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How the Formerly Colonized See Western Brutality and Hypocrisy
“Brigands of the world, they have exhausted the land by their indiscriminate plunder, and now ransack the sea. The wealth of an enemy excites their cupidity, his poverty their lust for power. East and West have failed to glut their maw. They are unique in being as violently tempted to attack the poor as the wealthy. Robbery, butchery, rapine, the liars call Empire; they create a desolation and call it peace.”
- Calgacus the Caledonian [Tacitus, Agricola, 30]
As a child I was deeply disturbed by the Balkan Wars. My father worked as a university scientist, and there were a lot of foreigners in the lab. For some reason, I guess because I was an amusing know-it-all kid who was interested in living abroad, they had a man from the former Yugoslavia ask me about his prospects of getting citizenship. I asked him if we liked his country, and he gave a somewhat pained laugh and said “I don’t know, they bomb it from time to time.” I didn’t really know what to take from that, but I didn’t find it normal.
The Kosovo War began when I was in 5th grade, and boys, as you might expect, played war. I didn’t know who Slobadon Milosivec was, though I knew he had a funny name- I’m still not clear on how they turned the world against him. What sticks with me the most is boys throwing erasers across the room and pretending to be the United States bombing the Balkans. It disturbed me so greatly because I realized for the first time that I lived in a country that bombs people I have never heard of as a routine foreign policy practice. [I’m convinced most adults never conceptualize what that means- even soldiers.] But I didn’t know what or where these countries were, and the brutality absolutely shocked me. It wasn’t even from seeing pictures, just from having a level of mental development to understand what a bomb does. This obviously isn’t a normal way to solve problems you have with other people. It didn’t make a lot of sense that if I get in a fair fight I get in trouble but apparently my country bombs other people. [I’m reminded of the classic quip: “If your neighbor acted like the government, you’d call the cops.”]
Just to give you some idea of what was going on in America, here is Thomas Friedman in the New York Times on 4/6/99: “Twelve days of surgical bombing was never going to turn Serbia around. Let’s see what 12 weeks of less than surgical bombing does.” Thomas Friedman has always been dreadful, but that is an acceptable mainstream opinion in American about a country no one claimed was a threat to America. The war didn’t leave much of an impression on other Americans but it did on me [and also Justin Raimondo, who founded antiwar.com in opposition to bombing the Balkans, and always held onto his rage about it.] It has, along with the many other wars/bombing campaigns, however, made an impression on many Africans, Arabs, Latin Americans, and Southeast Asians. This has been one of my only lights in this dark time: knowing that there are populations who can see the empire of lies for what it is.
Obviously, the bombing of Serbia also made an impression on the Russians, who see themselves as the traditional protectors of the Serbs [I don’t want to go into the whole thing, but the Russians being pro-Serbian ethnic partisans is a big aspect of the region’s local animosities.] This [real] Time magazine cover was projected on the US Embassy in Moscow following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:
Incredibly, that cover is from September 11, 1995. Not only is casual discussion of bombing mainstream discourse, they think it is appropriate to discuss an entire ethnic group many thousands of miles away as if it is a bad dog. The imperial hubris never ceases to make me sick.
When the 9/11 happened essentially everyone thought I was a psychopath. The reason for this is, though I didn’t have the words, I felt “America’s chickens had come home to roost.” I also didn’t think the body count was that high for the sort of country that runs op-eds in the most important newspaper advocating for an indiscriminate 12 week bombing campaign. Of course, the victims are innocent victims of horrific violence, but the public question was “Why would anyone do this to us.” As a 13 year old I thought it was self-evident that someone would do that to the United States because the United States bombs other countries as a routine foreign policy tool. When the Invasion of Afghanistan came I said the good thing about bombing the country was that the crippled children there don’t have wheelchairs so have no way to escape the airstrikes- my ‘usually anti-war but mad about 9/11’ father was horrified [yes, I did read that quote on the internet as a child, I didn’t make it up, I stand by it though.]
When the neo-con cabal decided it was time to destroy Iraq, I started getting this image in my head. A dystopian horror, like something from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, of bombs and tanks attacking and invading a land under the fake name of freedom. It is in a way hard to describe, but it has never left me, that their version of freedom- which means accepting their dominance and empire- is a brutal and terrifying thing.
Prince Zuko, from the excellent series Avatar: The Last Airbender, explains this better than I ever could:
“Growing up, we were taught that the Fire Nation was the greatest civilization in history, and somehow, the war was our way of sharing our greatness with the rest of the world. What an amazing lie that was. The people of the world are terrified by the Fire Nation. They don't see our greatness. They hate us, and we deserve it. We've created an era of fear in the world.”
If you think “An Era of Fear” is an exaggeration, you should read about the persistent trauma caused by the US drone war in North Waziristan. I don’t know how it is meant to work, but the lie is that bombing somehow spreads peace and freedom- widespread bombing in conflicts where we aren’t even risking our own casualties.
The short answer to how they sell the public on this is “a lifetime of propaganda”, but an excellent article on the topic was published recently by Freedom and Accuracy In Reporting [FAIR] titled, “How Much Less Newsworthy are Civilians in Other Conflicts”, and the media statistics are truly incredible. You should read the whole article, but just for one example, of Russians put on American TV to discuss the war in Ukraine 50% opposed it, whereas on US media during the Iraq War only 3% of guests opposed the war- that is the extent to which the media seeks to manufacture your views about which wars are allowed and which civilians matter.
However, the people who have been the victims of Western policy are not having it. We are cynically told about the “International Community”, but everyone knows that is a small number of nations. The BRICS economic bloc alone makes up 43% of the worlds population and many other large population-countries do not reflexively go along with Western imperialism. Even Mexico will not sanction Russia, though no doubt the US will try to punish its weaker southern neighbor for trying to move out of its sphere of influence [there must be a parallel to this…] When they say “The International Community” always remember this graphic:
It is simply the former imperial powers, European states they’ve brought into their orbit, some majority-white former colonies, and two Asian countries which became military dependencies following devastating wars. It simply is imperialism, though an inverse kind where we take little plunder and it’s mostly just a project to transfer our wealth to everywhere but the American public in exchange for global oligarchic political and economic control. Clearly, well under half of the global population is proactively going along with Western control, and Russia is hardly the pariah they want you to believe outside of their own self-important bigoted minds.
So what do the former colonized think? It used to be that the only colonized people that the average person could hear from were academics in Paris or London or peasants indoctrinated by foreign Communists. You can read The Wretched of the Earth all you want and get an interesting perspective, but it’s also clear Frantz Fanon is quite far from being the man on the street. However, these days, thanks to the fading-but-still-extant magic of the internet, you can get their opinions from your living room. Suffice to say, many of people outside of “the West” do see through all of this are not impressed by the West’s stance of self-importance and hypocrisy as multi-national corporations loot the world bare.
I had been aware of the phenomenon of Africans, Arabs, and others from the “Global South” making Facebook comments about Western hypocrisy as a long time reader of international media, but it has been a major feature of internet discourse on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. I’ve collected some from across news pages to get a fair view. Of course I selected the most relevant ones for my purposes, but avoided excessive editing to show a diversity of views. [I apologize that some of these caps apparently ended up with random parts blocked out, Facebook is terrible on desktop these days.]
We’ll start with the Washington Post, once upon a time my favorite major mainstream newspaper and now the leading disinformationist:
So as you can see here, Washington Post, an American newspaper which is the key mouthpiece of the oligarchy, is flooded with people from across the world who are not buying the bullshit. As with the resistance to oppressive covid policies, you will never hear these media companies acknowledging all the people who oppose them or try to report on the alternative view.
Next we will look at the BBC, a literal tool of imperialism:
Next we have the once-venerable New York Times, better known as “The Gray Whore”:
Lastly, I had to include a truly incredible comment from Reuters, which is one of the most important “news” sources for covering these regions.
Of course, no one will want to talk about this. As ever, they deflect them as Russian paid trolls, as if paying Africans or Asians to be dissenting Africans or Asians on the internet would accomplish anything. It is extremely well established that Westerners don’t value their opinions.
There is no acknowledgement or understanding that Russia has historically dealt with these nations with a more even hand and doesn’t have the same history of colonialism. [Of course, the USSR was heavily involved in Africa, but broadly by what was seen as mutual consent.] There is no understanding that people from these countries understand what it is to be the victims of imperialism. There is no understanding that they perceive how condescending and controlling the West is. There is simply denial that people from the previously colonized world have legitimate grievances against the power structures which arose from global empires and which continue to exploit and oppress them.
And now, along with the rest of us, their very existence is threatened by nuclear war which has nothing to do with them, and one of the last things they may hear will be Western imperialists shedding crocodile tears over Ukraine and scolding them for not ‘understanding’ geopolitics.
Assuming civilization survives, it is possible that the good thing which will come out of this is the Western system of global economic control will crumble. And with Russia demanding rubles for gas, it could be sooner than you think.
There is a fascinating text from 1960 titled A Nation of Sheep by William Lederer, the author of The Ugly American. The purpose of the text is to explain why we were losing the Cold War, and from his description, it is primarily because the communists would actually bother to speak to the general public, understand their customs, and present their ideology as increasing local control and empowering local customs. His anecdotes about the profound ignorance of Americans at all levels from the man on the street to the highest echelons of power are absolutely incredible. Depressingly, his solution is to invent the Peace Corps, and that doesn’t seem to have cured our ignorance problem. [JFK was a huge fan of this author, having sent a copy of The Ugly American to every member of the Senate.] It is clear we have gotten no better at listening, and that the world is still living in the legacy of the brutal, corrupt, avaricious “post”-imperialist policy he describes:
“Our country, instead of helping dissipate colonialism, often has backed the status-quo governments—the ones which the citizens dislike. One by one the people are overthrowing these governments and the Communists are claiming credit. This is a great tragedy. The Soviets are basically colonials and tyrants; yet, because of our inadequate information and resulting blind policies, the Reds are gaining a reputation for aiding oppressed people. They do not deserve the halo, but the point is, they are wearing it.” - A Nation of Sheep
Though Russia isn’t communist anymore, it is clear this legacy persists in how Russia and China interact with the so-called “Third Word.” If what the Africans, Arabs, and Southeast Asians have to say on Facebook is any indication, the West is still seen as the villain and the Russians and Chinese have not had to put down the halo. Suffice to say, the idea that the Western imperialist powers believe in the importance of “self-determination” and have a principled opposition to aggressive war is ringing hollow to the victims of empire. It’s amazing what you can accomplish simply by working with people without demanding complete obedience, but I doubt that is a lesson the Western powers survive long enough to learn.
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