The Confederacy lost the civil war, but found acceptance in fighting America’s imperialist wars of conquest

April 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the end of the US civil war. The sesquicentennial was celebrated with many commemorative activities, historical reenactments, seminars, documentaries and presentations by academic associations. General Robert E. Lee, the overall commander of Confederate forces whose Army of Northern Virginia had twice tried to invade the North and failed, finally surrendered on April 9 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia to the commander of Union troops, General Ulysses S Grant. Lee’s forces had abandoned the Confederate capital, Richmond, in the face of advancing Union soldiers, and had no option but to surrender.

The year of 1864 was actually the decisive year of the American civil war, when the fate of the United States hung in the balance. Either side was still capable of winning, and the slave-owning secessionist war showed no signs of slowing down. In July 1863, General Lee’s second foray to carry the war into the North failed, with his defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg. Grant was appointed commander of all Union military forces in March 1864, and began a series of heavy, bloody battles with the Confederacy. The Emancipation proclamation, freeing around four million African American slaves, had been in effect for just over a year. Millions of former slaves flocked to the Union armies, depriving the Confederacy of essential labour power.

The Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln, along with the Emancipation Proclamation, transformed the Union’s attempts to defeat a secessionist rebellion into a revolutionary war. The economic and social underpinnings of the Southern slave-owning economy were being attacked. After all, the Emancipation Proclamation can rightly be considered the largest, government-sanctioned expropriation of private property in world history until the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

Add to that the following: in November 1864, Union General William T. Sherman launched his March to the Sea, (otherwise known as the Savannah Campaign) a military attack designed to cut the Confederacy into pieces, and destroy its economic base. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee left their supply lines behind, lived off the land, attacked the economic infrastructure of slavery and liberating thousands of slaves. Having captured Atlanta, Georgia in September 1864, Sherman’s army was well placed to launch a serious offensive aimed at destroying the Confederacy’s transport networks, industrial base, as well as military targets.

Sherman captured Savannah Georgia at the end of 1864, the Confederacy’s economy destroyed and the slaves liberated. By the end of the year, the slave-owners rebellion was in retreat. By April 1865, the civil war was over. The slave-owning Confederacy was defeated, but white racial supremacy as a political ideology was not long in recovering, and reasserting itself in a different way.

150 years later, the struggle against racism continues

Abayomi Azikiwe, writer and activist for the Workers World Party in the United States and the editor of Pan-African News Wire, wrote an article about the end of the civil war and the efforts at Reconstruction. He wrote that while formal emancipation and the defeat of the Confederacy were historic steps forward, the effort to construct a nation without racial oppression is still unrealised. The former Confederate states, having lost the military campaign, now resorted to underground and rearguard actions to preserve racial segregation. Under the Federal government’s programme of Reconstruction, former slaves acquired land, competed for jobs, sought out education, and raised money to improve their economic position. The hungry and unemployed mass of African American labourers were now looking for work and economic security. All this was done in the shadow of millions of US troops stationed at strategic points in the South.

The Southern power structures resorted to dual tactics to resist the desegregation of public life. The former Confederate general and slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan to advance the cause of white racial supremacy and waged a racist terrorist war against the black communities of the South. This terror campaign targeted the Reconstruction process, and attempted to sabotage efforts at racial integration.

Democrat politicians in the South whipped up a campaign of white racial hatred against the African American community, helping to pass a series of laws that racially segregated public and economic life in the South. These laws became the basis of Jim Crow legislation, a system of racial caste laws that enforced racial segregation in the economy, education, infrastructure and in public interactions between blacks and whites.

These were the laws overturned by the Civil Rights movement decades later in the 1950s and 1960s. Lynchings and racist terror against the African American community undergirded the systematic exclusion of the later, and their enclosure into impoverished ghetto-communities. The Reconstruction process ended in 1877, and while it is not the purpose of this article go into a rigorous examination of its successes and failures here, it is important to note that American capitalism, while demolishing the secessionist basis of slavery, still needed racism in its drive for economic conquest. The American civil war – the Emancipation Proclamation and the liberation of slaves – encapsulated revolutionary ideas about equality in the social and economic spheres. These ideas are at direct odds with the underlying basis of the capitalist system as an exploitative, class-based social structures. This contradiction came to the fore in years of Reconstruction.

While the Confederacy was defeated, its cause found re-acceptance into the American family – firstly through the waging of wars against the indigenous nations of the United States, and secondly through the launch of imperialist conquests overseas.

Endless wars need and reinforce domestic racism

The sub-heading above comes from an informative article by Greg Grandin, history teacher at New York University and author of the essay “The Confederate Flag at War (But Not the Civil War)”. The Stars and Bars, the Confederate flag, was lowered after the surrender at Appomattox Court House. But it found readmission into the American family with the wars against the first nations of the Americas. In the era of westward expansion, as white settlers interacted with the native American nations, conquest and annexation were the order of the day. The ‘Lost Cause’ of the Confederacy found renewed expression in the racist wars to subjugate the indigenous populations. As Grandin states in his article:

But Confederate veterans and their sons used the pacification of the West as a readmission program into the U.S. Army. The career of Luther Hare, a Texas son of a Confederate captain, is illustrative. He barely survived Custer’s campaign against the Sioux. Cornered in a skirmish that preceded Little Big Horn, Hare “opened fire and let out a rebel yell” before escaping. He then went on to fight Native Americans in Montana, Texas, the Pacific Northwest, and Arizona, where he put down the “last of the renegade Apaches,” before being sent to the Philippines as a colonel.  There, he led a detachment of Texans against the Spanish.

The crucial moment for the full rehabilitation of the ‘Lost Cause’ arrived at the end of nineteenth century, when the United States ruling class embarked upon its own programme of imperialist conquest. Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam – these were the first countries to be fully subjugated by the projection of American military power overseas, and were wrested from the control of the Spanish empire. The Spanish-American war of 1898 marked the rise of the United States as an imperialist power in its own right, and the seamless integration of the Confederate-brand of racism into the imperial project. Since the days of slavery, Cuba was viewed as a potential slave state. Now, the American army left the shores of the United States waving the Confederate flag, joined by Confederate veterans and their descendants.

In June 1898, as the United States conquered Cuba, veterans of the Confederacy were gathering for a reunion in Atlanta Georgia. The city was festooned with Confederate flags. The event was marked by speeches appreciative of the historic conquest of Cuba, valorising the heroism of the soldiers that gone to subjugate the island. Long gone were any references to equality, emancipation and liberation, ideals that permeated former President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address. Here was the language of class rule and conquest. President McKinley, on a victory tour of the South, praised the invincible fighting spirit of the American military, united as one, to vanquish foreign enemy. To quote from Grandin’s article again:

War with Spain allowed “our boys” to once more be “wrapped in the folds of the American flag,” said General John Gordon, commander of the United Confederate Veterans, in remarks opening the proceedings. Their heroism, he added, has led “to the complete and permanent obliteration of all sectional distrusts and to the establishment of the too long delayed brotherhood and unity of the American people.” In this sense, the War of 1898 was alchemic, transforming the “lost cause” of the Confederacy (that is, the preservation of slavery) into a crusade for world freedom. The South, Gordon said, was helping to bring “the light of American civilization and the boon of Republican liberty to the oppressed islands of both oceans.”

During World War One, then-President Woodrow Wilson, a Southerner, re-segregated Washington, pushing out African Americans from federal jobs, and began the annual tradition of laying a wreath at the Arlington Cemetery’s Confederate war memorial. He screened the racist film, Birth of a Nation, in the grounds of the White House with major political figures and officials in attendance. This film depicted the ‘Lost Cause’ of the South as a noble, unflagging venture against the unscrupulous racially-integrative project of the capitalistic North.

But more than that, Wilson willingly appropriated the Confederate cause into his own advocacy of militant, messianic imperialism. World War One was not just about justice, but about America going out to conquer. Confederate veterans and their descendants rallied in Washington in June 1916 to demonstrate their support for Wilson and empire-building. The conquered banner was no longer relegated to the past, but was rehabilitated as an active participant in American wars overseas. The Confederate flag was hoisted by American troops in battle fields around the world – Okinawa, northern Europe, and later in Vietnam. It was also hoisted by serving American soldiers in Baghdad in 2007. Grandin quotes African American soldiers serving in Vietnam, who witnessed the proliferation of Confederate flags among the white troops in that conflict. One African American trooper wrote home’ “and we still have some people who are still fighting the Civil War.” Two weeks after he wrote these words, he was dead – officially killed in action.

As American militarism engages in mass violence and wars overseas, whether through drone strikes, outright invasions, and the use of greater domestic repression at home, racism is not confined to one particular geographic region or economic system. It is a necessary pollutant that sustains an unjust, inequitable, and exploitative system. Imperialist wars not only eat away at the fabric of the republic, they toxify the cultural and political environment. Democratic ideals, enshrined in documents such as the Emancipation Proclamation, are shunted aside as more repressive tactics are adopted by the ruling class, and suggestions by top-level political figures for further suppression of ethnic and minority groups are considered to be quite normal.

As the capitalist system remains mired in terminal crisis, greater levels of police violence are directed against the African American community, and indeed against minority communities across the United States. We in Australia need to re-examine our political and economic directions, as we are tobogganing head-first into the American scenario. If the United States is characterised by social decay, racist violence and economic growth that benefits only the ultra-wealthy, why is this example being held up as worthy of emulation?

Iran Air Flight 655 – Lest We Forget

The title above comes from an article in the Washington Post published in 2013, referring to the shooting down of civilian Iranian Air Flight 655 back in 1988. The Iranian airliner was on a routine flight from Tehran to Dubai, when it was shot down by two surface-to-air missiles launched from the US warship USS Vincennes. The aircraft was in Iranian airspace, flying over Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf, and was flying away from US warships in the area. All 290 passengers and crew were killed. There were no survivors.

Why is this important to remember?

In the context of the tragic downing of Malaysian airliner M17, where official outrage in the United States and Australia were squarely directed at the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, it is appropriate to explore the conduct of the US with regard to the comparable crime of shooting down a civilian airliner.

There was near unanimity in the corporate-controlled media about the culpability of Putin, and the blame was placed on the shoulders of the Ukrainian rebels opposed to the US-backed, ultra-rightists and racist regime in Kiev. The possibility that one of many neo-fascistic, thuggish militias operating under the guidance of the Kiev regime was never seriously considered or investigated. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott threatened to ‘shirtfront’ Russian President Putin at the G20 Leaders Meeting in Brisbane. The Russian government laughed off the remarks, but it does indicate that the Australian ruling class is willing to play the role of attack-dog for the American imperialist power. The steady and unrelenting barrage of accusations of the Russian side’s culpability has never been seriously questioned.

Be that as it may, the perpetrators of a such a horrific crime should be brought to account.

July 3 1988

Throughout the Iran-Iraq war, which lasted most of the 1980s, the United States actively encouraged the Iraqi regime of former President Saddam Hussein with military assistance, intelligence-sharing and loans. The US stationed naval warships in the Persian Gulf, supposedly to protect maritime commercial traffic in that region. The US Navy was monitoring naval and air traffic out of the Persian Gulf, and had engaged in attacks with Iranian warships. The USS Vincennes commander, Captain William C. Rogers III, ordered the shooting down of the Iran Air 655 and two missiles were launched. The aircraft was destroyed and all on board were killed. They included 66 children.

In the subsequent investigation into the attack, the US authorities blamed human error, describing the airliner’s downing as a regrettable tragedy. Then US President Ronald Reagan, basing himself on the reports submitted by US naval officials, stated that the commanding crew of the USS Vincennes believed they were under threat and took appropriate defensive action given the circumstances. Admiral William Crowe, then the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also defended the actions of Captain Rogers, remarking that the USS Vincennes had sufficient reasons to believe they were in danger and took the necessary defensive measures.

All of the assertions of the US government in relation to the shooting down of Iran Air 655 have been shown to be false. The Iranian airliner was transmitting signals indicating its civilian status, something that the US Navy with all of its sophisticated technology could hardly have mistaken. Flight 655 was ascending, flying away from the military carrier rather than descending towards the ship.

The cover-up of the criminal action of bringing down a civilian airliner is just as inexcusable as the crime itself. In 1990, the captain of the USS Vincennes, William Rogers III, was awarded the Legion of Merit for meritorious conduct for his performance as a commanding officer.

The writers and editors of Veterans Today magazine, a journal that deals with the concerns of returned service personnel, had a different assessment of Captain Rogers and his crew. In an article entitled ‘Murder in the Air’, they wrote that:

The officers and sailors of the USS Vincennes may have the honor of being among the absolutely worst and most shameful of any who have ever served in uniform. 

In 1991, Admiral William Crowe grudgingly admitted that the USS Vincennes was inside Iranian waters when the shooting down took place, not in international waters as the US Navy had first claimed.

In 1996, the Iranian and US governments reached an arrangement organised at the International Court of Justice. A compensation payout of 61.8 million dollars was agreed to be provided to the families of the Iran Air 655 victims, and the United States expressed deep regret over the incident. The US government has never actually admitted responsibility for the attack, or ever apologised for it. Indeed, in August 1988, in the immediate aftermath of the airliner’s downing, former US Vice President George Bush (senior) stated that:

I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are… I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy.

The enormous fury and frustration that accompanies the drumbeat of denunciations regarding the downing of Malaysian Airliner 17 reeks of hypocrisy. The deceptions of the United States ruling class are astounding, given that they have flouted the international laws that they now claim to uphold. The outrage over the demise of MH17 (whether real or manufactured) serves a useful tribal function – to unite us in an aura of  hyperbolic self-affirmative superiority over an enemy that stoops to new barbaric lows – surely we are not as savage as them?

Iranians honour those who perished in the attack

The Iran-Iraq war ended in August 1988. The shoot-down of Iran Air 655 constitutes an unhealed wound for the Iranian side, evidence of the perfidy and cunning deceptions of the power to the West. The Iranians mark July 3 with commemorative events and sombre ceremonies to uphold the event lest we forget:

Courtesy of Mehr News Agency
Courtesy of Mehr News Agency

In 2014, the Harvard Political Review published an article entitled ‘Sorry, but Iran Air 655 is not equivalent to Malaysia Flight 17’, a prolonged obsequious apologia for the shooting down of the Iranian aircraft. The author does make an interesting point – the United States, during the Iran-Iraq war, positioned its naval warships in the Persian Gulf to protect trade routes and uphold free navigation of the seas. This is actually a legitimate difference between MH17 and Iran Air 655. Perhaps that is the only valid point in the entire article.

The US imperialist power regards the Persian Gulf, and indeed the oil resources of the Middle East and Central Asia, as necessary to its own strategic and military interests. It will brook no opposition to its economic expansion, at the expense of the people in that region, the true owners of those natural resources. The attack on Iran Air 655 did constitute a strong signal delivered by the trigger-happy rulers of the American war machine – this region belongs to us, defy us, and we will take steps to blast you into oblivion. Malaysia has no economic or material interests in the Ukraine, or Eastern Europe. It has never attacked any European country, nor placed its soldiers on foreign soil, or constructed military bases in foreign countries.

Perhaps it is time to examine the deceptions, hypocrisies and evil committed by our own political and economic leaders. Successive Australian governments, both Labour and Liberal, have made it a virtue (if it can be called that) of riding on the coattails of US foreign policy objectives. An axis of evil can only exist when a criminal power has willing underlings that comply with its predatory actions.

Why are so many winners of the Nobel Prize of Jewish background?

This question is one of those dinner party, or coffee shop, conversations that rises periodically in the course of a social outing with friends. In a similar fashion to a brain-dead zombie, this question put to rest numerous times, only to rise out of its coffin to startling the unsuspecting. This topic arises because it speaks to our deepest anxieties – the seeming connection between race, intelligence and genes. Now the latter topic is too broad and wide-ranging to go into detail here, so let us confine ourselves to the immediate question, posed by the title above. However, it is a matter of record that numerous scientists that have won the Nobel Prize come from a Jewish background.

The conversation usually rears its head as the end point of a series of off-the-cuff observations – Einstein, he was Jewish, right? And Richard Feynman, co-winner of the Nobel Prize in 1965 and author of numerous popular science books – he was Jewish, right? Even scientists that are popularly known but not necessarily winners of the Nobel Prize get lumped into this topic – Sigmund Freud, the psychoanalyst, he was Jewish, right? And numerous psychologists that have followed in his footsteps, or based themselves partly on his theories – Erich Fromm, Erik Erikson – they were Jews, weren’t they?

The first observation to make in this regard is a statement by Einstein himself, commenting on the status of his theories of special and general relativity. Presenting his theories at the Sorbonne University in 1921, he stated, “If I am proved correct, the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss will call me a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong, the French will call me a Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German and the Germans will call me a Jew.” Being of Jewish origin in the scientific community was hardly a distinct advantage, given the strong anti-Semitism rampant in Europe in the early part of the 20th century.

Israeli writers have engaged in their own fist-pumping, high-five-boasting, chest-thumping commentary themselves whenever examining this question. This is understandable, given that they are trying to construct an image of the Jewish people being sturdily resilient in the face of numerous obstacles. Having been subjected to anti-Semitic pogroms, outcasts from mainstream society, educational achievement is one way to overcome the impediments of anti-Semitic prejudice.

Numerous theories are proposed to explain this apparent explosion of Jewish domination in the sciences. While there are various nuances and permutations of all those purported explanations, they fall into two broad categories. One is that Jews are possessed of super-DNA genetic material, elevating them into hereditary over-achievers. After all, DNA is the metaphor for our age, particularly since the latter half of the twentieth century is characterised by the monumental growth of genomic research, biotechnology and the human genome project? Did not former Australian Prime Minister, and leader of the Australian Labour Party, state that Australia’s support for Israel was ‘in my DNA?’

Let us dispense with simplistic and utterly ridiculous psycho-gene-babble nonsense about superior and inferior quality genes. The achievement of Jews in the sciences in a completely 20th century phenomenon. Jews were confined to ghettos, driven out of society for centuries in Europe. American psychologists, lawmakers and scientists, confronted by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and the former Imperial Russian empire, regarded the Jews, Mediterraneans, Slavs, and basically anyone who was non-Nordic as intellectual inferior. American policy-makers and educators, steeped in the newly ascendant doctrines of genetic determinism and racial eugenics, were deeply worried that this new stock from Europe would cause a precipitous decline in the American intellectual achievement if they were allowed to settle in the United States. If the Jewish people had super-genes, surely they would have been enthusiastically welcomed into the country obsessed with improving the genetic quality of its human stock.

The second broad category of theories relates to Jewish culture, more specifically to the bookish traditions of the Jewish people. Basically they like hitting the books, driving themselves to excel in education. This sounds nice, partly true by appealing to longstanding cultural traditions, but falls short of explaining why Jewish intellectuals have flowered in the sciences. Back in the ghettos where they floundered for decades, religious education was the main order of the day; studying in the Yeshiva, absorbing ancient texts and the Talmud were all well and good, but that was hardly preparation for tackling the difficult – and at the time burgeoning – scientific fields of biology, geology, and physics. As Jonathan Valk explained in his article for Haaretz magazine, Einstein did not undertake his groundbreaking scientific work on the photoelectric effect (for which he won the Nobel Prize) in the Yeshiva, nor did Sigmund Freud elaborate the basic foundations of what became psychoanalysis by studying religious texts. As Valk goes on to explain:

But we aren’t dealing with something uniquely Jewish as such. Other than a common identity, what is it that unites all of these Jewish thinkers, innovators, and doers? With only the odd and arguable exception, every Jewish Nobel Prize winner has been steeped in the intellectual traditions, mores and values of secular, non-Jewish culture, in addition to whatever attachment they may have had to their Jewish origin.

It is precisely when Jews turn away from the narrow, sclerotic world of sectarian particularism and embrace the humanitarian and educational culture of their host society that enables them to achieve in the sciences. The sciences are based – at least theoretically – on a meritocratic basis, where commitment to investigation, empirical fact-finding and rigorous impartiality allowed minority groups to escape the confines of discrimination and where intellect can grow and develop. Achieving excellence in education, while being its own reward, was also the best way to integrate into the new society of the United States, and achieve acceptance as equal citizens. As Noah Ephron, lecturer in at Bar-Ilan University wrote in his article in Haaretz magazine, education and scientific achievement was the way to achieve what they wanted to become, productive and respected members of the wider community, breaking out of the anti-Semitic confines in which they had been imprisoned in Europe for so long.

This is not to suggest that anti-Semitism and racism evaporated overnight in American universities – far from it. But is was the first place that a minority group could transcend the barriers that had held them down. The mid-twentieth century in the United States provided the first fertile ground where Jews could achieve without the traditional hostility and encumbrances of European anti-Semitism.

The United States had always had a strong scientific sector, but it was the twentieth century combination of circumstances – the wars in Europe and the resultant disruptions they caused, and the newly emerging Cold War – that spurred the US ruling class into action, pushing scientific research as a top priority. Numerous European scientists – Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi – emigrated to the United States, elevating the scientific melting pot occurring in that country. Across the European continent, the USSR loomed large, with its remarkable scientific establishment rising into international prominence, rivaling the traditional centres of scientific research and development in Britain, France, and western Europe. Though devastated by the German invasion, Soviet science and education made significant strides in the mid-twentieth century, frightening the American ruling class with the spectre of a rival, and scientifically advanced, power bloc.

As Canadian blogger and intellectual Stephen Gowans explains:

Soviet accomplishments in space, considered in light of the mistaken view that the USSR was always a poor second-best to the supposedly more dynamic United States, is truly startling. Soviet achievements include the first satellite, first animal in orbit, first human in orbit, first woman in orbit, first spacewalk, first moon impact, first image of the far side of the moon, first unmanned lunar soft landing, first space rover, first space station and first interplanetary probe. The panic created in Washington after the allegedly innovation-stifling Soviet economy allowed the USSR to beat its much richer ideological rival into space galvanized the United States to take a leaf from the Soviet book. Just as the Soviets were doing, Washington would use public funds to power research into innovations. This would be done through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Science research and development became a multicultural agency in the United States in the wake of the Second World War.

There is one other point worth making here, one that Noah Ephron makes in his article – winning the Nobel Prize is a sensational achievement, there is no doubt. However, if a scientist does not win one, it is not worth losing any sleep over it. Nobel Prizes are given to scientists who have done remarkable work, achieved incredible discoveries or formulated revolutionary innovations. Notice that this is in the past tense – they did great work, but their best is behind them. As Ephron states, while not detracting from the importance of winning the Nobel Prize, they are a fading snapshot of bygone days for a scientist.

The current US Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, is a physicist. A graduate of Oxford, his specialty is the field of quantum chromodynamics, a theory regarding the strong interactions between quarks and gluons that compose the hadron family of particles. He is also a representative of the military-industrial complex, pushing for a more aggressive US foreign policy, promoting the privatisation of scientific enterprises for further military research, and typifies the fusion of corporate and military power to further the agenda of the US ruling class. While working in the private sector, he held important posts in the government advisory boards promoting greater collaboration between the scientific community, the military and private companies. He speaks and works for the enrichment of defence contractors.

Murray Gell-Mann, a Nobel Prize winning physicist of Jewish origin, worked on the development of military technology in the 1960s. He has since become committed to disarmament and dialogue between nations. Gell-Mann is a pioneer in the field of quantum chromodynamics, the subject in which Ashton Carter took his PhD. It is not so important to note whether a scientist is of Jewish or non-Jewish background, but to note the role that they play in the wider community – as a spokesperson for peace, or a technocrat for war and profit. Rather than look back in dismay or jealous rage about the numbers of particular ethnic groups in the sciences, perhaps we should be devoting our collective energies to providing solutions for the economic and ecological problems that confront humanity today. Scientific enquiry and achievement cannot be sustained within the diseased political and economic order of capitalism that condemns larger numbers of people to a pauperised existence.

Saudi Arabia’s best known export is oil, but the export of its ideology is just as important

Saudi Arabia’s aerial offensive against Yemen has continued for the fourth week at the time of writing. Yemen is undergoing a humanitarian crisis, with millions of Yemenis lacking basic access to food, clean drinking water, and health care. The Saudi bombardment has only worsened the plight of the Yemenis, with schools destroyed, hospitals and health care facilities targeted, and electricity supplies cut off. Basic infrastructure is being shattered, thus precipitating a catastrophic health situation for Yemeni residents.

The Saudi war on Yemen is intended to prop up the tottering regime of Yemeni President Abed Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. This war has the full backing of the United States, and the latter has materially assisted Saudi Arabia with intelligence sharing, military supplies and logistical support. Indeed, the armaments used by the Saudi military are imports from the United States, Britain, Germany, France and other imperialist countries. The Saudi regime has become the world’s leading arms importer, spending an estimated $6.4 billion dollars on weapons in 2014.

Patrick Cockburn, the intrepid foreign correspondent and expert commentator on Middle East issues for The Independent, rightly notes that this war on Yemen, and the unstinting support the United States has provided for the Saudi attack on Yemen, will only inflame sectarian tensions across the Arab and Islamic-majority countries. All of the reactionary petro-sheikhdoms – Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and so on, united in the peak body of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – have lined up shoulder to shoulder with Saudi Arabia. Egypt, under the US-backed military dictator General al-Sisi, was quick to provide military and political support to Riyadh. There are reports that Saudi and Egyptian troops will launch a ground invasion.

In the wake of this Yemen war, the GCC has taken steps to create a pan-Arab military alliance, an Arab NATO, to serve as a cohesive rapid-response force to be deployed anywhere in the Middle East in response to political unrest or military upheaval. Such a goal has been a long-term desire of the GCC, but the latest Saudi assault on Yemen has prompted not just the Gulf States, but Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and the pro-western Arab states to make concrete proposals for such a multinational military force. The United States welcomes such an alliance, because it would provide a strong counter to Iran – but is also cautious about the potential for the strongest members of that formation to develop an agenda of their own.

Saudi-American cooperation – a longstanding alliance

For more information on the Yemen conflict, you may read the article published by Counterfire here. The purpose of providing a brief overview of the latest developments in the Saudi war against Yemen is to highlight the deep, strong and abiding connections between the highest levels of the Saudi military and political elite with the imperialist powers, in particular with the United States. These military and economic connections did not materialise overnight, but have been cultivated between the United States and Saudi Arabia over decades. The political and military support to the House of Saud – the ruling royal family of the Saudi nation – is a principal basis for United States policy in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is an important bulwark of power for the United States, acting as a junior partner and mercenary for the latter. The intimate US-Saudi partnership is in no danger of breaking anytime soon – US President Obama, who was in Riyadh in January 2015 for the funeral of the former Saudi King, described the relationship as a ‘force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.’

It is important to closely examine the origins, nature and impact of the Saudi state. It is playing a major role not only in exporting its natural resources of oil, but also in exporting its particular ideology of Wahhabism. Understanding this background helps us to understand the current role of the Saudi polity and the counter-revolutionary bulwark that it has constituted in the Middle East.

Wahhabism and the rise of the Saudi state

The official ideology of the Saudi Arabian state is Wahhabism, and derives from the teachings of the eighteenth century preacher and itinerant cleric Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-91) who advocated a strict, literalist interpretation of the Koran. A learned scholar from the central Arabian region of Najd, he witnessed what he saw as the corrupting, weakening influences of modernisation, innovation and laxity in religion in the Ottoman Turkish empire. Lamenting the demise of the former greatness of Islamic civilisation, he wished to remove all accretions, what he termed bidah (innovations) that he regarded as heretical to the original meaning of Islam. Basing himself on the Sunnah (customary practices of the Prophet Muhammad) and the hadith (accounts, collections of reports, sayings and deeds of the Prophet), he wished to purge the Islamic world of what he viewed as the degenerative practices introduced into the Islamic world by the Ottoman Turks and their associates. He urged the Islamic scholars (the ulema) to reject all introduced ideas and return to the Oneness of God, the Muwahiddun, central to the monotheistic religions.

Wahhab would have remained an obscure theologian, and was attacked by the ulema, if not for one crucial development – Muhammad ibn Saud, the leader of the Najd tribes, made a pact with Wahhab. The latter’s ideology would provide an important and religious underlying foundation for a centralised state under the control of the Saud family. Religious piety was combined with a political programme of state building. Saud set about crushing his rivals, to form a Saudi state based in Najd, with the Wahhabi ideology as the rallying cry.

Wahhab developed another important concept, one that has implications for political state building until today – Muslim impostors, those who did not accept the purity of the Wahhabi ideal, would be declared takfir (infidels), enemies of the original faith. Any Muslim who engaged in practices deemed to be bidah, and forbidden in the Wahhabi cannon, were to be annihilated. The main targets of this takfiri were Shia Muslims, Sufis and all those who refused to accept the strict impositions of Wahhabism. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Saudi clan and their Wahhabi associates controlled most of the Arabian heartland, and parts of what are today Iraq and Syria. In 1801, they ransacked the largely Shia city of Karbala (located in today’s Iraq), killing its Shia inhabitants. Medina itself fell to the Wahhabis. Wahhabism was no longer a fundamentalist theological creed; it was now an instrument of political imposition.

The Ottoman Turkish empire, viewing the rising Wahhabi-Arab threat as a growing danger to their empire, finally crushed the first experiment in the Saudi state-building in 1815, utilising Egyptian troops. The domination of the Ottoman Turks was restored, and that situation lasted until the final defeat of the Turkish empire at the end of World War One. The seeds of the Saudi state had been planted, and it would not grow again, until after the Ottoman Turks had been driven out. The new Saudi state that arose from the ashes would not be a purely Arab affair, for the rival imperialist powers of Britain, France and the United States coveted the Arab possessions formerly under Turkish control.

Out of the chaos of World War One, a new state is born in alliance with imperialism

The chaos of World War One, and the breakdown of the Ottoman Turkish empire, presented an opportunity for the Saudi-Wahhabi forces, organised into a new Ikhwan (Brotherhood) of Muslim insurgents, to assert their authority in the Arabian lands. The Ikhwan embodied the puritanical ambitions of the Wahhabi ideologists, and they began to conquer the lands that eventually became the first modern Saudi state.

However, Britain, France and the United States also sensed new opportunities to acquire the formerly Ottoman territories for their imperial ambitions. The Sykes-Picot agreement, arranged in secret between Britain and France in 1916 while the war was raging, defined sphere of influence for the rival imperialist powers once the defeat of the Ottoman Turkish empire was defeated. The borders of the newly defined Arab states, carved out of the defeated Turkish empire, facilitated the entry of the imperialist states into the Middle East.

Britain acted as the ‘godfather’ of the emergent Saudi state, forging an alliance with the Saud entity and promoting an Arab facade while real control remained in British hands. With British backing, the new Saudi-Wahhabi state was tied to the interests of western imperialism, serving as a bulwark in the Arab and Islamic worlds against any anti-imperialist forces. Over the twentieth century, Saudi Arabia has fulfilled its purpose as a faithful proxy fighting against any revolutionary, Arab socialist, or anti-imperialist project, be it pan-Arab nationalism, secular socialism or Ba’athism.

However, Wahhabism was not just a state policy, it was an overarching proselytising Islamic purist movement, refusing to remain confined national borders. It does not recognise political boundaries and projects drawn up by politicians motivated by state-interests. The Ikhwan, while initially recognising the need for a centralised and modern Saudi state, began to revolt against the Saudi rulers for elevating realpolitik and state-building over the militant puritanical drive to convert the world. The Ikhwani insurgents, after conquering the various regions of Arabia, began to attack the British and French protectorates of Transjordan, Syria and Iraq in order to force them to subjugate to Wahhabi doctrines. They came into direct conflict with imperialist interests in the Middle East.

Throughout the 1920s, the Saudi royal family, now elevated to kingly status with British imperial patronage, set out to crush the Ikhwani revolt. Wahhabism would no longer be a zealous ideological movement to convert the infidels and apostates, but an ideological foundation of a state. The Ikwanis were eventually crushed by the Saudi state by the end of the 1920s, and the remnants were absorbed into what became the Saudi national guard. However, this contradiction between the needs of a conservative state-building ideology and the movement of an Islamic-Wahhabi vanguard to proselytise has remained throughout the existence of the Saudi Arabian entity.

Here we can see historical echoes in the current activities of ISIS – the latter has set about smashing national boundaries, upsetting the post-World War One Sykes-Picot arrangement that has prevailed in the Middle East. The ISIS project, just like the Ikhwani revolt of the 1920s, seeks to redivide the imperialist status-quo, carrying the ideological zealotry of the Wahhabi project across state boundaries. The imperialist states, viewing their interests threatened, have responded with military force to reimpose the state boundaries and political actors subservient to their economic and military agendas.

Britain declines, the United States steps up

The 1930s and 1940s witnessed the last gasp of the once-mighty British empire. Having stretched across the world, its time had arrived. The United States was emerging as a strong and powerful economic and military force, and it viewed the Middle East, particularly its enormous oil wealth, as an asset to be acquired.

Already in the early 1930s, the United States established diplomatic relations with the Saudi state, entered into lucrative business contracts, helped to develop oil fields, participated in oil exploration in Saudi Arabia, reforming and revitalising the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (ARAMCO), and began the ongoing entrenched relationship with the Saudi royal family that has witnessed the emergence of deep military and economic connections. In 1945, at the conclusion of World War Two, no less a figure than US President Franklin Roosevelt met with the Saudi King Ibn Saud to conclude economic and military arrangements. The story of the mega-corporations and deep-seated political and economic links between the US and Saudi Arabia is quite detailed and is well known. What is less well known is the soft-power impact of this American support for the Saudi client.

Petro-nationalism underlies soft-power export of ideology

The 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of a Saudi petro-nationalism, based upon the burgeoning oil industry and the growth of enormous transnational energy corporations. The petrol bonanza, and the western economies’ furious consumption of oil, not only filled the coffers of the Saudi state, but also provided the Saudi state with a new avenue to explore – petro-nationalism, spreading the Wahhabi ideology not as a creed of militant jihad, but as a cultural export to influence the direction of Islam.

Gilles Keppel, in his book Jihad: The trail of political Islam, notes that this oil wealth enabled the Saudi royal family to export its Wahhabite doctrine, countering the rival interpretations and denominations of the Islamic world, and to spread its influence over the Ummah (the community of the faithful). The oil bonanza enabled the Saudi ruling elite to maintain its hold over the holiest sites in Islam – Mecca and Medina – but also to project itself as the ultimate definer and protector of the Ummah. The Wahhabi project continues to be a useful counter-revolutionary opponent in the Arab world, first of Nasserist socialism, Ba’athism and since 1979, opposing the Shia radicalism of the Iranian revolution.

The Saudi state, a dynastic and tribal entity that serves as a proxy for imperialist states, now also developed its own regional ambitions as a power in its own right. Saudi wealth extends to its allies in the region – the Egyptian secular dictatorship of General al-Sisi has received generous and lavish financial support from Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s current war on Yemen is part of this pattern of serving as a regional strongman for western capitalist imperialism. The Saudi role as a regional gendarme for the United States has never been clearer. But the Saudis have never given up their goal of being the spearhead of Wahhabi cultural and social conservatism in the Muslim-majority countries. While ISIS is a product of the Wahhabist fountainhead, it has come into conflict with the political-state imperatives of the Saudi ruling class, who intend to remain a state actor within the overall imperialist system. ISIS wishes to demolish national state boundaries in their drive to resurrect their version of a Caliphate.

The Saudi attack on Yemen, and its ability to militarily intervene to crush democratic uprisings such as it did in Bahrain in 2011, is made possible and practical by sales of sophisticated weaponry to the Saudi state. Cutting off military supplies to the Saudi military would be a practical beginning in stopping the ability of the Saudis to act as a regional proxy. For instance, the European Union’s brisk armaments business with Saudi Arabia has continued unabated for decades.  The European states, along with Saudi Arabia’s long-term supporter the United States, have aided and abetted the spread of terrorism and increased the suffering of the people in the Arab and Islamic worlds. It is time to call out the criminals for who they are and hold them to account.

Glenn Greenwald states it plainly – ISIS is following a well-trodden path of savagery

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is in the news yet again, this time in the form of video footage showing the execution of a captured Jordanian pilot, Muath al-Kasabeh. The latter was doused in gasoline while held in a cage, set alight and burned alive. This barbaric punishment generated understandable and justifiable revulsion among audiences around the world. This act of savagery only underscores the brutality of the perpetrators.

The denunciations of ISIS by the politicians and media commentators in the West however, have a hollow ring to them. The constant and repetitive orgy of condemnations, rather than stemming from concern for the victim, only serve as a means of almost-tribal self-affirmation. As Glenn Greenwald puts it in his latest article, the ritualistic outpouring of criticism of ISIS obscures the crimes that the imperialist powers have committed over the decades in their predatory wars. Surely we, the West, are not as bad as them? If ISIS is savage and repellent, it is only using tactics that have been mechanised and refined by the Western states in their wars against the non-white peoples of the world.

The grotesque nature of this crime – incinerating people – is not in dispute. Greenwald is asking why there is no comparable outrage when the United States and Britain (and for that matter, the state of Israel), have committed similarly egregious atrocities, crimes that have been hidden from public view. The United States, in contrast to ISIS, deliberately suppresses, excuses and provides flimsy rationales for the savagery it commits with its superior military technology. As Greenwald points out, the US military had implemented and perfected its preferred method of incinerating people alive in its war in Vietnam – by using napalm. As the Boston Globe wrote in 2013:

SINCE ITS INTRODUCTION in World War II, where it was used to firebomb Japanese cities, napalm—highly incendiary and nearly impossible to extinguish—has made its way into American consciousness as a symbol of war gone horribly wrong. Perhaps the most striking photograph to emerge from the Vietnam War was of a little girl, Kim Phuc, burnt by napalm, running and screaming.

Actually, rather than symbolise war gone wrong, napalm has the intended effect of not only burning its victims, but also intimidating civilian populations into submission.

White phosphorus, an inflammatory chemical that can burn extensively and ignite clothing, fuel and other materials, was used by the Israeli military in its assault on the Palestinians of Gaza in 2008-09. Densely populated areas were deliberately targeted by the Israeli forces during their military campaign. White phosphorus, on contact with people, produces intense burns, emitting heat and absorbing liquid. Human Rights Watch compiled an extensive report on the war crimes of the Israeli forces, including their use of incendiary chemical weapons.

Greenwald cites the report by a human rights group Living Under Drones. This organisation questions the usual narrative about US drone strikes being clean, clinical and precisely targeted strikes that avoid civilian casualties. Living Under Drones documents the stories of those who live in constant fear of a drone attack, along with those survivors that have been traumatised by the grief and loss of such strikes. Not only do drone strikes kill and incinerate everyone in the direct impact zone, they also leave the survivors with disfiguring burns, shrapnel wounds, amputations, and severe deleterious impacts on mental health.

However, Greenwald omits to mention the experts on burning people alive; the United States air force. In March 1945, the US air force, under the direction of air force General Curtis LeMay, dropped 2000 tonnes of incendiary bombs on the city of Tokyo over a 48-hour period. It was the worst firestorm in recorded history. Knowing that most of Tokyo city’s buildings were made of wood, the US air force command set to work on incinerating the city and its people. As a French reporter described the bombing at the time, “They set to work at once sowing the sky with fire.”

Common Dreams, the online magazine, wrote in 2005 about the Tokyo firebombing that:

The M-69s [the incendiary cylinder bombs dropped on Tokyo], which released 100-foot streams of fire upon detonating, sent flames rampaging through densely packed wooden homes. Superheated air created a wind that sucked victims into the flames and fed the twisting infernos. Asphalt boiled in the 1,800-degree heat. With much of the fighting-age male population at the war front, women, children and the elderly struggled in vain to battle the flames or flee.

As Common Dreams notes, the bombing of Tokyo left a lasting legacy of terror and pain for the victims. This aerial bombardment still remains a component of unfinished business for US-Japan relations, more so in some ways than the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the Tokyo bombing sent shock waves throughout Japan, the morale of the Japanese military remained undented;

But if the American objective was to shorten the war by demoralizing the Japanese population and breaking its will to resist, it didn’t work. What had proven true in Germany proved equally true here: Morale was shaken by bombing, but once the shock passed, the war work went on.

The infliction of pain and suffering on a person, or group, by means of incineration and burning is a sadistic crime, of that there is no doubt. ISIS used the primitive method of pouring gasoline; the mechanised war machines of the imperialist states use more sophisticated, but no less lethal, methods in applying their brand of warfare on a larger scale.

The hypocritical denunciations of ISIS barbarity serve to incite a tribalistic mentality, further instigating public opinion for another war in the Middle East. We must ask serious questions about the motives of the US imperial state in its drive to secure energy-rich and strategic resources in the Arab and Islamic countries. While we recognise that ISIS is barbaric, it is the barbaric drive to war emanating from our own political and economic elites that must be subjected to searing and critical examination before even more lives are sacrificed for corporate profits. Hyperbole about the unique evil of ISIS only serves to obfuscate the brutality of our imperialist system.

Go read Glenn Greenwald’s entire article here.

The Latin Americanization of the United States police forces

The title of this contribution comes directly from a powerful and incisive article by Cosme Caal, a scholar and human rights activist originally from Guatemala. His article was published in Counterpunch in August 2014. His essay was prompted by the sudden influx of children, refugees from Guatemala, attempting to enter the United States without documentation. The BBC carried an article examining the multiple factors that have pushed thousands of these children out of their home country – continuing poverty, police violence and torture, drug-related extortion rackets, lack of schooling services – to seek a new life in the United States.

While elaborating on the wider political and economic policies that have led Guatemala into a state of civil war and immiseration – governed by a military regime propped up by the United States – Caal makes an important observation. As the neoliberal economic policies adopted by successive US-installed client regimes in Latin America resulted in the impoverishment of huge sections of the population, the police forces in those countries became a paramilitary enforcer for the privileged classes. The police were used to round up dissidents, suppress any dissent, and became a law unto themselves. Indeed, the police forces became entangled with criminal enterprises, engaging in massive corruption and extortionate cronyism that added to the woes of the people.

In the 1980s, the military dictatorships of Latin America – such as Guatemala – became notorious for police forces that killed and tortured with impunity. The police acted as a protector of the wealthy elite, pushing the impoverished into ghettos, out of sight and out of mind. Wealthy connections meant that a person accused of breaking the law could buy their way out of trouble, avoiding being held accountable for their actions. Meanwhile the petty crime of the poor – stealing in order to live – was punished ruthlessly. Organised protests and political opposition to an unjust economic and social order was criminalised.

Let us not forget that this culture of lawlessness has continued until today. Only in 2014, in Mexico, 43 student teachers on their way to protest a local governor were arrested by the Mexican police – and handed over to a known drug cartel that promptly executed them. The mass graves of these murdered students were found and uncovered – and the incestuous linkages between the local governing authorities, police and criminal syndicates were exposed. Mexicans across the country have been protesting against this egregious example of police-state criminality since then.

The police forces of the United States are currently undergoing Latin Americanization – becoming the unaccountable paramilitary-style enforcers of an unequal status quo. As the capitalist economic crisis undergoes its terminal stasis, the ruling class has decided on greater repression to crush all social discontent and threats to its super-profits. Political dissent is being criminalised, and the civil liberties of the people are gradually being eroded by the intelligence and surveillance apparatus.

The New York Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton, announced the creation of a specific police unit that will specialise in counter-terrorism, responding to any social disorder or protests. Bratton explicitly equated terrorism, such as the Boston marathon attacks or the Charlie Hebdo killings, with domestic political demonstrations and campaigns. In the eyes of the New York police, the #BlackLivesMatter protest movement, pushing for the accountability of racist police officers who murder African Americans, is a domestic threat to be violently suppressed. The criminality of the police force, which has murdered African Americans with impunity, is to be continued, not investigated.

Let us also note that the surveillance and targeting of people is expanding – the New York police department has conducted a warrantless surveillance programme specifically gathering information about the Islamic community over the last decade. Information about this spying activity came out in Philadelphia in early January 2015. The court case was brought by Muslim activists and constitutional civil rights groups against the New York Police Department. The NYPD infiltrated the mosques and religious places of Islamic groups and communities, spying on Muslim organisations and community groups. Over the last ten years, this surveillance has not resulted in the apprehension of a single terrorism suspect.

The Atlantic magazine, in May 2014, noted that the police in America increasingly resemble soldiers, becoming heavily militarised and responding with brute force in all situations, regardless of the circumstances in each case. The police are being used as a battering ram to intimidate any opposition to the capitalist system, and the militarisation of the police was evident at the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. The United States police force has a long history of racially-motivated violence, an unbroken line of racist suppression that extends from Ferguson all the way back to the days of slavery, in the words of veteran black activist Angela Davis.

Darren Wilson, the white police officer who killed the unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown, will not face any charges for his actions. Eric Garner, a middle-aged African American man, died in 2014 from asphyxiation after being held down in a chokehold by a New York police officer. His crime? Selling cigarettes on the street, which he did to support his family. He had no history of violence, and actually informed the police about his reasons for trading. An asthmatic, his last words, which he repeated eleven times were, ‘I can’t breathe’. No police officer has been held accountable for Garner’s death.

Developing increasingly dictatorial methods of rule, combined with greater electronic surveillance and domestic spying, are the hallmarks of a capitalist system that has no solution to its own terminal decline except greater repression. That was happening in Latin American countries in the 1980s. It is now happening in the United States. The methods of the war on terror, adopted as a matter of course when dealing with the non-white population of the world, are now being applied inside the United States itself.

Cosme Caal, in his article, stated that:

Impunity is now normalized in most police departments across the United States and in the minds of many Americans. I did not know I would live to see this phenomenon, yet, the more I peruse online news feeds, the more evident it is to me that Americans, especially minorities, are in great danger of militarized suppression as a matter of state policy.

Go read the entire article in Counterpunch here.

Responding to the Ebola crisis, Cuba shows the world how it is done

The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Margaret Chan, was speaking about the terrible crisis afflicting the poor West African countries Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, namely, the growing outbreak of the Ebola virus disease. This condition is a fatal disease, transmitted from undomesticated animals to people, and is transmitted by contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

The Ebola virus attacks the body’s immune system, undermining the latter and preventing the body from detecting the disease. Currently there is no vaccine, and treatments of infected people are basically supportive, that means helping the person’s immune system recover and fight the disease, but without actually attacking the original virus. This disease has been known since the early 1970s. The 2014 outbreak though, is the most complex epidemic since the discovery of the virus, and the challenges facing health care workers with the current outbreak are severe.

Dr Chan, in addressing this public health issue, made a sharp and observant comment about why the current Ebola outbreak is so severe:

Speaking to the WHO’s regional committee for Africa in Benin, she said: “Ebola emerged nearly four decades ago. Why are clinicians still empty-handed, with no vaccines and no cure?”

She continued: “Because Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The R&D incentive is virtually non-existent. A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay.”

You can read her comments here in The Independent newspaper.  Dr Chan criticised the pharmaceutical industries lack of research and development into an Ebola vaccine, stating that with the lack of a profitable market, the drug companies were simply uninterested in investing money and resources into an Ebola vaccine project. Not only was there a lack of investment in vaccine research, but also a complete lack of investment in public health care structures that would have heavily mitigated against the severity and scope of the current Ebola outbreak.

Dr Chan, as chief of the WHO, is in the best position to understand the scale of the Ebola outbreak. She pointedly blamed the real culprit for this crisis; the for-profit medical system.

The Ebola virus has been known for approximately 40 years, yet no vaccine has been developed because it was not profitable to do so. The pharmaceutical companies responsible for medical research into vaccines decided that lacking a market, the development of an Ebola vaccine was not worthwhile. This demonstrates the irrationality of an economic system that subordinates human welfare to the corporate bottom-line. The private ownership of pharmaceutical production and health care has meant that without a required vaccine, thousands of people have suffered needlessly, and preventable fatalities have occurred because of this disease. The for-profit medical system subordinates the physical and mental well-being of people to the pursuit of higher corporate profits.

As Dr Chan noted, Ebola has historically impacted the poor West African nations, namely Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. These countries, while gaining formal political independence during the wave of decolonisation through the 1950s and 1960s, have remained in an economically dependent relationship with their former colonial overlords. Economic colonialism never truly ended for these nations, as they provide the raw materials and human labour power for giant multinational corporations headquartered in transatlantic countries.

The deleterious impact of the Ebola virus, as well as other vaccine-preventable diseases such as Dengue and Lassa fever, has been magnified by the poverty and immiseration in which these nations find themselves. Imperialism has plundered West Africa, and Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea still bear the brunt of the ravages of economic colonialism. The main imperial powers – the United States, Britain and France respectively – are responsible for a policy of malignant neglect, extracting the mineral wealth from these nations while leaving the majority of their populations in a state of abject poverty.

The nations of West Africa are among the poorest in the world. For instance, Sierra Leone has a GDP of 4.9 billion (US) dollars. In comparison, the former colonial power of that nation, Britain, has a GDP of 2.52 trillion (US) dollars. Liberia, with its GDP of 1.95 billion (US) dollars, is dwarfed by its imperial master the United States, whose GDP stands at 16.8 trillion (US) dollars. These economic statistics translate into massive inequalities for the people of West Africa, most of whom live in fetid, disease-ridden overcrowded slums without access to basic services. (By the way, the statistics above come from the World Bank). Sierra Leone’s main export is – diamonds, accounting for 63 percent of that country’s total exports, which could contribute to the wealth of that nation. However, Sierra Leone’s people remain dirt poor. One wonders where all that wealth is going.

West Point is an administrative district of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. It is home to 75 000 people. The poor sanitation and hygiene conditions of the district have been known for years. For instance, West Point has an inadequate water service, with only four public toilets – to be shared between 75 000 people. The beach serves as the lavatory, provides the drinking water, and fish from that water are consumed. Disease is rife, with outbreaks of cholera, tuberculosis and diarrhoea. These appalling conditions have been known for years. Yet the Liberian government and its colonial supervisor, the United States, have never addressed this serious public health issue. It is no wonder that a serious epidemic has spread so rapidly in west Africa, infecting thousands and claiming 5420 lives at last count, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. It is time to ask why the Ebola outbreak, the most serious medical and humanitarian emergency in years, was missed by the relevant authorities.

The reaction of the United States and other imperialist countries to the Ebola outbreak reveals a great deal about their domestic politics. In the United States, there has been an outpouring of racist hysteria, xenophobia and panic about the threat of immigrants, particularly from West Africa, swamping the domestic population and spreading this disease. In fact, fear itself has become an epidemic. As thousands of west Africans were afflicted, there was hardly a murmur of concern. However, that all changed when one Liberian, Thomas Eric Duncan, was diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Then, the corporate media went into full hysteria mode, as Nicole Colson from the US Socialist Worker explained:

The popular concern about Ebola is understandable given its frightening symptoms and lethal outcomes in West Africa, where thousands of people are infected. But that only makes the sensationalized frenzy of the cable news networks even more appalling, as they peddle lies and fear about the risk to anyone in the city of Dallas, where Thomas Duncan, the patient in question, was staying.

And they don’t stop with Dallas, either. Right-wingers speculated about how supposedly lax U.S. border security could be putting us all at risk. “We have a border that is so porous, Ebola or ISIS–or Ebola on the backs of ISIS–could come through our border,” Fox News’ Greg Gutfield hyperventilated, as a red “Alert” logo flashed on screen.

Proposals for “tough action” were equally frantic: Halt all flights to and from Western Africa! Don’t let anyone with a passport from a Western African country into the U.S.! Build a “double fence, triple fence, whatever it takes!” according windbag Charles Krauthammer, captured in The Daily Show‘s brilliant montage of the right-wing freak show.

The nurses who treated Duncan were themselves subjected to hysterical outbursts, even though they received proper medical attention and have subsequently been cleared of the disease. The main problem in the United States was not the Ebola virus itself, but hysteria and xenophobia, fueled by political opportunism of the lowest kind. Anti-immigrant politicians and right-wing crusaders have howled their prejudices over the air waves, as Liberians, and west African migrants in the US, have been subjected to racial attacks and derision as they go about their lives. The stigma of infection has done as much damage to people’s lives as the disease itself. Liberians in the United States have organised themselves and fought back; they have taken on the discrimination and hate they face with calm dignity. They are Liberians, not a virus.

Professor Priscilla Ward, writing for The Conversation, stated it plainly; the outbreak narrative adopted by the major corporate media, spreads unwarranted panic, with headlines screaming ‘apocalypse’. We need to break this destructive cycle of hysteria-stigma-more-panic by adopting a responsible course of action. As Professor Ward states “We are all human. We are all susceptible. More importantly, we are all responsible.”

There is one measure that the United States has taken, one that significantly impacts the lives of the west African people, a measure that has gotten lost amid the maelstrom of hysteria and panic. The US has deployed troops to west Africa, drawn from military personnel that make up AFRICOM, the military command structure and African military footprint of the United States in that continent. President Obama insisted that a militarised response was the correct one, because the United States needed to maintain its vital interests in that part of the world. The deployment of American troops is not new, but the latest response in an ongoing competition in Africa for resources and markets by the imperialist states. Note that the first priority of the US empire is to protect its flow of minerals and profits, not the alleviation of human suffering, an affliction that could be prevented with the deployment of medical resources. The retired chief of the British army, General Sir David Richards, even proposed that NATO send troops and take command of the operation to fight Ebola in west Africa.

There is one country, with only a fraction of the finances and resources at the disposal of the United States, that has sent doctors, health care workers and professionals straight to the afflicted regions, and has lead the world in its medical international humanism; socialist Cuba. While the United States (and Britain) have sent troops, Cuba has sent thousands of doctors around the world, and has lead the world in disaster management. Cuba actually has medical brigades, composed of medical personnel, equipped with the skills and logistics of tackling medical emergencies – all financed by the state. Back in September, the Cuban health ministry announced that it would send 165 doctors, nurses and experts in infectious diseases to west Africa. This measure was praised by the chief of the WHO, Dr Margaret Chan, when she stated that:

“This is “the biggest commitment of personnel to the health crisis so far by any country,” said Chan. Even as some countries have committed funds or small treatment centers, she stresses, “The thing we need most of all is people, health care workers.”

Cuba possesses exactly what West Africa needs right now – a well-trained, organised and efficient health care system. This is the judgement of the senior editor of Medicc Review, Conner Gorry. She explains in her article, published in the online magazine Links:

The Henry Reeve Brigade, as it’s known, was established in 2005 by more than 1500 Cuban health professionals trained in disaster medicine and infectious disease containment; built on 40 years of medical aid experience, the volunteer team was outfitted with essential medicines and equipment and prepared to deploy to US regions ravaged by Hurricane Katrina (the offer was rejected by the Bush administration). Today, Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade is the largest medical team on the ground in west Africa battling Ebola.

Cuba’s government has directly offered to cooperate with the United States in joint efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak. Thus far, apart from low-level discussions and sporadic communications, the United States has not replied. Cuba’s leading role in fighting the Ebola outbreak, its experience in emergency management and the organised response of its medical system has thus far been largely ignored, a telling comment on the priorities of the major corporate media. This has implications for Australia, where the federal government is intent on pursuing the full privatisation of health care. The for-profit health care system has failed to respond to the medical disaster of our times, and is responsible for the inadequate conditions that have worsened the impact of the epidemic. The country with the state-funded and planned medical system has demonstrated to the world how to respond in a humane way, saving lives and offering solidarity.

There is one head of state who immediately recognised the seriousness of the Ebola outbreak, urging the relevant international and local authorities to act decisively to save lives. He stated that:

A dreadful epidemic is advancing today on our fraternal peoples of Africa, and threatening us all. A high number of cases have been diagnosed with Ebola and many people have perished from the disease in several countries, including two outside the African continent.

This poses a huge challenge to humanity, one that should be met with utmost urgency. The action of the international community as a whole, under the leadership of the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization and the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, is much needed.

That was Cuban President Raul Castro. Go read his whole speech here.