Striking Back Against Empire: 40 Years of In These Times

War, peace and the American military machine.

Frida Berrigan December 26, 2016

One day when I was 9, I came home to find my nor­mal­ly unfap­pable moth­er pac­ing and white-faced. 

We fall asleep listening to Trump’s droning hate speech, lulled with the idea that “we’d never …” But both presidential candidates are hawkish, and neither will upend the 40-year trend of military invasion and market manipulation.

We invad­ed Grena­da,” she blurt­ed, and began to cry. It took me a few min­utes of fran­tic synapse work to piece togeth­er that the seri­ous media procla­ma­tions I’d been hear­ing were con­nect­ed to my mother’s emo­tion­al out­burst, and to reas­sure myself that Grena­da was in fact pret­ty far away and was not actu­al­ly going to affect us personally.

It’s going to be ok, Mom­my,” I respond­ed fee­bly. I was wrong, of course. 

I was remind­ed of this long ago episode while look­ing back through 40 years of In These Times’ for­eign pol­i­cy cov­er­age. Less than a month after Oper­a­tion Urgent Fur­ry crashed into that island nation of less than 100,000 peo­ple, ITT pub­lished a round cri­tique of U.S. pol­i­cy toward Grena­da. In the Novem­ber 1983 arti­cle Admin­is­tra­tion sees inva­sion as tri­umph of U.S. mil­i­tary will,” John B. Jud­is dis­counts White House and Pen­ta­gon jus­tifca­tions for the inva­sion. He con­cludes that Grena­da still fit [Rea­gan] admin­is­tra­tion designs per­fect­ly” because it gave the mil­i­tary a chance to flex its mus­cle and send a mes­sage to nations waflf­ing on Communism. 

The inva­sion was a tiny blip on most screens, but to ITT read­ers, it con­tin­ued decades of anti-Com­mu­nist adven­tur­ism and bit­ter vio­lence in the Caribbean and Cen­tral Amer­i­ca. At every turn in this bumpy four-decade ride through extrac­tive and exploita­tive for­eign pol­i­cy, this pub­li­ca­tion filled in the pic­ture, con­nect­ed the dots and com­pli­cat­ed the nar­ra­tive through an unapolo­get­i­cal­ly left­ist framework. 

In Jan­u­ary 1988, Jim Nau­reckas wrote in these pages that most news out­lets treat­ed the region’s vio­lence as iso­lat­ed inci­dents — X num­ber of peo­ple killed in El Sal­vador, Y in Chile, next sto­ry. This miss­es the big­ger pic­ture, he asserts: Death squads are part of a con­cert­ed and high­ly suc­cess­ful region-wide strat­e­gy, the prin­ci­ples of which were devel­oped and dis­sem­i­nat­ed by the U.S. mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence network.” 

After Sept. 11, 2001, that mess was over­laid with the War on Ter­ror and boom, the results are airstrikes abroad in at least sev­en dif­fer­ent coun­tries, a new stream of refugees des­per­ate to escape vio­lence and eco­nom­ic insta­bil­i­ty, hate­ful back­lash against Lati­nos and Mus­lims, and a hyped-up audi­ence for Don­ald Trump’s wall-build­ing and hate-mongering. 

Islam­o­pho­bia, the war in Syr­ia, des­per­ate refugees pad­dling toward asy­lum at all costs, war in the Mid­dle East: These are all cov­ered in the main­stream media as a his­tor­i­cal phe­nom­e­na, like weath­er. But through the pages of this mag­a­zine, we can trace a path of cause and effect. These are not deep-seat­ed, irrec­on­cil­able ten­sions root­ed in reli­gion and ancient enmi­ties, but life-and-death resource strug­gles. A 1984 inves­ti­ga­tion relates Pales­tin­ian farm­ers’ heart­break over the destruc­tion of fig trees, olive groves and wheat fields by Israeli con­struc­tion crews, and in Sep­tem­ber 1991 Staughton and Alice Lynd tell us Israel con­trols 60 per­cent of the West Bank’s land and is divert­ing water ille­gal­ly. ITT con­tin­ues to cov­er the Pales­tin­ian strug­gle: In an April 2009 debate on the effi­ca­cy of Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions against Israel, both Nao­mi Klein and Rab­bi Arthur Waskow are ground­ed in an under­stand­ing that mon­ey — specif­cal­ly, Amer­i­can mon­ey — helps per­pet­u­ate the occu­pa­tion, despite their strate­gic disagreement.

FREE­DOM FIGHT­ER OR TERRORIST?

One ques­tion ITT has asked again and again: Who are the real ter­ror­ists?” In a July 1985 essay on the hijack­ing of TWA Flight 847 by Islamist groups, Noam Chom­sky writes, The term ter­ror­ism has lost all mean­ing as admin­is­tra­tion pro­pa­gan­da has rede­fined it to omit acts by its friends … For the pow­er­ful, the weapons of the weak are an abom­i­na­tion, while their own whole­sale ter­ror­ism is mere­ly the pre­jo­ra­tive of more civ­i­lized peo­ple. The cur­rent scene offers lit­tle that is new, apart, per­haps, from the depths of cyn­i­cism that have been revealed.”

That cyn­i­cism is on full dis­play in the tor­ture man­u­als devel­oped and used through­out the 1980s by the School of the Amer­i­c­as, a U.S. train­ing school for Latin Amer­i­can mil­i­tary per­son­nel. After a hard-won fight by human rights activists, the man­u­als were made pub­lic in 1996, and as Lisa Hau­gaard writes in Octo­ber of that year, they regard basic exer­cis­es of democ­ra­cy as tools of ter­ror­ists. As one man­u­al states, Many ter­ror­ists … use the [demo­c­ra­t­ic process] to advance their caus­es.” Hau­gaard con­cludes that this paint-all-dis­sent-as-ter­ror­ism tac­tic was efec­tive­ly export­ed to jus­ti­fy killing thou­sands of reli­gious lead­ers, stu­dents, union mem­bers and human rights activists.”

This ear­ly atten­tion to the polit­i­cal ver­sa­til­i­ty of the word has made ITT par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive in the post‑9/​11 world. ITT’s war-rhetoric radar was attuned as world lead­ers rushed to tar every threat as ter­ror­ist in order to gain U.S. sup­port for their pet inva­sions. Peace and anti-war move­ments strug­gled to main­tain a sense of glob­al sol­i­dar­i­ty and restraint, and turned to this mag­a­zine for guid­ance, con­nec­tion and insight. 

Woven through all of this are U.S. eco­nom­ic inter­ests oper­at­ing hand in glove with polit­i­cal inter­ests. We see this right up through Oper­a­tion Endur­ing Free­dom, the Bush administration’s inva­sion and occu­pa­tion of Iraq. While many in the peace move­ment focused on the wrong­ness of the inva­sion — no weapons of mass destruc­tion, no con­nec­tion to 911, no nuclear smok­ing gun — Anto­nia Juhasz, in a Jan­u­ary 2007 ITT arti­cle, quotes the CIA’s senior expert on al-Qae­da, who quit in dis­gust in 2004, say­ing, The U.S. inva­sion of Iraq was … an avari­cious, pre­med­i­tat­ed, unpro­voked war against a foe who posed no imme­di­ate threat but whose defeat did offer eco­nom­ic advan­tages.” Smack down! Juhasz then explains how the U.S. got its hands on that sweet Iraqi oil, nego­ti­at­ing the U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area with a shocked and awed region in no posi­tion to deal from strength. 

WE BRING THE BOMB TO LIFE

When it comes to who’s a ter­ror­ist and whose human rights mat­ter, why does the Unit­ed States get to be the great defin­er? Our bloat­ed nuclear arse­nal can’t hurt. In These Times sees this more clear­ly than most and cov­ers nuclear weapons, nuclear pow­er and the anti-nuclear move­ment with con­sid­ered depth. 

As a child of the anti-nuclear move­ment, I par­tic­u­lar­ly appre­ci­ate the report­ing — for­eign and domes­tic — on that movement’s ten­sions, short­com­ings and vic­to­ries. Here it is, cov­ered like what it is — news! This point was dri­ven home by a series of arti­cles about the merg­er of two very difer­ent anti­nu­clear orga­ni­za­tions in 1987. It is not quite the breath­less cov­er­age of Bayer’s bid to buy Mon­san­to, but the pros and cons of con­sol­i­dat­ing FREEZE’s strong grass­roots pres­ence and abil­i­ty to mobi­lize thou­sands with SANE’s more top-down, Belt­way-focused exper­tise are weighed and debat­ed with­in ITT’s pages over sev­er­al months, cul­mi­nat­ing in Decem­ber 1987’s The Sane/​Freeze Merg­er” by Den­nis Sad­ows­ki, which recounts the 201 – 1 vote to merge.

ITT also appre­ci­ates that the anti­nu­clear move­ment goes beyond the super­pow­er cap­i­tals. In the Octo­ber 1983 arti­cle Third World Cri­sis is Nuclear Trig­ger,” James Petras and Mor­ris Mor­ley express frus­tra­tion that West­ern anti-nuclear activists weren’t cen­ter­ing the con­cerns of those in the Glob­al South, who, the piece argues, are like­ly to suf­fer most in the next nuclear war. This mes­sage has been car­ried through the decades and, thank­ful­ly, heard loud and clear by the inter­na­tion­al activist community.

As a res­i­dent of the Sub­ma­rine Cap­i­tal of the World — Gro­ton, Conn. — my favorite nuclear arti­cle (nev­er thought I’d write that phrase) is Daze of Dol­phins” by Joel Schechter in June 1990, a tongue-in-cheek imag­in­ing of a World War III start­ed by dol­phins trained to pro­tect nuclear subs, who use their snout-mount­ed guns to take over Moscow and Wash­ing­ton. We still have to laugh; ITT gets that. 

FOUR MORE YEARS OF EMPIRE?

Big media has changed in the last 40 years. It has con­sol­i­dat­ed, con­strict­ed, got­ten faster and more super­fi­cial. But the ten­den­cy to tell only one sto­ry at a time has not changed. I am hap­py to report that In These Times bucked this trend. There are so many sto­ries here— from every cor­ner of the globe. Rich­ly report­ed, full of vivid detail and embroi­dered with cri­tique and hope. That atten­tion to the craft of report­ing and writ­ing must be main­tained even as the public’s atten­tion span degrades. 

Look­ing for­ward 40 years, what will we need from inde­pen­dent pro­gres­sive media? 

A per­pet­u­al wake-up call! Even the most hor­rifc tragedies get old, and we need to be remind­ed to keep pay­ing atten­tion to Afghanistan — you know, that war we’ve been embroiled in for the past 15 years. How about abus­es of exec­u­tive pow­er, tor­ture and indefnite deten­tion, bomb­ings? We fall asleep lis­ten­ing to Trump’s dron­ing hate speech, lulled with the idea that we’d nev­er …” But both pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates are hawk­ish, and nei­ther will upend the 40-year trend of mil­i­tary inva­sion and mar­ket manip­u­la­tion. We need a call to rebuild a peace move­ment that can take on all of this — and so much more.

Today’s wars are fought with few­er and few­er actu­al U.S. sol­diers; our robot assas­sins and vague­ly defined ene­mies have blurred the bat­tle lines, prob­a­bly per­ma­nent­ly. These wars involve and impli­cate all aspects of soci­eties — cul­ture, econ­o­my, civic insti­tu­tions. But the prob­lem is still U.S. mil­i­tarism — gar­gan­tu­an, expen­sive, bru­tal. What are its weak­ness­es? What are our tools? How can we orga­nize so we need less from a state whose poli­cies we deplore?

We still need a steady (but not rigid) frame­work for under­stand­ing an evere­volv­ing world, an ever-shift­ing polit­i­cal land­scape and a set of eco­nom­ic prin­ci­ples that are on per­pet­u­al (and very expen­sive) life sup­port. We still need a plat­form to cov­er peo­ple and strug­gles — not just issues and coun­tries — and to hold those peo­ple and strug­gles accountable. 

We still need a mag­a­zine that con­nects read­ers emo­tion­al­ly to for­eign pol­i­cy. Because the inva­sion of Grena­da did afect me per­son­al­ly, I just didn’t know it when I was 9.

Fri­da Berri­g­an is a senior pro­gram asso­ciate with the New Amer­i­ca Foun­da­tion’s Arms and Secu­ri­ty Ini­tia­tive and a mem­ber of the Cam­paign for a Nuclear Weapons Free World.
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