• Morris Berman: Home of the Brave

    April 19, 2014

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Iran, Military

    We’ve talked about historian Morris Berman before here, and his view of a fading (some say faded) American economy and society. If you’re not familiar with his work, read a previous blog post, or visit his own website to catch up.

    With Dr. Berman’s permission, we’ve reprinting one of his recent essays.

    Home of the Brave

    One of the more famous quotes made by Nelson Mandela during his lifetime has been curiously omitted by the mainstream American media in the gushing obituaries that have recently appeared. It goes like this: “If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care for human beings.”

    I had occasion to remember this remark upon recently reading a review of Stephen Kinzer’s book The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, recently published in the NYTBR. Kinzer used to work for the NYT, then switched over to The Guardian, and in between wrote two important books on American interventionism: All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror and Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq—both of them powerful indictments of U.S. foreign policy. He now returns to the scene with a biography of the Dulles brothers, John Foster and Allen.

    The opening paragraph of the Times review is worth quoting in full:

    Anyone wanting to know why the United States is hated across much of the world need look no farther than this book. The Brothers is a riveting chronicle of government-sanctioned murder, casual elimination of ‘inconvenient’ regimes, relentless prioritization of American corporate interests and cynical arrogance on the part of two men who were once among the most powerful in the world.

    Both brothers, Kinzer tells us, were law partners in the New York firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, the firm that, in the 1930s, worked for I.G. Farben, the chemicals conglomerate that eventually manufactured Zyklon B (the gas used to murder the Jews). Allen Dulles, at least, finally began to have qualms about doing business in Nazi Germany, and pushed through the closure of the S&C office there, over John Foster’s objections. The latter, as Secretary of State under Eisenhower, worked with his brother (by now head of the CIA) to destroy Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, and Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, among others. The two of them pursued a Manichaean world view that was endemic to American ideology and government, which included the notion that threats to corporate interests were identical to support for communism. As John Foster once explained it: “For us there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who are Christians and support free enterprise, and there are the others.” It was not for nothing that President Johnson, much to his credit, privately complained that the CIA had been running “a goddamn Murder Inc. in the Caribbean,” the beneficiaries of which were American corporate interests.

    The destructiveness of the Dulles brothers in foreign policy was mirrored by what went on in their personal lives. They were distant, uncomfortable fathers, not wanting their children to “intrude” on their parents’ world, and they refused to attend the wedding of their sister, Eleanor, when she married a Jew. At home and abroad, the two of them were truly awful human beings. But the most trenchant comment made by Kinzer reflects an argument I have repeatedly made, namely the relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm. “They are us. We are them,” says Kinzer, and this is the God-awful truth: that it is a rotten culture that produces rotten representatives. Americans benefited, materially speaking, from the corporate profits generated by the violence fostered by the CIA and the State Department, and didn’t say boo. They mindlessly got on the anti-Communist bandwagon, never questioning what we were doing around the world in the name of it. Their focus was on the tail fins of their new cars, and the new, exciting world of refrigerators and frozen foods, not on the torture regime we installed in Iran, or the genocide we made possible in Guatemala.

    By the latest count, 86% of them can’t locate Iran on a world map, and it’s a good bet that less than 0.5% can say who John Foster Dulles was. When Mandela says that “they don’t care for human beings,” we have to remember that the “they” is not just the U.S. government; it also consists of millions of individual Americans whose idea of life is little more than “what’s in it for me?”—the national mantra, when you get right down to it. The protesters who marched in the streets against our involvement in Vietnam, after all, amounted to only a tiny percentage of the overall American population, and it’s not clear that things have changed all that much: 62% of Americans are in favor of the predator drone strikes in the Middle East that murder civilians on a weekly basis. You don’t get the Dulleses rising to the top without Mr. John Q. Public, and he is as appalling as they. Like the Dulleses, he typically believes in a Christian world of free enterprise vs. the evil others who do not, “thinks” in terms of Manichaean slogans, and is not terribly concerned about anyone outside his immediate family—if that. America didn’t get to be what it is by accident; this much should be clear.

    “They are us. We are them.”

    ©Morris Berman, 2013



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  • Recent Comments

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      1

      Churchill, himself responsible for an earlier generation of screwing up the Middle East beyond belief, referred to the Dulles brothers as “Dull … Duller … Dulles.”

      “…They don’t care for human beings…”

      It’s interesting Mr Mandela stated that. Sadly, he was right but it’s also complicated. There is a contingency of people in the State Department who do care and will put people before their jobs. Peter and other whistleblowers represent this. Unfortunately, there is a contingency that undermines all this, slave to money or political ties, not loyal to their country.

      It was witnessed firsthand by myself as well. When I cited the various reasons the Fulbright program for Gaza shouldnt be cancelled how our grantees and their children, with some being toddlers, would be adversely affected if we terminated their studies in the US and dumped them in Jordan. Some already had refugee status, how could we make them refugees again? What happens when their money runs out? I was told ‘no one cares.’

      There were other issues in the mix I went on record at the time, in writing. I think it was Nathan Hale who said he regretted having but one life to give for his country. So what’s a job?

      When the system allows whistleblowers to be rooted out and wink-wink-nod-nod allows the hiring and promotion, not to mention firing processes be wrongfully manipulated — it’s not surprising to be stuck with the class of people Mr Mandela warns about.

      Take note, monitors, minders, minions and political appointees — the system you put in place is very capable of being used against you. And no one will care.

      For the rest of us, there is a world outside. It is possible to change the record and make hope where things seemed impossible

      04/19/14 12:35 PM | Comment Link

    • meloveconsullongtime said...

      2

      Berman’s excoriation of the execrable Dulles brothers is right, but his sweeping conflation of them with “John Q Public” is a blinkered half-truth.

      The Dulles’ father was a Presbyterian Minister, a Calvinist, back when Presbyterians still took Calvin literally and seriously. (In other words, heretics by my reckoning! ;-) And it’s true that Calvinism has always been the main American creed even among most non-Calvinists. The Dulles’ “Manichean” outlook (as Berman calls it) was the Calvinist belief in Predestination, the belief that only a minority of Humans are “The Elect”, and that they’ve already been chosen by God so there’s nothing anyone can do to change one’s eternal fate. The Calvinists believed you’re either with God or against him – but even worse, they believed that it’s not up to you to decide if you’re on God’s side, because God makes that decision, not you.

      In that respect it’s a lot like Fundamentalist Islam.

      Also Calvinist was the Dulles’ conflation of “Christianity” with an economic system, indeed a belief still shared by many Americans today.
      And a heretical one in terms of orthodox Christianity.

      But I especially disagree with THIS: “John Q. Public…Like the Dulleses, he typically believes in a Christian world of free enterprise”…

      No. Most Americans today don’t think about Christianity or free enterprise at all, unless those have something to do with Kim Kardashian’s big ole butt.

      04/19/14 3:15 PM | Comment Link

    • meloveconsullongtime said...

      3

      Sorry but this deserves more fisking:

      “…this is the God-awful truth: that it is a rotten culture that produces rotten representatives.”

      If that’s so, then ALL cultures are rotten! Name any culture whose government wasn’t rotten; there were none, ever. So what Berman is really talking about is not America, but Human nature.

      Furthermore, IF, as Berman indicates, America’s leaders reflect the masses, then isn’t that democratic after all? (Actually I think it IS democratic! In a bad way, as most democracies are bad.) But then, is Berman against democracy? He seems to be, in light of his excoriation of the masses…

      …so then, if Berman distrusts and excoriates the masses for being what they are, then what class of people would he propose to remedy the situation and “correct” the masses? Lenin had the same idea, an elite class of the enlightened, to correct the bad thoughts and habits of the herd.

      Therefore although I might agree with Berman’s criticism of the masses – and his implied criticism of democracy – still he doesn’t give me any particular reason to have faith in any class of enlightened elites. It sounds to me like he mainly objects to not being in the ruling class, not having the power of the PRESENT elite who consider themselves enlightened! Hmmm.

      And then this:

      “Americans (of the mid-20th century) mindlessly got on the anti-Communist bandwagon, never questioning what we were doing around the world in the name of it. Their focus was on the tail fins of their new cars, and the new, exciting world of refrigerators and frozen foods…”

      Um…:

      1. Much of 20th century American anti-Communism was mindless, but being anti-Communist is not always mindless. Communism was bullshit and there were logical reasons to oppose it.

      2. Berman, please spare me the precious polemics about “tail-fins” and “refrigerators”, a callow Leftist stereotype which didn’t fit the majority of mid-20th century Americans. In my parents’ upper-middle-class household in the 1960s-70s, we had a refigerator made in 1948 and didn’t change it until 1978; we had used cars WITHOUT tail fins and my Dad drove the same 1968 Ford Ambassador for 15 years; and although my Dad didn’t march against Viet Nam, he did write once a month to every one of his former students who were sent to Viet Nam, and he campaigned against Nixon’s Republican Party and said Nixon ought to be imprisoned. And my Dad WAS a self-described “conservative”, who fought for unions and regarded Republicans as almost as bad as Communists.

      Meanwhile in the 1950s, the era of the Dulleses, around half of those “John Q Publics” (mostly poor Whites!) whom Berman holds in such contempt, didn’t even have TVs or refrigerators. What was depicted ON television in the 1950s as a typical American household, was NOT how most Americans lived at that time!

      In sum, again I wonder: Since Berman holds the American masses in such low esteem, just what class of more enlightened people does he propose to lead them out of the darkness? HIM and HIS kindred minds? HIS class of elites, to replace the ones in power now?

      04/19/14 5:44 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      4

      ” Much of 20th century American anti-Communism was mindless, but being anti-Communist is not always mindless. Communism was bullshit and there were logical reasons to oppose it…”

      Agreed. And two of the many reasons to oppose Communism include — compilation of lists of ‘enemies of the State’ and state surveillance. These tactics went hand-in-hand fostering and protecting corruption. The surveillance state is a key factor that hindered real development, draining the treasury and promoting decrepit monopolies and slave labour. Any take-away lessons to consider?

      After reading the guest article above and researching Alan Dulles, one thing i hadnt realized about Alan ‘Operation Ajax-Bay of Pigs-slam dunk’ Dulles, was that he had been on the Warren Commission too

      04/19/14 9:34 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      5

      Holy mother of broadening my insights, to read Melov and Kyzl’s astounding and intellectually introspection of Peters post, just curled my toes.

      fuck. bartender.. give me a shot of Tequila.

      ps. You BOTH blow me away. I can’t thank you enough.

      (looking at the bartender in stunned disbelief that there ARE people on this planet with 10 to the nth power more intellect than I have, and are willing to prove it in a nanosecond.)

      04/20/14 2:45 AM | Comment Link

    • Eric Hodgdon said...

      6

      Yep, lots to read, understand, consider, and contemplate. And so, enters the part-time conceptualizer.

      Using the Myers-Briggs Personality system, the root cause of these issues, i.e. problems, is the inherent nature of around 70% of Americans being in the two largest groups according to Tieger & Barron-Tieger in their book “Do What You Are” 3rd Edition – Little, Brown and Company 2001, Chapter 4, page 55 – soft-cover.

      While not fool proof, the Personality Types, are useful in understanding why people differ from each other.

      04/20/14 1:56 PM | Comment Link

    • Expat said...

      7

      PVB – Why don’t you ask MB if he’d like to respond to meloveconsullongtime’s criticisms? I’m sure he’d be happy to. Based on my knowledge of Berman’s writings, it sounds like melove is wide of the mark but it would be better to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

      04/20/14 2:07 PM | Comment Link

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