Chris Hedges strays from the facts


"Capitalism, as (Walter) Benjamin observed, called on human societies to embark on a ceaseless and futile quest for money and goods ... It enslaves nearly all its adherents ... The suffering visited on Native Americans, once Western expansion was complete, was soon endured by others, in Cuba, the Philippines, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The final chapter of this sad experiment in human history will see us sacrificed as those on the outer reaches of empire were sacrificed. There is a kind of justice to this. We profited as a nation from this demented vision, we remained passive and silent when we should have denounced the crimes committed in our name, and now that the game is up we all go down together."

The above is the final paragraph of an article by Chris Hedges that appeared in Truthdig and other online publications. At first glance it has a radical ring to it, but on closer inspection it omits some salient facts and thus leads to an erroneous conclusion.

First fact: The Western expansion of U.S. capitalism rested not only on the genocidal practices directed at Native Americans, but also on the enslavement of 4 million people of African descent, the unbridled exploitation of immigrant labor from Europe and Asia, and the theft of land and labor of peoples of Mexican and Amerindian origin. My point isn't to diminish the horrific atrocities visited on Native American peoples, but to underline the exploitative, criminal, and racist sweep of capitalism in its infancy.

Second fact: People didn't simply "endure" imperial expansion on the edges of empire. They resisted it in a thousand ways and continue to do so to this day. What is notable about the present moment is the difficulty that U.S. imperialism encounters at every turn.

Iraq and Afghanistan are not successes, but counter-insurgency failures. Latin America is no longer the "backyard" of the United States, but the site of powerful left-leaning movements that were elected to power. And not least, new competing powers - to U.S. global hegemony - China, India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa - are emerging worldwide.

In other words, there is little room for American triumphalism in this century. If anything, the balance of forces on a global scale is turning against U.S. imperialism.

Third fact: To say that the American people remained passive and silent in the face of capitalism's exploitation, oppression and expansion is, at best, a one-sided reading of history as well as present-day developments. Indeed, resistance to imperial expansion occurred in the heart of the empire as well as on its edges.

In recent decades, for example, millions of Americans opposed the war in Vietnam; masses of people spoke out and demonstrated against the buildup of nuclear weapons in the Reagan years; and Americans took to the streets in opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One can argue that the movements were neither big enough nor durable enough, but that is quite different than suggesting that the American people were uniformly and consistently passive in the face of U.S. imperial aggression and atrocities. The historical record doesn't support it. And we should bear in mind that it is much easier to be an opponent of U.S. imperialism outside of the "belly of the beast" than inside of it. In this sense the American people can take pride in their opposition to U.S. expansionism.

Fourth fact: The lion's share of the riches from westward expansion and imperial reach have gone to the ruling classes, not to the exploited and oppressed. Thus to say that "we profited as a nation from this demented vision" obscures an important class reality: Working people and especially the racially oppressed fight and pay for wars of aggression and empire.

The truth is that many of the crisis conditions facing the American people remain insoluble as long as the government spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on military weapons, personnel and bases and our foreign policy is driven by the insatiable needs and profit maximizing logic of capitalism.

Final fact: The game isn't up, as Hedges claims. There is world to win. Hedges surely knows that as well as anybody. This week's May Day rally and march on Wall Street at which Hedges spoke is emblematic of a country and movement in transition to a better future, to a world in which people come before profits.

Photo: Exhibit at the Museum of Westward Expansion. St. Louis. Lucas Count Choppers // CC 2.0

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  • Fine article, well reasoned asnd very effective.

    Thank you.

    Posted by Dave Cunningham, 05/03/2012 1:21pm (3 years ago)

  • When we throw our support behind a party that fully and publicly intends to continue the exploitation and expansion, we, for all practical purposes, remain passive and silent.

    Posted by Luciano Moriconi, 05/03/2012 9:40am (3 years ago)

  • The measure of success is seen not in the traditional neo-Clausewitz fashion of looking for the vanquished and the victor, but success is measured by the few in power that have seen a rise in their bank account balances.

    Posted by Ryan White, 05/03/2012 12:26am (3 years ago)

  • Mr. Sam Webb,

    Very interesting article, it has always been important to place people before profits. It's in the best interest and survival of our world.

    Recently I watched the 1976 movie, "Network" and thought about the following speech given by actor Peter Finch.

    The following speech, in many ways, is true for today's troubled times and on key with your well written and informative article.

    I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's no one anywhere that seems to know what to do with us. Now into it. We know the air is unfit to breathe, our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had 15 homicides and 63 violent crimes as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad. Worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy so we don't go out anymore. We sit in a house as slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster, and TV, and my steel belted radials and I won't say anything." Well I'm not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad. I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crying in the streets. All I know is first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, "I'm a human being. God Dammit, my life has value." So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" I want you to get up right now. Get up. Go to your windows, open your windows, and stick your head out, and yell, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Things have got to change my friends. You've got to get mad. You've got to say, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open your window, stick your head out and yell, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

    "Peaceful protest and getting involved are always the right way to bring about a lasting positive change.

    Together we can accomplish greatness, There has never been room for division.

    I encourage people to continually question and challenge the direction in which we are headed, not only as a Country, but as a Civilized Society.

    Posted by Christian, 05/02/2012 6:56pm (3 years ago)

  • Good article. I especially appreciate this part: "The lion's share of the riches from westward expansion and imperial reach have gone to the ruling classes, not to the exploited and oppressed." U.S. workers may save a few bucks when we buy clothes or TVs assembled by low-paid workers in the many countries subject to imperialist domination. But we lose far more as jobs disappear, and the threat of job-loss hangs over those who are still employed.

    Posted by Art Perlo, 05/02/2012 4:20pm (3 years ago)

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