Bush & Killing in the Name of Democracy

The Future of Freedom Foundation today posted online my June 2006 Freedom Daily article on “Killing in the Name of Democracy.”  Doing the research for this article was hell on my idealism.

KILLING IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACY     Freedom Daily, June 2006

by James Bovard

President George W. Bush perpetually invokes the goal of spreading democracy to sanctify his foreign policy. Unfortunately, he is only the latest in a string of presidents who cloaked aggression in idealistic rhetoric. Killing in the name of democracy has a long and sordid history.

The U.S. government’s first experience with forcibly spreading democracy came in the wake of the Spanish-American War. When the U.S. government declared war on Spain in 1898, it pledged it would not annex foreign territory. But after a swift victory, the United States annexed all of the Philippines. As Tony Smith, author of America’s Mission, noted, “Ultimately, the democratization of the Philippines came to be the principal reason the Americans were there; now the United States had a moral purpose to its imperialism and could rest more easily.”

William McKinley proclaimed that in the Philippines the U.S. occupation would “assure the residents in every possible way [of the] full measure of individual rights and liberties which is the heritage of a free people, substituting the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary rule.” He also promised to “Christianize” the Filipinos, as if he did not consider the large number of Filipino Catholics to be Christians. McKinley was devoted to forcibly spreading American values abroad at the same time that he championed high tariffs to stop Americans from buying foreign products.

The “mild sway of justice” worked out very well for Filipino undertakers. The United States Christianized and civilized the Filipinos by authorizing American troops to kill any Filipino male 10 years old and older and by burning down and massacring entire villages. (Filipino resistance fighters also committed atrocities against American soldiers.) Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos died as the United States struggled to crush resistance to its rule in a conflict that dragged on for a decade and cost the lives of 4,000 American troops.

Despite the brutal U.S. suppression of the Filipino independence movement, President Bush, in a 2003 speech in Manila, claimed credit for the United States’s having brought democracy to the Philippines: “America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people. Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule.”

Perhaps Bush believes that subservience to the U.S. government is the highest freedom that any foreign people can attain. His comments illustrated the continual “1984”-style rewriting of American history.

Latin American interventions

Woodrow Wilson raised tub-thumping for democracy to new levels. As soon as he took office, he began saber-rattling against the Mexican government, outraged that the Mexican president, Victoriano Huerta, had come to power by military force (during the Mexican civil war that broke out in 1910). Wilson announced in May 1914, “They say the Mexicans are not fitted for self-government; and to this I reply that, when properly directed, there is no people not fitted for self-government. ”

This is almost verbatim what Bush has said about Iraqis and other Arabs. And as long as a president praises self-government, many Americans seem oblivious when he oppresses foreigners.

Wilson summarized his Mexican policy: “I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men!” U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Walter Hines Page explained the U.S. government’s attitude toward Latin America: “The United States will be here 200 years and it can continue to shoot men for that little space until they learn to vote and rule themselves.”

In order to cut off the Mexican government’s tariff revenue, Wilson sent U.S. forces to seize the city of Veracruz, one of the most important Mexican ports. U.S. soldiers killed hundreds of Mexicans (while suffering 19 dead) and briefly rallied the Mexican opposition around the Mexican leader.

In 1916, U.S. Marines seized Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. After the United States could not find any Dominican politicians who would accept orders from Washington, it installed its own military government to run the country for eight years. The previous year, the U.S. military had seized control of Haiti and dictated terms to that nation’s president. When local residents rebelled against U.S. rule in 1918, thousands of Haitians were killed. Tony Smith observes, “What makes Wilson’s [Latin American] policy even more annoying is that its primary motive seems to have been to reinforce the self-righteous vanity of the president.”

World War I and II

After Wilson took the nation into World War I “to make the world safe for democracy,” he acted as if fanning intolerance was the key to spreading democracy. He increasingly demonized all those who did not support the war and his crusade to shape the postwar world. He denounced Irish-Americans, German-Americans, and others, declaring, “Any man who carries a hyphen about him carries a dagger which he is ready to plunge into the vitals of the Republic.” Wilson urged Americans to see military might as a supreme force for goodness, appealing in May 1918 for “force, force to the utmost, force without stint or limit, the righteous and triumphant force which shall make Right the law of the world.” As Harvard professor Irving Babbitt commented, “Wilson, in the pursuit of his scheme for world service, was led to make light of the constitutional checks on his authority and to reach out almost automatically for unlimited power.”

Again, the parallels with Bush are almost uncanny. And many of the same intellectuals who currently praise Wilson for his abuses in the name of idealism also heap accolades on Bush’s head.

The deaths of more than 100,000 Americans in World War I did nothing to bring Wilson’s lofty visions to Earth. The 1919 Paris peace talks became a slaughter pen of Wilson’s pretensions. One of his top aides, Henry White, later commented, “We had such high hopes of this adventure; we believed God called us and now we are doing hell’s dirtiest work.” Thomas Fleming, the author of The Illusion of Victory, noted, “The British and French exploited the war to forcibly expand their empires and place millions more people under their thumbs.” Fleming concluded that one lesson of World War I is that “idealism is not synonymous with sainthood or virtue. It only sounds that way.” But it did not take long for idealism to recover its capacity to induce political delusions.

During the 1920s and 1930s, U.S. military interventions in Latin America were routinely portrayed as “missions to establish democracy.” The U.S. military sometimes served as a collection agency for American corporations or banks that had made unwise investments or loans in politically unstable foreign lands. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler bitterly lamented of his 33 years of active service, “I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism…. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.”
Franklin Roosevelt painted World War II as a crusade for democracy — hailing Joseph Stalin as a partner in liberation. Roosevelt praised Stalin as “truly representative of the heart and soul of Russia” — as if the lack of bona fide elections in Russia was a mere technicality, since Stalin was the nation’s favorite. Roosevelt praised Soviet Russia as one of the “freedom-loving Nations” and stressed that Stalin was “thoroughly conversant with the provisions of our Constitution.” Harold Ickes, one of Roosevelt’s top aides, proclaimed that communism was “the antithesis of Nazism” because it was based on “belief in the control of the government, including the economic system, by the people themselves.” The fact that the Soviet regime had been the most oppressive government in the world in the 1930s was irrelevant, as far as Roosevelt was concerned. If Stalin’s regime was “close enough” to democracy, it is difficult to understand why Roosevelt is venerated as an idealist.

Cold War interventions

Dwight Eisenhower was no slacker in invoking democracy. In 1957, he declared,

We as a nation … have a job to do, a mission as the champion of human freedom. To conduct ourselves in all our international relations that we never compromise the fundamental principle that all peoples have a right to an independent government of their own full, free choice.

He was perfectly in tune with the Republican Party platform of 1952, which proclaimed,

We shall again make liberty into a beacon light of hope that will penetrate the dark places…. The policies we espouse will revive the contagious, liberating influences which are inherent in freedom.

But Eisenhower’s idealism did not deter the CIA, dreading communist takeovers, from toppling at least two democratically elected regimes. In 1953, the CIA engineered a coup that put the shah in charge of Iran. In 1954, it aided a military coup in Guatemala that crushed that nation’s first constitutionally based government.

The elected Guatemalan government and the United Fruit Company could not agree on the value of 400,000 acres that the Guatemalan government wanted to expropriate to distribute to small farmers. The Guatemalan government offered $1.2 million as compensation based on the “taxed value of the land; Washington insisted on behalf of United Fruit that the value was $15.9 million, that the company be reimbursed immediately and in full, and that [President Jacobo] Arbenz’s insistence on taking the land was clear proof of his communist proclivities,” as America’s Mission noted.

Yet, at the same time, the federal government in the United States was confiscating huge swaths of private land throughout American inner cities for urban renewal and highway projects, often paying owners pittances for their homes. There was no foreign government to intervene to protect poor Americans from federal redevelopment schemes. The fact that the U.S. government got miffed over a 1954 Guatemalan government buyout offer helped produce decades of repressive rule and the killing of hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan civilians.

Since the Eisenhower era, U.S. government bogus efforts to spread democracy have sprouted like mushrooms. Especially with the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy in 1983, all limits were lifted on how many democratic cons that the U.S. government could bankroll abroad. The U.S. government is currently spending more than a billion dollars a year for democracy efforts abroad. But Thomas Carothers, the director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Democracy and Rule of Law Project, warns that Bush policies are creating a “democracy backlash” around the globe.

The greatest gift the United States could give the world is an example that serves as a shining city on a hill. As University of Pennsylvania professor Walter McDougall observed, “The best way to promote our institutions and values abroad is to strengthen them at home.” But there is scant glory for politicians in restraining their urge to “save humanity.” The ignorance of the average American has provided no check on “run amok” politicians and bureaucrats.

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy [2006] as well as The Bush Betrayal [2004], Lost Rights [1994] and Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil (Palgrave-Macmillan, September 2003) and serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation. .


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20 Responses to Bush & Killing in the Name of Democracy

  1. John Lowell August 30, 2006 at 3:57 pm #

    The parallels of the Bush Regime to Wilson aren’t the only ones that might be cited. Here’s a multiple choice question for you: Who said, “I only fear that at the last moment some swine will come to me with an offer of mediation.”

    A. George Bush
    B. Adolf Hitler
    C. Both

    Best Answer: A perfectly reasonable argument can be made for any of the selections above.

  2. Pero Ristow August 30, 2006 at 4:00 pm #

    Nice abbreviated lesson in American history or rather in its hypocrisy.
    Who the hell are we to to teach the others how to live when we don’t respect our own principles?
    What a disgust watching our leaders blubbering nonsenses and threats, almost daily.
    Here comes now Ahmadinejad absolutely unafraid and looking remarkably serene, to challange our Dear Leader to a public TV debate- and this one runs into his hole.Of course, he knows Ahmadinejad would have made minced meat out of him.
    Something is wrong when Saddam Hussein
    is appearing humain compared to the people that rule us.

  3. Annie August 30, 2006 at 5:00 pm #

    “The greatest gift the United States could give the world is an example that serves as a shining city on a hill.”

    beautiful. thank you jimbovard.

  4. Jim August 30, 2006 at 5:07 pm #

    Pero – the Ahmadinejad comment reminded me that Saddam Hussein challenged Bush to a personal duel before Bush invaded Iraq. Could have saved tens of thousands of lives with that simple solution.

    On the other hand, the US might not have felt entitled to take over Iraq and build permanent military bases there if Bush only won a duel…

    In the old days, Texans preferred single combat. But maybe this just shows that Bush is not a real Texan…

    John Lowell – on the fear of a last minute offer of mediation – if memory serves, some of the neoconservative laptop bombardiers were in a panic shortly before Bush invaded Iraq, fearing that something would happen that would prevent the US from bombing hell out of that nation.

    The world is paying a high price to provide those guys with materials for their wet dreams.

  5. M. Riley August 30, 2006 at 8:20 pm #

    Luckily the Bushies aren’t deep readers or thinkers or there would be poison toothpaste distributed liberally to protesters and regime opponents ala Patrice Lumumba/Eisenhower in the early 60’s before his death.

  6. Jim August 30, 2006 at 8:54 pm #

    I knew there was a reason why I instinctively go for baking soda instead of toothpaste.

  7. Sam August 30, 2006 at 11:52 pm #

    I am absolutely stunned that CIA’s coup in Iran is even mentioned. I’m Iranian and I tell you it comforts me to see there are some Americans who do remember “things”.

  8. Jim August 31, 2006 at 8:44 am #

    Sam – the US media and US politicians usually rely on the Immaculate Version of History – i.e., the US government has never done any wrong any time anywhere in the world.

    Thus, if foreigners distrust the US, it proves the foreigners are evil.

    There is perhaps a sad irony that so much of the American media treats Bush respectfully when he struts about wanting to bring democracy to Iran – after the US record in propping up the Shah. And besides, Bush effectively urged Iranians to boycott their last presidential election, thus helping pave the way for Ahmadinejad’s victory.

    I hope more Americans remember or learn of US history in time to rein in Bush’s halfwit schemes…

  9. Vaughn August 31, 2006 at 2:36 pm #

    Mr. Bovard,

    An additional irony in the matter of the offer of a duel by Saddam to Bush is that Bush is in possession of a pistol purported to have been taken from Saddam when he was found in his ‘spiderhole’. Apparently this object is some source of pride to Bush.
    Bush keeps Saddam’s pistol in office to show guests

  10. Jim August 31, 2006 at 3:03 pm #

    Ah yes, the prize pistol.

    The article you linked noted:

    “Though it was widely reported at the time that the pistol was loaded when US troops grabbed Saddam, Mr Bush has told visitors that the gun was actually empty – and that it is still empty and safe to touch….”

    “Safe to touch”????

    So did Bush and/or visitors to his inner sanctum fondle the damn thing, or what?

  11. Ray September 1, 2006 at 9:57 pm #

    I think it’s White House policy now to not have loaded guns laying about. I think they fear Cheney might get a hold of it.

  12. Jim September 2, 2006 at 11:03 am #

    Yes, especially since Bush sometimes gets that “deer in the headlights” look… and hunting season never ends for Cheney.

  13. Ray September 2, 2006 at 11:32 am #

    Of course, and there is always a plentiful abundance of game (lawyers) in the White House too.

  14. Jim September 2, 2006 at 11:36 am #

    The easiest way for Cheney to boost his approval rating would be to thin out that herd, regardless of how many lamp shades he hit in the process.

  15. Ryan September 3, 2006 at 12:24 pm #

    I recall Saddam wanted a boxing match with Bush. He might have whupped him.

  16. Jim September 3, 2006 at 4:37 pm #

    Bush might be more savvy in the boxing ring than people expect.

    He has been working on his Rope-a-Dope trick for at least the last five years.

  17. Ryan September 3, 2006 at 6:52 pm #


    LOL! Over the years I have grown to appreciate your writings and the sense of humor you have displayed within them and on some talk radio show discussions where I have heard you.

    [Note to other posters here. There are a handful of talk radio shows where the host isn’t a raving neocon sycophant like Sean Hannity and can engage in intelligence discussion instead of mindless sloganeering.]

  18. Original Steve September 5, 2006 at 4:17 am #

    Cheney had “no regrets” after shooting the guy….HE SHOT THE GUY IN THE FACE….and had “no regrets.” Does that tell you something about our policy makers?

  19. Jim September 5, 2006 at 8:42 am #

    At least Cheney is consistent as far as having no regrets for anyone who gets shot or bombed because of his whims.

    I was amused at how many conservative bloggers responded when Cheney shot his hunting partner…. They showed the same level of enthusiasm that lemmings do just before they go over the edge of the cliff.

  20. campery October 22, 2008 at 11:25 am #

    LOL! Over the years I have grown to appreciate your writings and the sense of humor you have displayed within them and on some talk radio show discussions where I have heard you.