Got to give us what we want
Gotta give us what we need
Our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be
Lemme hear you say
Fight the power
~ Public Enemy
I was watching the other day a documentary on Arte-TV (a Franco-German publicly funded television). It was commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the falling of the Berlin wall in 1989, which signalled the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The voice over the pictures explained how tough was “the struggle” against Soviet Communism, but it also explained that throughout the cold war, and apart from some rare Soviet breakthroughs (essentially in the space race), the west, led by the U.S.A., has always had the upper hand, and the Russians constantly had to posture in the defensive.
The central theme of the documentary was western propaganda efforts and the role this played in helping precipitate the fall of the USSR. The program interviewed prominent ‘journalists’ (propagandists shall we say) who worked at the time for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, which were then the pillars of western propaganda against the USSR. What everybody knew and what was officially denied at the time was that both radio stations were directly financed by the CIA. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm for what both stations were broadcasting was real, and people who worked there, mostly refugees from Eastern Europe, genuinely wanted to free the people who stayed behind the Iron Curtain. And they succeeded.
There is I think, as it occurred to me at the end of the program, an obvious historical reason for that success; a tacit rule that mostly confirmed itself throughout history -and I say mostly because exceptions to this rule exist undeniably. But I don’t want to get bogged down too much into academic nonsensical verbigerations. What I mean is that the west succeeded in defeating the mighty USSR because the west had the most valid moral argument. The USSR was degenerating into a vulgar totalitarian tyranny. Its leaders stupefied as they were by the huge power they possessed, inebriated by the privileges they enjoyed and rendered paranoid by the full spectrum campaign conducted against them by the west, ended up building a huge but terribly crippled empire that bore the genes of its own failure. On the other hand, the west was -opportunistically some would argue- preaching freedom and emancipation. And from that standpoint the task was relatively easy and time was always on western side. It was only a question of years, maybe months before the Soviet union would fall down. And although these were tough and scary times –because of the nuclear scare and all the rest of it-, this was an overall predictably winnable war.
In other words: you might be hugely powerful and mighty, but when your moral assets are corrupted and dubious, at the end of the day, you’re running the risk of losing the battle; maybe not in the short run, but time generally doesn’t play on your side.
What are the implications of such an observation on today’s post cold war world?
Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet union, there is only one single, relatively unchallenged power. USA’s foreign policy has been for decades ostensibly legitimized by the so-called struggle against communism. Now that this threat has vanished, the USA has lost a very valuable moral argument. The world was indeed horrified by the 9-11 attacks which served momentarily as a moral boon for American policy makers. Momentarily. But the world also, literally went out to the streets and protested the illegal invasion of Iraq and the disaster that ensued, with over a million dead and hundreds of thousands others displaced. It almost daily watches in sheer horror, the American sponsored crimes in Palestine and Lebanon. It sees how the U.S. are arrogantly and disrespectfully disregarding international law and Human rights.
Too much people are protesting the actions of the United States, in such numbers and in so many simultaneous places on earth that it becomes clear that the resentment toward the United States today, draws its inspiration and energy from the same sources as those that inspired past revolts against the church in middle aged Europe, the British in eighteenth century north America, the despotic monarchy in eighteenth century France…
This vision may look all too simplistic, but I personally see no reason not to believe that conditions that yielded revolutions and subsequent shifts in paradigms in the past, may not be transposable in this particular point in time. Maybe the difference -and that is a major one- is that the powerful establishment today, as opposed to that of the past, has accumulated power to such an extent that, as Chomsky might put it, it is no longer the question of whether the people or the establishment will win, it is really whether out of that struggle the human species as a whole will survive.
What we are witnessing is the same stupefying temptation of power that led to the degeneration of previous tyrannical powers. The moral discrepancy that comes with an insatiable system that glorifies greed, together with the enticing desire of -in American own policy makers words- Full Spectrum Control that comes with unprecedented power, leads inexorably to oppression and tyranny disguised under the most benevolent of all pretexts: humanitarian intervention, the fight against terror, spreading democracy and freedom, fighting a foreign enemy… you name it.
If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. ~ James Madison.