Good review of Paul Berman book

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Apr 11 07:40:23 MDT 2003

Nation Magazine
review | Posted April 10, 2003

Paul Berman: Terror and Liberalism

Clash of Visualizations
by George Scialabba


How did the United States come by this good conscience? According to
Berman, it results from an existential choice we made in our defining
national moment, the Civil War. The North might have chosen the path of
virtuous isolationism, letting the South secede and becoming an
egalitarian social democracy. Instead the North chose, at a great cost
in blood and treasure, to repair the Founders' mistake and render "the
whole concept [of liberal society] a little sturdier." In so doing, it
took on a "universal mission": "the defense of democratic
self-rule...for the entire planet."

This is a dubious interpretation of the Civil War, which was fought as
much to make the Western territories safe for capitalism as for any
"concept of liberal society." If the South had been defeated quickly,
the slaves might not have been freed for a very long time. Putting that
aside, did the United States really take on the "universal mission" of
"defending democratic self-rule" wherever possible? Did it (as Berman
recently wrote in a special March 3 issue of the New Republic) become
"more revolutionary, not less; by offering, in some form or another,
liberty and solidarity to the entire world"?

Though this notion virtually defines the conventional wisdom in
contemporary American political culture, I find it preposterous. In the
nineteenth century, as Henry Cabot Lodge acknowledged, the United States
compiled "a record of conquest, colonization, and expansion unequalled
by any people." Its record in the twentieth century was no less
execrable. The idealistic Woodrow Wilson made war on both Haiti and the
Dominican Republic, killing thousands, in order to block constitutional
rule and fortify the position of international investors and domestic
elites. In the 1920s and '30s the US military occupied Nicaragua and
Honduras for the same purpose. In 1954 the United States organized the
ouster of a moderate democratic regime in Guatemala, and in 1965 invaded
the Dominican Republic to prevent the return of one, resulting, both
times, in horrendous violence and retarded development. In Brazil in
1964, Chile in 1973 and Argentina in 1976 the United States instigated
or welcomed the overthrow of democratic governments by murderously
repressive (but investor-friendly) military juntas. In the 1980s the
United States orchestrated fanatically bloody insurgencies and
counterinsurgencies throughout Central America, invariably against
movements or governments with more popular support than the US client.
And the United States casually disregarded international law in order to
invade Panama and Grenada, again with (in the former case) thousands of
civilian deaths resulting. I have already alluded to US terrorism
against Cuba.


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