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For those of you not familiar with this volume, it basically tells the story, from the inside, of John Perkins, a man hired by a major engineering firm, which collaborated with the World Bank and the US government, to produce fraudulent forecasts of the economic growth that would result from massive development loans to Third World countries. Of course, the economic growth that did occur happened in the US, since US engineering firms were hired with the loan money to do the development work. Conditions in the recipient countries simply got worse, so they were unable to repay their loans, so they had to do what we told them. And of course, this was all exactly according to plan. If a leader wised up to the plan and tried to resist, he was either assassinated (as, for example, Roldos in Ecuador or Torrijos in Panama) or invaded (such as, for example, Panama in 1989, Iraq in 1990 and 2003).
In many ways, this book told me nothing that I had not already come to understand or begun to suspect. Nonetheless, it came as a shocking bolt of illumination, laying bare the comprehensiveness of our nation’s evils, and the weight of guilt that rests on each one of us, myself included. Indeed, what I appreciated most about this book was that, in unveiling the conspiracies of the leadership in many departments of our government and in many of our largest corporations to exploit and enslave dozens of countries around the world, it did not present it as a “conspiracy theory.” Perkins did not attempt to shove all the guilt of America’s greedy, deceptive imperialism on a sinister conspiracy of a handful of higher-ups, determined to sacrifice all else to further their interests. Rather, he presented it as a culture-wide conspiracy, a natural result of the materialistic values and salvific delusions that America as a society has indulged in since World War II. We are all responsible. We have all preached a gospel of American supremacy as the best way to save the world from war and poverty. We have all clung to the delusion that simply by generating capitalistic economic expansion, we will hoist the desperate billions in the Third World out of poverty. We have all demanded with insatiable appetites an endless flow of cheap goods into our stores, thus demanding (although we pretended not to know it) the endless exploitation of poorer countries. We have all bought into the morally outrageous claim that military force and mass slaughter is just and necessary whenever American interests are threatened. We have all, with a self-delusion that beggars the imagination, turned a blind eye to the most obvious lies, contradictions, and injustices in US economic and foreign policy, proving to our leaders that we are content to swallow any story they want to spin at us, as long as it makes us feel good about ourselves.
And I can’t help feeling personally guilty for all of the above, instead of being fired up with righteous wrath against our leaders and businessmen.
Just a couple examples of the last—swallowing the most ridiculous stories:
Back when the Bush administration was trying to cobble together scanty evidence that Iraq had sheltered and financed bin Laden, and that this was thus the legimitate basis for our invasion of them (the only basis that seemed to even begin to meet Just War principles), it was a matter of known fact that one country had certainly sheltered and financed bin Laden—Saudi Arabia. If Iraq deserved to be attack, then certainly the Saudis did. But of course they weren’t, because they’d done a deal with us decades earlier, in which we agreed to turn a blind eye to their activities in return for loads of money and oil; Saddam had refused to make this deal. Somehow, the obvious double-standard went unnoticed.
Or take the first invasion of Iraq. The ostensible basis for this was that a big, powerful country had invaded a poor, defenceless neighbor (Kuwait) simply for material gain. They needed to be punished. This claim, of course, came from a country that, bigger and more powerful than any, had just one year beforehand (1989) invaded a poor, defenseless country, Panama, for no better reason than that we wanted control of the Panama Canal, which we had returned to them in 1977. But of course the media and the American people completely ignored this blatant hypocrisy, and rewarded Bush with a 90% approval rating.

Often when we look at other eras or places in Christian history, we marvel at the idolatry, and the compromise with worldly interests, or with ungodly political motives, that these Christians fell into. But I think now that, when we look back at church history a millennium from now, the American Religious Right will look about as devilish as the Spanish Inquisition or the Renaissance popes. May God bring us repentance!

2 comments:

We are all responsible. We have all preached a gospel of American supremacy as the best way to save the world from war and poverty. We have all clung to the delusion that simply by generating capitalistic economic expansion, we will hoist the desperate billions in the Third World out of poverty. We have all demanded with insatiable appetites an endless flow of cheap goods into our stores, thus demanding (although we pretended not to know it) the endless exploitation of poorer countries. We have all bought into the morally outrageous claim that military force and mass slaughter is just and necessary whenever American interests are threatened. We have all, with a self-delusion that beggars the imagination, turned a blind eye to the most obvious lies, contradictions, and injustices in US economic and foreign policy, proving to our leaders that we are content to swallow any story they want to spin at us, as long as it makes us feel good about ourselves.

I feel I should point out that it's simply not true that "we have all" preached American supremacy; that "we have all" clung to the delusion that capitalistic expansion will benefit all; that "we have all" had an insatiable appetite for cheap goods; that "we have all" bought into the military adventures of our government; that "we have all" believed the lies of our leaders as they've led us into pointless, awful wars.

It's just true of most of us.

Maybe you don't acknowledge it for rhetorical reasons, but many of the things you decry are addressed by causes that are championed on the left. And by "left" I don't mean the Democrats--many Democrats have committed much of the sins enumerated above. I mean progressives.

After all: it is the progressives who advocate a strong UN, and who advocate that the US take its treaty obligations--and multilateralism--seriously. It is progressives who try to ban or curb products made with sweatshop labor (the fair trade movement), and who demonize chains like Wal-Mart that sell cheap goods at the expense of treating their employees poorly. It is the progressives who are anti-war, and it is the progressives who marched in the streets in 2003 during the run-up to the Iraq invasion (I was one of 'em). And though Bush did enjoy 90% approval ratings directly after 9/11, by the time the Iraq war started, there was a good %30-%40 of people who opposed the war.

Now, this isn't an I-told-you-so or anything--I'm not trying to "score points". (In fact, I don't even agree with all of the progressive causes mentioned above: for example, I really do think that the best way to lift the world out of poverty is through economic growth and free trade.) But I do think it shows that, if you look, there are many people out there who are ready to make common cause on these issues, even if you might not agree on a slew of other things.

August 14, 2009 at 10:30 AM  

First, as I've mentioned when you brought something like this up before, I am speaking out of and to my tradition, my upbringing. I am neither judging nor preaching to progressives, because I have not been part of that category, or known hardly anyone in that category.

Second, however, it is true that many American progressives are, shall we say, fair-weather progressives. They stand up on moral issues such as these when it has been easy and popular to do so--a shocking proportion of the left seemed to support the war when it was popular to do so, and many on the left have been happy to embrace the consumerist lifestyle that has fueled many of America's international economic injustices.

Third, I speak in Biblical, covenantal terms, of national guilt. Even those of us who did not personally support a US policy are, to an extent, corporately responsible for it, and need to own up to that.

August 15, 2009 at 12:53 PM  

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