Killing in the Name of Democracy
By James Bovard
-- -- President
George W. Bush perpetually invokes the goal of spreading
democracy to sanctify his foreign policy. Unfortunately, he is
only the latest in a string of presidents who cloaked aggression
in idealistic rhetoric. Killing in the name of democracy has a
long and sordid history.
government’s first experience with forcibly spreading democracy
came in the wake of the Spanish-American War. When the U.S.
government declared war on Spain in 1898, it pledged it would
not annex foreign territory. But after a swift victory, the
United States annexed all of the Philippines. As Tony Smith,
America’s Mission, noted,
Ultimately, the democratization of the Philippines came to
be the principal reason the Americans were there; now the
United States had a moral purpose to its imperialism and
could rest more easily.
McKinley proclaimed that in the Philippines the U.S. occupation
would “assure the residents in every possible way [of the] full
measure of individual rights and liberties which is the heritage
of a free people, substituting the mild sway of justice and
right for arbitrary rule.” He also promised to “Christianize”
the Filipinos, as if he did not consider the large number of
Filipino Catholics to be Christians. McKinley was devoted to
forcibly spreading American values abroad at the same time that
he championed high tariffs to stop Americans from buying foreign
sway of justice” worked out very well for Filipino undertakers.
The United States Christianized and civilized the Filipinos by
authorizing American troops to kill any Filipino male 10 years
old and older and by burning down and massacring entire
villages. (Filipino resistance fighters also committed
atrocities against American soldiers.) Hundreds of thousands of
Filipinos died as the United States struggled to crush
resistance to its rule in a conflict that dragged on for a
decade and cost the lives of 4,000 American troops.
the brutal U.S. suppression of the Filipino independence
movement, President Bush, in a 2003 speech in Manila, claimed
credit for the United States’s having brought democracy to the
America is proud of its part in the great story of the
Filipino people. Together our soldiers liberated the
Philippines from colonial rule.
Bush believes that subservience to the U.S. government is the
highest freedom that any foreign people can attain. His comments
illustrated the continual “1984”-style rewriting of American
Wilson raised tub-thumping for democracy to new levels. As soon
as he took office, he began saber-rattling against the Mexican
government, outraged that the Mexican president, Victoriano
Huerta, had come to power by military force (during the Mexican
civil war that broke out in 1910). Wilson announced in May 1914,
They say the Mexicans are not fitted for self-government;
and to this I reply that, when properly directed, there is
no people not fitted for self-government.
almost verbatim what Bush has said about Iraqis and other Arabs.
And as long as a president praises self-government, many
Americans seem oblivious when he oppresses foreigners.
summarized his Mexican policy: “I am going to teach the South
American republics to elect good men!” U.S. Ambassador to Great
Britain Walter Hines Page explained the U.S. government’s
attitude toward Latin America:
The United States will be here 200 years and it can continue
to shoot men for that little space until they learn to vote
and rule themselves.
to cut off the Mexican government’s tariff revenue, Wilson sent
U.S. forces to seize the city of Veracruz, one of the most
important Mexican ports. U.S. soldiers killed hundreds of
Mexicans (while suffering 19 dead) and briefly rallied the
Mexican opposition around the Mexican leader.
U.S. Marines seized Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican
Republic. After the United States could not find any Dominican
politicians who would accept orders from Washington, it
installed its own military government to run the country for
eight years. The previous year, the U.S. military had seized
control of Haiti and dictated terms to that nation’s president.
When local residents rebelled against U.S. rule in 1918,
thousands of Haitians were killed. Tony Smith observes,
What makes Wilson’s [Latin American] policy even more
annoying is that its primary motive seems to have been to
reinforce the self-righteous vanity of the president.
I and II
took the nation into World War I “to make the world safe for
democracy,” he acted as if fanning intolerance was the key to
spreading democracy. He increasingly demonized all those who did
not support the war and his crusade to shape the postwar world.
He denounced Irish-Americans, German-Americans, and others,
declaring, “Any man who carries a hyphen about him carries a
dagger which he is ready to plunge into the vitals of the
Republic.” Wilson urged Americans to see military might as a
supreme force for goodness, appealing in May 1918 for “force,
force to the utmost, force without stint or limit, the righteous
and triumphant force which shall make Right the law of the
world.” As Harvard professor Irving Babbitt commented,
Wilson, in the pursuit of his scheme for world service, was
led to make light of the constitutional checks on his
authority and to reach out almost automatically for
the parallels with Bush are almost uncanny. And many of the same
intellectuals who currently praise Wilson for his abuses in the
name of idealism also heap accolades on Bush’s head.
deaths of more than 100,000 Americans in World War I did nothing
to bring Wilson’s lofty visions to Earth. The 1919 Paris peace
talks became a slaughter pen of Wilson’s pretensions. One of his
top aides, Henry White, later commented, “We had such high hopes
of this adventure; we believed God called us and now we are
doing hell’s dirtiest work.” Thomas Fleming, the author of
The Illusion of Victory, noted, “The British and French
exploited the war to forcibly expand their empires and place
millions more people under their thumbs.” Fleming concluded that
one lesson of World War I is that “idealism is not synonymous
with sainthood or virtue. It only sounds that way.” But it did
not take long for idealism to recover its capacity to induce
the 1920s and 1930s, U.S. military interventions in Latin
America were routinely portrayed as “missions to establish
democracy.” The U.S. military sometimes served as a collection
agency for American corporations or banks that had made unwise
investments or loans in politically unstable foreign lands.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler bitterly lamented of his
33 years of active service,
spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big
Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I
was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.... I helped in
the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for
the benefit of Wall Street.
Roosevelt painted World War II as a crusade for democracy —
hailing Joseph Stalin as a partner in liberation. Roosevelt
praised Stalin as “truly representative of the heart and soul of
Russia” — as if the lack of bona fide elections in Russia was a
mere technicality, since Stalin was the nation’s favorite.
Roosevelt praised Soviet Russia as one of the “freedom-loving
Nations” and stressed that Stalin was “thoroughly conversant
with the provisions of our Constitution.” Harold Ickes, one of
Roosevelt’s top aides, proclaimed that communism was “the
antithesis of Nazism” because it was based on “belief in the
control of the government, including the economic system, by the
people themselves.” The fact that the Soviet regime had been the
most oppressive government in the world in the 1930s was
irrelevant, as far as Roosevelt was concerned. If Stalin’s
regime was “close enough” to democracy, it is difficult to
understand why Roosevelt is venerated as an idealist.
Eisenhower was no slacker in invoking democracy. In 1957, he
We as a nation ... have a job to do, a mission as the
champion of human freedom. To conduct ourselves in all our
international relations that we never compromise the
fundamental principle that all peoples have a right to an
independent government of their own full, free choice.
perfectly in tune with the Republican Party platform of 1952,
We shall again make liberty into a beacon light of hope that
will penetrate the dark places.... The policies we espouse
will revive the contagious, liberating influences which are
inherent in freedom.
Eisenhower’s idealism did not deter the CIA, dreading communist
takeovers, from toppling at least two democratically elected
regimes. In 1953, the CIA engineered a coup that put the shah in
charge of Iran. In 1954, it aided a military coup in Guatemala
that crushed that nation’s first constitutionally based
elected Guatemalan government and the United Fruit Company could
not agree on the value of 400,000 acres that the Guatemalan
government wanted to expropriate to distribute to small farmers.
The Guatemalan government offered $1.2 million as compensation
based on the “taxed value of the land; Washington insisted on
behalf of United Fruit that the value was $15.9 million, that
the company be reimbursed immediately and in full, and that
[President Jacobo] Arbenz’s insistence on taking the land was
clear proof of his communist proclivities,” as America’s
the same time, the federal government in the United States was
confiscating huge swaths of private land throughout American
inner cities for urban renewal and highway projects, often
paying owners pittances for their homes. There was no foreign
government to intervene to protect poor Americans from federal
redevelopment schemes. The fact that the U.S. government got
miffed over a 1954 Guatemalan government buyout offer helped
produce decades of repressive rule and the killing of hundreds
of thousands of Guatemalan civilians.
Since the Eisenhower era, U.S. government bogus efforts to
spread democracy have sprouted like mushrooms. Especially with
the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy in 1983,
all limits were lifted on how many democratic cons that the U.S.
government could bankroll abroad. The U.S. government is
currently spending more than a billion dollars a year for
democracy efforts abroad. But Thomas Carothers, the director of
the Carnegie Endowment’s Democracy and Rule of Law Project,
warns that Bush policies are creating a “democracy backlash”
around the globe.
The greatest gift the United States could give the world is an
example that serves as a shining city on a hill. As University
of Pennsylvania professor Walter McDougall observed, “The best
way to promote our institutions and values abroad is to
strengthen them at home.” But there is scant glory for
politicians in restraining their urge to “save humanity.” The
ignorance of the average American has provided no check on “run
amok” politicians and bureaucrats.
him mail] is the author of the just-released
Attention Deficit Democracy,
The Bush Betrayal, and
Terrorism & Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to
Rid the World of Evil. He serves as a policy advisor for
Future of Freedom Foundation.
© 2006 The Future of Freedom Foundation
Click on "comments" below to read or post comments