Argo and Empire

I was watching Ben Affleck’s Argo last night, and while enjoying the movie and appreciating the job Affleck did as a director, keeping the tension building even though we all knew what the end would be, what struck me was the prelude he included, with the story of how the U.S. participated in toppling the Mossedeq government with a staged coup in 1953. He then draws the line between that action (whose success triggered a similar action in Guatemala a year later), the subsequent repression of the country by the Shah we installed, and the rise of anti-Americanism among Islamic fundamentalists.

The United States, forged in a revolution against an empire, became, about 125 years later, an empire in its own right, and began acting like one, at home and abroad. In the latter case, we either tolerated or installed and supported corrupt, violent dictatorships, usually to protect the interests of large corporations with major overseas investments. Harken, for example, to the life, adventures and remembrances of Marine Major Gen. Smedley Butler, who described himself as a gangster for capitalism.

For several decades, our racketeering was safe and profitable, with the usual attendant suffering by millions of people we never saw, heard, or knew about. Eventually, however, the edifice crumbled, in Central America, the Middle East, elsewhere. Our response was usually violent, couched in the excuse that we had to stop Communism or radical Islam, both of which stepped into the breach we created by abandoning our basic principles.

Imagine all the pain, suffering, waste, tragedy, and death that could have been avoided over the past century had U.S. businesses decided, “hey, these people work to make us rich; we’re going to pay them a decent wage and treat them with respect and we’re going to compensate their countries honestly for the natural resources, be they oil or fruits, we take to sell elsewhere.” Or if our government had made it a policy that required them to act that way.



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