Operation Human Freedom
Valerie Scatamburlo-D’Annibale and Peter McLaren
Hobgoblin #5 2003
“Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder . . . The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose—especially their lives. . . .And here let me emphasize the fact . . . that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace. Yours not to reason why; yours but to do and die.”
--Eugene Debs, 1918
May Day always provides an opportunity for critical reflection on both the obstacles to humanity that exist in our world and the possibilities that beckon on the horizon. It reminds us of the value of solidarity and our common humanity. As we approach May Day 2003, however, the need for critical reflection, solidarity, and action has assumed greater urgency in light of global conditions and the imperialist war currently being waged by the United States and its “coalition of the willing.” May Day 2003 arrives at a time of explosive political, social and economic events worldwide. As we write, the “shock and awe” campaign has begun in Iraq and Baghdad is smoldering. For days, media pundits waited with baited breath and wagging tongues for the onset of the “shock and awe” bombardment that American Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had promised would be of a force and a scope and a scale that went been beyond anything we had witnessed before. The spectacle received good “ratings” as television viewership in the United States increased 20% during the initial days of the war “campaign.”
The sequel to the first Persian Gulf War dubbed “Operation Iraqi Freedom” has already become a perverse addition to the “reality” television frenzy as cable news networks carefully strive to “package” the death and destruction in a form palatable to a population mesmerized by the entertainment ethos. Shortly after Bush issued his final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, media outlets began broadcasting a countdown clock as though they were waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. As bombs were subsequently dropped, missiles fired, and buildings exploded, editorial voice-overs legitimated the butchery as a regrettable but necessary price of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation.’ Reporters stood star-struck, jaws agape, at the technological marvels they had witnessed. They assured their audiences that the strikes were “strategic” and that “collateral damage” would be minimal—once again echoing the official White House talking points. Audiences were, and are, being directed to worship the Pentagon’s prowess, its war machines and its tactical maneuvers. The fact that this war is a flagrant violation of international law and an affront to world opinion barely registers a blip in the American corporate mediascape. While the “mainstream” media have become nothing more than parrots of the Pentagon, others have taken their zealotry to extremes. Ultra-right wing mouthpieces have been busily trying to craft George W. Bush as the next “American Idol” while labeling critics as un-American and unpatriotic. Recently, pro-war columnists and radio and television gas bags have begun a campaign to have anti-war dissidents arrested by invoking the Sedition Act of 1918.  It has become dangerous to think, to ask too many questions, or to look beyond the surface of whatever commentary is served up to us by politicians, the military, and the infantilizing screeds of talk-radio.
Contrary to “official” proclamations emanating from the administration’s propaganda machine about Bush’s benevolent reasons for war (i.e. protecting the ‘homeland,’ liberating the Iraqi people, ridding the world of a brutal dictator presumably in possession of weapons of mass destruction, spreading ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ in the Middle East), these are the days of empire. King George can barely contain his exuberance for military action despite the best efforts of his handlers and puppet-masters to make him appear solemn and contemplative—at least in front of the television cameras.
Undoubtedly, part of the objective of the war is to seize control over capitalism’s most valuable resource—oil. Indeed, since the Bush administration was installed in the White House after the election theft of 2000, it has launched two major foreign policy initiatives—a global war on terrorism and a global campaign to expand American control and access to foreign oil. While each project originally possessed “its own rationale and mode of operation,” they have since merged to “become one vast enterprise” (Klare, 2002:18). Naturally, members of the Bush junta publicly deny their bloodthirsty ambitions for control over the black elixir but others are more honest. As Anthony Cordesman, senior analyst at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggested: “we will go to war, because Saddam sits at the center of a region with more than 60 percent of all the world’s oil reserves.”
However, beyond the obvious quest for control over oil resources, it is imperative to note that the ultimate purpose of aggression against Iraq is to assert American power. Regime change in Iraq is not an end in itself for Iraq is nothing more than a pawn in the United States evolving geopolitical and geo-economic interests in the region. Without discounting or denying the despotism of Saddam Hussein and his dictatorial regime, engineering his removal is merely a stepping-stone in the larger imperialist project. American war plans are about far more than Iraq, the real “prize,” according to John Pilger, is “nothing less than the world: all the riches above and below the earth and seas” (Pilger, cited in Street, 2003:2). The drive towards “American empire” may not constitute a classic imperial mission for control of another territory. It may not be about establishing a set of colonies around the globe. But it does reflects the use of political and military power on behalf of an ideology—a radical pro-corporate, anti-government, free market fundamentalism--that mainly benefits the global economic activities of the capitalist elite and which is every bit as dangerous as the fundamentalism espoused by the likes of the Taliban and al-Queda. As Pilger further notes:
". . . the Bush cabal believe they are at a Hiroshima-like juncture in history—that they have at their disposal the means to start the world over in an apocalyptic spasm of swift and terrifying violence. The War Party believes itself to be embarked on an epochal, world-altering mission and they are determined this moment not be squandered." (Pilger, cited in Street, 2003:2)
Should anyone doubt the intentions of Bush and his minions one need only peruse the unsettling canon of PNAC (Project for the New American Century) (www.newamericancentury.org). There, in plain sight, one will find Bush’s blueprint for the establishment of Pax Americana (i.e., America’s vision of a peaceful world). A report entitled Rebuilding American’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century, penned in September 2000 by a cabal of far-right intellectuals and think tank mandarins has, in effect, been wholeheartedly adopted as the Bush administration’s foreign policy since September 11, 2001. The tragic attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon provided the needed justification for adopting and implementing the plan (that had been years in the making) detailed in the document. Indeed, prior to 9/11, PNAC (whose staunchest supporters include Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz) hypothesized that the United States could not attempt to conquer the globe without some “catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor.”
As it turns out, 9/11 was the Pearl Harbor they had hoped for. Most of the strategy delineated in the report was echoed in Bush’s September 2002 National Security Strategy document (otherwise known as the Bush Doctrine), with its emphasis on unilateral military action, preemptive strikes and permanent U.S. military and economic domination of every region of the globe. Bush, “endowed with more power than Alexander the Great and Napoleon combined” seems intent on wreaking havoc the world over. With a smirk and a sneer, he has thumbed his nose at world opinion, dismissed international law, and deemed millions of protesters irrelevant. His aw-shucks dyslexic humor and light-minded reveries have given way to imperial declarations of war against all those who oppose his definition of civilization (i.e. whatever economic, legal, foreign or domestic policies the United States chooses to undertake).
The empire builders of the Bush regime would like the world to think that their only choice is between their version of empire and the “axis of evil.” Humanity, we are told, cannot allow the Husseins of the world to implement their presumably malevolent agendas. The United States has been called upon to defend “the hopes of all mankind”—this proclamation from a president of the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons against a civilian population and which has not ruled out the possibility of using them again in the conflict with Iraq. This perversion of “humanism” must be interrogated at this crucial juncture in history and we, as Marxist-humanists, must work towards revealing the specious nature of the aforementioned “choice.”
The march towards endless war that animates the Bush administration’s global agenda must be challenged vigorously and unrelentingly at every level. Anti-war activists are well poised to emphasize how the drive to war has essentially been a cover for corporate interests that are fundamentally at odds with the interests of working people. Thus far, global labor has been at the forefront in exposing the hypocrisy and lies of the bellicose pre-war rhetoric.
After the massive world-wide protests of February 15th, over 200 unions, on all five continents, representing over 130 million members, agreed on a joint declaration rejecting war in Iraq. The statement questioned the rationale for waging war, noted that wars are typically fought overwhelmingly by the sons and daughters of workers, and maintained that the war hysteria was being used as a pretext for more attacks on labor. We are encouraged by these declarations and by the fact that even the New York Times had to acknowledge that there are now two superpowers in the world—the U.S. military machine and the global peace movement. However, the new generation of activists must be willing not only to protest the war which is already upon us but also the capitalism system itself which breeds war wherever it nestles. The massive, well coordinated and rapidly escalating movement against the war presents a unique but hopeful challenge to those who seek to establish alternative visions and a new world. As Shalom & Albert (2003) rightly assert, coalition aggression and the masses aligned against it provide an opportunity to enlarge the anti-corporate globalization movement. The opportunity must be seized.
Long before the body bags started piling up in Iraq, the carnage wrought by free market policies presumably intended to ‘help’ the world’s oppressed populations was already in plain view. Today, everywhere we look, social relations of oppression and contempt for human dignity abound. As the demagogues of capitalist neo-liberal globalization spin their web of lies about the benefits of “global trade” behind erected “security” walls, protesters are gassed, beaten and killed. The “Nike economy” has ushered in the rebirth of satanic mills—child labor, slave-like conditions, young women working for a pittance in the export-processing zones where they are subjected to sly forms of indentured servitude and where labor organizers are routinely fired, beaten, or simply “disappeared.”
As the media boast about the net worth of corporate moguls, celebrate the excesses of the rich and famous, and anxiously await the outcome of the latest “Survivor” installment to determine what competitor will join the ranks of the millionaire class, approximately 2.8 billion people—almost half of the world’s people struggle in desperation to live on less than two dollars (U.S.) a day (McQuaig, 2001:27). There are a billion people suffering from chronic hunger despite the fact that a mere fraction of what the United States currently spends on the military could end world hunger as we know it (Galeano, 2003:19). Global capitalism has, in short, paved the way for the growing concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands and a world that is increasingly divided between those who enjoy opulent affluence and those who live in dehumanizing servitude and economic misery.
Despite all the fanfare surrounding the promises of free trade, it remains the case that both advanced and developed countries have been hurt by globalization--only a few metropolitan centers and select social strata have benefited, and it is no secret who these select occupants are. In every country of the world, we are witnessing social disintegration as revealed by a rise in abject poverty, inequality, unemployment and environmental degradation (Wallach & Sforza, 1999). The euphoria of the former communist countries has given way to disenchantment—in 1989 they envisioned capitalism as a cornucopia of consumer goods and freedom; today they see how free-market reforms have brought about a drop in living standards, rising unemployment, dramatic increase in hunger, ill-health, and crime (Singer, 1999).
While the optimistic champions of globalization once predicted that the global era of free-flowing capital would bring unprecedented prosperity to Africa, Asia and Latin America, every index of economic and social advance seems to suggest otherwise. As Petras and Veltmeyer (2001:45) note, social conditions in the 21st century are “reverting to those of the 19th century” in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of the times of Charles Dickens.
Moreover, the globalization of capitalism has not in any sense been held accountable to democratic interests despite the best efforts of its cheerleaders to hide its diabolical nature behind the non-sequitur claim that the free market promotes democracy. On the contrary, the real source of terror today is the “market” as Galeano (2003) has aptly noted. Given this context, Marx’s description of capitalism as the sorcerer’s dark power has become even more apt in light of contemporary circumstances. These are the concrete realities that currently exist in our world—tales of desperation, destitution and despair. They are the objective realities of global capitalism and class exploitation that must be confronted. Samir Amin (1998) puts the challenge we face in no uncertain terms: humanity may let itself be led by capitalism’s logic to a fate of collective suicide or it may pave the way for an alternative humanist project of global socialism. To this end, the legacy of Marx remains one of the most potent ‘weapons of mass instruction.’ Despite the proclamations of Marx’s gravediggers, Marxist-humanism is a set of living ideas that can help us better understand the world—and more importantly--can provide a blueprint on how to change it.
In light of the horrific inhumanity unleashed by war and global capitalism, Rosa Luxembourg’s famous challenge—socialism or barbarism—has never been more apposite as the world has clearly moved closer to the latter. On Mayday 2003, we must remind ourselves of the importance of solidarity and that the struggle for peace and justice goes hand in hand with the struggle against exploitative capitalism. Keeping these connections in mind, we must rekindle the socialist imagination and work towards reshaping the political, economic, and social landscapes to favor humanity over the interests of the few who benefit from the repression of human potential. We must, in short, embark on Operation Human Freedom.
1 Excerpted from a speech delivered by Eugene Debs at a Socialist party convention in Canton, Ohio on June 16, 1918. As a result of his comments, Debs was prosecuted under the Sedition Act for interfering with the draft. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was stripped of his US citizenship. President Warren Harding eventually commuted his sentence after Debs served almost three years in prison.
2 Section 3 of the U.S. Sedition Act makes it a crime to (among other things) “utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States” while the country is at war.
3 For an excellent and stunning expose of the stolen U.S election, see Kellner, 2001.
4 Cited in Gasper (2003, pp. 16).
5 This characterization of Bush appeared in a commentary published in The Progressive, Nov. 2002, pp. 7-9.