Palestine is the ‘red pill’ for America’s Gen Z

May 9, 2024
Pro-Palestine demonstrators rally, holding placards expressing their opinions outside of the John A. Paulson Center at New York University. Pro-Palestine demonstrators rallied in Manhattan, New York City. In the morning, the New York City Police Department dismantled a sit-in protest at a

Like the previous Vietnam generation of baby boomers, US university students are waking up to the atrocities their government commits or helps its client states to commit around the world.

In a classic scene that has become a popular internet meme in the first Matrix movie, Morpheus, the rebel leader, offers his protégé Neo the choice of a red pill or a blue pill. The red pill will show him the true horrors surrounding them; the blue one means he can stay oblivious to what’s really happening.

Neo, of course, takes the red pill.

American university students protesting for an end to the Palestinian genocide and their government’s support for it are today’s real-life Neos. More Canadian and British students are joining them. That’s why university apparatchiks are calling in police to suppress their protests, and many Western news outlets are painting them as antisemitic rather than the spearheading of a new anti-war movement that it really is.

The Israeli war on the Palestinians is showing young people the brutal realities of the American empire and the world it has made.

However, committing or supporting acts of genocide, mass murder and massacres is nothing new for the United States. Arming and providing diplomatic cover for Israel’s war is hardly exceptional.

The US “war on terror” caused the deaths in multiple countries of 4.5 million people, of whom about 900,000 could be attributed to US military operations and their direct impact, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project. An estimated 38 million were displaced from their homes.

The multi-year Saudi intervention in the Yemeni civil war in the past decade contributed to “an estimated 233,000 deaths, including 131,000 from indirect causes such as lack of food, health services and infrastructure”, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in late 2020.

In 1996, during a 60 Minutes interview, correspondent Lesley Stahl asked then US ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright about an estimated half a million deaths of Iraqi children from US-led international sanctions after the first Gulf war: “I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”

Albright replied: “The price, we think, the price is worth it.”

Less than seven months after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, which led to US sanctions against China, the administration of President George H.W. Bush launched Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama to overthrow the dictator Manuel Noriega.

In a little known episode, the US invaders “indiscriminately bombed” a poor neighbourhood called El Chorrillo. “The assault killed twenty-five hundred to three thousand non-combatant Panamanians and displaced fifteen thousand,” wrote Yale historian Greg Grandin in Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the Making of an Imperial Republic.

Like many developing world strongmen, Noriega was a long-time US asset until Washington eventually turned against him.

“He first established contact with the Eisenhower administration … continuing as an asset to the US during the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan presidencies,” Grandin wrote.

As recounted by Princeton political scientist Gary Bass in The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide, Washington gave the go-ahead to the Pakistani army in 1971 to launch Operation Searchlight that killed at least 300,000 Bengalis and forced 10 million to flee. The genocide was halted by India’s military intervention, leading to the establishment of Bangladesh.

In 1965-66, with full support from the CIA and the State Department, the anti-communist purge launched by Suharto after his coup against Sukarno cost the lives of up to a million Indonesians.

About 3 million Vietnamese were killed in the war waged by the US in their country.

In The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that Shaped our World, journalist Vincent Bevins has argued America’s victory in the Cold War had less to do with its promotion of democracy and free-market capitalism than its ability to run a global network of authoritarian client states and military juntas to suppress and exterminate communists, socialists and social democrats, outside the protected “Western” cores of Europe, Oceania and Japan.

For a full numerical picture, in Covert Regime Change: America’s Secret Cold War, Boston College political scientist Lindsey O’Rourke counted a whopping 72 attempts by Washington between 1949 and 1989 to effect regime change against a foreign government. Of these, 29 succeeded in installing US-backed plotters. In at least six cases, a successful coup was launched against a democratically elected government, resulting in a US-allied dictatorship or fascist government.

Xiang Shuchen, a Xidian University philosopher, has reproduced O’Rourke’s full list of America’s global subversion and regime change in the glossary of her new book, Chinese Cosmopolitanism.

So much for America’s professed belief in other people’s national sovereignty and right to self-determination.

No one historically knowledgeable should be surprised that the profound violence that defined the American identity engendered at home needed to find outlets aboard, which in turn came back to haunt its citizens.

In one of the most penetrating observations on this destabilising cycle of societal and state violence of the US and its devastating impact on the rest of the world, the Marxist historian Gabriel Kolko wrote in Main Currents in Modern American History:

“Violence in America antedated industrialism and urban life, and it was initially a product of an expansive rural-commercial economy that in the context of vast distance and a hastily improvised and often changing social structure saw barbarism, violence, and their toleration ritualised into a way of life.

“Slavery consisted of institutionalised inhumanity and an attack on the very fibre of the black’s personal identity and integrity, yet the ultimate restraint on its violence was the value of the black as property.

“Against the Indians, who owned and occupied much coveted land, wholesale slaughter was widely sanctioned as a virtue. That terribly bloody, sordid history, involving countless tens of thousands of lives that neither victims nor executioners can ever enumerate, made violence endemic to the process of continental expansion.

“Violence reached a crescendo against the Indians after the civil war and found a yet bloodier manifestation during the protracted conquest of the Philippines from 1898 until well into the next decade, when anywhere between 200,000 to 600,000 Filipinos were killed in an orgy of racist slaughter that evoked much congratulation and approval from the eminent journals and men of the era who were also much concerned about progress and stability at home.

“From their inception, the great acts of violence and attempted genocide America launched against outsiders seemed socially tolerated, even celebrated. Long before Vietnam, that perverse acceptance of horror helped make possible the dominating experience of our own epoch.”

Kolko wrote these words in 1976. Today, rather than Vietnam, replace it with Palestine, and they are as true as ever about “that perverse acceptance of horror” by “eminent journals and men of the era … much concerned about progress and stability at home.”

Can America’s Gen Z stop these endless cycles of violence unleashed like a plague by their elders onto the rest of the world?


Republished from SCMP, 2 May, 2024

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