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America's Amnesia:
'Jay Walking' through History

By Christian Dewar

A reviewer recently covered the release of a new documentary in Japan, which created considerable controversy in that country. The film is entitled, 'Riben Guizi', a derogatory Mandarin insult that translates as 'Japanese Devil'. What is so disturbing to the Japanese is that Riben Guizi records the accounts of fourteen former soldiers who were involved in horrendous atrocities committed against Chinese civilians during the WW11. The war crimes included mass murder, rape, torture, vivisection, beheadings and even cannibalism. The Japanese also were responsible for the wide spread dispersion of bacteriological weapons such as plagues over Chinese cities and towns.

Americans have long been aware of the hideous crimes perpetrated by these soldiers in such incidents as the Bataan Death March, the Rape of Nanking and Unit 731, but they may not know the extent to which these war crimes have been censored from the Japanese consciousness. Japan has an extremely powerful nationalistic right wing that has successfully managed to suppress the retelling of these events. It is also a matter of 'losing face'. Many Japanese feel it is shameful to discuss these horrific offenses against mankind. Those who do bring up the atrocities for discussion are accused of being insane or traitors. Textbooks used in classrooms here largely omit references to these dark secrets. Japan is portrayed in these books as being the victim rather than the aggressor. Inconvenient facts are glossed over. In it's place, they have created a more acceptable, sanitized past.

Unlike the Germans who have largely acknowledged the evil in their Nazi history and made efforts to compensate the victims, the Japanese have been reluctant to apologize for the behavior of their army. Politicians continue to pay their respects at shrines where war criminals are buried. Women abducted and forced into prostitution for their armies have gone uncompensated. Allied POWs and former slaves who have demanded reparations have seen their claims thwarted. Wounds have been slow to mend.

To what extent has this censorship worked to the disadvantage of the Japanese? Is their any justification for keeping an entire population ignorant of their past? Predictably, this national denial has had the effect of exacerbating tensions with countries they occupied. Any effort to build up their armed forces or to participate in military exercises is immediately looked upon with great suspicion by their former enemies. Slow to forget the immense suffering and the wide spread carnage or the war, neighbors continually look to Japan for a resurgence of the militant nationalists who might lead their nation into war once more. Ignorance of the Japanese about their nation's past cannot serve to promote a reconciliation with the victims they persecuted, who understandably fear Santayana's warning that 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'

Censorship of a nation's history also raises the question as to whether a democracy can truly survive in such a void. After WW11, the United States sought to ensure that our form of government was adopted by Japan. Free speech has always been recognized as one of the cornerstones of democracy. True patriots know that the free exchange of information and the 'market place of ideas' are essential to this form of government. It is essential that there be an informed citizenry. How else can a nation's people make rational decisions and participate in the operation of our government? It is this participation by each citizen that defines democracy.

Naturally, this reticence by the Japanese to face up to their past crimes is viewed as anathema to Americans, especially to the soldiers who suffered at the hands of their vicious enemy. The idea of censoring huge tracts of history seems foreign to our citizens. Yet, now it seems as though a movement is underfoot in the United States to censor our own history, stifle dissent and suppress the first amendment right to free speech.

The Pentagon recently announced and then cancelled the creation of an office to distribute 'black propaganda' and sow disinformation in the press of friendly and unfriendly nations. 'Brand America' is marketed by a Madison Avenue executive who used to shill for Uncle Ben's Rice. Reporting on the 'War on Terrorism' is largely limited to repeating what the genial warmonger Rumsfeld announces at press conferences. A reporter seeking to discover the extent of Afghan civilian causalities at a recent battle site was turned back by U.S. soldiers who threatened to shoot him if he continued. This administration has sought to limit the oversight of intelligence matters by our elected representatives. It is now necessary to read the foreign press to get accurate coverage of the war.

Censorship and propaganda by the military and intelligence agencies is not new. Carl Bernstein reported on Operation Mockingbird in the 1970's, a CIA covert operation that had over 400 assets planted in the press as reporters, editors, stringers, etc. William Colby, the former director of the CIA was quoted as saying, "The CIA owns everyone of significance in the media. They changed and shaped the news to suit their purpose. Katherine Graham of the Washington Post who had close ties to the CIA once said, "We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn't. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows." As a Jack Nicholson's character in the film, 'A Few Good Men' said, "You can't handle the truth!"

A former media consultant for the Reagan and G.H.W. Bush administration, Roger Ailes, (who now heads Fox 'Fair and Balanced' News) once said, "People don't want to be informed, they only want the illusion of being informed." Mr. Ailes has been more than happy to oblige his fellow Americans by doggedly adhering to this philosophy. Much of what passes for new at the networks is little more than entertainment with as much substance as cotton candy. Complacent and lazy, many Americans can't be bothered to stay informed about our history or current events. Much of this is due to the 'bread and circus' distractions in contemporary life. More citizens probably know who Mark McGuire is than any of the Bush's cabinet members who might embroil us in the next war. It is almost a given that George W. Bush is more conversant on the batting averages of this years Ranger line up than he is about events in Indonesia and East Timor during his father's tenure as president. H.L. Mencken once said, "No one in this world, so far as I know...has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."

The ownership of the media has been consolidated in the hands of ten or less multinational corporations whose bottom line is often at odds with factual coverage of the news, especially as it relates to the crimes and scandals of their subsidiaries. It is unlikely that NBC which is owned by General Electric will give too much coverage to the company's dumping of a million pounds of carcinogenic PCBs into the Hudson River. Stories about the transgressions of large corporations such as Monsanto or DuPont can be successfully buried. New rules promulgated by Michael Powell, the head of the FCC allows powerful right wingers such as Rupert Murdoch and the Reverend Moon to acquire virtual monopolies on media in many cities.

In the past, coverage of major scandals like Iran-Contragate were suppressed unless some inconvenient event such as the downing of a planeload of weapons to the rebels in Nicaraqua occurred. Flacks within that Bush administration such as Otto Reich and Elliott Abrams covered up atrocities committed by U.S. supported soldiers and sowed disinformation in the U.S. media. Conscientious reporters such as Robert Parry were fired when they do too good a job breaking such stories about government malfeasance but were subsequently vindicated by history when the scoop was shown to be factual.

When Gary Webb disclosed the complicity of U.S. intelligence agencies in the importation of cocaine into the United States by the Contras, the government and the media were shrill in the denunciation of his stories. Yet the 1998 CIA inspector general's report, in a 'limited hang-out', admitted as much, as did the Kerry Report.

Allegations of an 'October Surprise' were also greeted by a well orchestrated chorus of denials by the government and the press although the heads of intelligence in France and Russia, as well as internationally known politicians have come forward to say that, yes, George H.W. Bush did indeed meet with Iranians in an attempt to delay the release of American hostages. They affirm that Reagan operatives did this in order to frustrate Jimmy Carter's bid for re-election. Readers may wish to consult Robert Parry's website, Consortiumnews.com for more information on this scandal.

In the current administration, Dick Cheney has tried to prevent Americans from discovering how our energy policy was formulated and to what degree oil companies wrote the legislation. To the extent that one man, Ken Lay, was successful at blocking caps on the price of fuel and gouging millions of Californians who suffered rolling black outs, this gives the lie to the myth that we have a representative form of democracy.

We now have a 'Shadow Government' in place that not only was unknown to almost all of our elected leaders, but consisted solely of members from the executive branch. Bush has unilaterally decided that he alone has the right to determine what presidential papers from past administrations, including his fathers, will be released. (Presumably, some of these documents deal with Iran-Contragate, the October Surprise, Iraq-gate, the S&L and BCCI scandals, the pardons of convicted members from his administration, etc.)

He has attempted an end-run around Texas sunshine laws governing disclosure of documents by storing records of his administration at his father's presidential library. Attorney General Ashcroft has instructed government agencies to resist the disclosure of records under the Freedom of Information Act. No one outside of Bush's government knows anything about the hundreds of citizens who were incarcerated indefinitely without being charged. Immigration hearings are held in secret.

Each new day brings new revelations about what Bush and company knew about Bin Laden's plans. The lies, disinformation and censorship by this administration is beginning to hemorrhage out into the public domain. It cannot be contained. The crimes are too large to conceal. There is the continuing saga of Enron and Arthur Anderson. Halliburton's woes have just begun.

We spend over thirty billion dollars for intelligence agencies that seem more concerned with turf battles than combating the terrorists who would kill our citizens. There is an exceptional CYA campaign being waged. Heads will roll, even if they are the convenient heads of scapegoats and expendables lower down on the food chain.

Now, two associations with close ties to the administration, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, formed by the vice president's wife Lynne Cheney, and the Americans for Victory over Terrorism, are attempting to stifle any criticism of the president or his policies. Cheney claims that the purpose of her organization is to promote Western civilization and American culture but it appears that the version of our history that she believes Americans should know is every bit as revised and sanitized as that of Japan. After the tragic events of September 11th, her organization attacked America's academics as being hostile to patriotism. Never mind that the first instinct for many of these professors was to fly a large flag from the porch immediately after the horrific attacks. Cheney believes that anyone questioning the United State's role in the world as perceived by her to be 'Blaming America First'. Her group considers those who seek to understand why we are hated by other countries as little more than traitors.

The Americans for Victory over Terrorism is the brainchild of bellicose retreads from the Bush/Reagan era who, although mostly draft dodgers themselves, advocate an ever widening war. They too seek to limit discourse about the conduct of the war on terrorism and the policies of this administration. These organizations are little more than mouthpieces for the vice president who rules this country in unprecedented secrecy.

As the historian Howard Zinn once said, "While the ostensible purpose of such secrecy is the physical security of the nation, the actual purpose is almost always the political security of those who run the nation." The former CIA agent, Victor Marchetti, echoes the same theme in his book, "The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence".

Just as the Japanese citizenry fail to understand how they are perceived by their neighbors in Asia and how this impacts on their diplomacy, so the historical amnesia of Americans must surely serve to blind us to the sins of our country. Sins mostly conducted by small, elite, covert groups without oversight or accountability in the defense and intelligence communities.

After the September 11th attacks, U.S. citizens asked themselves, 'Why do they hate us?' Several people suggested that it was 'blowback', a CIA term for the unfortunate repercussions of U.S. foreign policy or intelligence operations. This questioning and the attempt to understand why these terrorists could kill so many innocent people was soon labeled as unpatriotic by some right wing zealots. We must understand and acknowledge the actions of our nation and how they impact on others, not only to understand why some people would bring terrorism to our shores but to also restore the democratic ideals of the founding fathers which are revered world wide.

Yet, as the Howard Zinn points out, the constitution might hang on the walls of our classrooms, but our foreign policy has often been Machiavellian. There are many instances in which our defense and military have served to destroy democracy abroad and to support totalitarian governments.

The Iran-Contragate scandal is typical of the operations that have secretly been conducted on our behalf that have had a profound negative effect on several other countries. It was overseen by Bush, Casey and Oliver North, operating outside government channels. It was a 'stand-alone', 'off-the-shelf' self-sustaining operation with no oversight. These groups have often acting outside of the legal constraints of our government. This is just one recent example of actions by our government that foment war, kill civilians and destabalize other countries.

The origins of this rogue government begin shortly after the Second World War. The United States intervened in European politics covertly to influence the outcome of various elections. These intelligence operatives were active behind the scenes to ensure in Italy after WWII to ensure that no leftist government could come to power. We provided money, guns and propaganda to right wingers, including former fascist supporters of Mussolini. In doing so, the CIA collaborated with the Mafia, the 'blowback' being the resurrection of the heroin trade and what has come to be know as 'The French Connection'.

Throughout the Middle East, the CIA and American government has labored to keep repressive, anti-democratic regimes in power in part to maintain a steady supply of oil. In Iran, the CIA helped to overthrow the popular prime minister, Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh because he wanted to nationalize his country's oil fields which were being exploited by British and American petroleum companies. The Shah was installed in a bloody coup. The U.S. trained his secret police, SAVAK, which tortured and murdered his opponents. The blowback occurred when Islamic fundamentalists overthrew his government and seized American hostages. Small wonder they don't care much for our government.

The Arab countries see the U.S. as the armer of the Israeli army and unsympathetic to their cause. In Lebannon, a peace keeping mission undertaken by U.S. Marines 'mission creeped' into being an active participant in the hostilities with our warships shelling civilian neighborhoods. Terrorists responded by blowing up the marine barracks, killing 241 soldiers.

The U.S. armed both sides in the bloody Iran-Iraq war, but favored Hussein. George H.W. Bush arranged to have our country sell Hussein sophisticated supplies that he used to build his weapons of mass destruction. When Iraq became irate that Kuwait was slant drilling into land beneath their country to poach oil, Bush made it clear that it was of no interest to the U.S. if Hussein invaded Kuwait. The Gulf War ensued.

Hussein remained in power. He massacred the Kurds who had been encouraged to revolt by the CIA who then abandoned them. Sanctions mostly hurt the civilian population and Saddam was able to thwart U.N. inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction. Autocratic governments of cooperating countries were allowed to remain in place.

Tens of thousands of U.S. vets from that campaign suffer from the Gulf War Syndrome of unknown origin, perhaps caused by depleted uranium shells, experimental anthrax vaccines or a toxic stew of burning petrochemicals. We called this debacle a victory. George Herbert Walker was hailed as a conquering hero. We didn't make many friends with this campaign, except, perhaps, a few Kuwaitis and the Saudis who obliged us by providing 14 of the 19 terrorists who flew hijacked jets into the World Trade Center.

In Vietnam, The U.S. backed French attempts to re-colonize Indochina, despite Ho Chi Minh's requests to the U.S. that they be allowed to establish an independent nation. He even had written a constitution for his country based on ours. The question still remains as to whether Ho Chi Min was primarily a communist or nationalist.

The U.S. justified intervention on the basis of the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin attacks. Around fifty nine thousand Americans died and between one and three million Vietnamese perished. Nixon schemed to thwart peace talks which he thought might help elect Hubert Humphrey, with the result that when he finally withdrew from Vietnam, the peace terms were no better but twenty thousand more U.S. troops died. The CIA developed the Phoenix Project to disrupt the Viet Cong infrastructure. Even operatives in this program confessed that it degenerated into little more than a policy of systematic assassination.

In Laos, the CIA created a mercenary army to attack the communist Pathet Lao and draw their country into the war. The U.S. dropped more bombs on the country than it did in all of WW11. In Cambodia, Prince Norodom Sihanouk was overthrown by a CIA sponsored coup because of his neutrality in the Vietnam War and replaced with Lon Nol who immediately committed his country to the U.S. cause. The U.S. launched massive bombing raids on the country. Hostilities destabilized Cambodia. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge came to power and genocide ensued which killed over a million people, mostly innocent civilians. This did not keep the CIA from backing Pol Pot when he went to war against the Vietnamese.

In Indonesia, the CIA sponsored coup replaced Sukarno with Suharto. Thousands of deaths ensued. President Ford and Henry Kissinger gave their tacit support for the invasion of East Timor by Suharto's troops. They embarked on systematic genocide of the civilian population. Political observers such as Christopher Hitchens have made convincing arguments for the indictment of Kissinger for war crimes. Other people believe Bush senior is also culpable. There is a reason why this administration and the republicans do not want an International Criminal Court.

In Africa, the CIA arranged for the assassination of Patrice Lumumba due to his perceived neutrality in the cold war. Mobutu replaced him -- looting the treasury and repressing the citizens. Angola was an especially pointless campaign with few U.S. interests at stake. The CIA supported Jonas Savimbi's UNITA against a mildly leftist government in a proxy war with the Soviets. The ensuing war devastated the country and killed more than three hundred thousand people. The book, 'In Search of Enemies' by former CIA agent John Stockwell describes the tragic involvement of the U.S. in Angola.

In our hemisphere, the U.S. backed Somoza who looted Nicaraqua. When he was overthrown, the CIA created the Contras to oppose the leftist Sandanistas. The CIA actively mined the harbors, attacked refineries and destroyed the infrastructure without an act of war or the knowledge of our elected representatives. When congress cut of funds for the guerillas, Reagan's administration sold arms to the Iranians which he had condemned as terrorists and diverted profits to the Contras. U.S. operatives made tidy profits as well.

In Chile, the CIA helped to overthrow the democratically elected Salvador Allende and installed fascist Pinochet who tortured and murdered hundreds of leftists and opponents including Orlando Letelier who died from a car bomb in Washington, D.C. The U.S. government helped to cover up the identity of the assassins.

The U.S. invaded Haiti five times during this century, once occupying the country for almost twenty years. Thousands of Haitians have died as a result of our intervention. The U.S. left the country to be ruled by the dictator 'Papa Doc' Duvalier whose secret police, the Tonton Macoutes repressed the citizenry through murder.

The U.S. invaded the Dominican Republic four times in the 20th century. The CIA supported the murderous Rafael Trujillo who looted the country's coffers. He was killed in a CIA inspired coup and replaced with Juan Bosch was himself was overthrown by our government when perceived as too independent for U.S. policy. We invaded and installed a succession of repressive governments.

El Salvador was ruled by a plutocracy of fourteen families that owned around sixty per cent of the land. The CIA backed this regime and trained the death squads to maintain the status quo. The School of the Americas trained many leaders of these killing squads such as Robert 'Blowtorch' D'Aubuisson who got his nickname from his favorite instrument of torture. A big fan of Hitler, he ordered the murder of Oscar Romero when this archbishop requested that the U.S. cease from arming the repressive government.

In Panama, the popular head of state, Omar Torrijos was killed under suspicious circumstances, probably by CIA asset Manuel Noriega. Known to be involved in drug smuggling and money laundering, Noriega was an associate of George H.W. Bush and assisted in covert activities. When it was suspected that he was also spying for Cuba and that he had become too independent, the U.S. staged an invasion that killed between two and four thousand Panamanian civilians.

The CIA overthrew the democratically elected president of Guatamala, Jacobo Arbenz, who had offended the Rockefellers by nationalizing their United Fruit Company (although he had compensated them). The CIA raised a mercenary army, bombed the capital and installed fascist regimes that murdered between two and four hundred thousand people over the next forty years.

When Maurice Bishop was portrayed by the U.S. as sympathetic to the Soviets, the CIA embarked on a campaign of terrorism, financed his opponents and then invaded the island of Grenada which was found to only have a handful of Cuban troops.

The CIA has even meddled in the affairs of close U.S. allies. The Nugan Hand bank which was staffed by high level CIA assets and military officers was heavily involved in drug and weapon smuggling and money laundering. They helped to overthrow the Australian government that they perceived as not being sympathetic our role in the Vietnam War. The bank was riddled with corruption and collapsed in a scandal that resulted in the loss of millions of dollars. This was a prelude to the CIA involvement in the Dillingham, S&L, BCCI and BNL financial scandals. Now, there are dark rumors that the CIA had ties to the Enron Scandal and that proceeds may have been siphoned off for use by the Agency in covert operations.

Perhaps the most shocking revelations about the corruption of our government are the substantiated reports of U.S. involvement in the drug trade, despite the pretense of a 'War on Drugs'. Those who wish to familiarize themselves with this issue will find an excellent overview of this criminality in the book by Professor Alfred W. McCoy entitiled: "The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade".

Many people are content to blindly accept the government's line and not question how the last presidential election was manipulated, how corporations can enact their own legislation or how Bush cronies can reap huge fortunes from the oil and defense industries. The foreign press has even reported that Bush emissaries threatened to go to war against the Taliban on behalf of the oil companies before 9/11 if they didn't cooperate with efforts to install a pipeline across Afghanistan! Now, Bush has insisted that any investigation of the World Trade Center tragedy be limited in scope.

Jay Leno has an amusing segment on his Tonight Show called 'Jaywalking' where he asks bystanders basic questions about history and current events. The results are frequently hilarious with the respondents incapable of answering the most basic questions about politics or our nation's history. But at the same time, it is tragic that so many Americans are unaware of how our government has been co-opted by secretive, unaccountable groups within our government

These are only a few instances where the U.S. has intervened to subvert other country's democracies. This nation needs a good military and intelligence capability but we can no longer allow them to be unaccountable. If we are to restore democracy to the United States, foreign policy cannot be made in secret by a select few individuals with no oversight by our elected leaders. We should not resort to the revision of history as the Japanese have done but rather acknowledge our past mistakes and try to become better world citizens. If we do not know our own history, we will never know why terrorists would seek to destroy us. The dream of the Founding Fathers is being co-opted by oil hucksters, carney barkers and grifters. As has been pointed out, the price of democracy is eternal vigilance. Unless we wake up to the criminality of the current administration, we will have lost that dream.