Doerner/My Turn: The dark side to an ‘American Century’
Editor’s note: Carl Doerner is writing a series of My Turn submissions examining several assassinations in the United States.
The close of World War II ushered in a heady time in America. Industry that had retooled for war now swung to domestic production. While U.S. dead numbered in hundreds of thousands, the Soviet Union had lost a staggering 27 million. Roused to unprecedented productivity, and the only combatant not severely scarred by war, the U.S. stood above the rubble. We were to experience what was labeled “the American Century.”
Let’s examine how elected officials, industry leaders and an expanded military establishment chose to exercise this unprecedented power and influence began a process that has undermined the Constitution and our democracy.
The truth is that there has always been a deep disconnect between projected noble image and our shameful national history. Native peoples were decimated, wars of conquest were conducted, immigrant groups were victimized — Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II — labor organizers brutalized and this nation’s very economic development was based on slavery.
Shortly before our entry into World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt boldly addressed a vision of freedoms people everywhere in the world should enjoy — freedoms of speech, worship, from want and from fear. Global democracy was to include economic opportunity, social security and adequate health care.
Britain’s desperate need for defense against Germany and Roosevelt’s idealism forged the Atlantic Charter, an agreement on war aims that would address causes of war and, most importantly, end colonialism and allow self-government everywhere.
As early as 1919, Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh attended the World War I peace conference, seeking to end French colonial rule in his country. But following World War II, U.S. policy supported France; then we engaged in a 10-year war in Vietnam.
This shows how America has gone astray in our time and why our silence must be broken.
Roosevelt grasped the need to address social needs if the capitalist economic system was to be saved. But with his death in 1945, this global vision eroded. Chosen as secretary of agriculture, then in 1940 as vice president, Henry Wallace proved too progressive. In 1944, Democrats fatefully pushed aside Wallace who would otherwise have become president — in favor of Harry Truman.
As president, Truman dubiously chose to read every Soviet move as an effort on their part for world conquest. He used atom bombs against Japan to bully the Russians, created the CIA, and brutally suppressed leftist political movements in Europe. The outcast and vilified Henry Wallace prophetically warned, “America will become the most hated nation in the world.”
At the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, western economic colonialism was fashioned; the International Monetary Fund and World Bank would henceforth oblige developing countries to do their bidding in order to receive financial assistance.
In 1952, former wartime supreme commander, Dwight Eisenhower, was elected president. With Allen Dulles heading the CIA and John Foster Dulles as secretary of state, the Cold War intensified. Suspected communists were hounded, the atomic arsenal and delivery systems vastly increased, the public urged to build bomb shelters, preemptive strikes against Russia and China were contemplated.
A planned nuclear war was considered winnable.
Wallace’s warning rings truest in the case of current relations with Iran. In pursuit of business and military interests in oil, the Dulles brothers urged collaboration with Britain in the 1953 overthrow of Mohammed Mossedegh’s government. A repressive and hated monarchy was re-established — until 1979 when our embassy was overrun and Iranian leadership anchored in hostility to the West triumphed.
Assessing the violent administration he had overseen, Eisenhower delivered a farewell address warning against plundering resources and our democracy becoming an insolvent phantom. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” he said. “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. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
John F. Kennedy, who was elected president after Eisenhower, entered the White House defined as a cold warrior but, as evidenced in his speeches and actions, evolved as a leader determined to challenge those in government, industry and the military by addressing Eisenhower’s warnings. His provocation of bankers, arms dealers, the steel industry, his generals and his peace making overtures with Soviet Premier Khrushchev to end the Cold War all created bitter enemies.
All were in the habit of profiting from war. JFK and any who threatened the juggernaut of the world-dominating American Century would be slain.
Conway resident Carl Doerner is an author, journalist and documentary filmmaker.