Monday, December 23, 2019

This Holiday Season These Speeches Still Speak to Our Times: a repost (from December 31, 2010)

Harry Targ

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence--economic, political, even spiritual--is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military/industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes…

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research…. a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity….

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific/technological elite (Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 17, 1961).

*********************************************************************

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967).

****************************************************
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends
(Jimmy Carter, July 15, 1979).

Words Still Matter

We have become so drugged by politicians that we often fail to reflect on the power of their words. Seeing books on library shelves with titles like “Speeches of Great Americans” culls up in our minds Readers Digest, the History Channel, Sunday morning sermons, and all the nonsense that passes for political discourse in the 21st century. Even profound speeches, and the lives of profound political actors, are transformed, debased and normalized, such that the power of words or deeds becomes acceptable to ruling classes and even made to have commercial value.

Every once in a while though a politician or activist says something that is rich with theoretical insight and inspiration and begs for action. The power of the words cannot be demeaned, delegitimized or made palatable to all. And, it behooves progressives to revisit those words and use them for practical political work.

The Military/Industrial Complex

When President Eisenhower gave his final address to the nation on January 17, 1961, 50 years ago, he warned of “the acquisition of unwarranted influence” of a military/industrial complex. He originally included the word “academic” but later eliminated it, probably for reasons of length. He was alerting Americans to the breadth and scope of military power over the world and American society.

The President’s words constituted a shocking challenge to the soon-to-be Kennedy era defense intellectuals who criticized the outgoing president’s reluctance to spend even more than the $40 billion he invested on the military. Even his direct orders to subordinates to overthrow Guatemala’s President Jacob Arbenz and Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and his declaration of the Middle East as a free-world sanctuary was not enough for the 1960s theorists and practitioners of “modernization,” “development,” and “democracy.”

Although Eisenhower warned us of the impacts of the military/industrial complex he could not foresee the magnitude of the controls on America’s public life that soon resulted. First, he only dimly saw the changes that would occur in the techniques of empire. CIA money ensured election outcomes in other countries. American intelligence and military forces engineered brutal military coups. Military advisors revamped armies and repressive police forces in countries threatened by revolutionary change. The United States used “low intensity conflict” to train anti-government reactionaries. And then to mollify domestic critics, the U.S. initiated the privatization and outsourcing of the military as an adjunct to the over 700 U.S. military bases in more than 40 countries. Most recently, high tech weapons, unmanned aerial vehicles, are used to kill people without endangering U.S. soldiers. Technological advances and the globalization of U.S. violence continue.

Eisenhower was inalterably opposed to the militarization of the U.S. economy. While he was willing to allot $40 billion in 1950s currency, he resisted the demands from Beltway liberals and defense contractors to double military spending. By the 1960s, half of the federal budget began to go to the military and one in ten workers derived wages from defense contracts. And that continues, but with less public criticism.

Finally, Eisenhower spoke to the militarization of American culture. The university became a research arm of the complex. Students were taught about the virtues of military “readiness,” “the communist threat,” the problem of “human nature” and perpetual war, and, more recently, the endless danger of “terrorism.” Virtually every large corporation, producing such products as toothpaste, toys, breakfast cereal, medications, automobiles, electronics, or energy, is steeped in military contracts. The public airwaves, the internet, movies, and sports are laced with war, violence, killing, and competition. As Eisenhower put it: “Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved: so is the very structure of our society.”

Making War Overseas and Advancing Hunger At Home

In April, 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at Riverside Church in New York City and made it crystal clear that wars elsewhere not only kill the designated enemies, but impoverish poor working people at home. Dr. King made a critical contribution to the discussion of the link between war and foreign policy and people’s lives. Killing in other lands is an immoral abomination. While that needs to be critically understood, the unequal distribution of wealth and income within the United States is stark and is intimately connected to foreign adventures. And, in fact, the more resources that are allocated for killing others, the less there are to serve the needs of those at home.

President Lyndon Johnson, who increased the U.S. troop commitment from 16,000 in 1963 to 540,000 in 1968 and who launched daily bombing of targets in North and South Vietnam in 1965 that went unabated until 1968 tried to create a “war” on poverty at home. Dr. King knew that this country could not do both: that there was an inverse relationship between war-making and domestic prosperity. As he put it: “I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam.” And as the years unfolded and the United States shifted from a military draft to a volunteer army, the percentage increased of those who could not find jobs and earn a decent income and became the foot soldiers for future wars.

Corporate/Financial Elites and the Creation of Self-Indulgence

Perhaps the least known of the prophetic speeches cited above is the one presented on television in July, 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. He was called to speak about the growing energy crisis, dramatic increases in the price of oil, growing dependency on foreign oil, concentrated economic power in Washington, and the celebration of a culture of self-indulgence, consumerism, materialism, and competition.

While this speech did not address foreign and military policy as directly as the other two, it warned the American people about the dangers of war, foreign dependency on oil, and an international system driven by oil giants and oil-rich countries. He linked these to a domestic culture that defined its success on the basis of how much it could consume.

President Carter challenged the basic precept of the corporate culture that evolved out of industrial and monopoly capitalism in the twentieth century; its basic paucity of meaning and purpose. “But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”

What Can We Learn From These Famous Speeches

We should bring to our political work the idea that words still matter. In addition, we must reflect upon the possibility that mainstream politicians, presidents for example, may say things that should and could be appropriated to build a progressive agenda. And, perhaps more difficult, we need to cut through the propaganda which often leads political figures to be lionized and thus transformed into everyday icons. Dr. King was a radical, against racism, sexism, and classism. He opposed war. He saw the vital interconnections between massive governmental waste and human suffering. And he saw that the direction U.S. society was heading in was pure “madness.”

Substantively, we should revisit these speeches to raise again our opposition to war and empire and military spending. We need to stand with our brothers and sisters who are demanding jobs and justice. And we must stand with those, whether secular or religious, who argue against a self-indulgent, consumption-based and comp


Friday, December 20, 2019

PURDUE PUBLIC CHARTER HIGH SCHOOLS CONTINUE TO RAISE QUESTIONS

Today the Lafayette Journal and Courier printed a story about a new Purdue University initiated public charter high school in South Bend (the first two in Indianapolis) which was approved by the local school board. Some in the community object to this new STEM-oriented project. As in the older essay below, questions abound about the role of local teachers and their organizations in these projects. The announcements of these projects usually imply the fa...
See More

heartlandradical.blogspot.com
Harry Targ Manufacturing Connect represents a partnership between…


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY, DECEMBER 10: 2019 THEME: ‘YOUTH STANDING UP FOR HUMAN RIGHTS’


Harry Targ

Youth are Taking the Lead

Young people are standing up for political, economic, social, environmental, and cultural rights all across the globe. Despite the naysayers on the right who claim that young people today are troubled, lack resiliency, need to concentrate on job-seeking behavior or those in the center who advocate for moderation, patience, and compromise with opponents, young people are hitting the streets, organizing politicly, and advocating for candidates for public office who seek fundamental and systemic change. Often they are forced to flee their homelands because of state violence, environmental disasters, brutal slaughter of loved ones, and ongoing “hybrid wars” on governments that powerful nations oppose. In the face of monumental crises, young people everywhere are standing up and declaring in their own way that “Enough is Enough.”

Given these uprisings, the United Nations, on this Human Rights Day, celebrates “…the potential of youth as agents of constructive change.” The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced a campaign that “…is designed to encourage, galvanize, and showcase how youth all over the world stand up for rights and against racism, hate speech, bullying, discrimination and climate change” and other problems. The OHCHR believes youth are essential to achieve sustainable development and are central to positive social change.

Also, youth see social, economic, and environmental problems in a global context. https://www.un.org/en/observances/human-rights-day

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: The Founding

The massive atrocities of World War II led nations to commit themselves permanently to the protection of basic rights for all human beings. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of the wartime President, Franklin Roosevelt, worked diligently with leaders from around the world to develop a document, to articulate a set of principles, which would bind humankind to never carry out acts of mass murder again.

In addition, the document also committed nations to work to end most forms of pain and suffering.

Over 70 years ago, on December 10, 1948, delegates from the United Nations General Assembly signed the document which they called “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” It consisted of a preamble proclaiming that all signatories recognize "the inherent dignity" and "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" as the "foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world."

The preamble declared the commitment of the signatories to the creation of a world “in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want...”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights consists of 30 articles, with varying degrees of elaboration. The first 21 articles refer primarily to civil and political rights. They prohibit discrimination, persecution for the holding of various political beliefs, slavery, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention.

Persons have the right to speak their mind, travel, reside anywhere, have a fair trial if charged with crimes, own property, form a family, and in the main to hold the rights of citizenship including universal and equal suffrage in their country.

The remaining nine articles address what may be called social and economic rights. These include rights to basic social security in accordance with the resources of the state in which the persons reside; rights to adequate leisure and holidays with pay; an adequate standard of living so that individuals and families have sufficient food, clothing, shelter, and medical care; and education, free at least at the primary and secondary levels.

In addition, these nine articles would guarantee a vibrant cultural life in the community, the right to enjoy and participate in the arts, and to benefit from scientific achievements.

If the Declaration were written today, concern for the radically deteriorating environment and climate change would be prioritized. In addition, the language of the document would be sensitive to gender neutrality. It would also include the rights of gay. lesbian, and transgender persons and their relationships.

But despite the limitations the list of political, social, economic, and cultural rights embedded in this historic document it can still provide a guide to action.

To illustrate, Article 23,  one of the longer articles, identified four basic principles:

Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment

Everyone, without discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself (or herself) and his (her) family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his (her) interests.
Using the language of our day, the principles embedded in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights constitute a bedrock vision inspiring the global 99 percent to rise up against their exploiters from Santiago to Beirut to Wall Street, to cities and towns all over the world.

Youth and the Future


Youth recognize that the global political economy is broken. The dominant mode of production, capitalism, increasingly cannot provide work, fair remuneration, rights of workers to speak their mind and organize their own associations, and the provision of a comfortable way of life because most of the wealth they create is appropriated by the top 1 percent of global society. They also see a fundamental incompatibility of the global economic system and  environmental sustainability.

Therefore, to finally achieve these rights, including saving the planet, it is fitting that the OHCHR recognizes that if the  human race is going to survive, the mobilization of youth in the world today must be respected and supported. Their impatience is not an indication of immaturity. It is a reflection of the fact that this generation recognizes the severity of the situation in which we live.










Monday, December 9, 2019

THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, AGAIN

Book Review
Socialism and Democracy, December, 2019

The Russians are Coming, Again
Jeremy Kuzmarov and John Marciano, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018, 237 pp., $16)

Harry Targ (2019) The Russians are Coming, Again, Socialism and Democracy, DOI: 10.1080/08854300.2019.1658967

The primary purpose of this book is to challenge the popular view that Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, represents a challenge to US democracy much as the former Soviet Union was alleged to have been during the Cold War. The authors, taking The New York Times as their prime source, argue that what is called Russiagate, a story about the nefarious use of computer hacking, spying, and bribing and threatening to expose public figures, including President Trump, is being promoted day-after-day as the root cause of the outcome of the 2016 election. In addition, they suggest that those who vigorously embrace the Russiagate explanation of the 2016 election are claiming that Russia’s interference might be part of a longer-term Russian threat to American democracy. This is so because alleged hackers spread misinformation about candidates and issues, thus distorting dialogue and debate.
The authors review the charges of subversion of the elections that have been “proven”, or so The New York Times claims. The “proof” includes statements released by spokespersons from the FBI, the CIA and other national security agencies that Russian operatives, agencies, and private institutions have hacked social media with “fake news” about candidates running for office (especially, Hillary Clinton). Advocates of this view presume that such misinformation influenced the voter choices of the American electorate. These are the same institutions that figured so prominently in presenting distorted views of a Soviet “threat” during the Cold War that justified the arms race and massive US military expenditures.

To illustrate the seriousness of the charges of the impact of Russia’s interference in the election they quote Thomas Friedman who claimed that the Russian hacking of the election was “… a 9/11 scale event. … that goes to the very core of our democracy.” Along with similar opinion pieces by Charles Blow, Timothy Snyder, and other columnists, news stories, Kuzmarov and Marciano say, have been replete with similar claims. The New York Times narrative concludes that the hacking and interference in the US election is designed to promote victories of candidates for public office who would be sympathetic, and subservient to Russia. The long-range goal of Russia, their stories suggest, is to promote Russian expansionism and its restoration to great power status.

After developing their critique of the Russiagate narrative, Kuzmarov and Marciano, make the case that United States foreign policy since 1917 has been motivated by the desire to crush the Russian Revolution and limit the influence and power of the Soviet Union in world affairs. The Russiagate narrative, they suggest, is primarily a continuation of the story each US administration told the American people about a “Soviet threat” to justify the escalation of the arms race and military spending. They argue that proponents of the Russiagate scenario promote the idea of a new “Russian threat.”
In fact, Kuzmarov and Marciano say, Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe today reflects its perception of a threat from the United States and the NATO countries. For example, President George Herbert Walker Bush promised Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not establish new military installations in Eastern Europe. With new NATO forward bases in Poland and the United States’ support of a coup in Ukraine, the Russians see the United States as having aggressive intent. From Russia’s vantage point United States threats to Soviet/Russian security have been a feature of East/West relations from the Russian Revolution, through the Cold War, to hostile relations with the United States in the twenty-first century.

All too briefly, Kuzmarov and Marciano review the history of the root causes of the United States’ Cold War policy, the lies perpetrated about the Soviet threat, and the enormous damage Cold War policies did to the American people and the victims of war around the world. For those who have not lived through the Cold War and students who are not taught about alternative narratives to “American exceptionalism” this brief volume is very useful. It draws upon the best of historical revisionist scholarship, including the works of William Appleman Williams, Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, Gar Alperowitz, and Ellen Schrecker. It has chapters on the onset of the Cold War and its causes; the attack by Cold War advocates on democracy; Truman, McCarthy, and anti-communism; and the war against the Global South. In sum, the story begins with the substantial US military intervention during the Russian civil war after the Bolshevik victory and continues to Russiagate today.

The authors effectively develop their two main themes. First, they challenge the argument that Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, represents a threat to US democracy much as the former Soviet Union was alleged to have done during the Cold War. They argue that the Russiagate narrative is fraudulent. Second, they briefly revisit the history of United States/Soviet/Russian relations to argue that the one-hundred-year conflict between the two sides was largely caused by United States’ imperial policies and that proponents of the Russiagate thesis seek to rekindle a new Cold War with Russia.


Thursday, December 5, 2019

FROM THE RED FOR ED MOBILIZATION TO THE REFOUNDATION OF THE NATIONAL ALLIANCE AGAINST RACIST AND POLITICAL REPRESSION: CONNECTING THE DOTS

Harry Targ


On a cold and cloudy Tuesday, November 19  a diverse group of 15,000 protestors assembled at an unlikely space, the State Capitol building in Indianapolis, Indiana. These were teachers and public school workers (including nurses, secretaries, bus drivers, and janitors) who were demanding that Indiana’s decade of defunding public schools while shifting resources to vouchers and charter schools stop. They were opposing rules changing accreditation and cutting resources vital to the education process and demanding wage increases so education workers do not have to take one or two more jobs to make ends meet. 

Three days later, 1,200 activists, younger and more people of color, rallied at the Chicago Teachers Union hall during the opening of a three-day conference to reconstitute the legendary National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR). Representatives of militant groups from 28 states spoke about their struggles against police violence, mass incarceration, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and the brutal treatment of immigrants in the United States. The rally then heard keynote addresses by Angela Davis and Frank Chapman, the chair of the Chicago Alliance. 

The next two days over 800 registrants heard and strategized about the forms of repression experienced by people of color, women and workers in the society. Their immediate call was for the reestablishment of the organization that was created after the successful campaign to free Angela Davis in the 1970s, a campaign that gave hope to many political prisoners. The first task of the reconstituted Alliance would be to work for the community control of police. Ultimately this project would inspire the vision of what Frank Chapman called “All Power to the People.”

Red for Ed and the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression

Comparing the two events, much was different about the participants and their demands, but there was a commonality that should be explored.

As to the Indiana teachers mobilization, demands included compensation (incoming teachers earn just $35,000 in a state where 37 percent of households have earnings below a livable standard); an end to 15 hour professional training for all teachers to keep their accreditation; and an end to evaluating teachers on the basis of questionable quantitative test scores of students (which obliges teachers to teach for the test rather than wholistic learning).

Inside the Capital building teachers from around the state talked about the lack of compensation (many teachers have had to take second and third jobs), inadequate supplies (teachers have to bring pencils, crayons, and paper for their students), and unmanageable class sizes.

Indiana is a leader among the 50 states in shifting resources from public education to vouchers and charter schools  embracing what is called a “Mindtrust” model of education, using a profit/loss market model to evaluate the educational process. Because public education has been underfunded (“starving the beast”), performance has stagnated. Then privatizers have advocated for charter schools. However, charters have often had deleterious effects on teachers, students, and communities. These school policies involving defunding public schools, investing in charter schools, privatizing, defunding, and attacking teachers and communities have spread all across the country.

The Indiana teachers were inspired by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, California, Arizona, Illinois and elsewhere. And this round of teacher mobilizations has been broadly supported by families, and communities, who see educational institutions as the anchor of society. In addition, teachers increasingly view themselves as workers and trade unionists regard teachers as allies (the Indiana AFL-CIO supported the November 19 mobilization).

The refounding of the National Alliance was animated by its long history defending political prisoners, opposing police repression, and mass incarceration. A multiplicity of criticisms brought the 1,200 people, mostly young, persons of color, and some elder left and progressive activists together. The issues raised in workshops, lectures, and discussions included increasing racial violence and repression against Black and Brown communities; vigilante violence against people of color, Latinx, indigenous people, immigrant, LGBTQ , Muslims, Jews, and others; documented police killings; the “detainment-to-deportation pipeline”; fusing of resources of the military/industrial complex and forces fighting terrorism with local and state police apparatuses; and concentration camps at the southern border of the United States. 


In addition the Alliance Resolution, which was adopted at the end of the conference also declared its “unconditional solidarity with the national liberation movements of Palestine, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines as well as the anti-imperialist struggles of South Africa, Venezuela, and all progressive democratic forces against imperialism.” 

Armed with these concerns, the attendees resolved to refound the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Executive Director Frank Chapman pointed out that the work of the alliance would be to fight state repression, thus defending those who seek liberation. The work of the Alliance is therefore inextricably connected to all the other struggles of the day.

Building a People’s Movement: Connecting the Dots


In some ways the mobilization of Indiana teachers and their allies and the participants in the conference of those opposing the repressive state apparatus were different. The Alliance attendees, in the main were younger than the protesting teachers and were more diverse culturally. The Alliance demands were more “radical” including conversations about prison abolition and community control of police. The teachers were concerned about compensation, methods of evaluating school performance, accreditation, funding for public schools, and reversing the flow of state support from these schools to charter schools.

But there were many compatibilities that should be fostered.

Both events were high energy. Participants were angry and frustrated, and seemed to be inspired by the collective actions in which they were engaged.

Both events led participants to endorse a series of demands that would reverse negative policies and allocation of public resources.

Participants at both events saw the interconnections among many issues. As articulated in the many teacher mobilizations around the country, teachers saw themselves as workers. Speakers at the Indiana Statehouse identified the common interests shared by teachers, paraprofessionals, clerical workers, bus drivers and others. At the Alliance conference, solidarity was repeatedly expressed for diverse attendees experiencing common forms of oppression. In addition, not too dissimilar from the teachers rally, Alliance participants saw themselves as part of the working class as a whole.

While not explicitly identifying themselves as an anti-capitalist movement, their demands had much to do with opposing the privatization of education, the accumulation of super-profits with poor outcomes of charter schools, and the efforts of politicians to destroy the labor movement among teachers and the public sector in general. In the case of the Alliance, several speakers identified state and police repression with capitalism and imperialism and police repression as motivated by defense of the system.

And perhaps most significant from a movement building point of view was the fact that the teachers had mobilized one of the biggest rallies in Indiana history three days before the Chicago Teachers Union allied with and hosted the conference  at its union hall to refound the Alliance.

These and other similarities suggest that left/progressive activists should participate in both kinds of mobilizations. Activists can help participants in these movements realize that they are part of the same struggle. It is clear that the same class that seeks to destroy public institutions for a profit will use the resources of the state to crush movements seeking a political economy that serves communities at large. Articulating the commonalities of these disparate mobilizations is a task in which the left should engage.


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

WHY NATO? (a repost on the maintenance of empire)

Harry Targ

During World War II an “unnatural alliance” was created between the United States, Great Britain, and the former Soviet Union. What brought the three countries together, the emerging imperial giant, the declining capitalist power, and the first socialist state, was the shared need to defeat fascism in Europe. Rhetorically, the high point of collaboration was reflected in the agreements made at the Yalta Conference, in February, 1945 three months before the German armies were defeated. 

At Yalta, the great powers made decisions to facilitate democratization of former Nazi regimes in Eastern Europe, a “temporary” division of Germany for occupation purposes, and a schedule of future Soviet participation in the ongoing war against Japan. Leaders of the three states returned to their respective countries celebrating the “spirit of Yalta,” what would be a post-war world order in which they would work through the new United Nations system to modulate conflict in the world.

Within two years, after conflicts over Iran with the Soviet Union, the Greek Civil War, the replacement of wartime President Franklin Roosevelt with Harry Truman, and growing challenges to corporate rule in the United States by militant labor, Truman declared in March, 1947 that the United States and its allies were going to be engaged in a long-term struggle against the forces of “International Communism.” The post-war vision of cooperation was reframed as a struggle of the “free world” against “tyranny.” 

In addition to Truman’s ideological crusade, his administration launched an economic program to rebuild parts of Europe, particularly what would become West Germany, as capitalist bastions against the ongoing popularity of Communist parties throughout the region. Along with the significant program of reconstructing capitalism in Europe and linking it by trade, investment, finance, and debt to the United States, the U.S. with its new allies constructed a military alliance that would be ready to fight the Cold War against International Communism.

Representatives of Western European countries met in Brussels in 1948 to establish a program of common defense and one year later with the addition of the United States and Canada, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed. The new NATO charter, inspired largely by a prior Western Hemisphere alliance, the Rio Pact (1947), proclaimed that “an armed attack against one or more of them…shall be considered an attack against them all…” which would lead to an appropriate response. The Charter called for cooperation and military preparedness among the 12 signatories. After the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb and the Korean War started, NATO pushed ahead with the development of a common military command structure with General Eisenhower as the first “Supreme Allied Commander.”

With the founding of NATO and its establishment as a military arm of the West, the Truman administration adopted the policy recommendations in National Security Council Document 68 (NSC 68) in 1950 which declared that military spending for the indefinite future would be the number one priority of every presidential administration. As Western European economies reconstructed, Marshall Plan aid programs were shut down and military assistance to Europe was launched. Greece and Turkey joined NATO in 1952, and fueling the flames of Cold War, West Germany was admitted to NATO in 1955. (This stimulated the Soviet Union to construct its own alliance system, the Warsaw Pact, with countries from Eastern Europe).

During the Cold War NATO continued as the only unified Western military command structure against the “Soviet threat.” While forces and funds only represented a portion of the U.S. global military presence, the alliance constituted a “trip wire” signifying to the Soviets that any attack on targets in Western Europe would set off World War III. NATO thus provided the deterrent threat of “massive retaliation” in the face of first-strike attack.

With the collapse of the former Warsaw Pact regimes between 1989 and 1991, the tearing down of the symbolic Berlin Wall in 1989, and finally the collapse of the Soviet Union itself in 1991, the purpose for maintaining a NATO alliance presumably had passed. However, this was not to be.

In the next twenty years after the Soviet collapse, membership in the alliance doubled. New members included most of the former Warsaw Pact countries. The functions and activities of NATO were redefined. NATO programs included air surveillance during the crises accompanying the Gulf War and the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. In 1995, NATO sent 60,000 troops to Bosnia and in 1998-99 it carried out brutal bombing campaigns in Serbia with 38,000 sorties. NATO forces became part of the U.S. led military coalition that launched the war on Afghanistan in 2001. In 2011 a massive NATO air war on Libya played a critical role in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime. 

An official history of NATO described the changes in its mission: “In 1991 as in 1949, NATO was to be the foundation stone for a larger, pan-European security architecture.” The post-Cold War mission of NATO combines “military might, diplomacy, and post-conflict stabilization.”

The NATO history boldly concludes that the alliance was founded on defense in the 1950s and d├ętente with the Soviet Union in the 1960s. With the collapse of Communism in the 1990s it became a “tool for the stabilization of Eastern Europe and Central Asia through incorporation of new Partners and Allies.” The 21st century vision of NATO has expanded further: “extending peace through the strategic projection of security.” This new mission, the history said, was forced upon NATO because of the failure of nation-states and extremism.

Reviewing this brief history of NATO, observers can reasonably draw different conclusions about NATO’s role in the world than from those who celebrate its world role. 

First, NATO’s mission to defend Europe from aggression against “International Communism” was completed with the “fall of Communism.” 

Second, the alliance was regional, that is pertaining to Europe and North America, and now it is global. 

Third, NATO was about security and defense. Now it is about global transformation. 

Fourth, as its biggest supporter in terms of troops, supplies and budget (22-25%), NATO is an instrument of United States foreign policy. 

Fifth, as a creation of Europe and North America, it has become an enforcer of the interests of member countries against, what Vijay Prashad calls, the “darker nations” of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. 

Sixth, NATO has become the 21st century military instrumentality of global imperialism. And finally, there is growing evidence that larger and larger portions of the world’s people have begun to stand up against NATO.