody” did.
  4. Far from providing anything new, O’Kane re-restates the orthodox line restated in the “James Steele: America’s Mystery Man in Iraq” (“JS:AMMI”) that was the normal journalistic “wisdom” from 2005 onwards, but she elaborates a little on what the documentary restates. The US started a brutal, torturing interrogation programme to get “humint” for “COIN”, but the nasty Shia militias took over and turned it into a death squad programme. Again, I’ve covered this already – the problems are that this ignores the evidence that the US deliberated sowed the sectarian strife and ignores the indications that the Western media wilfully pushed the sectarian aspect of the death squad programme while suppressing evidence of US co-ordination. This line also relies on a touch of cognitive dissonance on the part of viewers, made easier by the avoidance of facts in “JS:AMMI”. In over 50 minutes there is a lot of “colour” and emotive content in “JS:AMMI”, but some fairly basic facts are left out. Along with the aforementioned restriction of named conspirators, there are very important details left out. One of which is the tactical similarities in the way terror was systematically used by the death squads under Steele in El Salvador, and the way terror was systematically used by the death squads under Steele in Iraq. When one considers that they targeted the same sorts of civilians, disappeared them in the same way, and dumped their mutilated corpses in the same way, it seems a little odd to claim that there was a counterinsurgency programme committing torture, but the widespread death squad violence just arose when Shia militias took over. Is this insulting to the audience intelligence? Maybe, but they have actually managed to split the audience attention, as if they were dealing with two separate stories, and thus people don’t notice that they actually contradict their own apologism. That too, is a known rhetorical/propaganda trick, most famously exploited by O’Kane’s namesake Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher would never deceptively answer a potentially delicate question with first misdirecting the audience into simultaneously thinking about something else so that they would no notice whatever critical falsehood she slipped in in order to advance the false narrative.

The Guardian’s Death Squad Documentary May Shock and Disturb, But the Truth is Far Worse


In what to many must seem a shocking exposé, the Guardian and BBC, after a 15 month investigation have produced a dramatic full-length documentary about US involvement in the formation and running of death squads in Iraq. One journalist describes the result as a “staggering… blockbuster”. But, by creating a false context, by omission, by deceptive emphasis and by specious analysis the Guardian and BBC have create a false and toothless critique. Indeed, though the authors would probably deny it vehemently, the impression given in this documentary is not inconsistent with the villain of the piece, James Steele, being a rogue Kurtz-like figure, with Col. James Coffman cast in the role of faithful sidekick. Other links to the established death squad practices are conspicuously absent – links such as John Negroponte’s appointment as Ambassador to Iraq and Steven Casteel’s role in forming the Police Commando units which functioned as death squads (not to mention ordering the Oregon National Guard to return rescued prisoners to their torturers). Even at the most basic level, the fundamental context was obscured, including one fact that the widespread use of death squads confirmed – the US-led “counterinsurgency” was not war, it was genocide.

Perhaps the most striking thing of all is that, after 15 months of investigation and nearly ten years after US officials set in motion the “Salvador option” in Iraq, this documentary reveals much less of substance than was being reported in 2005. In fact, it is a triumph of style over substance which packs an emotive punch, but disarms watchers by its lack of informational revelation. In January of 2005 it became public knowledge that the US was pursuing a death squad programme. In May 2005 the New York Times published the story showing Steele’s involvement in torture. In the intervening years people like Dahr Jamail continued to report on the US orchestration of death squad activity. And Max Fuller spent years and numerous articles (not to mention a website and the book Crying Wolf: Selling Counterinsurgency as Sectarian Civil War) documenting the death squad programme as well as revealing a deliberate ploy to misrepresent US-run death squads as sectarian murder.

Here is what I found wrong with James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq:

1) Mortality Data

One of the key distortions here is something very basic, the use of “more than 120,000” as a mortality figure. Some may argue that given the controversy over the mortality, it is only sensible to be conservative. But these figures are more than simply abstract numbers. When some people, most notoriously David Irving, put the case that only one million European Jews died during World War II, the media didn’t suddenly adopt the more conservative figure. In fact, Irving was thrown in prison. Irving’s casualty figure was crucial to his genocide denial, and the same is true of the lower figure used in “James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq”. A mortality of 120,000 immediately colours the way in which we perceive US actions in Iraq.

While many simply accept such figures on the basis of faith, the origins of the lowee estimates lie entirely in the work of scoundrels and fools. The figures produced by the two Lancet (“L1 and “L2)surveys indicate a far higher level of mortality and have been reinforced by sources such as the ORB poll. The nail in the coffin of these lower estimates (based on adding the Iraq Body Count figure to those in the Iraq War Logs) came when Les Roberts and students at Columbia subjected the two data sets to analysis, by pains-taking cross-referencing, showed that the two sets of data should be extrapolated to indicate a figure of a similar order, though slightly lower, than the ORB survey suggested. IBC claim that they have a different analysis of the correspondence between IWL and IBC wherein the vast majority of the IWL fatalities are in the IBC count (81%). They also claim, completely speciously, that they can distinguish combatant and non-combatant casualties. However, IWL is thought to cover only about 50% of US military reports (omitting special forces actions, for example, not to mention the incident shown in the footage released as Collateral Murder). Also remember that, as with the “mere gook rule” in Vietnam,1 US forces regularly report civilian deaths at their own hands, such as those in Collateral Murder, as being combatant deaths as a matter of policy.2 You can either conclude that IBC made an honest mistake, trust them on their analysis, and simply add another 15,000 deaths whilst also conveniently ignoring the undisputed fact that the US systematically mischaracterised non-combatant deaths as combatant deaths, or you might think that maybe IBC are not to be trusted. After all, they swore blind in defence of their figure before IWL came out, and barely skipped a beat when the figure jumped over 10% overnight.

We can also use our own brains on this topic. In 2006, the Baghdad morgue received 16,000 bodies of whom 80-85% were victims of violence. In 2005 Robert Fisk wrote: “…in July 2003 – three months after the invasion – 700 corpses were brought to the mortuary in Baghdad. In July of 2004, this rose to around 800. The mortuary records the violent death toll for June of this year as 879 – 764 of them male, 115 female. Of the men, 480 had been killed by firearms, along with 25 of the women. By comparison, equivalent figures for July 1997, 1998 and 1999 were all below 200.” We are really talking about an average of (if you will excuse some arguable rounding up) 1000 per month violent deaths until at least the end of 2007 (with the “surge” being the most violent time of the entire occupation). That gives a figure of 59,000 violent deaths. Let’s be conservative and say that right through to the withdrawal of US troops 50,000 people killed by violence ended up in the Baghdad morgue. What percentage of Iraq’s fatalities does it seem likely to you will have passed through the morgue of Baghdad? Just over 20% of Iraq’s population live in Baghdad, and many who died in Baghdad would not have been taken to the morgue. I think that estimating the Baghdad morgue data as representing any more than 10-15% of Iraqi mortality would be an offence against basic rationality and numeracy, so that too indicates that the figure of 120,000 is a massive underestimate, possibly of entirely the wrong order of magnitude. Another simple and universal yardstick is the number of orphans. The Iraqi Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs estimates that there are 4.5 million orphans (presumably those who have lost at least on parent) of whom 70% have lost parents since 2003. Is it possible that the 120,000 (which includes children) could have an average of 26.25 offspring? What about the number of widows in Iraq. One estimate is that 2.5 million Iraqi women have been widowed by the war. That seems inexplicably high, and in fact estimates range from 1 million to 3 million total Iraqi widows, but it is another indication that 120,000 is simply untenable and far below an actual conservative figure.

2) US War Aims

One of the central lies of the Iraq occupation, one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated perhaps, is not just that the US sought some sort of peaceful independent democratic Iraq, but that it sought to impose any sort of stable unified regime at all. No doubt many US personnel were genuinely engaged in attempting to create stability, but from the beginning decisions made at cabinet level and later those emanating from the CPA, very effectively and systematically continued the work that began in 1990, and continued through years of bombing and sanctions and military action. That work was to inflict maximum damage on the fabric of Iraq’s society through attacks on social, political, intellectual, religious and economic health, and through the direct killing and immiseration of the Iraqi people. That process is called genocide.

The only evidence that the US ever sought stability is their own say so, and this is hardly surprising if you consider how unlikely it would be for them to admit instead to a desire to destabilise, weaken and fracture Iraq even further than they already had. The reader may recall that famously Gen. Eric Shinseki was over-ruled on the required number of troops for an effective occupation, and only one third of that number was committed. Some readers may be aware that State Department planning for a successful post-invasion occupation (the “Future of Iraq” project) was systematically sabotaged and subverted. Then the original occupying authority, ORHA (Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance) was fatally undermined by understaffing, lack of resources, and lack of standing within a chain of command. It was a joke, the only real resources and agency in the country were US military, which ORHA could not exert authority over, or the extant Iraqi institutions, which the US repudiated. After 61 days ORHA was replaced with the next seemingly Joseph Heller inspired spoof of governance – Bremer’s “Coalition Provisional Authority” (CPA).

With the CPA nominally in charge, actual power devolved to a confusing patchwork of military authorities whose only focus was security. Those who have read Imperial Life in the Emerald City know that there was systematic waste, fraud and mismanagement which ensured that reconstruction money belonging to the peoples of Iraq and the US was never successfully used for reconstruction. Everything was undermined. Even James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq showed that a mere 6 senior civilian police were supposed to train 30,000 police in 18 months. This sort of thing happened in every imaginable area of governance. So strong is the pattern that explanations of coincidence or incompetence cannot be borne, nor can explanations of systemic failure due to virulent partisan ideology (such as Rajiv Chandrasekaran puts forward).

In the meantime, abetted by the CPA, the US military was actually generating the very insurgency that this documentary would have us believe that the US sought desperately to avoid. As David Keen, author of Endless War, discusses here a function of the “war on terror” is to generate the very enemies which the US can use to justify its “war”. I myself have written about a prior instance of this pattern of US behaviour, the Second Indochina War, wherein the US acted to create recruit, arm and finance its insurgent opposition in order to effectuate genocide against the peoples of Indochina.

In Iraq too, the US actually became the midwives and nurturers of the very insurgency they claimed to be combating. The most obvious example is that by attacking or mistreating civilians, the US acted to recruit survivors and the bereaved as their enemies. In addition, though, accounts from early on in the occupation, in amongst the chaos, US forces left massive amounts of ordnance unguarded in the middle of the desert.3 A wild goose chase for WMD that the administration knew did not exist kept US personnel from securing actual conventional ordnance.4 And in one instance the US Marines more or less simply handed 800 assault rifles, 27 pick-up trucks and 50 radios over to a newly formed Fallujan brigade which promptly and predictably continued in its established role of armed resistance to Coalition occupation in spite of this generosity.5

The US regime also subverted its own personnel’s attempts to secure Iraq’s borders from the arrival of money, arms and fighters. Luis Montalvan gives an extraordinary testimony of obfuscation over the installation of a system for tracking migration, concluding: “From 2007—from 2003 to 2007, no computer systems for tracking immigration or emigration installed—were installed along the Syrian-Iraqi border. This surely contributed to the instability of Iraq. Foreign fighters and criminals were free to move transnationally with little fear of apprehension. It is probable that significant numbers of Americans and Iraqis were wounded and killed as a result of this.”

And then there was the infamous CPA Executive Order Number 2. At a stroke it made 500,000 often armed Iraqi military personnel unemployed. Where there had been none, there was now an insurgency. It should also be noted that the first executive order droves tens of thousands of government employees out of work and inevitably the two together were a massive jump start to insurgency where no serious organised armed resistance had existed to that point.

Also, as will be discussed below, the documentary distinctly gives the impression that US backed death squad activities inadvertently helped fuel sectarian civil war. This relies on the fallacy that death squads are a “dirty war” technique of genuine counterinsurgency (which I will counter below) and ignores the evidence that the US deliberately acted to sow ethnic and sectarian division in Iraq.

3) The “Dirty War” Fallacy

The phrase “dirty war” is used in this documentary to connote that the death squads are a form of counterinsurgency, if perhaps a morally questionable one. But the phrase “dirty war” was first applied to the killings and disappearances in Argentina, not by the Junta’s critics, but by the Junta itself. It is an excuse and a rationalisation of political terror. The Argentine politicide was part of a plan of drastic, if not revolutionary, societal transformation, referred to as el Proceso. The Junta who seized power in 1976 sought a “sanitized, purified culture”.6 Under cover of fighting “terrorism” and insurgency, the Junta implemented a totalitarian anticommunist “free-market” regime by destroying any possible ideological opposition or potentially rival power structures. Feierstein writes: “All those targeted had in common not their political identity, but rather the fact that they participated in the social movements of that time.”7 Those targeted were unionists, leaders of agrarian leagues, and community workers working with the urban poor. This was done over a period of years under the guise of fighting the “dirty war” against “terrorist” guerrillas, despite the fact that Argentina’s Montonero guerrillas were a spent force within 6 months of the coup.8 Some social structures (principally the Church) were cleansed rather than disintegrated, becoming instruments of furthering authoritarian obedience.9 To further ensure unquestioning obedience, books were burned and banned, then a blanket law criminalised writing, publishing, printing, distributing or selling anything found to be “subversive” after the fact. This created a sense of uncertainty and fear. As Galeano puts it: “In this program for a society of deaf mutes, each citizen has to become his own Torquemada.”10

What stands out most in el Proceso is the disappearances. Argentina has the sad distinction of being the first place to nominalise “disappear” into “the disappeared”, just as Guatemala had earlier made its unhappy linguistic contribution with the transitive verb “to disappear [someone]”.11 To disappear someone, rather than to simply gun them down in the streets, is to bring about awful uncertainties about their fate – for the loved ones of the disappeared uncertainty prevents the grieving process and even hope becomes a torment, for everyone the imaginings of protracted torture, usually all too real, become a source of great terror. According to Antonius Robben: “Argentine society became terror-stricken. The terror was intended to debilitate people politically and emotionally without them ever fathoming the magnitude of the force that hit them.”12

I would argue that what distinguishes Argentina from “dirty wars” in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Afghanistan and Iraq is that the Argentine Junta, perhaps unwisely in the circumstances, defeated the actual guerillas rather than ensuring their continuance to provide better cover for their ongoing autogenocide. But the pretence of war is often rather thin, surviving only because it is never challenged. Moreover, certain tactics and certain weapons systems are not even suited for military conflict at all. Look, for example, at the armed unmanned aerial vehicles which are currently used by the US government for a “targeted killing” programme. A Predator drone may carry a very lethal payload and the Reaper (formerly “Predator-B”) may carry 4 Hellfire missiles and 2 500-lb bombs. They are not suited for “fighting” opponents with an opportunity to fight back. In fact, while Obama is set on expanding drone usage even further, the US military is set to cut back on drone production because drones are not suited to “contested airspace” and require “permissive” conditions. Reading between those lines you can see that “combat” drones are in fact nothing of the sort because they do not engage in actual combat. The “hunter-killer” appellation is more honest. Reapers and Predators are for use against those who cannot fight back – like aerial death squads.

Death squads, by nature, are not a military tactic whatever their “counterinsurgency” or “counterterror” pretensions. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, it is a universal trait for death squad programmes to seek to conflate combatant targets with non-combatant. This is not restricted to death squad activity itself, but it part of the belligerent political discourse of the putative counterinsurgent regime. During the Cold War, the enemies were the “communists” and deliberate efforts were made to create the impression that the ideological identification was equivalent to combatant status, at least in as much as legitimising killing. The same applies to the uses of the terms “Islamist” and “militant”. Part of this process is to divide the world up into two camps – as Bush Jr said “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”.

But Bush wasn’t stating anything new. Early in the Cold War, in Guatemala the motto was “’For liberation or against it.’ From this Manichean vision sprung the paranoid anti-communist taxonomy that added to the list of enemies not only communists, but ‘philocommunists,’ ‘crypto-communists,’ ‘castro-communists,’ ‘archi-communists,’ ‘pro-communists,’ and finally the ‘useful fools.’”13 In 1962, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff defined “insurgency” as any illegal form of opposition to regime rule, thus including passive resistance, joining banned unions or strikes, or anything else deemed illegal by a given regime. At this time they openly embraced terror tactics, such as those conducted by death squads, as “counterterror”.14 In South Vietnam, before there was any armed insurgency, the Diem regime conducted an horrific terror (seemingly forgotten to history) thought to have cost 75,000 lives.15 Mobile guillotines travelled the countryside to execute those denounced as communists and the campaign came to a head in 1959 with the notorious Decree 10/59 under which all forms of political opposition were made treason and any act of sabotage was punishable by death. Local officials could label anyone they wished “communist” and thus secure summary sentences of death or life imprisonment.16 Then, the US deliberately created the term Viet Cong, to conflate political dissent with combatant status, and then, when their own personnel began to reinterpret VC as referring solely to combatants, the US military then came up with another term – ‘Viet Cong infrastructure’. Prados defines them as “a shadowy network of Viet Cong village authorities, informers, tax collectors, propaganda teams, officials of community groups, and the like, who collectively came to be called the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI).” “Sympathizers” were also counted.17 It was the “VCI” that were the main supposed targets of the “Phoenix Programme” – the US run dedicated death squad programme. Those targeted were usually tortured and/or killed,18 so the programme was a war crime in any respect, but when it was expanded throughout South Viet Nam, it was run in such a way that the vast majority of victims were not in any manner involved with the NLF. Instead of using specific intelligence to target people with at least some known connection to the NLF, lists of names were coerced from detainees physically. Cash incentives were also offered for informers, while President Thieu used the programme to kill political rivals.19 “Neutralizations” resulting from the programme were about 20,000 each year. In 1969, out of a US figure of 19,534 “neutralizations” less than 150 were believed to be senior NLF cadres and only 1 (one) had been specifically targeted.20

In Argentina most victims were not guerillas but union leaders, young students, journalists, pacifists, nuns, priests and friends of such people. 21% of victims were students; 10.7% were professionals and 5.7% were teachers or professors. 10% were Jews who were tortured in specific anti-Semitic ways. CIA noted at the time the use of “torture, battlefield ‘justice,’ a fuzzing of the distinction between active guerilla and civilian supporter…arbitrary arrest… death ‘squads’….” Generals increasingly come to understand the threats as being Peronism and unionism. “One Argentine general is quoted as having said that ‘in order to save 20 million Argentines from socialism, it may be necessary to sacrifice 50,000 lives.’”21 General Jorge Rafael Videla defined his “enemy” in the following terms: “a terrorist is not only someone with a weapon or a bomb, but anyone who spreads ideas which are contrary to our western and Christian civilization.”22

As you can see there is a crossover between main force military “counterinsurgency” activities and death squad activities. In El Salvador, by 1992 there were 6800 guerilla’s and they were faced with over 60,000 regular military and over 50,000 ORDEN paramilitaries (many acting as death squads). The UN found the government side responsible for 95% of deaths, concluding that the violence was not guerilla war, but rather repression. This was also true of the 35 year “guerilla war” in Guatemala. UN estimates over 200,000 were killed. 93% of torture, disappearance and execution committed by government forces; 3% by guerillas and 4% described as “private”. The army was involved in 90.52% of massacres, alone in 55% of cases, in collaboration for the others. “In a majority of the massacres committed by the state, especially by the army, the counterinsurgency strategy led to multiple acts of savagery such as the killing of defenceless children, often by beating them against walls…; impaling the victims; amputating their limbs; burning them alive; extracting their viscera while still alive and in the presence of others… and opening the wombs of pregnant women.” A favoured way of torturing to death was to stab someone then throw them into a pit where they would be burnt to death. Specific deliberate raping torturing killing of women and children was a “counterinsurgency” tactic. “The murder of children was adopted by the army as terrorism – as a counterinsurgency tactic, part of a scorched earth operation.” It was a way of further attacking social cohesion – destroy the graves and the children and there are no ancestors or descendants. Rape was used as weapon to destroy social cohesion.23

The same blurring even applies to the current UAV “targeted killing” programme. The targets are “militants”, not combatants, and in the Israeli “targeted killing” programme (on which the US programme is apparently modelled), though Israeli courts use an “immanent threat” justification to legitimise the strikes,24in practice no victims pose an immanent threat and less than half are even wanted militants, while the rest are, once again, community leaders or political activists.25 If, like Israel and the US, “targeted killings” are carried out with missiles, then it is guaranteed that the majority of victims will not be those specifically targeted. Thus in 2002 when the US conducted a strike on an Afghan villager because he was tall (and therefore may have been Osama Bin Laden who was also tall and may have been in Afghanistan) they also killed two bystanders who were innocent of being tall.26 In the US case, they use “signature strikes”, where there is no known target, more often than “personality strikes”, which ensures that many innocents are killed. In addtion the US uses “double tap” strikes which are follow up attacks designed to kill those who come to help the wounded. It is estimated that about 50 civilians are killed for each known terrorist, but the US has a long standing habit of labelling anyone it murders a combatant by definition.27 William Westmoreland confidently proclaimed that no civilians had ever been killed in a free-fire zone, because people in free-fire zones, whether 9 weeks old or 90 years old, were not civilians by definition.28 Similarly the US government currently defines any “military age male” as a militant unless proven otherwise, and not only do they not investigate such matters, we have no evidence that the US even tries to ascertain whom it has killed other than “military age males”.

As counterinsurgency death squad or targeted killing programmes can only be counterproductive in practical terms, not least because actual combatants are considerably harder to kill than civilians. These are much more efficient at eliminating political dissidents, activists and organisers, but at the same time inflicting terror on the general populace. We have already seen how this occurred in Argentina, but a recent report Living Under Dronesdevotes 30 pages to the non-lethal effects of social disintegration, mental trauma, economic and educational damage, health impacts, and cultural destruction. The constant presence of Reaper and Predator UAV’s audibly buzzing overhead and the constant threat of sudden incineration that accompanies the noise, creates constant grinding stress: “Drones are always on my mind. It makes it difficult to sleep. They are like a mosquito. Even when you don’t see them, you can hear them, you know they are there”. This plays the same role that disappearances do, heightening terror and trauma through “a chronic state of intense uncertainty [while] the later reappearance of highly mutilated corpses instils fear of the unknown rather than the known.”29 Signs of torture and mutilation on the bodies of loved ones creates deep psychological scars, but also militates against compromise promotes armed resistance over unarmed resistance.

The result is what is referred to as the “culture of terror” (a phrase also used to describe the post-2001 interventionism of the US). It inflicts exactly that state earlier mentioned wherein “each citizen has to become his own Torquemada.” This “culture of terror” and, indeed, the very use of deaths squads as a tactic are symptomatic of genocide, in as much as genocide was coined to denote war against peoples rather than armies. The inventor of the term “genocide”, Raphäel Lemkin, put it this way: “Genocide is the antithesis of the Rousseau-Portalis Doctrine, which may be regarded as implicit in the Hague Regulations. This doctrine holds that war is directed against sovereigns and armies, not against subjects and civilians. In its modern application in civilized society, the doctrine means that war is conducted against states and armed forces and not against populations.” It is part of a “composite and manifold” set of behaviours that signify a “coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of the essential foundations of life of a group”. The claim of those committing genocide that they are fighting “dirty wars” against insurgents has not merely been made in Argentina and Guatemala, but in every major act of genocide including the Herero genocide, the Armenian genocide, the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda (usually known as the Rwanda Genocide), the subsequent genocide against the Hutu in Rwanda and Eastern Congo, and the Bangladesh Genocide (in what was then “East Pakistan”).

If you really want to give proper context to the US backed death squads in Iraq, it is essential to recognise them as a functional part of an ongoing genocide. It is increasingly difficult to seriously maintain that two decades of systematic destruction unleashed on Iraq by the US and allies were somehow unintended. And it is more evidently fatuous than ever to make the false distinction between the genocidal sanctions period and the occupation period which only saw an increase in the tempo of death and destruction. Each period saw a multiplicity of tactics and policies which worked together in exactly the manner originally described by Lemkin when he sought to explain the new concept which he called “genocide”. As Max Fuller wrote in 2006:

Iraq’s ‘democratic opening’ was just as vital a fig leaf for all-out dirty war as Duarte’s civilian presidency was in El Salvador. At this moment all of the voices are telling us the same thing and that is that US-trained, armed and backed forces are committing yet another genocide. Islamofascism is just another cover for ruthless political, economic and social repression, with Shiite militiamen in Iraq no more needing to take their orders from Tehran than Guatemalan death squads needed to take theirs from the Vatican. The objective is not a mystery. It is total neo-colonial domination.”

4) Steele in the Heart of Darkness

One version of the Steele documentary opens with an ominous soundtrack and describes him: “…a shadowy figure, always in the background….” The impression given is that Steele was a radical and puissant figure, and there is a definite implication that he was a rogue (with the possibility left open to viewers that US officials turned a wilful blind eye). In terms of relationships with other US personnel, Steele is placed in a very short vertical chain. Top officials may have valued his knowledge and analysis, but the death squad activities are subject only to a lack of oversight by unnamed officials, with one very important exception. Steele’s sidekick, Colonel Coffman, reported to General David Petraeus, but as to how much Petraeus actually knew, we are left doubting. That is quite literally all of the interconnection shown in this documentary – it implicates two US personnel and leaves one with a question mark. The problem is that this is a completely specious, irrational and amnesiac image of the evolution of US founded death squad programmes in Iraq.

In October of 2003, Steven Casteel arrived in Iraq to become the senior US advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. Fuller describes his background thus:

Whilst Casteel’s background is said to be Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the operation against Escobar was a joint intelligence effort, involving the CIA, DEA, Delta Force and a top-secret military intelligence surveillance unit knows as Centra Spike (Marihemp, SpecWarNet). The operation had no impact on Colombia’s position as the world’s major source of cocaine… with the centre of gravity ultimately shifting to dozens of micro cartels (Houston Chronicle). However, the operation did lead to the formation of a death squad known as Los Pepes, which was to form the nucleus for Colombia’s present paramilitary death-squad umbrella organisation, the AUC, responsible for over 80 percent of the country’s most serious human-rights abuses (Colombia Journal). Whilst no official connection was ever admitted, Los Pepes relied on the intelligence data held in the fifth-floor steel vault at the US Embassy in Bogota that served as the operation’s nerve centre. Lists of the death squad’s victims rapidly came to mirror those of Escobar’s associates collated at the embassy headquarters (, Cannabis News).

Casteel’s background is significant because this kind of intelligence-gathering support role and the production of death lists are characteristic of US involvement in counterinsurgency programs and constitute the underlying thread in what can appear to be random, disjointed killing sprees.”

In December of 2003 Robert Dreyfuss reported that money had been set aside to form a paramilitary militia which analysts immediately pegged as being a death squad programme akin to Phoenix. The programme would bring together both former exile group members and “senior Iraqi intelligence people” from the notorious Mukhabarat of the former regime. James Steele arrived early in 2004 to run the paramilitaries which Casteel was creating, Steele had been in and out of Iraq during 2003, but wasn’t actually assigned to the paramilitaries until after June 2004 when David Petraeus took charge of the newly created “Multi-National Security Transition Command” which trained and equipped Iraqi forces. Also in June 2004 John Negroponte began his tenure as US ambassador to Iraq. It is in no way possible for me to any justice here to the intimate association that Negroponte has to death squad activities, but his record in Latin America is highly enlightening reading. Here’s a taste of his records from Dahr Jamail:

In Honduras he earned the distinction of being accused of widespread human rights violations by the Honduras Commission on Human Rights while he worked as “a tough cold warrior who enthusiastically carried out President Ronald Reagan’s strategy,” according to cables sent between Negroponte and Washington during his tenure there. The human rights violations carried out by Negroponte were described as “systematic.”

The violations Negroponte oversaw in Honduras were carried out by operatives trained by the CIA. Records document his “special intelligence units,” better known as “death squads,” comprised of CIA-trained Honduran armed units which kidnapped, tortured and killed hundreds of people. Negroponte had full knowledge of these activities while making sure U.S. military aid to Honduras increased from $4 million to $77.4 million a year during his tenure. Under his watch civilian deaths sky-rocketed into the tens of thousands. Negroponte has been described as an “old fashioned imperialist” and got his start during the Vietnam War in the CIA’s Phoenix program….”

The first of the paramilitaries under Steele’s guidance was publicly acknowledged in September 2004. In charge of one of the first Brigades was General Rashid Flayih, a former Ba’athist General who played a key role in crushing the 1991 uprising in southern Iraq (itself often misleadingly described as sectarian in nature). Moreover, as Fuller writes: “Even more significantly than the continued tenure of General Rashid Flayih, is that of General Adnan Thabit. Adnan was instrumental in establishing the Police Commandos according to Maas and is currently [ in charge of all of the Interior Ministry’s extensive security forces. Adnan is a Sunni and was a Baathist intelligence officer. Like Rashid, Adnan has a history of collaboration with the CIA.” The original prime targets were not the “Sunni insurgents” but the Mehdi Army. This Shia militia is, in US media discourse, an implacable enemy of the Sunni “insurgents” despite the fact that the Mehdi army’s leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, gave such vocal and voluble support to Sunni resistance in Falluja – even sending aid and personnel to Fallujah. Just as today Sadr’s support of the “Sunni uprising” and its demands is an unmentionable sour note spoiling the self-serving Western discourse of ethnic and sectarian fragmentation and calls for partition (Peter Galbraith, a major and influential partition advocate, has been allowed to make hundreds of millions of dollars out of his Iraq dealings).

So the death squads were US planned and run and though the sectarian aspect was deliberately inbuilt, it was both Sunni and Shia. The documentary leaves intact the impression that infiltration by Shia militias was the driving force behind the sectarian tensions, and a probable force driving the brutal excesses, rather than a calculated deliberate aspect of the death squad programme as designed by the US. Fuller shows that the implementation of the “Salvador option” created sectarian division by design to further the push for partition. Scott Ritter predicted that “the Salvador option will serve as the impetus for all-out civil war. In the same manner that the CPA-backed assassination of Baathists prompted the restructuring and strengthening of the Sunni-led resistance, any effort by US-backed Kurdish and Shia assassination teams to target Sunni resistance leaders will remove all impediments for a general outbreak of ethnic and religious warfare in Iraq.”

Rather than enlighten viewers to the comprehensive and intentional nature of the US death squad policy, the documentary makes it seem as if the callous and scary Steele had, in his ruthless pursuit of counterinsurgency, unleashed sectarian hatreds and opened up the paramilitaries to Shia militia infiltration because their vicious hatefulness and violence, though morally unacceptable to we civilised Westerners, could be harnessed to suppressing the anti-occupation resistance.

There is the deliberate implication that Steele was valued for his ability to utilise “human intelligence” and in the alternative version he is even touted as an expert as getting “actionable intelligence”. Indeed the entire documentary barely mentions the key death squad trait associated with these Special Police Commandos (disappearing live people and producing mutilated corpses). Instead it concentrates on detentions and torture under interrogation. However, I believe that the reason that the “actionable intelligence” quote is dropped from the official version is that it cannot be reconciled with the reality of the death squad activity in Iraq. The documentary, in either version, insinuates that officials did not enquire too closely into Steele’s methods because he got results. But the implication that these results had something to do with counterinsurgency is patent nonsense. At the height of death squad activity hundreds of corpses were turning up each week with signs of torture, only someone seriously deluded would believe that this torture was all done as a way of gathering real intelligence about insurgent threats to the Occupation and the puppet regime. Torture is not a very effective way of getting reliable intelligence from detainee interrogations.

In a “culture of terror” obviously torture promotes terror as has been discussed, but in death squad terror systems torture may also serve other purposes. One already touched upon is the production of what might be called “actionable intelligence” if one acknowledges that “actionable” need not mean “truthful”. As mentioned, in the Phoenix programme, torture was used to generate lists of names simply to perpetuate a largely indiscriminate terror programme. Former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, found that pro-democracy Uzbek activists were being tortured to produce “intelligence” about “terrorists” in other countries for the use by the US and UK: “The information may be untrue, but it is valuable because it feeds into the US agenda.” (Incidentally, the same Craig Murray said of the Salvador option: “The evidence that the US directly contributed to the creation of the current civil war in Iraq by its own secretive security strategy is compelling. Historically of course this is nothing new – divide and rule is a strategy for colonial powers that has stood the test of time.”) Murray testified to the “Bush Commission” to the effect that “they needed false intelligence from torture chambers” in order to justify the war on terror. Indeed, even the justification for the invasion of Iraq had an integral element gained by torturing false intelligence from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The intelligence produced allows some officials to claim innocence or honest error. Other functionaries are genuinely innocent, actually believing the falsehoods, while others maintain ignorance with varying degrees of wilfulness. This includes those in the media, who are as much a part of this system as CIA or Pentagon employees. So if Steele was actually valued for his “human intelligence” gathering (and I think that much less likely than that he was valued for his skill at repression, terror and genocide) then the “actionable intelligence” was known to be false.

On the subject of torture, it remains to be noted that in a process similar to that used to produce self-justifying “intelligence”, there is a psychology of confession and the reification of the victim as malefactor in the mind of the persecutor. Whether in Argentine torture camps, or in the Khmer Rouge’s notorious Tuol Sleng, torturers force confessions not for external consumption, but to create a reality which justifies their cruelty even if that reality extends no further than the four walls of a single cell. In this instance, however, the US created a grotesque high-tech dystopian version, like Soviet show trials but with Hollywood pizazz. In a reality show called Terrorists in the Grip of Justice a “parade” of torture victims provided by the SPC Wolf Brigade, confessed to heinous crimes including the murders of people later revealed to be alive.

5) Reel Bad Arabs

One of the strongest distortions in this documentary is the way it isolates the Iraqi paramilitaries’ actions from those of US occupation forces. We are left with the impression that no matter what degree of knowledge US officials possessed, their crime was one of inaction – not putting a stop to things getting out of hand as their ruthless Kurtz built his private army of thugs, and as that very army was infiltrated by vengeful sectarian militias. But as with Indochina or Argentina or Guatemala or El Salvador, the existence of dedicated death squads, or paramilitaries that function as death squads does not preclude death squad type activities from regular forces. The “counterinsurgency” tactics used in South Vietnam, in El Salvador, and in Iraq essentially involve all military personnel in a campaign of terror, in which many, even if quite unwillingly, will find themselves in the role of death squad executioner.

Let us examine the realities of detention at the hands of US occupation forces in Iraq. Many men were detained in “house raids” which seemed almost invariably based on false or faulty intelligence. If that seems unlikely, consider that the US was using torture on detainees to gain information when the vast majority (estimated at 70%-90%) were innocent. Just like the paramilitary death squads, the US forces right from the beginning were torturing innocent people to get “actionable intelligence” on other innocent people. After just 6 months of US occupation, Abu Ghraib alone was crowded with 10,000 detainees. The US also gained intelligence by buying it, and replicated all of the venality and private vengeance that they cannot but have known (having gone down this road before) is an inevitable result of a denunciation system of bribery and coercion.

So within months of the invasion, terror spread to every Iraqi, because none was safe. Each night going to sleep brought the possibility of awakening suddenly to the violent invasion of a US house raid. “Military age” males were subject to detention. They were then “Persons Under Control” or PUCs. They would then pass through a chain of custody. Even before they reached the destination where interrogators were authorised to torture information out of them that they did not possess, the guards along the way might take the opportunity to “fuck a PUC” or “smoke a PUC”. The radically dehumanised process (wherein human beings labelled as “PUC”s) would make detainees inot nothing but anonymous living meat with bags on their heads in a factory-like process. Those who arrested them might understand that they are innocent of wrongdoing, they will have seen the humanity in their eyes, but, like so much else in this dystopian nightmare, all humanity was systematically effaced. So to the next tiers of people in the PUC production line, they are nothing more than a “bad guy”. Ricks even documents that some US personnel maliciously wrote “IED” on the bags of innocent detainees, just in order to prompt abuse which might easily prove fatal.30

Torture of detainees not an aberration for the US. According to Darius Rejali, contemporary US torture combines two distinct styles which he labels “French Modern” and “Anglo-Saxon Modern”.31 Key features include electrotorture, water torture, sleep deprivation and positional torture. These are what he labels “clean torture” techniques, meaning that they are physical tortures which, no matter how much agony they produce, leave no lasting scars: “Used by authoritarian states abroad, it is torture; but used at home, it is probably good policing.”32 Although Rejali emphasises on innumerable occasions that clean tortures occur in response to monitoring, I think that it is reasonable in this instance to take a more nuanced approach. The US doesn’t fear monitoring. Aside from the facts that a former President has happily admitted ordering torture and that Donald Rumsfeld is one of only very few high officials in modern times known to have ordered specific torture techniques to be used,33 systematic US torture is also well documented by NGOs, the UN, and many major news organisations outside of the US. In fact, the utility of “clean” torture is that it allows people, including torturers, to rationalise the effects as being primarily emotional or mental when they may, like water-boarding, cause excruciating physical pain. As Rejali points out even sleep deprivation causes physical pain.34 And yet these are widely understood to be psychological techniques, inducing fear and breaking down resistance.

Of course there is a great deal done by US personnel that is not among these “clean” tortures. Former interrogator Tony Lagouranis describes how “North Babel was probably the place where I saw the worst evidence of abuse. This was from August to October of 2004, so, it was well after the Abu Ghraib scandal. And we were no longer using any harsh tactics within the prison, but I was working with a marine unit, and they would go out and do a raid and stay in the detainee’s homes, and torture them there. They were far worse than anything that I ever saw in a prison. They were breaking bones. They were smashing people’s feet with the back of an axe head. They burned people. Yeah, they were doing some pretty harsh stuff.”

Somehow, however, these non-“clean”acts are erased when it comes to analysis. The entire world saw that attack dogs were made to bite naked restrained prisoners with photos such as these:

Yet whenever the use of dogs is mentioned something strange happens. For Rejali, the Nazis “set

dogs” on prisoners, but the US “threatens” with them.35 Alfred McCoy, another torture specialist

and strong critic of the US, takes the same approach, emphasising on multiple occasions the Arab

cultural sensitivities and fear of dogs. (Apparently Arabs are peculiarly sensitive to being bound

naked and blindfolded while military attack dogs savage them. Who would have thought?)

Our attitude seems to be that above all, though they might trick people into feeling fear or trick them into a “simulation” of drowning, US terror is somehow fake and unthreatening. But, for the loved ones of those taken by the US military, they were disappeared as effectively as if they had been taken by a Guatemalan death squad. Relatives would have no way of knowing where they were or even whether they were still alive for days, but often that might turn into weeks or even months. These were carceral disappearances with most victims entering a Kafkaesque realm of capricious abuse and arbitrary treatment within a characteristically massive and inhuman prison machinery. The prospect of dying in custody was also very real.

The terror inflicted through these indiscriminate detention policies as not the only way in which the US (and to a lesser degree Coalition partners) created a “culture of terror” which was part of their genocide in Iraq. US forces used ordnance guaranteed to kill civilians, such as white phosphorous, depleted uranium, cluster munitions, and large explosive munitions such as 1000lb and 2000lb JDAMs:

In addition, US forces were more intimately killing. As I have written previously:

…in excess of 100,000, civilians have been killed in a very atomised and geographically dispersed pattern with small arms by coalition forces. The closest parallel to this would be something like the Herero genocide, an early 20th Century colonial genocide.

In a work based on veteran testimony, Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian explain that US personnel have gone“from killing – the shooting of someone who [can] harm you – to murder. The war in Iraq is primarily about murder. There is very little killing.”36 They are talking about the systematic murder of civilians in small increments multiplied many times over. This is the result of a disproportionate fear and lack of security induced within US personnel as well as such policies and tactics as: force protection; reactive firing; suppressive fire; reconnaissance by fire. These are of relevance during convoy operations, house raids and at checkpoints and I am quite confident that each of these situations has been shaped by US policy in such a way as to maximise civilian deaths, often putting US personnel in the situation of being unwilling murderers. Joshua Key describes, from early in the occupation, having to build a “corpse shack” where Iraqis could go to collect the bodies of relatives killed by his company. It was “near our front gate, so relatives could retrieve their loved ones without entering our compound.”37

And then there are also those instances when, given legitimacy by rules of engagement, US personnel quite eagerly commit murder. International Humanitarian Law and even US Field Manuals forbid the killing of non-combatants, but if the ROE redefines a civilian as a combatant, because they stopped to help a wounded person, or carry a shovel, or do something suspicious, then considerable eagerness to kill people may take over. “Delightful bloodlust” as Bradley Manning terms it. This bloodlust is systematically induced in personnel subjected to intense military indoctrination using psychologically sophisticated techniques.

The same fundamental rules of representation and discourse apply to all mainstream Western media products, including both Hollywood blockbusters and “James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq”. Above all, the average US person, including their heavily armed military personnel, can never be shown as a threat to the innocent. For Arabs (as for Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Africans etc. etc.), one is allowed to say that violence is part of their culture, but only the bad apples of the US commit abuses. Above all, one can never suggest that civilians might fear US personnel.

Kieran Kelly blogs at On Genocide.

1 Jeffrey Record, “How America“s Own Military Performance in Vietnam Abetted the “North“s” Victory“ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War, New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 125.

2 Stjepan Gabriel Meštrović, Rules of engagement?: a social anatomy of an American war crime – Operation Iron Triangle, Iraq, New York: Algora, 2008, p 171.

3 Joshua Key writes of loading 1000 rpg and mortar rounds on to a truck, driving it into the middle of the desert and just leaving it. (Joshua Key and Lawrence Hill, The Deserter’s Tale: Why I Walked Away from the War in Iraq, Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2007, pp 78-9.)

4 Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, London: Penguin, 2007, p 156.

5 Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, London: Serpent’s Tail, 2007, p 142.

6 Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, New York: Henry Holt, 2007, p 105.

7 Daniel Feierstein, “Political violence in Argentina and its genocidal characteristics,” Journal of Genocide Research (2006), 8(2),June, p 150.

8 Klein, The Shock Doctrine, pp 107-9.

9 Ibid, p 110.

10 Eduardo Galeano, The Open Veins of Latin America (1973), New York: Monthly Review Press, 1997, p 282.

11 Frank M. Afflito, “The Homogenizing effects of State-Sponsored Terrorism: The Case of Guatemala”, in Jeffrey A. Sluka (ed.), Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, pp 116.

12 Antonius C. G. M. Robben, “Disappearance and Reburial in Argentina”, in Jeffrey A. Sluka (ed.), Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, p 96.

13 Carlos Figueroa Ibarra, “The culture of terror and Cold War in Guatemala,” Journal of Genocide Research (2006), 8(2), June, p 198.

14 Frederick H. Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States: From Counterinsurgency to the War on Terror, Atlanta and London: Clarity Press and Zed Books, 2004, pp 29-30.

15 William S. Turley, The Second Indochina War. Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1986, p 32 n 6.

16 David W. P. Elliott, The Vietnamese War: Revolution and Social Change in the Mekong Delta 1930-1975, Volume 1. London and Armonk, NY: East Gate, 2003, p 195-6.

17 John Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1995, pp 204-5, 210.

18 Tucker gives figures which suggest that just less than one third: “Between 1968 and 1972 it accounted for the deaths of 26,369 people; another 33,358 were captured and 22,013 surrendered,” (Spencer C. Tucker, Vietnam, Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1999, p 151). These overly precise figures, however, should in themselves arouse suspicion, and accounts of the functioning of the programme make it seem unlikely that any accurate count of those killed was kept, although sometimes, in the words of an officer who helped oversee the programme, “they’d come back to camp with ears to prove they’d killed people,” (Christian Appy, Vietnam: The Definitive Oral History Told from all Sides. London: Ebury Press/Random House, 2006 (2003), p 361).

19 Jonathan Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War. New York: The New Press, 2003, p 116.

20 John Prados, ‘Impatience, Illusion and Assymetry’ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 142.

21 Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States, pp 96-8

22 Feierstein, “Political violence in Argentina…” p 153.

23 Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States, pp 41-9.

24 Michael L. Gross, “Killing civilians intentionally: double effect, reprisal, and necessity in the Middle East”, Political Science Quarterly, 120.4 (Winter 2005), p569.

25 Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, London: Verso, 2005, p 132.

26 Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away with Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity, London, Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2004, p 29.

27 See above n 1 and n 2.

28 James William Gibson, The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000 (1986), p 135.

29 Afflito, “The Homogenizing effects…”, p 118.

30 Ricks, Fiasco, p 271.

31 Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007, pp 20; 420.

32 Ibid, p 255.

33 Ibid, p 412.

34 Ibid, p 290.

35 Ibid, p 433.

36 Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, Collateral Damage: America’s War against Iraqi Civilians, New York: Nation Books, 2008, p xiii.

37 Key, Deserter’s Tale, p 84.

Drone Hypocrisy: The Toxic Self-regard of the 5% and the Dangerous US Constitution Fetish



Original image:Attribution Some rights reserved by Tjebbe van Tijen / Imaginary Museum Projects (updated by myself)

Many in the US are up in arms over the fact that Eric Holder has not rejected the President’s use of lethal force against US citizens on US soil, but what are the implications of the outrage shown by “progressives” in the US? Why is it so natural for US citizens to privilege themselves and their lives over the lives of others? Where is the shame of those who claim to oppose US militarism but devote their greatest passion and attention to a minuscule or non-existent threat to themselves?

On a personal level, it is sad for me to find people I normally admire among those reacting in shock and horror to the fact that there is a hypothetical outside chance that they may be killed in the same manner that the US employs to kill lesser beings on a regular basis. Sometimes I actually feel betrayed by people from the US, including some I know personally, who reveal that deep down they see foreigners like myself and my family and friends as having lives worth less than theirs. This was how I reacted in a comment when TomDispatch posted an article of this type on their facebook page: “What about all the people outside of the US? Are you all so jaded and selfish and despicable that you only care about whether they can get you when you are drinking coffee in Boston? Why do you have no shame about this? What do you think it looks like for those outside the US to constantly have our noses rubbed into the fact that you think your government that YOU voted for can kill us, but bleat on so much about the fact that they might be able to kill you? At least you can do something about it. Why is it breaking news that Obama (in “extraordinary circumstances”) can kill 5% of the population when 95% can be killed without even being identified personally. Just wiped out like insects, and you endorse that every fucking time you privilege your concern for US citizens over others – and now its US citizens on US soil that are more important than everyone else. This sickens me.”

Of course, the fact that people from the US endorsed my comment made me feel much better about life in general. I am quite happy to view US politicians as evil hell-spawn, but I tend to think that US people, like all people, are basically good. On the other hand, though, that leaves me to explain why some who devote a lot of themselves to opposing US imperial injustices, including drone strikes, should let themselves down so badly. Joining in the hysteria and hype over the Holder letter is unacceptable, and here is why.

First, divide the world into the “5%” (US citizens) and the “95%” (others). We already knew that the baseline of USG policy is that the executive branch can kill whomever it wants, wherever it wants, whenever it wants based on secret applications of secret legal rationalisations using secret evidence. So far the application of this when using UAVs to kill people has seen 5 US citizens killed. In contrast, the figure of 4700 killed in total has been acknowledged by Sen. Lindsay Graham and that must be excluding those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 95% are simply at a far, far higher risk than the 5%. This is acutely so in countries or regions where US destabilisation has destroyed the functioning of governments, or where governments are in some other way unable to protect their citizens from US violence. The figure of those killed on US soil, by the way, is 0. So the actual figures would suggest that Rand Paul’s dramatic image of someone being incinerated by a hellfire missile when drinking a coffee in Boston might be overdrawn. But it is so much worse than that. People in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and an ever increasing number of other places are really being incinerated when they sit down to have coffee with friends. I understand that Paul opposes the killing of those people too, but why bring up the unlikely hypothetical example when the reality is right there?

Attorney General Eric Holder responded to Sen. Paul with a letter. This letter confirms the privilege accorded to the 5%. The US isn’t going to kill people on US soil because “well-established law enforcement” obviates the necessity. One reading of this is that there was no need for White House involvement in Fred Hampton’s killing, or the MOVE bombing, while administration involvement in the Waco siege would now be unnecessary altogether (as with Christopher Dorner’s demise). US law enforcement killed at minimum an average of one person every 15 hours in 2012. Carrying out covert targeted killings in the milieu of such deadly and militarised policing seems far more logical than using drones. In other words, the US can rely on “law enforcement” to kill people when desirable, which also calls into question the point of Rand Paul’s fatuous question. As always, however, the implications are far worse for the 95% than for the 5%, but no US “progressives” seem to care. The 5% talk of the “chilling effect” of various repressive authoritarian government behaviours on their own society, but imagine the chilling effect that this might have on, say, Iceland – a country that recently deported FBI agents. This is a reiteration to the world that non-compliance with US law enforcement in its hunt for political dissidents may cause the US to take unilateral action, possibly lethal, without regard for sovereignty nor for international law.


A fairly constant theme of the aghast is the horror of an attack on the Constitution. The basis of this, however, is an unhealthy and historically untenable vision of a mythic Constitution carved in granite and handed down from on high through the agency of semi-divine authorities known as “founding fathers”. But the aspects of the US Constitution that we today tend to admire the most came originally from being forced on the Federalists by anti-Federalists and Jeffersonians, while others were amendments added because of the insistence and agitation of the common people. Not only that, but the application of the Constitution to secure actual meaningful rights for the bulk of the people only tends to occur after people toil, fight and often die to secure them. I’m assuming that the progressives I complain of here (who should know better than to echo the sentiments of not one but several Republican Senators) have read A People’s History of the United States, and are familiar with critiques of Hamilton and Madison. And yet, clearly against their own interests, instead of the people actually taking credit for establishing their own human rights and civil rights through their own power and sacrifice, all to often the discourse is of “constitutional rights”.

Once upon a time, the wise men known as the “founding fathers” gave the US a wise Constitution and the wise men of the US Supreme Court are now tasked with the duty of interpreting it according to “founders intent”. Right? Well, the Supreme Court’s role in interpreting the constitution was not originally mandated, but is a self-arrogated power. And they are political appointees. And they dress funny. And, though I may be an ignorant foreigner, no one has actually explained to me why there even is such a creature as a “Justice Scalia”, let alone why he is allowed to hold a responsible position. Altogether, this patriarchal myth is a quasi-religious understanding of the US Constitution (meaning the written document and 27 ratified amendments). But the actual constitution of the federal polity known as the United States of America is much more than can be found in such document. It includes, for example, English Common Law traditions. Moreover, I concluded a previous piece touching on this subject with these words:

This fetishisation of the idolised US Constitution is getting old. Besides which, the US Constitution’s “Supremacy Clause” (Article 6, Clause 2) actually gives treaties the same status as federal law – which would include the Nuremberg Charter and the UN Charter, among other things. Furthermore, by allowing the issue to be framed in such a manner, psychologically you set yourself and others up for being mollified by cosmetic measures offered to guarantee the rights of US citizens while retaining the right to kill foreigners at will. Do you really believe that being a US citizen or being born in Denver makes someone more human?”

Since writing that I have come to realise that framing the issues as “Constitutional Rights” restricts and controls the discourse in a way that disempowers people considerably. Not only does all of the credit get given to the authority figures, but it emphasises those liberal rights of freedom from state interference over all else. But these were never even intended to be the rights of the poor, nor of women, nor the indigenous people, nor slaves. It is the English Whig tradition which had much to do with protecting privilege in the form of property, and little to do with universal notions of rights despite its pretensions. It would be preferable not to view this issue through the lens of the constitution at all, but rather through the lens of universal human rights. Or even better, targeted killings should be framed as violations of international law or criminal law. You don’t normally have to go to the supreme court to establish that a murder victim had a right to life under the US constitution, but it is accepted that the POTUS can murder whatever foreigner he wants because no one has yet established their constitutional right not to be murdered.

Of course, the Bill of Rights does not say at any stage that it is restricted to US citizens…

“…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law….”

ADDENDUM – from a bit later.

I wrote a response to a comment which I feel may be superior to the actual article above. Becuase of this, and since the embedded videos did not come through on the comment, I am reprinting it here:

The inaptness of your analogies reveals the degree to which you are blinded to the reality and the extent to which you will fight to keep your own chains of mental slavery. People in other states do not automatically lack empathy in exactly the manner which you suggest. Distance does lessen empathy, and many other societies also dehumanise poorer peoples, traditional enemies, or those considered inferior due to culture, ethnicity, religion or race. However, the vast disparity in the way life is valued by those in the US, and the overtness of it, and the prominence of its repetition are without contemporary parallels. Chauvinism is a matter of degree, an the US is at the extreme end. It may not be alone in this, but it is alone in marrying this chauvinist patriotism (this exceptionalism) with a virulent militarism; and a military capacity beyond anything known to history; and an imperialist interventionism which brought about many millions of deaths.

To illustrate, let me use your first example of Nigerians and Canadians. If the Nigerian government had an assassination programme killing thousands of Canadians using missiles and refusing to give details of its justifications. A handful of Nigerians on Canadian soil had been killed and though many Nigerians opposed all such killings, much more mainstream public attention is devoted to those handful of Nigerians. The Nigerian victims generate several times more questions in Parliament, and 5- or 10-fold as many mainstream media mentions and editorial condemnations. And then, someone brings up the prospect that the Nigerian government might extend the programme to Nigerians on Nigerian soil. There is no ongoing programme to do so, like the ongoing assassination programme in Canada. There are no plans to do so. And an assassination of this type, using missiles to kill someone in Nigeria would lead to riots and the fall of the government. Yet somehow, in the mainstream discourse, this is what the Nigerians care most about, and even those who oppose the ongoing slaughter of Canadians join them in their cries of horror – because this barely hypothetical possibility, this empty signifier, this big fat nothing of no news at all, is taken as a sign of the dissolution of traditional Nigerian rights. Yeah, the cops can gun Nigerians down in the streets at will, but to kill them the same way you would kill a Canadian – what horror is this!

I’ll tell you how the world would react to this alternative world Nigeria, shall I? Nigeria would be an absolute pariah state. The Nigerian people would be viewed by most of the world with hostility, fear, suspicion and/or disgust. A rare few would pity them. The BBC and Al Jazeera English would compete to see who could make the most smug and pompous documentary about how the Nigerian Dream had turned into a poisonous sludge of fascistic nationalism, narrow-minded ignorance and violent xenophobia. The moderate Nigerians would object that that isn’t the real Nigeria, but the BBC and AJE microphones would be pointed at those other ones – the ones who say that all Canadians should be killed; the one’s who say that if they attack Nigerians again we should nuke them to show we mean business; and the ones who say that Canadians are Gods wrathful vengeance wreaked on Nigeria for straying from the path of righteousness. That is how we would see these Nigerians, even the ones that don’t say the mad things out loud must believe them inside because otherwise why would they continue to support valuing Nigerian lives over those of the victims of their own government. But what the Nigerians don’t understand is that those who are making monsters of them are also making fools of them.

I do not hold US citizens morally culpable for what their government does, nor even for their inhumane form of patriotism. It is the same as with the Germans of the Third Reich. On a purely intellectual level the claims of not knowing the basics of Nazi mass atrocities were untrue. The German people did know that their government was committing mass murder, but they were not the irrational Jew-hating monsters that Daniel Goldhagen would have people believe .They had systematically been indoctrinated and manipulated into a state of moral anaesthesia and psychological denial. Clear signals which should have let the Germans know immediately that their government was irredeemably monstrous were stripped of their real meaning – their ethical and moral significance. A seminal book about the creation of the national German consciousness by the Nazis was called They Thought They Were Free, here’s an extract:

But Then It Was Too Late

“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

Such was the German belief in German freedom, that part of their strategic calculation, and a widely held belief, was that Soviet soldiers would not put up much of a fight because, unlike Germans, they were unfree and thus deprived of initiative and sapped of will. You might well be thinking – ah, but this is exactly why we in the US must guard our constitutional rights, so that we guard our fundamental freedoms. But you are not guarding any real freedoms at all. You are just like those Germans. You have been led and manipulated, through your own excessive pride and self-importance, to fight for the meaningless fetish of a piece of paper while tyranny and rot spread throughout the entire regime from top to bottom. If you want to see the ugly militarist face of Western society, look at the excitement over the technology of death when a new war is launched. But if you want to see why the US slips into a different category, why the US looks more fascist than its allies, look at the celebrations of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Look at last year’s political conventions when if there was the slightest hint of protest or dissent the crowd around the protestor, without external direction, would begin chanting “U S A! U S A!” like hundreds of little kid blocking their ears and going “lalalalala I can’t here you”, but much, much scarier. What would you think if Mexicans started doing that at political rallies? Maybe you think it’s perfectly normal to do that and keep shouting “we’re number one!”, but no one else does it.

So they keep you on this track of patriotic rubbish and actually draw out and amplify the hypocritical and callous aspects of nationalism to make you accept the unacceptable. I have a good historical example, which has some currency at the moment thanks to Ritchie Cunningham. I love Arrested Development and I was brought up firm in the faith of Monty Python. Without David Frost there would never have been a Monty Python, yet I still consider him to be one of the most loathsome creatures ever to have slithered on the face of this Earth. Without Ron Howard there would have been no Arrested Development and though I doubt that Howard is as much of a scumbag as Frost, he nevertheless replicated quite faithfully Frost greatest crime against humanity. In a very famous series of interviews Frost talked to Richard Nixon (and Howard made a movie with the same punchline). Frost let Nixon rewrite history over and over again over many many hours of interviewing. He was not challenged on his crimes against humanity and his war crimes at all, but was able to contextualise all of his actions in his own apologetics without the slightest hint that he was a mass murderer responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in Cambodia alone (just the top of a very long list of serious crimes). Towards the end there came a dramatic breakthrough, which to my mind was clearly a pre-ordained and staged breakthrough. Nixon, under suddenly dogged interrogation, finally broke down and admitted to something. Voice utterly laden with sombre reluctance (really very overacted if you actually listen to it critically) Nixon admitted to lying and that he had “let the American people down”. In a horrible way, this was genius propaganda. The people of the US could suddenly feel like they were the real victims.

Well, this sort of propaganda is fundamental to everything now, especially under Obama. Not all of it appeals to pride, vanity, selfishness and fear. The US regime has become very good and harnessing far more positive energies into meaningless empty nonsense or, sometimes, things that are very important on a human level but ultimately pose no challenge to the structural status quo. Among these are greenwashing, gaywashing and femiwashing. These can have real effects on people’s lives, but above all they feed myths of US freedom and a higher level of development.

When you act like your Constitution is some divine idol to be worshipped, one which makes you society superior to those poor benighted nations that do not have this shining fount of justice; and when any of you decides to privilege concern for US life over the life of others; and whenever you have the gall to say that others do the same, you feed the regime that oppresses you. If you are going to be selfish, you might as well be more enlightened about it.

Argo: Time to Grow Up and Get Angry?


The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” – Gloria Steinem.


There have been a number of critical condemnations of the film Argo. The most thoroughgoing that I have read is this one. What seems to me to be missing is any critique that successfully conveys the utter ludicrousness of expecting something other than lying propaganda to come out of a Hollywood film about the CIA in 1979. It is like expecting the Soviets to have made an accurate and unbiased account of KGB activities during the Prague Spring. I saw the preview before the film’s release, and after about 5 or 10 seconds of suspense it became apparent that it was a load of crap – the usual Orientalist stuff, straight out of the Reel Bad Arabs playbook, except with Persians instead of Arabs. The film mirrors the preview – at first it seems possible that one might be about to see a balanced and thoughtful movie, and then… not. Decidedly not.

Let me begin with some historical context. The CIA’s first coup in Iran, considered at the time “its greatest single triumph”,1 brought the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi to a position of supreme power. The CIA “wove itself into Iran’s political culture”.2 They created SAVAK, a notorious “intelligence” agency, trained in torture by the CIA3 and supported by the CIA and DIA in a domestic and international dissident assassination programme.4 Repression was at its peak between 1970 and 1976 resulting in 10,000 deaths.5 By 1976 Amnesty International’s secretary general commented that Iran had “the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture that is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record of human rights than Iran.”6

Nafeez Ahmed cites the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) who detail an extensive police state of intense surveillance and informant networks and torture “passed on to it” by US, UK and Israeli intelligence. Ahmed quotes the FAS on methods including “electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails.”7 Racism allows commentators such as Tim Weiner to blithely exculpate the CIA of fundamental guilt: “The CIA wanted SAVAK to serve as its eyes and ears against the Soviets. The shah wanted a secret police to protect his power.”8 After all, what could civilised Westerners teach Orientals about torture? But something of the real US attitude to such repression can be seen in the official reaction to the unrest developing in the late 1970s. Aside from US officials consistently urging and praising military responses to protest action, including inevitable massacres,9 the US ambassador objected strongly to a reduction in repression. In June 1978 he reported his finding that, “the Shah’s new directives to his security forces, such as instructions to desist from torture… are disorienting.”10 The funny thing about this was that it occurred after the US had forced the Shah into the liberalisation that set loose the forces that were to rip his régime apart.11 This may seem puzzling, but it made more sense for the US to push Iran into the easily vilified “enemy” hands of an Islamic theocracy than to try to maintain control over a Shah who, however repressive, was determined to develop his populous oil-rich country independently.

That is the key point that you will almost never hear about: the US was sick of the Shah. He had become too nationalistic and developmentally inclined, and they didn’t want him any more. They may not have really wanted a revolution in Iran, but they weren’t going to shed tears over the Shah’s departure. Their main fear was the strength of the secular revolutionary left, which had more popular power than the Islamists (despite SAVAK’s repression) so the US helped nurture the Islamist factions.

The CIA were far from unaware of the impending fall of the Shah’s régime, here is a quote in the film which is an instance of absolute barefaced deception: “Iran is 100% not in a pre-revolutionary state. CIA brief, November first, 1979.” Let’s not be stupid here – it is one thing to claim not to know of an impending revolution, but the film is claiming that the CIA were unaware of a revolution that had already happened. Of course some people in the CIA knew that revolution was brewing and the actual CIA brief was from August 1978 and was plainly dishonest even then. By that stage even the State Department was planning for a post-Shah Iran.12 The revolution had actually happened nearly a year before Argo claims that the CIA believed it wasn’t going to happen (the Shah fled Iran in January, Khomeini returned from exile on February 1). But Argo makers really, really, really want you to “know” that the CIA were caught flat-footed and are willing to go to considerable lengths to make you believe this lie.


[By XcepticZP at en.wikipedia [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons]

There is another deception in the film which indicates a conscious systematic attempt to indoctrinate the audience. Some describe Argo as “well-intentioned but fatally flawed”, but these “good intentions” cannot possibly be reconciled with the disgusting propaganda treatment of the issue of the shredded documents put together by Iran. The documents seized by radicals in the embassy takeover were the Wikileaks of their time. Most seized documents were not shredded and they exposed massive systematic illegality and wrongdoing by US personnel, especially the CIA. They were extremely historically significant. Iran spent years piecing together the shreds and the reconstruction was a major intelligence and propaganda coup. In the film, however, we see a very different narrative played out, and we are shown a set of very different images.

In the film, for some inexplicable reason, there were xeroxed photographic images of the staff who had escaped from the embassy when it was seized by radicals. Could this simply be a cinematic plot device for generating suspense? Not really. Any number of other devices might have been used – such as a dragnet, or informants, or surveillance (mobile or static), signals interception and cryptography. You name it, if you are willing to make stuff up, then there is quite a lot you could make up that would be potentially more suspenseful and, unlike this particular conceit, wouldn’t run such a risk of the audience losing their suspension of disbelief because of such an obvious unrealism.

Realism”, I should add, is a very import aspect of this film. It is not done in a documentary style, but is presented as a dramatisation of historical events. Let me illustrate with a quote at length from Wide Asleep in America:

[Salon’s Andrew] O’Hehir perfectly articulates the film’s true crime, its deliberate exploitation of “its basis in history and its mode of detailed realism to create something that is entirely mythological.” Not only is it “a trite cavalcade of action-movie clichés and expository dialogue,” but “[i]t’s also a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology.”

Such an assessment is confirmed by Ben Affleck’s own comments about the film.  In describing “Argo” to Bill O’Reilly, Affleck boasted, “You know, it was such a great story. For one thing, it’s a thriller. It’s actually comedy with the Hollywood satire. It’s a complicated CIA movie, it’s a political movie. And it’s all true.”  He told Rolling Stone that, when conceiving his directorial approach, he knew he “absolutely had to preserve the central integrity and truth of the story.”

“It’s OK to embellish, it’s OK to compress, as long as you don’t fundamentally change the nature of the story and of what happened,” Affleck has remarked, even going so far as to tell reporters at Argo’s BFI London Film Festival premier, “This movie is about this story that took place, and it’s true, and I go to pains to contextualize it and to try to be even-handed in a way that just means we’re taking a cold, hard look at the facts.”

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Affleck went so far as to say, “I tried to make a movie that is absolutely just factual. And that’s another reason why I tried to be as true to the story as possible — because I didn’t want it to be used by either side. I didn’t want it to be politicized internationally or domestically in a partisan way. I just wanted to tell a story that was about the facts as I understood them.”


[Angela George [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons]

To emphasise this point, the initial part of the end credits juxtaposes images from the film with real documentary images. They show how much the actors look like the people they portray. The show how they had faithfully recreated scenes from the revolution. And they show the teeny tiny hands a the poor slave children forced to piece together shredded CIA documents. Wait a second though… don’t the hands in the real photo, despite severe cropping, look more like a woman’s hands? And why would young children be used to piece together valuable and vulnerable documents written in a language that they could not possibly understand?

For some reason the film makers took it upon themselves to invent a whole bunch of “sweatshop kids” putting together these documents. There is no conceivable reason to do so that does not involve conscious deceptive propaganda. In this case, the intent is to make deliberate emotive subliminal association. What do I mean by subliminal? As Joe Giambrone explains:

The father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, wrote in the late 1920s:

The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world to-day. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions.  The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation.” (Bernays 1928)

Bernays noted the “unconscious” character of much film propaganda.  It was not necessary to directly state messages, but to let the scenarios and the story world carry the messages in the background.  Once immersed in the foreground story — whatever it was — the “unconscious” background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge.

This subliminal quality is praised by Bernays as a positive thing, in his view. This is hardly surprising as Bernays’ concept of propaganda is broad in scope encompassing every medium and method of communication that exists.  Bernays’ seminal book Propaganda begins:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.  We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.” (Bernays 1928)”

Subliminality doesn’t mean that images are flashed too quickly to be noticed, rather that associations are made without conscious thought. It is true that you can find a great number of deliberately concealed images in advertising, but the claim that this is all that constitutes subliminal advertising is itself a deception. Advertising, in particular television advertising, is dominated by subliminal messaging, and it is not about tricky concealment. It uses repetition more than anything else, to make associations between advertised products and services with other desires – particularly, but not exclusively, sexual. If you want to sell a car, you don’t generally use brake horsepower or fuel consumption statistics. You associate it with a lifestyle, with attractive people, with status, with sex, with success, with normalcy, with excitement, with fine wine and food, and so forth. That is subliminal.

Obviously when film makers are unconsciously disseminating their own internalised propaganda they convey such messages subliminally. Subliminal means below the threshold, meaning, in this case, below the threshold of consciousness. This is a very, very significant manner in which an orthodox ideology, such as chauvinist US exceptionalism, is deepened and perpetuated. However the deliberate use of techniques designed to manipulate people by subliminal means can be far more powerful still. As an apposite example, let us examine Michelle Obama’s Oscar night appearance. Some have pointed out that Obama being flanked by military personnel as “props” suggests a desire to subliminally associate the First Lady and the presidency with military virtues. That may well be the case, but think how common it is to see faces arrayed behind political speakers in our times. Every time it is possible to do so nowadays, major US politicians will have a bunch of people in uniform behind them when they speak. But it is not strictly about the association with uniforms. Press conferences often pose colleagues behind the speaker – including military briefings almost as a matter of course – and when politicians speak to political rallies or party conferences, they are framed by a sea of supporters’ faces behind them.


You see, we automatically respond to other people’s facial expressions. In fact eliciting an emotional response is as much a component of facial expression as conveying emotion is, and this occurs subliminally. Now think again of Giambrone’s description: “… the ‘unconscious’ background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge….” The people behind the speaker are being used as a way of evoking an emotional reaction like some science fiction mind control ray. Fortunately, people are fickle creatures and often their reaction to watching the back of a speaker’s head, no matter how eloquent, is to look bored or embarrassed. But clearly the technique is being perfected, and the people chosen are those who can be relied upon to convey the right emotions, hence the predilection for military personnel and partisan enthusiasts.

Similarly, subliminal messaging in advertising and film is often also aimed at a gut level. They are not conveying particular ideas, but emotions. The victim (I mean viewer) can rationalise these emotions any way they might later choose, and the brilliance of the system is that it enlists every victim’s own inventiveness tailored in response to each specific circumstance that might challenge or belie the conditioned sentimental sense of reality. So where does this leave us with regards to Argo‘s mythical “sweatshop kids”? We have precisely four references to them. The first is in our hero’s initial briefing: “The bastards are using these [pause and do gesture to indicate need to convey novel concept] mmm sweatshop kids.” Nearly an hour later, we are shown about 5 seconds of the “sweatshop”. It actually looks very stupid if you pay attention to it, but it is over too quickly to register (more subliminality similar to that used in The Hurt Locker). What it actually shows, when the camera pulls back to reveal the scene for around one second, is dozens of children aged about five to eight sitting amidst piles of paper shreds. There is an unnatural hush, redolent with a sense of fear. Half of them are just staring into space, and there is no conceivable way that any of them could actually be doing any useful work. Accompanying the scene is one of the 16 tracks on the official soundtrack. It is called “Sweatshop” and here it is:

Note the image chosen for the album cover.

The third sweatshop scene is also brief. A boy succeeds in producing a usable image. The image is taken without thanks or reward. Then there is a cut to a particularly young and vulnerable looking child. His expression is not inconsistent with a look of anxiety. He looks to the side, as if watching the successfully reconstructed image being taken. But there is only the merest hint of curiosity or concern as his head turns back and down almost immediately, as if returning to work. This is the culmination of this sweatshop depictions.

Inevitably now you feel a queasiness and a sense of concealed horror. The coda to this, the fourth reference, is the already mentioned juxtaposition of the film scene with the documentary photo. Just to tidy away any niggling sense that the film makers might be playing you like an idiot violin.

So why the “sweatshop kids”? As I’ve mentioned the whole pictures-from-shredded-mugshots scenario is a bit too cheesy and overtly Hollywood to make great suspense. It is true that the film has some other rather implausible nail-biting parts, but these are all last minute glitches. The sweatshop storyline carries on throughout most of the movie. And there is no need at all, other than propaganda, to just decide that it should be a bunch of oppressed kids who are doing the work of putting together paper shreds. Not only is it a very silly idea – risking the onset of disbelief – but it actually destroys the main potential for suspense. Engaged adults committed to reconstructing pictures because they actively wish to apprehend the fugitives are inherently far more suspenseful than a bunch of sullen, frightened and apathetic children forced to reconstruct documents without any understanding of why they must do so.

The answer to why this is done is that one of the purposes of this film is to transform, disrupt or destroy certain “memes”. I’m quite serious in writing that. “Meme” might be a buzzword (so to speak), or even worse, yesterday’s buzzword, but it is a very appropriate word to use for those quanta of information that convey a “truth”. In particular, and far more to the point, a “meme” can belie an entire orthodox discourse. The Iranian revolution created many such memes, their power being almost entire due to the fact that they ran counter to the established official discourse. In many instances, not least those coming out of the hostage taking at the embassy, one might see young impassioned revolutionaries animated by a desire for justice and freedom who gave of themselves bravely, sacrificing without hesitation. To present that as being all there was to the story would be ludicrous. One cannot, and should not, ignore the violence and excesses of revolution whether their source is secular or religious in its expression. But to erase it altogether is equally wrong, but hardly surprising on the US part.

A proper narrative of the hostage crisis in Tehran would juxtapose the aspirations of brave, intelligent, dedicated, moral revolutionaries; the vicious excesses of revolutionary violence; the repressive nature of Shah’s régime; the repression of the revolution and the republican régime; the role of the US and the ongoing role of the CIA operating out of the Tehran embassy; the suffering and ill-treatment of the hostages in a 444 day ordeal. But that sort of narrative is balanced. It does two unwelcome things – it humanises Iranians as victims of the US régime; and it indicts the régimes of the Shah; the US, and the Islamic Republic, but not the peoples of the US or Iran. Another undesirable thing is that the idea that a CIA officer could be a hero is risible. Indeed, without trying to sound too anarchistic here, a balanced view of what the history tells us with regard to the actions of individuals is that when they act out of individual conscience they may be “heroic”, but when they act under orders as agents of régimes they will almost always be either victims or “villains” or both. So, for example, Lt. Calley and Capt. Medina were ordered to “kill anything that moves” at My Lai; but W.O. Hugh Thompson who risked his own life, the lives of his men, and threatened to kill his compatriots in order to bring that same slaughter to an end, did so because of his own sense of humanity, not from orders, or duty, or military indoctrination. Indeed, the history of Iran-US relations going back to 1953 can be seen as two peoples who share exactly the same two enemies – their own and the other’s state régimes which would have them slaughter each other. As with the trenches of the Western Front in WWI, the revelation of common humanity and circumstance is a serious threat to the “fighting spirit” required to achieve the geostrategic goals of the ruling class. In the trenches, among the troops of WWI, demonisation and atrocity propaganda were common techniques to combat the threat of “live and let live”.13 Image

The point is to ensure that people don’t start seeing anything admirable in Iran’s revolutionaries, nor see them as potential agents of their own liberation. The US will bring them “democracy” in its own time. In the lens through which the West is meant to view the lesser beings of the East – Persians (like Filipinos) are “half devil and half child”, or maybe about four-fifths devil in this instance. The point is this, the US did a bad thing by overthrowing Mossadeq – that is the official reality, complete with official apology (unlike all of the other places where the US has overthrown the rightful government). However, the way they are constructing the meaning of this fact echoes Colin Powell’s “pottery barn rule” – you know, the one that says that if you illegally invade a country you are morally obligated to occupy it for years, steal billions from its people, kill hundreds of thousands, rewrite its constitution to your own liking; and so forth. I think you get the picture. The admission of guilt in the Mossadeq overthrow is being rewritten as license, nay duty, to deal with the consequences (the repressive régime of the Islamic Republic) while the Iranian people are necessarily recast as the monstrous creations of US intervention who can only be redeemed by further US intervention – 80% devil, 20% child (the approved portions for victims of Islamofascism).Image

The shredded documents are of central importance. The makers of Argo went to extraordinary lengths to subliminally create negative associations with the issue, though not that issue alone. The entirety of the Iranian revolution is sullied, not by the association of revolutionaries with the suffering brought about by the revolution in reality, but by filthying the very characters of the participants in the same way that the orators of Occupy Wall Street movement are smeared with ordure and disfigured (figuratively) in The Dark Knight Rises. Not only was this a serious undertaking, but it was a risky one too. If someone of prominence had, in timely fashion, started pulling at the “sweatshop kids” thread they could might have caused considerable unravelling long before Oscar time. I cannot help but think of Glenn Greenwald. But Greenwald, like many other astute political critics, has been so busy critiqueing the even more repugnant CIA propaganda of the year, that it is only now after Argo has won best picture that people are posting trenchant, but comparatively simple posts criticising Argo‘s historical inaccuracy, racist monolithic depictions of fanatical Iranians, and CIA/US boosterism. Image

In a sane world, the Hollywood critics would have so totally panned Zero Dark Thirty that it was never an Oscar contender, nor seen as anything but a prurient sadistic flick for maladjusted teenagers – the contemporary equivalent of another ambivalent CIA assassination/torture propaganda flick from the previous millenium, The Evil Men Do (the difference being that while Charles Bronson was known to some as “Mr Monkey Scrotum Features”, director Kathryn Bigelow more subtly manages to place the ugliness inside of her characters, like cancerous pus that oozes just below the surface).

In a sane world? One cogent blogger writes: “What if instead of making a movie about the hostage situation and replaying the same narrative of victim Americans, villain Iranians, Ben Affleck made a movie about the 1953 coup? What if someone made a movie about the CIA teaching the Iranian intelligence agency torture methods copied from the Nazis? What if we gave a little bit more background before jumping to make labels of good guy and bad guy?” But is the audience living in a sane world?

In a sane world the audience would never accept such a portrayal of the CIA. It might be possible to have a CIA hero, if, and only if, s/he was just doing a job in an Agency context of, in film terms, rampant evil villainy. I do hate to break it to everyone, but in cinema conventions the scheming, murdering, corrupt torturers are supposed to be the “bad guys”. At best, people should perceive the idea of CIA heroes as a bit off and uncomfortable, if not disgusting or simply comical. The irony is that the hostage crisis occurred in the middle of a period when no one would have dared make a film with a CIA officer as hero unless they were a renegade being persecuted by the agency (or unless it was some violent b-grade right-wing action film starring Charles Bronson). I am not merely referring to a matter of taste here. There is something utterly basic at issue as well. Something so fundamental that it strikes at the roots of the entire film, making a nonsense of everything that is projected on to the screen.

In a sane world the central premise that the CIA was animated by a concern for the preservation of the lives of 6 human beings, just because they were US citizens and innocent of wrongdoing, would be widely and immediately apparent as utter unadulterated nonsense. In 1979 many people were aware, and they seem to have since forgotten, that the CIA was happy enough to kill innocent US citizens themselves when it seemed expedient. Unknown numbers of deaths were brought about by the reckless drug experiments undertaken on thousands of unwitting victims. As investigations such as those of the “Church Committee” showed the CIA’s lack of concern for their victims’ safety alone established that these innocent US citizens were as disposable to the CIA as toilet paper. Enough people would have known this that no such movie as Argo could have been a large mainstream Hollywood hit without it raising serious questions about what exactly the CIA’s real motives were.

What were the CIA’s real motives? Let me begin by saying that I can understand why the fugitive diplomats would have feared for their lives at the hands of the Iranian government. I understand why Western diplomats such as the Canadians and the gratuitously maligned UK and New Zealand diplomats took steps to help them evade capture and escape. Nevertheless, in the cold light of day and historical retrospect, the greatest risk to the lives of the fugitives was from the CIA, not the Iranian régime. The film as much as gives that away at one point when a CIA character says: “Six Americans get pulled out of a Canadian diplomat’s house and executed it’s a world outrage. Six Americans get caught playing movie make-believe with the CIA at the airport and executed, it’s a national embarrassment.” The audience doesn’t see a problem with that, because they are preconditioned to expect that the “Mad Mullahs” will gladly cause “world outrage” because they froth at the mouth and hate everyone and everything Western, and because the film keeps telling us that they will execute them publicly and juxtaposing such claims with grotesque imagery based on real executions.

Let us take a step back from our conditioning here and remember that:

  1. contrary to the depiction of the film (which would have us believe that the embassy was stormed three days after the CIA reported no sign of “pre-revolutionary” activity) the revolutionary régime had been in power for over 9 months – long enough to stop screaming fanatical slogans and spraying spittle everywhere; and long enough to develop a degree of concern about international perceptions and diplomacy.
  2. One very central point about the hostage crisis which is omitted is the shady US role in its origins. Even if one dismisses some things as conspiracy nonsense, the perfectly well established and uncontroversial facts of the “October Surprise” conspiracy were also omitted from Argo. They were omitted because they would show that the US establishment tended to see the hostages as disposable pawns
  3. If the “mad mullahs” really were so determined to do public beheadings of US citizens as Argo claims, they had reasonably easy access to 52 others, some of whom they could very credibly have tried for spying and for committing other crimes in Iran.
  4. Another point about the hostage crisis, so crucial and central to the history that it absolutely had to be obscured, is that the Iranian régime was making a show of being at arm’s length from the actions of the kidnappers. You see they had learnt a thing or two from being at the receiving end of the CIA’s dirty tricks – (im)plausible denial being one of them.
  5. The US discourse around these events was ripe, it was fecund, it was completely laden with what I call “stuff”. The blindfolded hostages. The young radicals. The red headbands. The yellow ribbons. The counting of the days. And above it all the stern visage of the Grand Ayatollah (Big Brother) Khomeini.

[By Mr.minoque (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons]

Tropes were flying through the air thick and fast, attaching themselves to memes with such violence that if you weren’t careful you could lose an eye. The resulting one-eyed narrative is positively mythic in quality.

The mythic narrative (where everything was larger than life) was a propaganda coup for the US régime, particularly for the CIA, who had been having a hard time of it since 1974 and weren’t exactly anyone’s favourite people, as has already been mentioned. The US government got to pull its “helpless giant” act – always a favourite, particularly to distract from dirty hands. The CIA and their Hawk allies were able to use the whole thing as leverage against Carter and do their bit to get him replaced by Reagan (that was the essence of the aforementioned “October surprise”).

Taking all of this into account, we can conclude that if the Iranian régime had gotten hold of the fugitives, then they might have simply put them with the other hostages, but that would have spoilt the pretence of the independence of the kidnappers. They might have killed them, furthering their international pariah status. Or, they might have done the thing that posed the greatest threat to the CIA. They might have protected them from those whom they would explain as being regrettably but understandably over-enthusiastic young revolutionaries. They might have interrogated them to check that they weren’t spies (for form’s sake), and then given them a nice escort to the airport for a civilised journey home as seen on TV by the entire globe. Having done that, the Iranian régime would suddenly look more reasonable, especially to non-aligned countries, and a little bit of a crack would appear in the US demonisation discourse. A crucial crack, because although the Iranian régime would remain brutally repressive to its own people, it would be plainly apparent that it was actually rational and subject to appeals other than brute force.

So you tell me: Is it more realistic that the CIA, an organisation that had shown itself in no uncertain terms to be both brutal and callous, would care deeply for the lives of 6 citizens? Or would they care more about geopolitical manoeuvres and the domestic political game against Carter? We need to get back to where we were in 1979 with regards to what was considered credible in film. In their own way of distorting history and privileging US personnel’s suffering over that inflicted by US personnel, films of the time like The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now were bad enough, but Argo would not have been seen as a serious film in 1979. 1979 was more than 10 years after Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner had taken a postmodern pickaxe to the serious dramatic pretensions of spy adventures. In 1979, the small screen saw Alec Guiness playing George Smiley in an adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy that was at least as grim and disillusioned and unheroic as the more recent film adaptation, while on the big screen Roger Moore’s James Bond saved the word from evil space shuttle hijackers in Moonraker (featuring that guy with steel teeth!). There was no in-between. That should tell you all you need to know.

Conclusion – Get Angry

In Sheldon Wolin’s conception of “inverted totalitarianism” one of the few differences between US totalitarianism and Fascist or Communist totalitarianism is that under Fascist corporatism or Communism the state exerts a central control over corporations and in inverted totalitarianism that arrangement is, umm, inverted. I’m always a bit sceptical about the use of the word totalitarian. It functions better, to my mind, at highlighting a tendency rather than being used as some absolute characterisation. But Wolin’s usage can easily accommodate this, and he is absolutely correct in characterising the locus of state power in US society. (Some people might pick a fight with him over the locus of power in Fascist and Nazi societies, but there are two sides to that argument.) The point is, however, that restricting our understanding of what constitutes the “state” in the US to government only and not including corporate power is foolish and untenable.

Hollywood produces state propaganda not because Karl Rove tells them to – he just gives them some suggestions and they are happy to oblige. Hollywood produces state propaganda because Hollywood is part of the state, a big and important part of the state. As I have written elsewhere, the corporatist powers of the US régime form an “empire complex”, a team that might squabble, but pulls in the same direction. Newscorp stands shoulder to shoulder with the DoD, Goldman Sachs walks arm in arm with the Dept. of Treasury, while the FDA seems little more than a deformed growth and mildly irritating growth on Monsanto’s back. You get the picture anyway. The non-governmental “stakeholders” of the imperial state are more numerous and often bigger than the biggest governmental peers. This is state propaganda – straight from the politburo with the rubber stamp of approval as state propaganda given by the people who made the film in the first place, because they are part of the politburo.

So we must stop catering to those who claim that Ben Affleck means well, or that Hollywood liberals are not jingoistic right-wing scumbags, or that the CIA was ever anything but rotten at the core. Mark Ames writes a fantastic retrospective on some of the unsavoury violence of the CIA. The only time they ever had real limitations put on them was during the administration of this guy called Jimmy Carter:

As everyone knows, Carter’s presidency was one long bummer. But what most people don’t know — or have forgotten — is that Carter did more than any president to bring the national security state under control. Especially the CIA, which Carter gutted, purged, and chained down with a whole set of policies and guidelines meant to protect American citizens’ civil liberties.

In his first year in office, Carter purged nearly 20% of the Agency’s 4500 employees, gutting the ranks of clandestine operatives, sending hundreds of dirty trickster vets into the private sector to seethe for the next few years. Carter signed an executive order worked out with Frank Church and the Senate committee on intelligence putting more serious limits on the CIA’s powers — unequivocally banning assassinations, restricting the CIA’s ability to spy domestically, and putting their covert operations under strict oversight under the president, Congressional committees and the attorney general. The CIA’s paramilitary was even disbanded, though not banned.

What happened to Carter, according to former US, Iranian, Israeli and Russian officials, is that there was this, like, hostage crisis thing, right? It was in Tehran in Iran, OK? Maybe you’ve heard of it? Anyway, this guy who worked for the CIA, called George H. W. Bush, went to Paris in October of 1980 to make deal with Iranian officials to delay reaching a deal with the US on releasing the hostages because any such deal might have gained Carter some votes. It worked. Carter was voted out. The CIA found new funds, new respectability, new drugs and arms to sell, new torturers and death squads to train, and new lies to tell. Yay.

And then liberal Ben Affleck and liberal George Clooney made a movie about what great guys the CIA are. How should we act when the wilfully blind watch this smug flag-waving offensive propaganda and tell us that we’re being unfair and political to criticise it? Do we go on the defensive? “Yes, but Edward Said wrote…”; “It is entertainment, but…”; “Yes, but when you analyse the protrayal of the Islamic male…”? Or do we show them our anger, our distaste, and our disdain? Why the hell should we be apologising for just pointing out basic known facts that people like to forget as much as possible? They’re the CIA. They are murderers. They were murderers. That is the reality. Grow up. Santa Claus does not exist, and if there is any such thing as a “hero” in real life then, by definition, they aren’t loyal CIA officers. Grow up.

Get angry.

1Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, London: Penguin, 2007, p 105.


3William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II (2nd ed.), Monroe:

Common Courage Press, 2004, p 72.

4Roger Morris, “The Undertaker’s Tally (Part 1): Sharp Elbows,” TomDispatch, 1 February 2007. Retrieved 2

February 2007 from

5 Frederick H. Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States: From Counterinsurgency to the War on Terror,Atlanta and London: Clarity Press and Zed Books, 2004, p 172.

6 Blum, Killing Hope, p 72.

7 Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq,

Gabriola Island, BC: New Society, 2003, pp 38-9.

8 Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes, p 105.

9 Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror, pp 43-5.

10 Ibid.

11 Amin Saikal, Islam and the West: Conflict or Cooperation, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003, p 73.

12 Gary Sick, All Fall Down: America’s Tragic Encounter with Iran. New York: Penguin Books, 1986, p 98.

13 Eric J. Leed, No Man’s Land: Combat and Identity in World War I, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1979, p 107; J.G. Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies 1914-1918, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990, p 17.