Monday, July 18, 2005

Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué

A recent issue of the New Republic featured this article entitled "The Killing Machine" by Alvaro Vargas Llosa. The subject is Che Guevara, that familiar and longstanding "logo of revolutionary (or is it capitalist?) chic."

That seems to be what it's come down to: Che as poster boy (literally). Vargas Llosa calls him "the socialist heartthrob in his beret." Perhaps that's all he is now to most of those who sport his dark and brooding image on their "mugs, hoodies, lighters, key chains, wallets, baseball caps, toques, bandannas, tank tops, club shirts, couture bags, denim jeans, herbal tea, and of course those omnipresent T-shirts."

Che's visage has had remarkable staying power; I remember it was already in vogue when I was in college. He's been dead for thirty-eight years now, and the legend only grows--although, if he hadn't been good-looking and photogenic, he'd probably be an obscure footnote to history by this time.

Although Che is far from forgotten, his true history is. How many of those sporting reproductions of his photo as a fashion statement know much about what he actually stood for and the crimes he perpetrated? For in fact, as the article's title indicates, he was quite the "killing machine."

The article is available by subscription only. But it provides many details of Che's life as a man in love with violence, both as a strategic tool and for its own sake. He left a number of writings that attest to this point of view, and his actions were consistent with it. The handsome and debonaire Che was instrumental in setting up the apparatus of Castro's police state, and was in charge of a kangaroo court that rubber-stamped the executions of anyone he thought might be getting in the way:

At every stage of his adult life, his megalomania manifested itself in the predatory urge to take over other people's lives and property, and to abolish their free will.

His economic policies were laughable and helped lead to Cuba's impoverishment:

The great revolutionary had a chance to put into practice his economic vision--his idea of social justice--as head of the National Bank of Cuba and of the Department of Industry of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform at the end of 1959, and, starting in early 1961, as minister of industry. The period in which Guevara was in charge of most of the Cuban economy saw the near-collapse of sugar production, the failure of industrialization, and the introduction of rationing--all this in what had been one of Latin America's four most economically successful countries since before the Batista dictatorship.

His stint as head of the National Bank, during which he printed bills signed "Che," has been summarized by his deputy, Ernesto Betancourt: "[He] was ignorant of the most elementary economic principles."

Why bring this all up now? It's a reminder that there is always a certain element ready to idolize, lionize, and popularize a thug, as long as he meets the criteria of being from a third-world country and against the US (never mind that, within that country--in Che's case, Argentina--he was a member of its elite). Some may idolize him because he's a thug, some may not know or care what he is as long as he's popular and it's cool to wear the T-shirt, while some may need to idealize him beyond all recognition in order to join the worshipping crowd.

Vargas Llosa's article quotes a little rhyme devised by a group of young Argentines to mock this phenomenon: expression that rhymes perfectly in Spanish: "Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué," or "I have a Che T-shirt and I don't know why."

Perfect, indeed.


At 1:16 PM, July 18, 2005, Anonymous Roberto said...

The article is accesible without subscription at:

Thanks for helping debunk the myth!

At 1:25 PM, July 18, 2005, Anonymous Roberto said...

Btw, other Che T-Shirts are becoming popular... like this

or even this one:

At 3:08 PM, July 18, 2005, Blogger John Moreschi said...

It seems to me that so much of the left is composed of people who are just trying to be hip. How many who wear Che t-shirts have any idea of who he really was or what he really did?

At 4:20 PM, July 18, 2005, Blogger camojack said...

Side note: from what I hear, Mr. "Motorcycle Diaries" didn't even know how to ride one...

Good article about it here

At 6:44 PM, July 18, 2005, Blogger Bookworm said...

As I learned from an interesting post at Flopping Aces, Che is not the only murderous Leftist whom modern Leftists deem chic in a "charmingly" retro way.

At 7:12 PM, July 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't get the Che t-shirt thing either, and I'm a liberal (I'm ducking at this very moment). I don't know much about Che, never bothered to find out, so I'd never wear the t-shirt. He's not my hero, in the same way that Grover Cleveland is probably not your average conservative's hero. Don't see many Grover Cleveland t-shirts. I do agree that there is a certain chic element to liberals, in the same way there is a very old-fashioned element to conservatives. Maybe this whole thing is all about style after all! So what about conservative icons who have thuggish histories? Any stories? I'm sure they're out there. Got any good Ronald Reagan orders hits on his enemies stories?

At 8:07 PM, July 18, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

Karl Rove wags his tongue at Rumsfeld as he walks out of the oval office after talking to Bush. How about that?

At 8:16 PM, July 18, 2005, Blogger TmjUtah said...

neo -

I wonder if you've ever discovered yourself across the table from a pyschopath during a counseling situation?

There's all sorts of fuel for narcissist rockets, but the line is pretty blurry when you put them in politics.

People who would change the world to suit their whims can get pretty frustrated... but taking in hand the life of another, or sadly, of others, seems to be the methadone fix of visionary fraternal revolutionaries throughout history.

And the followers who inevitably flock behind such icons that rise to the top of the "movements" always develop that terrifying bulkhead between the reality of the murderers leaving bloody footprints across the stage and the gilt edged programs that are supposed to describe the ideas behind the play.

We still have Black Panthers and Nazis here. Not to mention congress critters that send Castro birthday cards.

Che destroyed just about everything he touched. Yet his picture (sans mouse ears) adorns tshirts in at least two mall shops just down the street.

In dear old provincial Utah, no less.

At 8:39 PM, July 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The whole problem is making an icon out of any human being. Shoudn't we take the opportunity to examine our own icons for their own warts? How many cons are willing to honestly assess their own icons as severely as Che is being assessed here? If we looked at Jefferson, Lincoln, Churchill, Reagan, etc. what kind of bones would we find in the closets? Fashionable liberals who wear Che's visage on their shirts are guilty of foolishness, but wha's worthwhile about pointing that out. That's a no brainer. Wouldn't it be more fun and interesting to look at icons from all over for their flaws? I'm a Roosevelt Democrat. Go ahead, take a shot at him. I'm sure you'll find lots of dirt. But do the same for Reagan while you're at it. That would be honesty.

At 9:09 PM, July 18, 2005, Blogger TmjUtah said...

Moral relativism.

One attribute of societal affluence that I've really come to despise.

At 11:20 PM, July 18, 2005, Blogger said...

Let's see: Che was a cold blooded killer, but... but... but...Churchill and Reagan weren't perfect either, I'll betcha I'll betcha I'll betcha. So... they're all the same, so they're all just as bad, so so so... ha! take that! Besides, Che really looks cool, man.

At 1:41 AM, July 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alright, I know this is not going to be popular...but you know...Americans like rebels. Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone and dozen others that were just killers. It is not a Left/Right thing either, but on the right I see shirts like those with the confederate flag and think "what are they really saying by that". It could be simple, and not so complicated. I see "Kill em all, let God sort em out" and I think to myself "Do they really believe that?". But t-shirts don't seem to be the avenue of expression for conservatives...I doubt Che is an icon in any more or less of a way to most wearers than the people who said "nuke their ass and take the gass" or during the Ethiopian famine people on the right said "Let the Commie Bastards starve".

All in all, I think it's just a "thumb in the eye" sort of thing.


At 6:14 AM, July 19, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

Che was good looking and dashing, very much an anti-establishment type person who stood in defiance of the ultimate establishment, America. Who would want to look beyond the surface of such a figure in a time when simple solutions were all that was needed to complex problems, i.e. all would be near perfect if it weren't for the war mongering establishment. Some of the info on Che was not available back then. What we have is a hanful of aging Liberals who remember him from their own glory days when simple solutions were a dime a dozen, nothing more. If he still is an icon of the Liberal ideology, then indeed their ship is about sunk. He died a miserable death in a hut in S. America, executed, half starved, sick and killed by an American mercenary under the cover of being a DEA officer. The peasants he sought to rally turned him in and never rallied to his cause. This sort of reminds me of Howard Dean and John Kerry.

At 8:35 AM, July 19, 2005, Anonymous Larry said...

Anonymous: Maybe this whole thing is all about style after all!

The whole problem is making an icon out of any human being.

......but you know...Americans like rebels.

It's not about style. It's not about making an icon out of a human being. It's not about Americans liking rebels.

It's about the choice of human being that is taken to be the iconic liberal "rebel". I don't see anyone, left or right (other than a few sad lunatics) making icons out of Hitler or Mussolini or any of the more photogenic fascists of their era. But this executioner and simple communist ideologue is still used to inspire a fashionable, even nostalgic adoration on the left. We should put that Warholian image of Che right next to a similarly treated picture of Eichmann, and illustrate both the banality and the stylization of evil simultaneously. As well as the vapid, image-dominated, content-free core of the contemporary left.

At 10:17 AM, July 19, 2005, Anonymous David Thomson said...

“Some of the info on Che was not available back then.”

Wrong. There was more than ample evidence available during that era concerning the crimes committed by Castro and Guevara. The radical Left refused to allow a few facts get in the way of their fantasies.

At 12:22 PM, July 19, 2005, Blogger Michael B said...

"How many cons are willing to honestly assess their own icons as severely as Che is being assessed here? [...] That would be honesty." Anon 9:39 PM

No, that would reflect an immense dullity and witlessness. The New Republic article only scratches the surface. Mott's Blog has a particularly revealing post concerning Che. Che was like many other avowed Marxist/Leninists - a superficial egoist first and foremost and murderously so, as was the case with Che, or willing to act as either a naive or a more consciously self-blinded apologist for the murder-by-policy-and-decree hierarchies comprising various Stalinist and Maoist regimes.

At 12:44 PM, July 19, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

As an ultra-right wing bent borderline death squad conservative, I have to fess up and say that JFK was one of my icons, and still is despite his inability to remain faithful to his wife and numerous other flaws- starting up the peace corps and green berets - remember being challenged to walk 50 miles in a day - his speech at Berlin, his ask not what you can do speech? Pushing hard for space exploration, being openly affectionate with his children, his respect for Eisenhower, his booze running father, his bravery in the war - all of this made for a real human package people could pin a few hopes on. Who in the hell could pin any hopes on the likes of Tricky Dick or Jimmy Carter? sheeesh!

At 12:50 PM, July 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Che Guevara? Hoo boy. Yeah, now there's a real threat to our democracy. He was probably pro-abortion too. Hey, if anything he's been a real boon to the T-shirt and keychain industry.

keep fighting the good fight, guys.

At 1:15 PM, July 19, 2005, Blogger Michael B said...

Actually anon, Che's vapidity is of a piece with much of the vapidity which presently dominates or otherwise informs the Left and Left/Dems. That is a simple, yet telling, fact. That you offer literally nothing but dismissiveness is similarly revealing.

At 1:24 PM, July 19, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

Good point, Anonymous, a failed revolutionary executed in a bush village oh so many years ago is hardly any threat to anyone, but what is disconcerting is the Left's inability to see the massive hoax Fidel's socialist nirvana truly is. That any educated bunch of people could even believe for instance that the Cuban health care system is satisfactory is apalling, when there are web sites with photos showing the deplorable conditions in the cuban medical paradise.(and never mind the mass exodus from Cuba over the years - Gee! what are those people thinking fleeing a worker's paradise??) So, the myth of Che and his celebration by elements of the Liberal Left is vexing to say the least and prompts reasonable people to look askance at such obviously blind folk. Stupidity does reach a point of becoming dangerous, and said debate rages within the conservative ranks. There is a carry-over from the mentality that makes Che an icon to islamic terrorists of today. What makes Che an icon also regards those who blow up hospitals and children receving candy freedom fighters and insurgents. It is difficult not to hold such folks in contempt and reride them and if necessary take action to prevent the spread of their sociopolitical pathology.

At 1:33 PM, July 19, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

I am making another sacred vow - as well as not reading Ho hums' posts, I will make a sincere attempt to check my typos/spelling.

At 5:09 PM, July 19, 2005, Blogger Ho Chi Minh said...

According to the July 14th 2005 up-dated page of the C.I.A. World Factbook, Cuba's average (male to female) child moratality rate (6.33 deaths per 1000) and life expectancy 77.23, both key social-economic indicators, are BETTER THEN THE U.S.

So what are you American idiots talking about?

As for Che the "mass murderer", it takes alot of balls for an American to talk about his 200-2000 victims
(cementing Cuba's revolution against a dictator none of you would tolerate either), America's killing machine has been known to chew-up that many people IN A SINGLE DAY.

Reduce Cuba's revolution and Che Guevarra to "leftist chic", "being hip", "nostalgia", "charmingly retro", anything but what it was, another justified and struggling revolution pushed into the Soviet camp, doing the best with what they have in spite of everything the U.S. has done to kill it.

You're all a bunch of anal dilittantes, ignorant of your own history, and those you love to criticize.

And before one of you morons snaps back about the "Cuban nirvana", no one ever said it was.

It's just Cuba.

At 6:30 PM, July 19, 2005, Blogger Promethea said...

So, Ho . . .

What you're saying is--Cuba's economic indicators show that it's in good economic shape, but even if it isn't, we're morons and it's America's fault that it's in bad shape.

Right? If not, please advise.

At 6:38 PM, July 19, 2005, Anonymous Roberto said...

Hey Ho,

Castro's Cuba can be compared only to a big zoopark and not a good one by the way.

But it really doesn't matter.

Castro's Cuba could have the best Health System, the best Education System , the best fed population, the best everything... and still be a tyranny that opresses a substantial part of the population. Even if all those conditions were met (and only someone not living there can pretend they are) Castro should be condemned as what he is: a mourderous tyrant.

At 7:20 PM, July 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back to the discussion of iconography. I was in Ireland a couple of years ago. There were statues of Michael Collins in every town in County Cork. In the B and B's they had portraits of him on the bedroom walls so you could stare at him as you went to sleep or woke up in the morning. At the same time I was reading a couple of concise histories of Ireland. Collins had police officers assassinated, he sent out hits on informers, and ordered bombing not much different from what you see in Iraq today. Is he still a hero in Ireland? Yes and no, to some but not to others. Would I wear his face on my t-shirt? No. I'm still waiting for one of you cons to seriously check out the dirt on your own icons. Come on it will be fun. Pick one icon from the left, one icon from the right, put them on a chart side by side and list the bad news. I still say that would be interesting.

At 8:48 PM, July 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 8:49 PM, July 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i thought you necons respected and loved violence?

At 9:22 PM, July 19, 2005, Anonymous Larry said...

i thought you necons respected and loved violence?

I don't think you should call that "thinking", Anonymous.

As for your idea of side by side icons from the left and right, why not put Che up there with Himmler, say? Che, it's true, had longer hair, and maybe wasn't quite as efficient, but they were both totalitarian True Believers, with the conviction that their cause justified any means.

At 10:45 PM, July 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How are Empires built and wars waged? But through violence and death.

Neoconservatives and their blue print for US Power.

At 12:00 AM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous Larry said...

Anonymous: How are Empires built and wars waged? But through violence and death.

(That's you, isn't it, Ho?)

Let's stipulate that wars, at least, are waged "through violence and death" -- in fact, that's inherent in the definition. Let's further agree that, when we can avoid such behavior, we should. The question is simply whether we can always avoid it, in the long term, other than through simple surrender. Pacifists claim we can; I think they're wrong. And I think both history and Darwin are on my side.

As for "Empires", neither conservatives nor "neoconservatives" are interested. Liberals and leftists I'm not so sure about.

At 1:06 AM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Don't confuse me, Anonymous (8:20), with the other Anonymous. Still haven't heard a good response concerning icons. Any flaws of your own icons you want to admit to? I'll give you one of mine. FDR signed the executive order to intern the Japanese. Now, I don't believe in making people into icons, but I like FDR. Still, he screwed up on that one. So, come on, give me one bad thing you can say about your own icon, and let's forget about this whole silly Che t-shirt discussion.

At 5:04 AM, July 20, 2005, Blogger Ho Chi Minh said...


No, that (Anonymous) wasn't me, it was someone else with a functioning brain.

At 5:47 AM, July 20, 2005, Blogger Ho Chi Minh said...


"What you're saying is--Cuba's economic indicators show that it's in good economic shape"

No, Cuba doesn't have much of an economy, compared to us anyway. But what it does have is the political will to provide enough nourishment and health care to it's people that less then 7 children per 1000 die before they're 5 years old, and people live to an average age of ca. 77 years old. These are health and longevity statistics more favourable then in the U.S.

This indicates one thing only: Cuba is doing something right, socially and economically, ..if your child means anything to you that is.

.."and it's America's fault that it's in bad shape."

In the case of Cuba, and their historic relations to the U.S., the U.S. has other then invasions and massacres (Spanish-American War), backing a racist dictatorship (Batista) that protected America's considerable financial interests (United Fruit), and since made the islands life as miserable as possible (another invasion, embargo, and covert sabotage against Castro), done absolutely nothing to help Cuba progress the last 50 years. U.S. foreign policy's sole aim has been to hinder Cuban progress.

Having said that it would be hard not lay some of the blame for Cuba's present condition on America's door step.

And had Cuba not felt the obvious need to defend itself AGAINST THE U.S, they could have diverted many resources from their enourmous military to more constructive use.

Clearly America must shoulder some of the blame, ..unless of course you're one of those American's that can so casually throw history and geography out the window.

At 6:05 AM, July 20, 2005, Blogger Ho Chi Minh said...

Roberto said...

"Castro should be condemned as what he is: a mourderous tyrant."

Since you're so concerned about murder, which everyone should be, where's your condemnation of the U.S., a far more murderous villian, with infinate more blood on it's hands then Castro's Cuba?

Or how about putting Cuba's revolution in context, that is, a people's revolution to over-throw American Imperial slavery. Or are you too going to reduce what Che witnessed on his bike-trip across South America and what the U.S. represented in Cuba as merely another 1960's drug induced illusion?

Tell me, did you need help to get your head so far up your ass, or did you do that all on your own?

At 6:13 AM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous Old Nick said...

Ho Chi Minh said...
No, that (Anonymous) wasn't me, it was someone else with a functioning brain.

At 6:24 AM, July 20, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

Fair is fair, Anonymous iconoclast. Personally, I don't have icons anymore. I've had few anyway, but none now. To comply with your request, take the late William Westmoreland, though he was never my icon but I suppose to some he was near to being an icon. He was a terrible tactician. He took a traditional military mind-set and tried to apply it in Viet Nam. The tried and true tactics of Korea and WW2 did not work in Viet Nam. He felt that large numbers of troops could do the trick, traditional battle scenarios would win the day, etc. He didn't study his opponent nor our own history of fighting Indians and the guerilla nature of the frontier when we engaged the British on our soil. Secondly, he would not stand up to the politicians that were running the war, implimenting strategy and planning campaigns. In part I suppose he thought by not bucking them he could, and did, get his troop numbers. To his credit, he did endorse the concept of using air mobile forces and was very much concerned about the welfare of the troops. He considered special forces as playing a very minor secondary role, more along the lines of intelligence gathering, despite the huge contributions OSS made in WW2. Does that satisfy you, Anonymous?

At 6:29 AM, July 20, 2005, Blogger Ho Chi Minh said...

Larry said...

"Let's stipulate that wars, at least, are waged "through violence and death" -- in fact, that's inherent in the definition."

That's good Larry. Don't forget though that communism "declared war" on Imperialism, but only after their cooperative overtures were tossed aside by the west and, since we attacked them, gave them no other choice but to fight, RADICALISING THEM TO NO END, like we are Islam today.

"Let's further agree that, when we can avoid such behavior (war), we should."

We never cared about avoiding war, and hardly ever did. The only thing
we cared about was our Imperial military-geo-political-economic interests. The reason by the way people became communist in the first place.

"The question is simply whether we can always avoid it, in the long term, other than through simple surrender."

Simple surrender? How about compromise? Or what, you really believe all those little countries we smash want to fight the most powerful on earth? We don't give a shit about them Larry, and never did.

"Pacifists claim we can; I think they're wrong. And I think both history and Darwin are on my side."

You have the 20th century, the most bloody of all time on your side, with out a clue that the way you think and view the world is responsible for it.

"As for "Empires", neither conservatives nor "neoconservatives" are interested."

Of course not. Empire, relevant? ..Or are you the complete American moron?

"Liberals and leftists I'm not so sure about."

Imperialism, that is the imoral, unjust politics of empire, is exactly why people became "leftists". Trying to rub them out only convinced them of Imperialism's evil nature, and radicalised them even more. Good work America, land of Darwin, Monkey King.

At 7:17 AM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous Roberto said...

Hi Ho:

[Btw I really like your screen name, short -even shorter than Che- and to the point].

Obviously you -and many that share your world view- can't discuss anything if the discussion does not include how bad USA was and is. It is a fixed meme, an obsession of sorts... Nothing to do in that regard. Maybe some medications would help but I am not to optimistic.

Pormethea... you are simply hilarious. You probably think that Cubans through themselves to the Florida Strait just for love for nautical sports... Yes, that must be the reason! Go there and live there as an ordinary Cuban for a year or two and then we will talk about the Cuban economy.

At 7:51 AM, July 20, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

Roberto, if you would be so kind, remind Ho hum that I remain true to my sacred vow not to read his ILA (I Loathe America) commentary. Remind him that the ILA attitude is driving middle-of-the road people to the right, in droves. Such frothing at the mouth displayed by Ho hum and others like him is harming the DNC. I wonder if this is nothng but some sub rosa activity on his part, sort of like being an unsung hero, out there alone, campaigning and working dilligently as a covert right wing operative, in the thick of it, silently converting people to the Conservative side of things, rabidly snapping at them, sort of like an irate Border Collie herding sheep? I am beginning to think maybe he does understand the Lefty ILA spiel must always precede any plans of action, any ideas of change and betterment, and the average voter and tax payer responds first to the ILA tripe, then turns away from what follows. Roberto, I am calling on you to encourage Ho to post his ILA commentary in as many blogs as possible. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

At 8:44 AM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous Roberto said...

Goesh: You are totally right, Ho must be on Rove's payroll on a covert operation. Let's help him in his efforts.

At 9:49 AM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous Larry said...

Anonymous (2:06): So, come on, give me one bad thing you can say about your own icon, and let's forget about this whole silly Che t-shirt discussion.

I really can't think of anyone I think of as iconic, but even if I could, I wouldn't doubt for a second that, since we're talking about human beings, they would possess any number of "bad things". That's not the point of the "silly Che t-shirt discussion". The point -- which I think you're ducking -- isn't that Che had his bad points, it's that he represented and worked for the most murderous ideology and movement in all of human history, and this is the individual that the chic but empty-headed liberal left has chosen for iconic status (see the adulation over "The Motorcycle Diaries", if the t-shirts and coffee mugs aren't enough).

By the way, Roberto: I think Promethea was being sarcastic.

And poor Ho in his Bizzaro world: the communists, nazis, fascists and terrorists just can't help themselves -- they were and are forced to slaughter millions because "we" RADICALISED THEM TO NO END. He's not against war, notice -- he's just on the other side.

At 10:13 AM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous Roberto said...


Thanks for the heads up with respect to Promethea's post. It was even worse than that: I was answering to Ho's answer to her.


Promethea - my apologies!

Ho - you can read the whole post as addressed to yourself.

At 12:48 PM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Westmoreland? Icon? And all you can say is that he was a bad general? Is that all you've got? Come on, that's weak. Here lies the problem. Both the left and the right are so defensive they can't take a breath to be honest with themselves. Give me a real icon, and some real dirt. Here's one. Try Ronald Reagan. Do a google of El Mozote. See what kind of nastiness happened under his watch.

At 8:34 PM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous NeoDude said...

Why are you the only folks in denial of empire? Does the thought of being a cheerleader for imperialism sound, un-democratic? “No need to run away from the label,” argues Max Boot, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York: “America's destiny is to police the world.”

But one should always be suspicious when military powers claim to be doing weaker states favours by occupying them.

Is There an American Empire? by Michael Walzer (Dissent)

The war in Iraq has given new urgency to the debate about "American imperialism." In fact, there hasn't been anywhere near enough of a debate; the term is used routinely by critics of the war and routinely rejected by its supporters-though some of the supporters seem to believe if not in imperialism exactly, then certainly in empire. So, is Washington the new Rome? Is there an American Empire? Was Iraq an imperialist war? It seems to me that we need a better understanding of America's role in the world than this old terminology provides. Criticizing the uses of American power is now a central political task, so we had better recognize what is going on before our eyes.

Illusions of Empire: Defining the New American Order by G. John Ikenberry (Foreign Affairs)

Summary: From Washington to Baghdad, the debate over American empire is back. Five new books weigh in, some celebrating the imperial project as the last best hope of humankind, others attacking it as cause for worry. What they all fail to understand is that U.S. power is neither as great as most claim nor as dangerous as others fear.

The EMPIRE strikes suspicion (Econonomic Strategy Institute)

The American Empire: The very phrase sounds like a contradiction in terms. The land of the free tethered to the realms of Alexander, ancient Rome and redcoats on the march; the home of the brave bound to a word synonymous with a stranglehold on power.

Manifest Destiny Warmed Up? (The Economist)

WHAT is the shelf-life of an idea? Just a few short months ago, the talk—and not just in Washington, DC—was of empire, America's that is. Even before the invasion of Iraq, pundits of all stripes were casting aside their coyness to proclaim that America was the latest imperial power to bestride the world. Today, with tribulations besetting the new Romans in both Afghanistan and Iraq, their most recent conquests, the chorus has died down, but the idea is far from dead. Too many people have invested too much in it.

For several years, after all, commentators have been announcing the discovery of an American empire. Books and articles have poured forth, professors and pundits have pondered the implications— and a surprising number have welcomed the new role.

“No need to run away from the label,” argues Max Boot, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York: “America's destiny is to police the world.”

At 8:38 PM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous NeoDude said...

Tyranny in the Name of Democracy

The White Man’s Burden

American Imperialism in Latin America

Imperial America

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the United States pursued an aggressive policy of expansionism

List of US actions since 1945 that have been considered imperialistic

At 9:08 PM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous NeoDude said...

Sory, correct link.

Illusions of Empire: Defining the New American Order by G. John Ikenberry (Foreign Affairs)

Summary: From Washington to Baghdad, the debate over American empire is back. Five new books weigh in, some celebrating the imperial project as the last best hope of humankind, others attacking it as cause for worry. What they all fail to understand is that U.S. power is neither as great as most claim nor as dangerous as others fear.

At 9:17 PM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous NeoDude said...

"A splendid little war". (
Forget WWII or Vietnam. The real comparison for an invasion of Iraq is the Spanish-American War, when an aimless U.S. presidency and a lazy media looked for redemption.

Where Does Iraq Stand Among U.S. Wars? (Washington Post)
Total Casualties Compare to Spanish-American, Mexican and 1812 Conflicts

Back to the Spanish-American War of 1898? (New America Foundation)
A group of Americans dreamed of creating a U.S. empire. Their opening came with the mass death of Americans in a shocking event. Media sensationalism whipped public outrage into a war frenzy. The resulting war was a success, but the subsequent occupation was a failure. Michael Lind asks: Does this describe the invasion of Iraq in 2003 — or the Spanish-American War of 1898?

Iraq's Historical Predecessor
First, the most obvious similarity would be that Spain was accused of destroying the USS Maine, killing 262 Americans. The ship, blockading Spanish-owned Cuba at the time, was the source of much tension. Likewise, Iraq was accused of sponsoring terrorists, and producing weapons of mass destruction. Today, we understand that the USS Maine was not destroyed by the Spanish, just like today we understand that it is possible Iraq had no connection September 11th, and may not have actually been producing banned weapons, but rather was just in the research-and-development stage. Of course, there will be differences in these comparisons. It is still probable Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and may have had a role in helping Osama Bin Laden. Yet, in both cases, it is obvious that American intelligence gathering capabilities were not up-to-date, leading to unnecessary intelligence failures.

The second most obvious similarity between the two wars is the question of human rights. In both cases, the American people were greatly moved by talks of human rights violations. And in both cases, it led the United States to accurately predict that the oppressed people would become a treasured ally in the war—and in both cases, led us to underestimate the post-war era. The Spanish forces persecuted the Cuban people. A Spanish minority ran the Cuban majority. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein, a Sunni (a minority) also led over the majorities, which are the Kurds and the Shiites. The people did not defend either regime, leading to quick victories with relatively low casualties than earlier predicted.

Third, both Cuba and Iraq became protectorates. Rather than being annexed, the United States trumpeted that we would justly return independence to the countries once law and order was established. In both cases, guerilla warfare occurred, and as hostilities continued, the people grew less and less loyal to the American forces. Both Iraq and Cuba in the post-war era were controlled by American influence, while the actual domestic political situation was decided by the peoples themselves. This is a just thing to do, but it does not always bring about the outcome intended.

Iraq and the Spanish-American War: A Comparison Study (Polemic)
When one asks, “Why are we in Iraq?” the historical event that is most illuminating is the Spanish-American war. Like the Spanish-American war, the war in Iraq was a “release valve” for the pressures built up in the nation; like the Spanish-American war, ideological “yellow journalists” greased public sentiment to facilitate a conflict of choice, not necessity. The other historical situation that is telling of our current problems is the Western European power’s reaction to Hitler’s saber rattling in the late 1930’s. While today the Europeans are chided for appeasing Hitler, their true folly is not being able to comprehend and prepare for a new kind of enemy capable of fighting a new kind of war. Sadly, our leaders have already made a similar mistake in the fight against terrorism.

Why Americans May Grow Impatient with the War in Iraq
How do presidents decide for war? In the March issue of Presidential Studies Quarterly, editor George Edwards and I adopted a historical approach, asking experts on various past wars to analyze the decision-making process that preceded each of those conflicts. Five wars were chosen: the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

The Spanish-American War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War can fairly be described as “discretionary” wars for the United States. In advance of these conflicts, American territory was not attacked or directly threatened, and American lives were endangered only incidentally. By contrast, the two world wars were “non-discretionary,” in that American lives or territory (or both) came under direct attack. For this reason—among others—the Spanish-American War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War generated considerable controversy in the weeks surrounding the president's decision for war, while American belligerence in the two world wars was comparatively noncontroversial.

The Uprising (Strategic Insights, Volume II, Issue 9)
The American readiness to believe in an Iraqi uprising was undoubtedly driven as much by political as by military considerations. Anyone contemplating the turmoil of the current occupation may well feel that, had the Iraqi people actually risen up against Saddam, some of the problems the United States and its allies now face in restoring order might have been mitigated. Still, one should not be too quick to assume that, had Iraq been liberated by Iraqis and Americans fighting side by side, the results would necessarily have been conducive to mutual trust and understanding. America's first venture in overseas intervention was conducted on just such a basis, with disappointing results for all concerned.

In 1898 the United States intervened in a war then underway in Cuba, by which indigenous revolutionary forces sought to wrest control of that island from its colonial master, Spain. Three years of fighting had produced inconclusive results, but significant casualties and much damage to Cuba's economy. American opinion favored the insurgents, owing to long-standing American dislike of European imperialism, and perhaps an instinctive preference for the underdog in a fight. It would at any rate be on that basis—as a campaign to liberate Cuba from Spain—that war would be justified to the American public. This point of view was embodied in the Congressional declaration of war itself, which included a proviso that affirmed Cuba's rightful freedom and independence, and disclaimed "any disposition or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over [the] island except for the pacification thereof."

At 9:27 PM, July 20, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

Anonymous - bad generals cost lives - I assumed you knew that. Weak you say? Grow up and quit pissing up the tree of idealism. You mention Regan, but why stop with just one President, why not look at the School of Americas under the watch of a whole bunch of Presidents? The school of the America's makes Abu Ghraib look like a day care center under the direct supervision of the ACLU, Red Cross and a local chapter of the PTA combined. Why fuck around with some beltway sleaze and backstabbing and even a burglary authorized by a President when you can have narcoterrorism, right wing death squads and the corruption of drug money running all the way to the top?? At some point in time idealists such as yourself have to realize that all nation states are soaked in blood, and despite the blood on American hands, you have to ask yourself why people keep coming here by the millions. they are either dumb or you are unwilling to acknowledge the good that we have created and sustained in the world and the massive resivoir of good that is yet to manifest, made in America. Is it your assumption that I and others like me can't or won't see the flaws in our 'icons'? Why in the hell would I waste my time and energy in such a manner, since I do see flaws and rotten spots in any number of Conservative 'icons'? This is a conservative type blog after all. It is about like having a tight fitting shoe and taking off the shoe only to put it back on to remember that it is a tight fitting shoe? Do you want some kind of statement of shared values and common ground between the two camps that I acknowledge? You aren't Ho hum's sibling, are you?

At 12:50 AM, July 21, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there is an American Empire. I'm glad in fact. There is no escaping this, unless the US were to simply stop existing, and surrender...but to whom I'm not sure? When has there NEVER been an empire/superpower/whatever you want to call it. The best empires moved the world a little bit further towards a better world. All empires rise and all fall, so you do what you can do to move the world forward while "you're it". I'm sure that makes Liberals mad...but I'm a why aren't I mad? See...Liberals don't like it when minorities and women are persecuted? When nepotism prevents any man or woman from succeeding in the world. Libeals want everyone to have access to capital and a fair shake. Liberals are opposed to corruption, and seek to get rid of it. Liberal's are for worker's rights and don't like it when dictators and two bit marxists talk the talk but never walk the walk...sweatshops are not a capitalist problem because workers have rights in capitalist systems...funny...but they all seem to be in dictator land.

signed a proud liberal neocon

At 4:56 AM, July 21, 2005, Blogger Ho Chi Minh said...


"Obviously you -and many that share your world view- can't discuss anything if the discussion does not include how bad USA was and is."

What is your point, the U.S. was never involved in Cuba? Or we were and our primary concerns was democracy and the well being of the people when we were there?

Obviously people like you, American Conservative loud mouth waste, can't stick to one subject long enough to figure anything out.

At 5:59 AM, July 21, 2005, Blogger Ho Chi Minh said...


You're a dick head. I don't Loathe America, but I'm starting to loathe you.

Yet you seem to be coming around to at least admit what most American's do when they run out of arguments:

"At some point in time idealists such as yourself have to realize that all nation states are soaked in blood".

That's a fine point, and would be O.K. if our leaders framed their arguments such. But they're not, are they? If they did people could at least cast an informed vote, for principles and the rule of law, or for the law of the jungle, the most powerful. Monkey King. America.

And if you're going to be the World's Policeman you better obey the law. If not you're only inciting criminal behaviour, exactly what we are, and have been doing.

Call America what it is, but don't call it the champion of democracy, if only for the reason we never promoted it anywhere, and when we did it was only because it was in our monkey interest, and with conditions for sure. In our own country it took a couple of hundred years to get it going, ..kind of.

"and despite the blood on American hands, you have to ask yourself why people keep coming here by the millions."

There's good in America, and plenty of it. But I wouldn't get too sentimental about it. Like I said it was a long fight against very powerful interests to get where we are today, and the battle to keep what we won is on going.

The main question is when are we going to project our great achievements and rights in our foreign policy, that is share them with the rest of the world? Being an Empire I guess we don't have to, do we?

As for why people keep coming to the
U.S. I can only respond by what they told me. Nicaraguan's came to escape a war the U.S. imposed on them. Same for the Hondurans and the Guatamalan's. Haitians came to escape the misery 180 years of U.S. foreign policy created. Mexicans 80 years of U.S. supported misery (of course to you the U.S. had no hand in shaping Mexico's economy), Vietnamese came as a result of the American Vietnam War. Many of the the first European immigrants came as refugee's of the Napoleanic wars.
And many returned to Europe too.

Life is certainly better in the U.S. then Cuba, so some come. So what are you saying, Cuba should engage in slavery, import a large amount of industrious European's, somehow magically concoct America's geographic wealth, and generally fuck up the world to guarantee it's access to resources and markets, THEN THEY WOULD BE GREAT LIKE US?

Face it, many come to the U.S. BECAUSE IT'S THE ONLY PLACE THEY CAN FEEL SAFE FROM US. And then there are those foolish enough who come because America stands for something.

"..or you are unwilling to acknowledge the good that we have created and sustained in the world."

Could you be more specific? What exactly are you talking about?

Back to our original discussion, I find it reprehensible to use other's inferiority (Cuba) to make ourselves look good, praticularly when it's US who were instrumental in shaping their situation, have done nothing to help, or never cared. This is not Loathing my country, it is taking responsibility for what we've done, something none of you seem willing to do.

Similarly for crimes like "Che The Killing Machine", it is revolting to see a bunch of dilitantes point the finger at him with out taking responsibility for, or even acknowledging, the misery and injustice he fought. To idiots like you the U.S. was a force for good in Central and South America, and those that rose up against us the eternal "evil doers".

It's people like you who loathe America, not me.

At 6:34 AM, July 21, 2005, Blogger Ho Chi Minh said...

Larry Again:

"the communists, nazis, fascists and terrorists just can't help themselves -- they were and are forced to slaughter millions because "we" RADICALISED THEM TO NO END."

It's you who are in a "Bizaroo World" for putting communists, nazi's, facsists, and terrorists all in one pot. And for what purpose, to make us look good?

First of all an idiot like yourself would never consider that Nazi's and other facsists were helped to power and sustained by us (the west), the most powerful, TO KILL MILLIONS OF COMMUNISTS, TO KILL COMMUNISM. This is German history (in fact 20th century history), I suggest you read it.

No wonder then that the Communists did everything they could to stop western backed fascism, even if it meant forced labour to build up their military industrial machine THAT THEY KNEW THEY WERE CERTAINLY GOING TO NEED. This is Russian history, I suggest you read that too.

Islamic terrorism was again something nurtured by the west to fight communism. This is American history, read it. But like the other anti-communist Frankenstein's we helped create (bring to power), "creating" them proved far easier then getting rid of them. Read today's newspaper.

This is my interpretation of history, in it's chronological order. If you have an argument or another view-point I'd like to hear it...

"He's not against war, notice -- he's just on the other side." not the response I was looking for, an utterly ridiculous assumption, but typical of the un-educated, pumped up, "ugly" American that I find here, in
Neo-neocons intellectual cesspool.

At 10:05 AM, July 21, 2005, Anonymous NeoDude said...

Would any of the folks here claim that Roman Catholicism is inherently “fascistic” Most fascist parties of Europe and Latin America (past and present) have a “religious zeal” for the Christian faith?

The Evangelical private schools I attended, taught us that Roman Catholicism led to totalitarian philosophies.

Many Orthodox Protestants think Roman Catholicism is the soil Fascism grows from.

Ever heard of the Inquisition, from 1200 A.D. to 1800 A.D. . . ? It's never mentioned any longer. We hear a lot about the Jewish Holocaust when 6 million Jews perished under Hitler. But most people don't know that Hitler was a Roman Catholic and an instrument of the Holy Office. Hitler was never excommunicated for his crimes against humanity and causing the deaths of millions of people; whereas Martin Luther was excommunicated for translating the Bible into German.

The Reformation & The Inquisition


And then there is this!:

What follows is an accurate chronology of United States involvement in the arming of Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war 1980-88. It is a powerful indictment of the president Bush administration attempt to sell war as a component of his war on terrorism. It reveals US ambitions in Iraq to be just another chapter in the attempt to regain a foothold in the Mideast following the fall of the Shah of Iran.

Arming Iraq: A Chronology of U.S. Involvement

Whatever his complexes, Khomeini had no qualms about sending his followers, including young boys, off to their deaths for his greater glory. This callous disregard for human life was no less characteristic of Saddam Hussein. And, for that matter, it was also no less characteristic of much of the world community, which not only couldn't be bothered by a few hundred thousand Third World corpses, but tried to profit from the conflict.

The United States and Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988

WOW!!! Hussein and Khomeini sound like a certain Texan Cheerleader

At 10:35 AM, July 21, 2005, Anonymous Roberto said...

Dear Ho:

a)You should control your anger. You are not looking very good.

b) I don't know or can imagine from where you got the idea that most immigrants come to USA running from... er...USA. I do know many immigrants apart from been one myself and I know nobody that fits your description. As a matter of fact I do know many people that came here running from opression, communist oppression like the one your idol Che helped install in Cuba.

c)Cuba is 90 miles from Key West and some mutual influence between Cuba and USA is nothing but natural. I really don't know what is your point in this regard.

d)Could you elaborate in how USA caused misery in Haiti?

At 2:00 PM, July 21, 2005, Anonymous Stephen said...

Calling the shrink!

What in the hell makes people act this way?

I've been guilty of it myself!

Voluminous postings on foreign policy! Folks who know the real honest-to-goodness TRUTH! The HISTORY OF EMPIRE distilled into interminable rants!

Where's the shrink when you need her?

At 2:24 PM, July 21, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's me again, anonymous (8:20). This whole multiple anonymous thing is getting confusing. Maybe I should come out of the closet. Anyway, you said,

"why stop with just one President, why not look at the School of Americas under the watch of a whole bunch of Presidents? The school of the America's makes Abu Ghraib look like a day care center under the direct supervision of the ACLU, Red Cross and a local chapter of the PTA combined. Why f*** around with some beltway sleaze and backstabbing and even a burglary authorized by a President when you can have narcoterrorism, right wing death squads and the corruption of drug money running all the way to the top?"

Exactly! Thanks. That's all I wanted, just some admission. And by the way, I don't call myself an idealist, although I won't take it as an insult, which seems to be what you intended. I like to think of myself as reasonable. As far as why people are begging to come to our country, I'd say it has a lot to do with improving their lives, particularly in the economic catagory. A recent Pew research study found that Canada and Australia are now the most popular destination for people who want to leave their home countries to improve their lives. I'm just not buying that U.S. as "beacon of liberty" thing anymore.

At 6:36 AM, July 22, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

Anonymous - it is telling that you use the word "admission", as if there is a guilt package that accompanies it, or should accompany it. I am not ashamed of my nation or myself, but that is not to say that mistakes haven't been made and that flaws don't exist. What manner of malady possesses you that you should be ashamed of your nation? Is it your youth? I sense you are fairly young. Your lack of travel and direct experience in 3rd world countries? Canada and Austrailia are probably drawing more immigrants because of their relaxed immigration policies, but what underlies all of this is the beacon of liberty you appear to hold in scorn - Western democracy. I seriously doubt you have ever seen the opposite, much less experienced it. Do you think opportunity much exists where there is not a bill of rights and agencies of all kinds and manner to enforce said rights? The two go hand in hand. You have not reached a point in your life where you can realize that your notions of fair play and justice and equity are considered heretical and evil in other parts of the world, and your beloved Reason is considered weakness and the result of fear and cowardice. In some parts of the world you are to be scorned, condemned and killed for who and what you are. It is really that simple. The tragedy of Liberalism is twofold. One is the lack of comprehension of the reality I have just pointed out, the second is the inability on a personal and collective level in the Liberal camp to actually do anything about that reality when it begins to physically impose itself upon you. You cannot defend yourselves and accept the fact that in some situations, only one side can remain standing.

I was not trying to insult you. Your views and insights bring balance, but not harmony.

At 7:34 AM, July 22, 2005, Anonymous Roberto said...

Speaking about that "beacon of liberty" in the NYT "The United States of America has ... always meant freedom for us"

At 12:58 AM, July 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


For the record, I'm over 40 and I've traveled on 4 continents including over 20 countries. I've been all over the place. I’m neither ashamed nor proud of my nation in any personal sense, although certainly I find some parts of our history shameful and some parts honorable. As for the point about Canada and Australia, the Pew study wasn’t about immigration per se, but more about attitudes around the world. They asked people from a number of countries where they would want to move to in order to improve their lives. I don’t think the study had much to say about actual immigration numbers. My point about “beacon of liberty” was to simply say we shouldn’t idealize our own history or image. As far as Western democracy, I certainly don’t scorn it. I traveled enough to know the “nice” places in the world to live. Have I seen the opposite? Yeah. I don’t just travel to France to hang out with my liberal idealistic buddies on my many trips. I’ve seen some serious poverty in Asia, I’ve visited more than a couple of dictatorships, and I’ve seen some tense situations in Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt. I once had two body guards assigned to me by the local police chief in Egypt’s Western Desert. I could go on, but really I just wanted you to see how off your guesses were. What I don’t get is how you can make all these assumptions about me and tell me I don’t comprehend reality. I think admission is a good thing, especially when it comes to parts of our history that are shameful. Shouldn't we have some kind of memorial in Washington to, say, African slavery, the way the Germans built a memorial to the Holocaust in Berlin? I also like reflection on those parts that are honorable. On one of my trips to France, instead of hanging out with my liberal idealistic buddies, I toured the coast of Normandy. If you haven’t seen it, you should go. Each of these villages fly flags of the invasion forces; could you imagine a French village with American flags all up and down the main street? When my brother was stationed in Bosnia as a peacekeeper, he sent me a great email about the gratitude he felt from the local people for the work he was doing as an American soldier. I was proud of him for that.

Having said all that, I think what disturbs me most is the incredible animosity I see today between liberals and conservatives. Frankly, I can’t stand conversations with other liberals because of their complete confidence in how wrong conservatives are. And why must I, if I call myself a liberal, be absolutely wrong to you?

At 1:12 AM, July 23, 2005, Anonymous NeoDude said...


What is it with you Right-Wingers and your hatred for Liberalism?


The French Revolution (1789) introduced Europe to a new guiding idea, summarized in the phrase "Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood." It was an uprising of racially inferior elements who took over ideas that in part had entirely different racial origins, and could only be perverted by them. The Jews had a decisive influence. Like the Church, liberalism taught that all people were equal, that there were no value differences between the races, that external differences (e.g., body type, skin color) were unimportant. Each person, regardless of race, might be a hero or a coward, an idealist or a materialist, creative or useless to society, militarily able, scientifically able, artistically gifted. The environment and education were the important elements that made men good and valuable. If one provided the proper environment and freed people from their chains, the peoples would join to develop their abilities in a unified humanity, and eternal peace would result. Therefore liberalism demanded equality for all, the same opportunities for everyone, in particular the Jews, equality and freedom in the economic sphere, etc.

We Germans have seen where such doctrines lead. Liberalism tore down the structures that held races and peoples together, releasing the destructive drives. The result was economic chaos that led to millions of unemployed on the one side and the senseless luxury of economic jackals on the other. Liberalism destroyed the people's economic foundations, allowing the triumph of subhumans. They won the leading role in the political parties, the economy, the sciences, arts and press, hollowing out the nation from inside. The equality of all citizens, regardless of race, led to the mixing of Europeans with Jews, Negro, Mongols and so on, resulting in the decay and decline of the Aryan race.

All that Nordic civilization had won from the powers of darkness in the areas of culture, science and freedom was threatened at the instant when the Jews and other inferior elements gained power. A result was the collapse of European domination in the world as the result of the World War, and the danger of the decline of the best of the German peoples, the Germans. Adolf Hitler alone rescued Germany and all of Europe from this fate.


Der Reichsführer SS/SS-Hauptamt, Rassenpolitik (Berlin, 1943)

The Racial Question and World Propaganda

We told our opposition often enough that although we were using its weapons and rules for our purposes, we had nothing intellectually or politically in common with them. To the contrary, our goal was use these means to put and end to them and their methods, to finally eliminate their theories and policies. Both in theory and practice, National Socialism opposes liberalism.

Just as liberalism after the French Revolution had various effects on every nation and people, depending on their nature and character, the same is true today for the forces that oppose it. German democracy was always a particular playground of European liberalism. Its innate tendency towards excessive individualism was foreign to us, which lost it any connection to real political life after the war. It had nothing to do with the people. It represented not the totality of the nation, but turned into a perpetual war between interests that gradually destroyed the national and social foundations of our people's existence.


"Rassenfrage und Weltpropaganda," Reichstagung in Nürnberg 1933

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