Did You Know the U.S. Was Once Considered a Rogue Nation?





Mr. May, a professor of history at Purdue University, is author of MANIFEST DESTINY'S UNDERWORLD: FILIBUSTERING IN ANTEBELLUM AMERICA (2002) and a writer for the History News Service.

Because we forget that the United States was once considered a rogue nation exporting terrorism, the nation's senior officials risk making serious policy mistakes today.

The United States a rogue nation? Though it may be hard to believe, before the Civil War, people in Latin America, Western Europe, and even the faraway Hawaiian kingdom were convinced that the United States had become a base for terrorists.

No one then actually used the term "terrorism" for unauthorized attacks on other countries. Rather, these criminals were called "filibusters." But like modern terrorists, U.S. filibusters operated in underground cells, used secret codes and wreaked havoc. They attacked Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua and Honduras and were suspected of planning attacks elsewhere.

How can American policy-makers benefit from studying filibustering? This all-but-forgotten chapter of the nation's history suggests that the current "war on terrorism" will last longer than assumed. It also warns that the government and news media should exercise caution before accusing other nations of collaborating with terrorists.

American filibusters attacked other countries almost every year between the mid-1830s and 1860. The most notorious filibuster was William Walker, who invaded Mexico with a private army in 1853. In 1855 he attacked Nicaragua, soon gaining control of the country. The next year, he arranged his own election as Nicaragua's president in a fixed vote. After losing power in 1857, he attacked Central America again, finally in 1860 suffering death at the hands of a Honduran firing squad.

Some filibusters were well-known figures. John Quitman, Mississippi governor in the 1830s and 1850s and a U.S. general in the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, organized an attack on Cuba. New York City's John L. O'Sullivan, the editor remembered for coining the expansionist slogan "Manifest Destiny," twice was prosecuted for participating in plots against Cuba.

Unlike modern terrorists, the filibusters never intentionally massacred civilian populations. But Europeans and Latin Americans regarded them the way Americans view terrorists today -- as ruthless murderers causing horrific destruction. Walker's men burned parts of Granada and Nicaragua. Foreign diplomats repeatedly complained to the State Department that their countries were in a state of panic over American assaults.

Just as the U.S. news media suggest Saudi complicity in the attacks of September 2001, so foreign governments in the 1850s assumed that U.S. leaders secretly assisted filibusters. Just as some commentators today accuse Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's regime of half-hearted efforts against al-Qaida, so foreign critics in the 1850s believed American leaders were winking at filibusters. The Atlantic Monthly charged U.S. authorities with having "blind eyes and very slippery hands" regarding filibusters sailing to Nicaragua. And just as President Bush seeks an anti-terrorist international coalition today, so there were international alliances against U.S. filibusters in the 1850s.

It's important to realize that despite accusations that the U.S. government tolerated filibustering, just the opposite was true. It was hardly in the national interest to foster filibustering, which brought the United States to the brink of war with powerful England and other nations. Additionally, filibustering caused foreign reprisals against American commercial interests abroad.

U.S. presidents issued proclamations threatening filibusters with jail. More important, the government deployed its military forces and demanded that port and border officials prosecute filibusters and seize their ships. One general confiscated a filibuster ship in San Francisco harbor, explaining that the president had ordered him to halt filibustering "by using my military force to the utmost of my power."

Filibustering persisted not because of government collusion, but because of circumstances beyond federal control. The tiny U.S. army, for example, faced an impossible task in sealing off the lengthy, mostly shallow Rio Grande. Now Pakistani officials face similar difficulties on their border with Afghanistan. Popular sympathy with filibusters (like radical Muslim support for terrorists today) was the most important reason why pre-Civil War U.S. leaders were unable to stop them.

Especially in mid-Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coast ports, filibusters were considered heroes. There were even parades, fundraisers, and stage plays in their honor. American supporters praised Walker (much as radical Muslims today laud Osama bin Laden), believing Walker an agent of America's destiny to rule the hemisphere. Juries in filibuster cases refused to render guilty verdicts. A San Francisco jury took a mere eight minutes to acquit Walker for invading Mexico!

Evidence that U.S. presidents once tried but failed to prevent filibustering suggests that American commentators should hedge their bets that leaders of modern Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other allied states are covertly aiding terrorists. These nations, like the United States in the 1850s, have every reason to suppress terrorism. After all, radical Muslims see the incumbent regimes in their countries as obstacles to their goals of creating pure, anti-Western Muslim states.

That foreign states in the 1850s couldn't see the anti-terrorist intentions of the relatively open, democratic U.S. government is instructive. Today the regimes we suspect of fostering terrorism are autocratic states whose policies are less open to international scrutiny than were those of the United States before the Civil War. Surely we're equally capable of misreading them.


This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.


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Stephen Vinson - 4/19/2004

Ah come on, Chris, say I’m baiting you; say I am setting up a trap. Say you’re doing the same thing to me. We’re anonymous posters on an internet message board. Who cares?

>“Do I oppose what the US did in toppling Saddam, the Taliban, in the Balkans and the policy (the way the food shipments are utilised as bargaining tools in violation of moral principles and international law)? Absolutely. The purposes behind our actions are not noble or hmanitarian.<

If someone prevents me from being stabbed by a mugger because they want to get their picture in the newspaper, not for any humanitarian goals, I still support the guy.

If I was a European Jew during World War II, I’d still support the U.S. in fighting Hitler, though you could easily make the case initially that they had little concern for me.

If someone wants to topple a dictator I live under for no better reason than they feel like it, fine with me.

>Your question assumes a very Machiavellian "ends justify the means" position,<

Yeah

>For instance, our actions in the Balkans actually accelerated the genocide<

Evidence please. We seem to be a lot more popular in that region than Dutch or Europeans from countries that opposed the war.

>We created bin Laden, Saddam, armed and aided them and the Taliban until they no longer suited us...in the same Machiavellian manner you now portray in your question.<

No we didn’t. According to visitors to Afghanistan during the 80s, bin Laden hated Americans back then too and fairly loathe to deal with us already.

He was also a fairly minor player at the time. This is like saying someone is responsible for creating Mussolini because they supported the Italian socialist movement in the 1910s.

We provided some military aid to Saddam Hussein, but military aid which was absolutely dwarfed by what the French and Russians provided.

Our aid to the Taliban during their control of the country came almost entirely in the form food provided through the U.N.

>For instance...no politician can take a position related to universal health care and hope to be elected<

Chris, you just spoke of having a wide sense of history. You are familiar with the fact the Clintons support this and got into office. Many Democrats who support it are still around today. They’re advocating similar overhauls of the prescription drug industry as they did in the early 90s.

It is not a wise course of action, but it also is another debate in and of itself.

>What is the voter turnout in our country? Why?<

I used to hate low voter turnout too.

Then I realized how few people could name our Vice President much less debate hot political issues. It doesn’t bother me that those people don’t vote.

There’s less of a voter turnout in this country because the government plays much less of a role in people’s daily lives than elsewhere in the world.

>These polls you speak of...are they split between liberal and conservative positions, connected with parties (as most polls are)? Then there is no real difference in the positions when looking at the end result.<

If the rich, top 10% here, ruled this country with an Iron fist, do you really think they’d be taxing themselves at much higher rates than anybody else.

>economic strain the bottom 90% is put under<

?

Please elaborate.

Here we have the highest GDP per capita of any major country in the world.

>however, you cannot identify bin Laden with the so called "war on terror"<

Ok. Feel free to take you’re position. What I am saying is that there are people who are clearly terrorists and not freedom fighters.

>Henry Kissenger comes to mind<

What’s the story on this?

Seriously, I’m not being sarcastic, here. I’ve the accusation. I know he authorized bombing other countries besides Vietnam. How is the guy a war criminal?


E. Simon - 4/19/2004

"The sooner we drop the nation state facade, the sooner we actually become a human rights based community."

Why not just drop the municipality facade? The state, county and province facade? I would like to believe that a lawyer would know better than to think that there's any use to doing away with or even weakening the whole concept of jurisdiction.

And in any event, respect for regional distinctions in governance is growing under the umbrella of an significant organization that I would believe an international lawyer might be interested in: The E.U. Libertarians know that real freedoms are a crucial concept in advancing any tangible "right," human or otherwise. And although integration of individual states into the E.U. requires a necessary relinquishing of some degree of power, in many cases this phenomenon can paradoxically result in a strengthening of individual freedoms; but only because the weakening power of a European state can be offset by an increase in real power at Brussels. The likelihood of a European executive branch is fast becoming the kind of reality that will hopefully never be replicated (and currently isn't) at the dysfunctional U.N.

"A human rights-based community...?" I've heard you speak this way before. Communities exist along the lines of a common culture, and the only global culture of which I'm aware is pop culture - financially driven, (mass-) consumed - primarily by adolescents no less, and perhaps as a result, naturally amoral; are these the global values you would like to transmit by legislative fiat? I suppose I would be remiss in not mentioning the diplomatic community, one which is by nature not very well disposed to using force. Perhaps there's a use for a government without much of an executive branch or an executive branch that lacks the ability to effectively enforce its policies. I'm interested in hearing you make the case for the utility in that.

Like any utopian ideologue, I think you're putting the cart way before the horse.


John E. Moser - 4/18/2004

One more thought along these lines. The January/February 2003 issue of The Atlantic included the results of an interesting survey in which people around the world were asked to rate how happy they were on a scale of 1 to 10. While the results suggest that there is a correlation between wealth and happiness, his correlation begins to drop off in countries where per capita income is above $20,000. Happiness in the rich countries varies widely; Americans seem to be less happy than Swiss, Danes, Canadians, and Swedes, but happier than Australians, Britons, Italians, Germans, French, Spaniards, and Japanese.

The study also concludes that "political freedom, physical safety, and a belief in God all appear strongly assoicated with happiness," while "societal corruption and militancy appear to diminish happiness greatly." One of the most interesting findings is that education makes no difference.

Ultimately, if we're trying to establish what sort of political/economic system is best, we ought to be looking not at GDP, or use of recycled products, or anything else that is a purely instrumental good. Whether or not a system produces happiness is the best test of all.


Michael Meo - 4/17/2004

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Lord Acton was speaking of individuals, but it's true of nations as well.


chris l pettit - 4/16/2004

"cynicism is another word to describe objective insight by those incapable of having any."

Ben...I dont accuse you of not having any objective insight...but you simply cannot justify US action that violates human rights by saying that it has good intentions.

"the road to hell is paved with good intentions"

The examples you give...why must we take them as static instances without examining the larger historical and politicalcontext. Who put Saddam in power? Who supplied him with his chemical weapons and during the Iran/Iraq War? Who turned a blind eye to his human rights violations until he no longer suited our purpose?
Who funded bin Laden against the Soviets?And supported him? And continue to support several oppressive regimes? It is here that the Machiavellian dichotomy fails. We cannot just look at "bad men" we must look at how they got to be that way and what we are doing now to create new "bad men" down the road.

Do you know the real history of the Balkans and the conflict? Have you read of Albanian massacres of Serbs? Do you know that Milosevic never has and never will speak for the majority of Serbs and that what is happening now is a direct result of US imperial action in the region? Do you know the differences between the ethnic groups and their perceptions of Yugoslv nationalism? I helped write a text on the subject and am aware of the myths that have been perpetuated and Western misconception of the conflict.

It is not inaction to join the international system and create a global community that can solve its porblems instead of exacerbating them by unilateral actions based on misunderstandings of cultures and historical events.

Ben...your viewpoint will ultimately lead to the perpetuation of the same problems that repeat themselves over and over again. The US is not a Paladin...iot is just another nation. Being a superpower bestows on the US the obligation to promote equality, human rights, and not our self interest. The sooner we drop the nation state facade, the sooner we actually become a human rights based community.

CP


chris l pettit - 4/16/2004

I forgot to put the re- in front

http://www.redefiningprogress.org

And please feel free to email it to any economists you like...I understand that there are problems...but it is still better than a strict % of GDP comparison.

Chris


John E. Moser - 4/15/2004

FYI, I e-mailed a friend of mine--an academic economist--to get his reactions to the website Mr. Fisher recommends. Here is his response:

On a quick glance I'd have many problems with it. For instance, there
is nothing bad per se about a trade deficit or indebtedness. Many of
the measures are inputs not outputs (e.g. spending on health care and
pollution).

And some of the numbers are clearly wrong.

For example, total government spending in the U.S. is about 36% of GDP
not 29% as it shows here. If anything it was higher in 1991 than today
so the year is not the problem. This is a pretty big error.

I'd also bet my mortgage payment that Sweden is not 85% unionized.

Their income inequality numbers are not explained. But I know there are
many many countries with worse (i.e., more unequal) "distributions" of
income as measured by the Gini coefficient or by the share of total
income going to the poorest 10%. Overall the U.S. is about average.

On the crime data, this is indeed an area where the U.S. is well below
the rest of the world, but only in murders. In others areas of crime,
noticeable absent in this study," we do well and often much better than
Europe.

To be sure, GDP per capita (properly measured in purchasing power parity
terms) is not everything. (Btw, who cares is that the rest of the world
is "catching up" with us; this is good not bad.) If you want to use
something else, use the UN's Human Development Report. The U.S. is not
#1. We do have problems. But this is an ok source. Better than this
rant.

Finally, the real issue isn't between a few cherry picked statistics
that show the U.S. is worse than a few cherry picked countries. The
REAL issue is why the U.S. AND these few countries are so much better
than Africa, Asia, Latin America and so on. The answer is that they all
(even Sweden) rely primarily on private property and markets to organize
economic life and they all pay homage to the principles of the rule of
law.

In my study of economic freedom I've come to conclude that there are far
fewer differences between the U.S. and Europe than similarities at least
when looked at from a global point of view.


Tim Fisher - 4/15/2004

Chlorofluorucarbons do not cause global warming, they destroy the ozone layer. Cars put CO2 into the atmosphere and are therefore partly to blame for global warming. That's why i said that if more people used public transport, we would all have a better standard of living (particularly people living in Alaska where temperatures are rising 10 times faster than the rest of the world). But i agree, it is only a matter of opinion. For example, i have the opinion that people shouldn't be allowed to run around with guns in their pockets - there are a lot of idiots around. I am thankful i live in a country where owning a gun is illegal and therefore gun crime is very low. On the otherhand i don't care whether church attendance is low or high. I'm an atheist and i'm happy for other people to believe what they like as long as they are not violent and don't let it interfere with politics.


John E. Moser - 4/15/2004

You're speculating about all of this. Moreover, what this survey measures is presumed causes, not effects, and it therefore confuses what is good in itself with things that are, at best, instrumental goods. For example, the study does not demonstrate that chlorofluorocarbons cause global warming, which in turn causes "extreme weather events." It simply states the amount of chlorofluorocarbons, then presumes the rest. In other words, it defines standard of living purely in terms of what liberals believe makes up a good society. What if a conservative wanted to say that a good society was one where taxes were low, church attendance was high, and people were free to own handguns?


Tim Fisher - 4/15/2004

We'd all have a better standard of living if more people used the bus and used recycled products. At least, that's according to my ideas of high standard of living such as clean air to breathe, less extreme weather events (linked to global warming), less danger of running out of non-renewable resources, less species extinctions (linked to standard of living because we get almost everything we need in this world from plants and animals), less road rage


John E. Moser - 4/15/2004

I find it interesting how this site defines "standard of living." It's easy to claim that European countries have a higher standard of living if you define "standard of living" as more people using public transportation and using recycled products. That's what's called "stacking the deck."

For an alternative interpretation, see http://www.freetheworld.com .


Ben H. Severance - 4/15/2004

Mr. Fisher,

I for one am not jealous of the prosperity of other nations; I applaud it. But we should understand that it is less difficult to create social utopias in small republics where everyone is ethnically, linguistically, religiously, and culturally identical (as is the case in Scandinavia). I am far more impressed that the large and extremely diverse U.S. made the top ten! By the way, you might want to qualify your generalized use of the term "European," for the six examples you cite are all Aryan in racial make-up. I wonder how Spain, Italy, Greece, and Poland, among others, fare in your standard of living list?


Tim Fisher - 4/15/2004

I would also prefer to live in a country with a better standard of living. The countries with the highest standard of living in the world are Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Germany and Finland. That's right, the 6 top countries for standard of living are all European and Sweden tops the poll! Maybe Mr. Livingstone is Jealous that Europeans enjoy (on average) a better life than Americans. USA comes 9th by the way.

From:

http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/8Comparison.htm


Ben H. Severance - 4/15/2004

This article and many others have elicited varied responses to America's role in the world. Generally, the comments have either lambasted America as being ruthless and oppressive or they have praised America for its honorable efforts at global security. I tout the latter. Men such as Rumsfeld and Cheney approach political power in the Machiavellian fashion, but it appears that George Bush, probably unknowingly, excercises power along the line of Plato's "Guardians." And I would further submit that Niccolo's Prince and Plato's Philosopher King are one and the same.

America is not a rogue nation, it is the world's paladin. Most countries would certainly deny this, even resent it, but that is because they are in Plato's cave. Many readers object to U.S. intervention around the world, claiming that this nation does more harm than good. But which is better, action or inaction? U.S. intervention has produced destruction and death, but these are calamities that would have occurred, and were occuring, had America never intevened at all. The question I ask myself is should we stand by and watch tyrants massacre their people, watch third-world nations wallow in poverty and squalor while warlords run amok, watch unsavory governments produce arsenals of WMD, watch terrorists train for who knows what, OR should we adopt a vigilant overwatch, conducting raids as needed to bust-up these dangers? People will and do die when Americans step in, but the difference is that where little hope existed before, U.S. intervention provides windows of opportunity for real change for the better.

Who are we to do this, one might ask? I answer, who was Saddam to oppress the Iraqis? Who was Bin Laden to carry out 9-11? Who was Aidid to deprive food to millions of starving Ethiopian children? Who was Milosevic to implement ethnic cleansing? I suppose the critics will reply that these are all instances of Frankenstein's monster. Such negativity.

Does America abuse its power? Yes, and we as citizens must call our leaders on such abuses, vote them out of office, and punish them if necessary. But inherent in the American psyche is a belief in freedom and it is this core value that ultimately drives our foreign policy. I know this all sounds like romantic nationalism and apple pie optimism, but if Americans don't believe in the innate goodness of this country, then I don't know what to say. I would never call the cynics in this country "traitors" or "defeatists," they're free to say what they want, but I do pity them, and wonder just what it is about the flickering shadows on the cave walls that fascinates them.


John E. Moser - 4/15/2004

"Huh? Do you have any factual evidence to back up the rather unorthodox claim that Europe is doing worse off economically than East Asia? Let us just take 2 countries at random, shall we?
Let us look at 2 nations in Asia and 2 in Europe, and compare their GDP per capita (there are many other more thorough indicators, but I think this will do). Next to GDPPC is the percentage of people in each country that live BELOW the poverty line"

The numbers Mr. Moshe offers do not address Mr. Livingston's point, which was about "relative" decline, not absolute decline. It is undeniable that the economies of the U.S. and East Asia have grown far more rapidly than those of Western Europe (with a few exceptions, like Ireland) in the past 15 to 20 years. While obviously average incomes in China and Vietnam are lower now (although I doubt Mr. Moshe selected these two randomly--after all, both are communist countries, despite some willingness to employ certain market policies), if recent growth rates are projected forward they can be expected to surpass those of Europe.


John E. Moser - 4/15/2004

"It certainly meets the PATRIOT ACT definition."

I did a quick search of the Patriot Act, and could find no language that attempts to define terrorism, beyond saying "to engage in terrorist activity," which is obviously unhelpful. Could Mr. Dresner point me toward the specific section of the Patriot Act that he has in mind?

Also, to clarify my last post, I am not accusing Professor May, the author of the original article, with establishing moral equivalence between the U.S. government and the Taliban. As he clearly puts it:

"Filibustering persisted not because of government collusion, but because of circumstances beyond federal control. The tiny U.S. army, for example, faced an impossible task in sealing off the lengthy, mostly shallow Rio Grande. Now Pakistani officials face similar difficulties on their border with Afghanistan. Popular sympathy with filibusters (like radical Muslim support for terrorists today) was the most important reason why pre-Civil War U.S. leaders were unable to stop them."


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 4/15/2004

Chris,
Thank you so much for the site, but for some reason, I am unable to find the link. My computer keeps telling me that the page cannot be displayed. Perhaps it is me. I will try again later.

You are definitely right about GDP. Frankly, the best indicater to me would be the quality of life for each country. Is it worth having the greatest economy in the world if you cannot afford to see a doctor with a sore throat? Would you rather live in a country with a higher GDP, or one with a lower GDP, but you don't have to work 2 jobs for 50 hours a week just to put a roof over your head?


John E. Moser - 4/15/2004

"But if you're trying to make a more narrow argument about terrorism you need to make it, not just proclaim it."

If Mr. Dresner was making an argument, rather than "proclaiming" his definition, I must have missed it.

To say that his is an "overbroad" definition is an understatement. It would certainly include the French Resistance in World War II and, quite possibly, the Continental Army under George Washington--to the extent that the United States was not recognized by the British as a legitimate government.

If I were to call FDR a fascist because, like Hitler and Mussolini, he sought broad executive powers and an expansive federal government, the comparison would no doubt elicit howls of protest. Such a broad definition of fascism, it would be argued, misses the essence of the ideology. And, of course, those who would argue along these lines would be absolutely correct.

Administration spokespeople, as well as the president himself, have defined terrorism as the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians. That's why it's called "terrorism"--it aims at "terrorizing."

I understand that it is in the interest of people of certain political views to employ a definition of terrorism that is broad enough to allow them to claim moral equivalence between the U.S. government and the Taliban. Fortunately most people of good sense will reject that reasoning, just as they would a claim that Abraham Lincoln was similar to Osama bin Laden because they both had beards.


chris l pettit - 4/15/2004

i have a query...a conumdrum if you will (I love SNL Celebrity Jeopardy)

Your economic dissection of Mr. Livingstone is fantastically written and supported...and I agree with your assertions wholeheartedly. however...I would offer an even better comparison in the GPI index of the world economy. While the GDP comparisons are accurate...even they are still way to rosy in indicating how awful US economic policies are compared to many in the rest of the world, and what effect that is having on the resources of the planet. i gave this website in a post on the nuclear weapons page and would be curious to see what you thought of it. Granted, the system still has flaws...it is only 10 years old or so, but it does give a more accurate depiction of economies than GDP. by the way, the site also does a great job of listing some of the inherent problems of using GDP as an economic base.

http://www.definingprogress.org

Chris


chris l pettit - 4/15/2004

Sorry Stephen if it is my perception of your post that is making me suspicious of the question asked. I am simply wary of giving an answer that could then be turned around and misperceived to somehow make me look like I advocate something I am vehemently opposed to.

I am not sure there is a simple yes or no answer either. Do I oppose what the US did in toppling Saddam, the Taliban, in the Balkans and the policy (the way the food shipments are utilised as bargaining tools in violation of moral principles and international law)? Absolutely. The purposes behind our actions are not noble or hmanitarian. Your question assumes a very Machiavellian "ends justify the means" position, which is inherently problematic. The means are ends in and of themselves, and end up causing more problems than they solve. For instance, our actions in the Balkans actually accelerated the genocide and we knew that they most likely would but went ahead anyway to show our strength after Somalia and our "humanitarian principles." In reality, it was opening a door for pre-emptive warfare. And the problems are not solved, but continue...mostly due to, as in Iraq, our total lack of understanding of the culture and situation in the Balkans. We created bin Laden, Saddam, armed and aided them and the Taliban until they no longer suited us...in the same Machiavellian manner you now portray in your question. We have to see history as a fluid process, not as individual occurrences. THat is another place where Machiavellian attitudes fail. They fail to see that by simply trying to solve short term, we create more long term than we solve. Is the US an oppressive government that operates under a fundamentally flawed mentality? Absolutely! Viewing history as a whole there is simply no denying our imperial oppression of many nations and peoples.

These polls you speak of...are they split between liberal and conservative positions, connected with parties (as most polls are)? Then there is no real difference in the positions when looking at the end result. For instance...no politician can take a position related to universal health care and hope to be elected...even though that is the most sensible action the US could take for the bottom 90%. What is the voter turnout in our country? Why? because their votes mean squat. Look at how much it takes to run for office...only those in the top 5-10% can afford it...and you are still wondering what percentage is represented in the government? I think that if you look at the combination of under or miseducation of our nation, the consolidation of media to the point that the first amendment means nothing since censorship takes place, it is just private instead of government (by the corporations running the government), and the economic strain the bottom 90% is put under due to oppressive economic policies, there is a reason why polls say some strange things and why Emma Goldman's statement that "if voting changed anything they would make it illegal" is so true.

Now the bin Laden question which is the one that really kind of worried me, but I trust you are an honest academic and not the baiting type so will attack it. I do not think bin Laden stands for freedom or democracy or anything resembling human rights and am as critical of him as I am of the US. He deserves to be brought to justice by an international tribunal and tried for his crimes against humanity. however, you cannot identify bin Laden with the so called "war on terror" which can and has been taken to mean anything the US government wants it to mean (along with the Israeli and Russian governments)...including the right to violate the human rights and sovereignty of other nations. There are war criminals in the US that are responsible for much worse crimes than bin Laden (Henry Kissinger comes to mind). This is an international problem, not solely a US problem. And the way the US approaches the problem is both wrong and absolutely destructive of the internatiol community and human rights framework.

I hope I have explained some of the positions I stated above and you asked about. I view US government actions a lot of the time to be as problematic (definitely costing more innocent lives) and terroristic as those of bin Laden.

CP


Michael Meo - 4/15/2004

Well, by the Secretary General of the United Nations, for one, who said that our invasion of Iraq violated the UN Charter.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 4/15/2004

William,
I happen to disagree with Michael’s comment, but I found your response to be so loaded with fallacious logic and unfair generalizations, I had to comment. Here is my response, point by point:

1) “By whom is the U.S. considered a rogue nation…America's homegrown back-stabbing parasitic Academics?”

It never ceases to amaze me how much contempt some people have for intelligence, or at least those people who pursue it in higher education. “Back-stabbing parasitic Academics”? I must infer that you have never attended school, since your education would have undoubtedly be due to such people. Your high school teachers were trained by these people, your accountants, lawyers, businessmen, and doctors were taught by these people, and your national leaders all look to them for advise and analysis. Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, I can almost guarantee, without knowing anything about you, that much of what you believe in has been provided by “America's homegrown back-stabbing parasitic Academics.”

2) “One reason is Europe is in economic decline relatively to the U.S. & to much of East Asia & perhaps to portions of Latin America as well.

Huh? Do you have any factual evidence to back up the rather unorthodox claim that Europe is doing worse off economically than East Asia? Let us just take 2 countries at random, shall we?
Let us look at 2 nations in Asia and 2 in Europe, and compare their GDP per capita (there are many other more thorough indicators, but I think this will do). Next to GDPPC is the percentage of people in each country that live BELOW the poverty line:

China: $4,000, 10%
Vietnam: $2,300, 37%

Not very impressive. How about these:
The United Kingdom: $25,500, 15.6%
France: $26,000, 6.4%

Now these are not as good as the greatest economy in the world, the United States, with $36,300 (with 12.7% living below the poverty line, worse off than France), but that would be a rather unfair measuring mark, would you agree?

3) “Why is Europe stumbling? For one thing, its poulations aging require a disproportionate percentage of their G.N.P.s be spent on non-productive services for the elderly.”

Is that true? 7.4% of China is over 65 years old, a rather low amount. In Vietnam, that number is a mere 5.6% (by your logic, this should work to their advantage). In the UK, it is 15.6% and in France, it is 16.3%. Meanwhile, it is 12.4% here, lower than in France and the UK, but not astronomically.

In any event, do you support Social Security at all? If so, doesn’t that make you a moderate socialist supporting “non-productive services for the elderly”? If you are against Social Security, what would you have us do with all of the poverty-stricken old people around the country? They could simply starve to death as they did in the past, but would the nation allow that?

4) “For another, its mostly socialist economies are inherently inefficient.”

Is that it, no elaboration, they are just inefficient? And what of our partly socialist economy? Was the Great Depression caused by American socialism, or was the numerous recessions since? Is the recession we recently had caused by American socialism? What of European growth and economic expansion?

My question is this: Since both the United States and Europe experience economic booms and economic downturns, when do we know what factors to blame for each?


William Livingston - 4/15/2004

Michael, me boy,

By whom is the U.S. considered a rogue nation, decrepit Communist Cuba, North Korea,& Viet-Nam, or home to 15 of the 19 murderers of 9/11 our enemy Saudia Arabia or typical of Europe declining in population and in world influence Socialist Sweden? Or America's homegrown back-stabbing parasitic Academics?

Yes, the Left moans & groans that the U.S. spends as much as the next nine developed nations together on defense. But our economy may easily afford the expenditure, whilst most European nations strain to spend that which they do, in contrast. One reason is Europe is in economic decline relatively to the U.S. & to much of East Asia & perhaps to portions of Latin America as well. Why is Europe stumbling? For one thing, its poulations aging require a disproportionate percentage of their G.N.P.s be spent on non-productive services for the elderly. For another, its mostly socialist economies are inherently inefficient. The EU while providing some minor benefits to Europeans remains an unfilled dream, actually set of contrasting dreams and looks to remain stalled in neutral for the foreseeable future. Again, the operative term is "relatively."


Jonathan Dresner - 4/14/2004

Like it or not, we are a nation, and we will be judged, at least in part, as members of that nation. We do the same to everyone else: remember "freedom fries"?


Stephen Vinson - 4/14/2004

"another man's freedom fighter."

"true democracy or rebellions don't count if we don't like them"

Chris, I'll bite. Exactly what freedoms or democratic ideals is Bin Laden fighting for?

I don't think even he would take the idea that this is his goal seriously. In fact, he may already be on record saying democracy is some sort of unacceptable perversion of the West.

"oppressive actions of a government representative of the top 5-10% of Americans to the whole of the US public?"

Then it is odd how much poll results of the top 5-10% of income earners differ from the policies of our government.

Do really see toppling Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, our fights in Bosnia and Kosovo, food shipments to North Korea as the actions of an oppressive government?


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 4/14/2004

Chris,
Indeed, when I read your posts, I often find myself shaking my head in agreement one sentence, and then vehemently objecting to the next sentence.

I believe there is reason as to why the UN acts as it does, and that is because it was designed that way. I see it as a government with a House of Representatives, and that is it. Each nation acts as an individual representative, caring only about their own constituents without any regard for the bigger picture or the state of the nation/world. The ICJ means nothing without an enforcement mechanism, and the Security Council gets no where because of the required unanimity. As a result, we see some of the worst violators of human rights passing judgment on others. We see some countries (like Cuba) punished, while more powerful countries (like China) intimidate others into acquiescence.

Frankly, I don’t know what the solution is. I believe in the principles of the UN and think that it can do a lot of good (as it currently does in many situations). But its inherently political nature, which most often manifests itself in utter hypocrisy, makes me cautious about strengthening it.


chris l pettit - 4/14/2004

Great points Adam...

Semantics are unfortunate and it is a shame that certain nations are singled out while others are ignored. It intrigues me that, as you say, some nations operate with near impunity for a variety of reasons, while other nations garner most of the attention, many times both nations on either side of a conflict (although not always). Could it be we focus on the types of conflicts much of the time? Or the locations? Not that there is a real rhyme or reason...but it is interesting to contemplate in a historical sense.

I find it so interesting that we agree on the fact that the UN is so screwed up...but disagree on what the cause is and how to fix it. I like that the ideals are similar...I just wonder how we reach them...a tough question.

Cheers

Chris


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 4/14/2004

“Maybe you just use terrorist to describe that which you don't like.”

Mr. Pettit,
I could not agree with you more that the United States has used such semantics (although it is to the media’s credit that those in Iraq are not referred to as “terrorists”). I also want to point out however, how popular this tactic is among others as well. While there is no need to reiterate several past discussion boards, I think we can all agree that certain countries are designated with virtually every inflammatory term I could imagine, terrorist being the least of them, while other countries are allowed to commit wanton acts of all-out genocide with impunity.

To me, this reflects a massive failure of the international community. While men, women, and children are sold into slavery, or slaughtered in Sudan, and Congo, while religious freedom is stifled in Saudi Arabia, and many more, the international community continuously dwells on the few nations that simply do not have enough allies to prevent it from being scapegoated for all the problems in the world. The point is not whether these countries are indeed culpable. The point is that terms like “terrorist” are used discriminately against unpopular countries, rather than maintaining some acceptable definition, which, to the best of my knowledge and maybe you could correct me if I am wrong, the United Nations has not even created yet! Why? Because countries within the UN recognize that almost any definition imaginable would describe what many have institutionalized in their national policies.


chris l pettit - 4/14/2004

...another man's freedom fighter.

i would submit that they are all the same regardless of the term used to describe them. The civilian/non-civilian separation is nonsense in a legal sense since pre-meditation is not required for culpability, only negligence. it also fails to deal with the problems of conscription. It also doesn't matter if they are state or non-state actors...at least in the international law and general definitions of terrorism. Which raises the interesting question of whether some terrorism is not necessarily able to be condemned if the cause is just...I would say that is truly problematic because who decides, especially since it often leads to the answer of the person who is supported by the most guns...their own guns or those of the nations supporting them.

Maybe you just use terrorist to describe that which you don't like...seems to be the way the US does things...true democracy or rebellions don't count if we don't like them, rather, they become terror...the exact opposite is true for the despots we support and install.

I do think there is a great point made in the problem of applying modernistic terms to past events...although I do not know how you get past it...and the problem of the mythic qualities of some of the heroic rebellion tales.

And although I am not sure of which message board you are posting on Vic, I would ask you to be careful in a couple of things. First, are the comments truly anti-American, or anti US government policies and the failure of the public to be educated or inquisitive enough to see through the fallacies? Is it your perception of the comments? Is it anti-US historically or generally? Lastly...is it that their comments in context are poorly written and they want to express that they despise US action, or are they uneducated enough to connect the oppressive actions of a government representative of the top 5-10% of Americans to the whole of the US public? Just some things to remember. I am sure that there are some anti-Americans, but I would suspect that most are anti-US policy, but actually pro-US idealism and out fundamental tenets...which are of course diametrically opposed to the US policy of the last hundred plus years.

CP


Vic Rattlehead - 4/14/2004

I am a member of another message board, in which there are numerous members from other countries. A thread was started, entitled something like, "Why are all Americans ignorant and arrogant?" This was followed by well over 420 posts, which included people from other nations such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Phillippines, England, Scotland, and Canada. Those were just the ones i remembered. Almost all of the posts were anti-american, except for the ones from Americans who were sticking up for their country. I found this to be ridiculous, and did not even participate in the thread. But this showed me in a way, that ALOT of people seem to hate the United States, for things other than the current situation in Iraq. That appearsto be just the tip of the iceberg.

So in a sense, whether we are seen as a rogue nation, or ignorant nation, or arrogant nation, one thing seems clear. No matter what the nation does, we are all held responsible. No matter when our ancestors came here, we're responsible. From the Native Americans, to Slavery, to WWII, to Vietnam, to present day...alas...it's all our faults.{note the sarcasm in the last statement}


Kevin M Gannon - 4/14/2004

One might argue that nationals of one country perpetuating violence and destruction within the borders of another country, and having crossed said borders without the permission of the sovereign political authority of the nation in question, certainly violates the accepted standards of international law, and thus would certainly be potantial "terrorism."

Add to this the fact that the 19th century filibusters intended to bring down the extant political regimes, and thus radically disrupt the politics and societies of the nations they invaded, and one could arrive at an internationally-accepted definition of terrorism.

Just to be the gadfly--what about Reagan's mining of Nicaraguan waters in 1983? (which "pissed off" Barry Goldwater, in his words).

Or, on another point, is the use of the term "terrorist" somewhat anachronistic? Does it inject present-day sensibilities into past events? The most common exercise in this vein is the tried-and-true US survey course question, "Was John Brown a terrorist?" Would this term have had meaning in the 1850s?


Jonathan Dresner - 4/13/2004

There are other forms of terrorism, and other ways to harm civilians than by shooting at them. I admit to knowing nearly nothing about this history, but the article describes widespread destruction and disorder intended to produce political change. That sounds an awful lot like terrorism, to me. It certainly meets the PATRIOT ACT definition.

Or, if you prefer a more technical definition, military action by a non-state actor meets most definitions of terrorism.

Frankly, I admit that these are overbroad definitions, but they are commonly accepted. But if you're trying to make a more narrow argument about terrorism you need to make it, not just proclaim it.


John E. Moser - 4/13/2004

"Unlike modern terrorists, the filibusters never intentionally massacred civilian populations. But Europeans and Latin Americans regarded them the way Americans view terrorists today -- as ruthless murderers causing horrific destruction."

So, the filibusters were like terrorists, except that they didn't massacre civilians. But isn't that the definition of a terrorist?


John Brennan - 4/13/2004

That was an unsubstantiated rogue comment.


Michael Meo - 4/13/2004

I have to smile at your use of the past tense.

You cannot be unaware of the fact that, if there wasw any time in which the U.S. was most widely considered a rogue nation, that time is now.

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