The End of the "End of History"

Jean Bricmont


Everything was going smoothly. Serbia, on its knees, had just sold Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribune for a fistful of dollars (most of which turned out to be earmarked to pay debts going back to Tito's time). NATO was expanding eastwards toward a powerless Russia. Saddam Hussein could be safely bombed whenever one felt like it. Invaded by UCK, Macedonia was obliged to accept the farce of a disarmament of that same UCK by the very ones who armed it in the first place. The Palestinian territories were under tight control while their leaders were assassinated by smart bombs. For the past few years, stockholders had been making record profits. The political left had died out and all political parties had rallied to neoliberalism and "humanitarian" interventionism. In short, as certain commentators put it, we were living in peace.


Then suddenly shock, surprise, horror: the greatest power of all times, the only truly universal empire struck in its very heart, at the center of its wealth and power. A unique and all-powerful electronic spying network, unparalleled security measures, a staggering defense budget -- none of this was of any use in preventing the catastrophe.


Let us be perfectly clear. We do not share the attitude expressed by Madeleine Albright when she was asked whether pursuing the embargo against Iraq was worth the price of half a million Iraqi children who have died: "this is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it", she replied. The massacre of innocent civilians is never acceptable. But this does not mean we should not try to understand the underlying meaning of that incredible attack.


The American pacifist A. J. Muste once remarked that the problem in every war was posed by the winning side: the victor had learned that violence succeeded. The whole of postwar history illustrates the pertinence of that observation. In the United States, the War Department was renamed Defense Department, precisely when there was no direct danger threatening the country, and one government after the other launched campaigns of military intervention and political destabilisation in the guise of containing communism -- against moderately nationalist governments such as that of Goulart in Brazil, Mossadegh in Iran or Arbenz in Guatemala. To limit ourselves to the present, let us examine a few questions rarely raised concerning Western, especially American, policy.


- The Kyoto protocol: the principal United States objection is not on scientific grounds, but merely that "it is bad for our economy". What are people who work 12 hours a day for slave wages to make of such a reaction?


- The Durban conference. The West rejects the slightest thought of reparations for slavery and colonialism. But isn't it clear that the State of Israel functions as a form of reparations for anti-Semitic persecutions, except that in this case the price is paid by the Palestinian Arabs for the crimes committed by Europeans? And isn't it obvious that this shift of responsibility must be felt as a sort of racism by the victims of colonialism?


- Macedonia: here is a country that the West pushed into independence in order to weaken Serbia and whose government has always faithfully followed Western orders. As a result it has been subjected to attacks by terrorists armed by NATO and coming from territory under NATO control. How does this look to Slavic Orthodox peoples, especially after the expulsion, as NATO looks on, of the Serbian population of Kosovo and the eradication of a large part of its cultural heritage?


- Afghanistan: it is too quickly forgotten that Osama Bin Laden was trained and armed by the Americans, who openly admit that they were using Afghanistan to destabilize the USSR even before the Soviet intervention. How many people have died in the game that former President Carter's adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, calls "the great chessboard"? And how many terrorists, in Asia, in Central America, in the Balkans, or in the Middle East, are left to run loose after having been used by the "Free World"?


- Iraq: for ten years the population has been strangled by an embargo that has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths -- of civilian victims. All because Iraq tried to recover the oil wells that were de facto confiscated from them by the British. Let us just compare the treatment given Israel for its totally illegal occupation of territories conquered in 1967. Is it really likely that the notion, generally accepted in the West, that Saddam Hussein is to blame for everything, makes much sense in the Arab-Muslim world?


By pure coincidence, the September 11 attacks took place on the anniversary of the overthrow of Allende, which not only marked (a fact easily forgotten) the installation of the first neoliberal government, that of General Pinochet, but also the start of a broad movement against national and independent movements in the Third World which was to lead those countries to bow to the dictates of the IMF.


This is why we suspect that in Latin America, in Indonesia, in Iran, in ruined and humiliated Russia, in China where nobody is fooled by attempts to destabilize this emerging giant, as well as in the Muslim world, the September 11 tragedy will cause people to shed little more than crocodile tears.


Of course there will be shouts of indignation and messages of sympathy. There will be applause for "firm responses" when they occur (will they destroy a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan or bomb the civilian population of an Arab country?). Large numbers of intellectuals will be found to produce clever analyses full of false analogies connecting these attacks to whatever it is they are against: Saddam Hussein, Kadhafi, Western pacifists and anti-imperialists, the Palestinian liberation movement or even China, Russia or North Korea. It will be repeated that such barbarism is totally alien to us: after all, we prefer to bomb from high altitude and kill gradually by means of embargos. But none of that will solve any basic problem. There is no use attacking revolt itself. What must be attacked is the suffering that produces revolt.     Those attacks will have at least two negative political consequences. For one, the American population, already disturbingly nationalist, will "rally round the flag", as they put it, supporting their government however barbaric its policy. Americans will be more than ever determined to "protect our way of life" without asking the price to be paid by the rest of the planet. The timid movements of dissent that have emerged since Seattle will be marginalized if not criminalized.


On the other hand, millions of people who have been defeated, humiliated and crushed by the United States and the world it dominates will be tempted to see terrorism as the only weapon really capable of striking the Empire. This is why a truly political struggle -- not violence -- against the cultural, economic and above all military domination by a small minority over the vast majority of humanity is more necessary than ever before.