When I was a small boy, I loved everything that had to do with the USA. I lost myself in George Lucas’ Star Wars trilogy, was swagged by the academic adventurer Indiana Jones when he fought arrogant Nazis, and cheered on when the crafty, humanitarian hero Macgyver fooled the shirts off secret agents in the Middle East, Soviet or wherever the enemy was located. I, as well as most kids in the world, swallowed most of the American film and pop culture that washed over us in semi-socialist Sweden.
But also the freedom-thirsting thought of society made us kids admire the country where everything was cool and where nothing was impossible. Politically it was the same thing – The US fought for democracy and the freedom of the individual, against repression and injustice. At least that’s what we were fed on the TV-screens. That our common enemy – the Soviet Union – constantly threatened with its chillingly geographical proximity, only strengthened this enthusiasm towards the American society. The Americans were our brothers and they were much closer to us than, say, the French or – God forbid – the Russians.
As I grew older, this romantic picture gradually started to wither by the realities that would unveil with a growing awareness. The disappointment was immense, and still is, that this superpower that should defend freedom and democracy, time and again has worked for the opposite.
The offensive and aggressive foreign policy of the US through modern history has undoubtedly caused enormous human suffering. The reasons have certainly not always been mischievous, and at times absolutely necessary, but the American leaders should have shown much more interest in sparing human lives. In this article I will leave the bloody post-war period behind and concentrate on the post 9/11 era and the current political agenda: The war on terror.
With its economic, political and military power the US has an enormous potential to promote peace and prosperity, to act for a better world. As the only remaining superpower, and as the developed democracy its people are immensely proud of, the US should function as a positive example for the world. The deprived citizens of many parts of the third world need and deserve a friendly US to put their hopes to. But since 9/11 the faith in the US as a constructive and friendly nation has once again been scattered.
That the Al Qaeda attacks would trigger devastating armed conflicts with long-term political and human consequences was hardly a surprise considering the kind of regime that was in office at that time. It surely was in the nature of the nearly fundamentalist Bush government to commence war against alleged enemies of peace, or “rough states” as they called them. And after 9/11 the hawks within the government certainly got the opportunity of their lives.
The US government started to threaten the rest of the world with economic or military sanctions if they didn’t choose the way decided by Bush and his ministers; it set up secret torture prisons around the world and kidnapped suspected terrorists wherever they were located, even in Sweden, using methods that were completely alien to any democratic legal system.
The US government started to monitor its own citizens in a way that makes Orwell’s 1984 look like a narration of reality. Quickly the democratic state was torn down, nightmarish measures that would spread like rings on water to all of the free world. The leaders of the world started to call their enemies “terrorists”, which suddenly legitimized various dirty tricks including the use of military action and horrendous crimes against humanity. Perhaps Putin is the best (worst!) example.
Within a couple of years the US (together with a few allies) had invaded and occupied two foreign nations in the Muslim world, measures that have caused suffering and a human tragedy on a scale that we can hardly comprehend. The illegality, immorality and barbarism of these bloody adventures will not be dealt with here, since they have been covered in earlier articles on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (in Swedish only).
These wars produced prisoners of war that the US government didn’t want to call “prisoners of war” because the military would then have to treat them according to the international laws of war, i.e. treat them within the boundaries of modern ethics and civilized manners.
Instead, the US military sent them in thousands to medieval prisons around the world where Guantanamo is the most famous. In their containment they were subject to serious offences by being deprived of legal counsel and a trial in the court of law. Hordes of civilians were arrested on very loose grounds, which means that they were innocent but without any chance of redress. Instead they were the subject to torture and humiliation in every kind of gruesome form, in contrary to American as well as international law, and against obvious civilized ethics, morale or acceptance.
The war on terror and its dissolving effect on the democratic systems have had serious consequences also for Sweden. The social democratic government of Göran Persson caved for the US threats by remaining silent throughout the Iraq crisis; it let CIA kidnap suspected terrorists on Swedish soil who were put on planes with hoods over their heads and taken to torture centrals in Arab countries. The Swedish government also continued allowing the military equipment exports as if nothing had happened, equipment that would be used in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and thus contribute to the violent death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. During this worrisome time, Swedish authorities followed suit and started to hunt down suspected terrorists with less regard to the rule of law and thus undermining our democracy.
Last year’s revealing that the US embassy had spied on Swedish citizens perhaps didn’t come as a surprise, but is a scandal nevertheless. The fact that the Swedish government knew about this and let it continue is astonishing, but unfortunately typical in our relations with the US.
The 9/11 attacks and the following war on terror shook the foundations of American society. The Bush government startled its citizens to the point that an astonishing mass psychosis swept over the whole country, where criticism against the government or military was dismissed as “anti-Americanism” and met with accusations of terrorist sympathies. The people were lured into the notion that the Iraq invasion was crucial to maintain national security, a completely groundless and utterly incorrect thought. Instead, the situation in Iraq shows that the war has actually created terrorism and thus increased insecurity in the US, and not the other way around.
After 9/11 the American opinion seemed to favour these wars of aggression with a lazy shrug that is utterly alien to the rest of the world. And people who were against war were reluctant mostly for economic reasons or to the fact that American boys were risking their lives. Rational reasons, sure, but there was rarely a word in the media coverage about moral aspects that involved the targeted country or its slaughtered people. It is peculiar (and devastating) that only short-sighted American interests were, and still are, considered in the opinion. Where is common humanity?
As an additional consequence of the war on terror, the American security institutions have grown to the point where politicians can no longer oversee their own bodies, and thus losing control of their leadership. A regime’s control of government institutions is entirely essential in any state, but even more so in a superpower. In this destructive development, democratic values were all forgotten or, more accurately, deliberately forsaken by the Bush regime.
Progressive people around the world who wish to see a better planet with less injustice, more democracy and a higher degree of international law (without being rigid, leftwing peace activists), put a lot of hope on Obama. But unfortunately he hasn’t made much progress in the US foreign policy during his term in office. Instead, we’re being watched on our own soil by a foreign power and put under electronic monitoring by our own leaders who suspect us – of what? Should we really tolerate that our democratically elected leaders take part in this? We don’t know where it will take us and how severe the damage will be on our societies, but the national and foreign policies of the US and its followers have surely devastated hundred of thousands of lives already, mostly in the Arab world.
Terrorism is a terrifying reality, but the struggle against it must be carried out with civilized, democratic methods; our civil rights must be guaranteed and the innocent must not become violent victims of a merciless pursue. The “soft values” must be considered, and when recognized, they will diminish the recruitment base of frustrated young men in the Muslim world and at the same time serve the long-term interests of the US as well as the rest of the world.