Activism In Literature

"Artists need to be activists. A writer's job is to create in defense of the globe," igniting a "revolutionary consciousness" in the process. John's mission is to be a revolutionary. His writing illustrates an undying dedication to that mission.
John Nichols













John writes:

Human activity today threatens most life forms on the globe, including all water, all soil and vegetation, all mineral and fossil reserves, and most animal and human life as well.

Evidence for this scenario is observable in the effects of global warming, the AIDS disaster in Africa, or the traffic situation in Los Angeles, New York, Taos. It's estimated that between 75 and 100 species a day are going extinct. And human inequality has become one of our greatest natural disasters. 2.7 billion of the planet's 6.1 billion people live on less than $2.00 a day. 35,000 children die each day from illness and starvation, that's the equivalent of 11 and 1/2 Trade Center/Pentagon attacks daily.

In his book Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, the Brasilian theologian Leonardo Boff puts it this way: dream of unlimited growth has brought about the underdevelopment of two-thirds of humankind, and our delight in optimally using the earth's resources has led to the exhaustion of vital systems and the breakdown of environmental balance."

Blame for the planet's deterioration is shared by everyone, yet the United States today is the major ruler and so-called beneficiary of this world I have just described. Our economic policies and lifestyle are responsible for over a third of global warming, environmental collapse, and the concomitant. human misery.

Unfortunately, when airplanes took down the World Trade Towers and crashed into the Pentagon on September 11 last year, an all-out ill-conceived war against terrorism was immediately declared by President Bush, a war that now threatens to severely add to the widespread traumas on earth, so many of which are American creations. Since September 11, 2001, our military has bombed the Taliban into defeat, if not submission; our government has initiated plans that may seriously curtail our civil liberties; George Bush has cavalierly thrown out an anti ABM treaty crucial to our protection from nuclear confrontation; and the President has asked for an increase in Military spending of 58 billion dollars, which would make for an enormous defense budget of 343 billion. By comparison, Russia has the next largest defense budget, at 56 billion.

The war on terrorism is accelerating the destructive process of economic business as usual by giving the United States carte blanche to enforce its capitalist agenda around the globe. Theocratic (or secular) fascists like Al Queda and Saddam Hussein may hate us for what would be defined as simplistic reasons, but those reasons have roots into a much wider universal suffering, a suffering born of the vast damage perpetrated globally by U. S. economic policy, and its muscle, the US Armed Forces, which is the most powerful muscle on earth. In the last 150 years we have been the prime architects of conspicuous consumption and planned obsolescence on earth, with little regard for human or environmental consequences. Lewis Lapham, writing in the March 2002 Harper's, quoted the diplomat, George Kennan, a major architect of the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union, as saying this in 1948:

"We have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. ...In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming.

Kennan added that we should steer away from "unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization."

Propelled by the fanaticism of Manifest Destiny, the second half of the 19th Century saw our imperial conquests in the Mexican / American War of 1848: in a militarily imposed Open Door trading policy on Japan in 1850; in the demolition of Native American tribes through military suppression and treaty abrogation between 1860-1880; and in Caribbean and Philippine conquests of 1898's Spanish-American war.

Implementing the Monroe Doctrine in our hemisphere led us to invade, occupy, and then dictate the governments of Haiti under the repressive Duvaliers, Cuba under the dictator Batista, Dominican Republic under Trujillo, Nicaragua under the vicious Somoza dynasty. Panama has been a virtual US satrapy. The U.S. came out of WWII as a highly-aggressive super power eager to expand its control. There has rarely been a moment when United States soldiers were not involved somewhere, "protecting US interests." Greece in the late 1940s, quashing a socialist revolution; Korea in 1950 (we still maintain a troop presence of 37,000 there); Lebanon in 1958. We funded a coup in Guatemala in 1954 to overthrow the elected progressive Arbenz government, replacing it with a series of dictatorships that the World Council of Bishops once declared were committing genocide against their own people in a country dominated by US interests. We were major players in overthrowing the progressive Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 and replacing him with the tyrannical Shah: Iranians have hated us ever since. We backed the creation of Israel in 1948, which dislocated over a million Palestinians from their homeland, and we have never effectively lobbied for a just solution to that situation.

The CIA was involved in the assassination of the Congo's first prime minister after independence, the leftist Patrice Lumumba in 1961, the last compassionate leader in that sad country, and a national hero today.

We trained and funded the right wing militarists led by General Suharto who overthrew Sukarno in Indonesia in 1965 and then slaughtered 200,000 so-called "communists." The history of our involvement in Vietnam, from support of the French throughout the 1950s, to our 13 years of subversion, manipulation, assassination, and outright warfare is a grim history that left 4 million Vietnamese dead, 60 percent of their arable land destroyed, generations crippled. In 1965 Lyndon Johnson sent 25,000 Marines into the Dominican Republic to defeat Juan Bosch, a liberal leftist, and install an autocratic right wing military coup. Our support for reactionary governments in Brasil and Uruguay, and our involvement in the 1973 rightwing Pinochet military coup in Chile, are a dismal part of the record.

For decades, our country shored up Zaire's sorry dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, and we long supported Portugal's harsh colonial regime in neighboring Angola. When Angola achieved independence in 1975, the United States and South Africa armed Zairan mercenaries to invade Angola, and we promoted the reactionary leader of rightwing UNITA forces, Jonas Savimbi, who was finally killed on February 22 this year after causing the deaths of an estimated one million Angolans during a 27 year civil war he could not have waged without our support. The ruin of Angola today owes much to American policies and aid over the last three decades.

And the 1991 Gulf war in Kuwait and Iraq, where we killed an estimated 200,000 Iraqis in 72 hours (while incurring almost no US casualties) to keep American oil prices cheap, endeared us to nobody, and managed to offend many Arab states and people of Islamic religion. Recent aerial warfare in Kosovo and Serbia resulting in not a single American casualty, has been a brutally bizarre phenomenon to the rest of the world.

No other country on earth has even remotely invaded so many foreign nations to promote its self-interest.

We may speak of democracy and human rights at home, but abroad, in support of US commerce, we trample on human rights and environment. We maintain actual, or stand-in military presences far and wide. Our domination is sustained by the largest and best equipped Army of anyone. Here are some facts taken out of a recent World Almanac, facts that don't even mention US training, supply and support of military regimes where our soldiers aren't directly involved. But as of four years ago we had: a million soldiers in the continental US, 16,000 in Alaska, 36,000 in Hawaii, 5,000 in Guam, 35,000 roaming US possessions, and 127,000 on ships supplying these soldiers. We also had 1,500 in Belgium, 15,000 in Bosnia/Herzegovina, 4,000 in Croatia, 49,000 in Germany, 6,500 in Hungry, 1,900 in Iceland, 12,500 in Italy, 500 in Macedonia, 750 in the Netherlands, 1,000 in Portugal, 2,700 in Spain, 2,900 in Turkey, 11,5000 in the United Kingdom, and 4,000 on ships in those areas. Then we had 43,000 in Japan, 37,000 in Korea, 15,000 on ships in that area. Also 500 in Bahrain , 900 in Diego Garcia, 1,000 in Egypt, 5,500 in Kuwait, 1,500 in Saudi Arabia, 4,000 on ships in the area. And finally 1,800 in Cuba/Guantanamo, 300 in Haiti, 900 in Honduras, 6,500 in Panama, and 1,500 afloat. Dozens of countries entertain a US military of under 500 soldiers and commanders and advisors. Even a force of 25 US military and its material demands constitute a significant political and economic American presence.

These figures above from four years ago do not include the US in Afghanistan and Pakistan, nor do they suggest the amount of US training and material for Israel, which is our largest recipient of foreign aid, for a country smaller than New Jersey with approximately six million inhabitants. The figures above do not include our training and manipulation of undemocratic governments and their military or counter-terrorist apparatuses, for example in Columbia, or now in the Philippines. The figures also do not include current US bases for 3,000 personnel under construction in Krgystan, another 3,000 Americans in Uzbekistan, more in Tajikistan, a new base in Oman, and the 300 US military who recently entered the former Soviet republic of Georgia to help them "combat terrorism," i.e. meddle in their civil war.

"The imperial perimeter is expanding into Central Asia," said Thomas Donnelley, the deputy executive director of the Project for the New American Century.

Our country and our economic system is far and away the dominant occupying force on earth. We are seen as such by everyone. We are the largest arms dealers on earth, selling weapons or giving them as aid to reactionary regimes, outfitting many of the wars in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, the South Pacific. Our cultural imperialism sets universal tastes and buying habits and values through films, music, products and advertising around Coca-Cola, Marlboros, Microsoft. The world is governed-i.e. intimidated--by Bush/Rumsfeld, Fallwell/Robertson, Disney/Time Warner. Our might and our wealth effectively seduces, co-opts, or terrorizes everyone. Our rhetoric speaks about human rights, democracy, liberation of women in Afghanistan, but we care little or nothing for these issues in Rwanda, Burundi, Iraq, Congo, Egypt, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras, Bolivia, East Timor, Haiti, Jamaica, Angola, Liberia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Russia, and so forth. As the diplomat George Kennan advised in 1948, "we have maintained a position of disparity without positive detriment (so far) to our national security," and have not kowtowed to "unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization." A war in Iraq simply promotes this cynicism once again.

A New York Times editorial back on March 3, 2002, said: "If Congress cranks up the Pentagon's budget as much as President Bush would like, the United States will soon be spending more on defense that all the other countries of the world combined. That is just one measure of America's armed might--and a global imbalance of power the likes of which has probably not been seen since the height of the Roman empire... American might dwarfs the capacity of almost any foe we may face in the war against terrorism... Even our allies hate being made to feel as if they live on a planet in which only one country's opinion matters... They will not be impressed by the offer of a kind of Pax Americana, in which Washington makes the world safe for everyone on its own terms."

I doubt we can continue to expand militarily and invade Iraq without soon bankrupting this country, and, coincidentally, crashing the world economy and its beleaguered natural resources. It's a cinch that our military dominion, in the name of US interests that impoverish others, will foster many terrorist or military reactions, and it is a dead-end policy insuring a perpetual terrorist nightmare such as has existed between Israel and Palestine since 1948. We are understood by others to have little intention of sharing the wealth, modifying our greed, supporting true democracy, or respecting the ecosphere. The world we dominate with our American ideals is an unhappy and shaky world. From outside our borders we are seen by many as the disaster, the 8000 pound gorilla, the reckless Godzilla in the china shop, and our reckless consuming lifestyle at home and ubiquitous military presence abroad reinforces that vision daily.

Our tax dollars are buggering the planet, fashioning an apocalypse in the name of our "interests. " We should demand that our government, our society, our culture redefine those interests in compassionate, egalitarian, and ecological terms that benefit all nations and natural resources. Our enlightened politicians, environmentalists, and social activists should strive to come up with completely different economic policies and scenarios than those that guide us today. We must redefine the values of American culture and American commerce. New scenarios should be based on sustainable use of natural resources, human equality, equally distributed wealth, an end to human population growth, a complete overhaul of market principles, the end of Pentagon capitalism and of war as our central force for doing business, an end to profit and private property as chief motivators of commerce.

In her February 25, 2002 column, Molly Ivans said: "Look, it's really very simple, the single greatest threat to the national security of the United States is the rapidly deteriorating global environment." The irony is, we have created and we maintain that environment through a terribly destructive and cynical economy based on military dominance at home and abroad.

For the world to survive, our policies need to be changed.

Hasta la victoria, siempre!

John has lived in Taos, New Mexico since 1969.

Copyright 2002 John Nichols • Used with permission

John Nichols is author of The Milagro Beanfield War, On the Mesa, and other titles. To purchase these books, please consider your local independent bookstore:

In Santa Fe:

Collected Works Bookstore
208B West San Francisco
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Tel: (505) 988-4226
Fax: (505) 988-2208
Toll Free: (877) 988-4226

In Taos:

Moby Dickens Bookshop
124A Bent Street
#6 Dunn House
Taos, NM 87571
505.758.9391 fax
888.442.9980 toll free