American hostility is nothing new. What is new is an accounting of its staggering reach. Through honest reflection, we can take its full measure, and begin the hard work of achieving a “more perfect union.” Here is step one.
The primary urge that most people feel when they’re faced with a broken or faulty asset is to fix it, as long as they can afford the cost of doing so; or, even if the investment carries deep and costly repercussions, do so anyway, realizing that in the long term, they cannot afford not to do so. It’s true of leaky roofs or cracked foundations; and equally, of damaged relationships, an unhealthy body or psychologically self-defeating habits, like anxiety, depression and toxic behaviors of every kind.
With the right interventions, time and attention, things get better. With enough investment, once-broken things are repaired. Some require a huge personal investment; others, not so much. It all depends. But most everything damaged in our worlds can be fixed.
Sometimes, we are even able to make things better than they were before they began breaking down. Such is the power of human nurturing, and ingenuity.
But there’s a second reaction possible to a broken thing — that of the bellicose, or combative, bully. Bullies, for the most part, are damaged people crying out for help the only way they know how: by making others aware of their pain, by manifesting and aiming it outward violently toward their environment, humans included. Bullies expend boundless energy smashing things and people around them in a fruitless attempt to feel less broken — or at least less alone in being broken.
Bullies usually make things worse in the process of acting. Bullies are the antithesis of nurturing; and their actions are anything but ingenious.
What bullies lack, in their paucity of self-awareness and self-control, is better tools for dealing with their own illnesses. Luckily, there are happy, healthy people for that.
Truly happy people don’t bully or fight others. They don’t inflict pain. They don’t foist their own problems onto others. They act in a largely contributory mode of strengthening everything in their environment. In happy hands, broken things are made less so. In happy hands, unbroken things find new strengths they didn’t even know were there to be enjoyed.
Happy people don’t live in leaky houses.
Global Firepower ranks the world’s militaries on the basis of how impactful they are. Year after year, the U.S. tops the list, as it has again this year. America, according to this index, maintains “the top spot as the undisputed military power in the world.”
“For whatever does it need all that power,” you might ask, innocently. “Why,” moreover, “does it need so many weapons in private citizens’ hands,” you may add, furrowing your brow in a look of confusion, in reaction to the fact that Americans comprise just 4% of the global population, yet own 46% of its civilian weapons, according to the Small Arms Survey. That’s 857 million guns, for 328 million citizens, including babies and the elderly.
There are two ways Americans aim their firepower: outward — abroad; and inward — domestically. Not all of the means we have of doing so are obvious.
When it comes to global bellicosity, the U.S. shines. With that said, in the 2020 Global Peace Index, the U.S. isn’t the worst. It ranks as the world’s 121st most peaceful nation—out of 163—bracketed by the slightly more peaceful Azerbaijan, and the slightly less dovelike Burkina Faso. There are 42 less peaceful nations than America on Earth, the overwhelming majority of which are in the Middle East, or Africa. South America, I see you, too.
By stark contrast, the Scandinavian quintet of nations — Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland — with New Zealand and Canada in familiar lockstep, rank among the world’s most peaceable. I mention this because of a piece I published just yesterday on the happiest, healthiest, most prosperous and longest-lived social democracies — half-capitalist, half-socialist — nations on Earth. It seems we can now add “most peaceable” — or, with my initial metaphor, “least broken” — to their titles.
With that said, the U.S. makes up ground in waging pre-emptive wars. America was directly attacked just three times in the 20th century: WWII’s Pearl Harbor attack by Japan, which killed 2,400 Americans; the 1993 World Trade Center bombing by Al Qaeda, which killed 6 people in a garage; and the 2001 9/11 follow-up, in which Al Qaeda succeeded in felling the towers, ending the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans. So, 5,400 Americans lost their lives in the 20th century as the result of external bellicosity. 659,000 additional Americans — soldiers — died in pre-emptive wars over the same period in response, and for reasons, that had nothing to do with being attacked. That is, in wars that the U.S. elected to cause, or join.
Then, there’s everyone else. 5,400 attacked Americans clearly, in some leaders’ minds, somehow justified 659,000 troop deaths. But these, too, pale next to the non-American deaths that have been authored or provoked by Americans and American actions.
We’re talking about more than 100 million dead.
The New York Times tallied the cost of war back in 2003, admitting it’s difficult to assess just how many human beings Americans have killed during just the past century of pre-emptive war. It does highlight the 850,000 Vietnamese that Americans killed in a proxy war with Russia — 18 for Each American life lost; the 600,000 North Koreans and 1,000,000 Chinese fighters Americans dispatched during the Korean War — 50 for every American life lost; and everyone’s favorite: 3,250,000 Germans and 1,500,000 Japanese alone, in World War II — 16 for every American. To this, we can add the war dead tabulated by Brown University and reported in The Intercept, following 9/11’s attack: at least 480,000 dead, from the Bushes’ pre-emptive war on Iraq, and the additional death toll in Afghanistan.
That’s just an appetizer.
The non-profit World Future Fund tabulated a list of over 12 million non-American deaths caused by our military, in the 19 pre-emptive wars America has waged since World War II alone, using data from Necrometrics — far higher than the official counts.
Whatever the real numbers are, Americans have caused millions of deaths, unprovoked, using their world-leading military. But it’s not just military wars that we have to consider when determining just how much of a bully the U.S. really is.
In 1973, U.S. president Richard Nixon helped stage a coup in Chile to oust socialist president Salvador Allende and install soon-to-be dictator Augusto Pinochet. In all, 40,000 Chileans were killed because of this. Americans didn’t like the idea of a socialist nation, on Earth.
In 1985, U.S. president Ronald Reagan authorized Oliver North to sell arms to the Islamist Iranian government of the Ayatollah Khomeini, then use the proceeds there to fund an anti-government Nicaraguan Contras, to fight yet another socialist government — that of President Daniel Ortega. Nicaragua suffered 30,000 deaths. Iran? We’re still counting. Iran has funneled weapons to countless other nations in their own proxy wars in the Middle East.
And, of course, the United States — in its hatred of communism, too — funded the mujahideen in Afghanistan for a decade, from 1979–89, in a proxy war against the Soviets who had invaded them. Operation Cyclone, as it was known, was the CIA’s longest and most expensive operation ever, costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars and furnishing the mujahideen with thousands of tons of weaponry worth billions of additional dollars.
The outcome? Not only were 870,000 Afghanis killed in that Civil War by U.S.-weaponized Afghani mujahideen; these same rebels later reformed once the Soviets left, renaming themselves al Qaeda, and installing one of the war’s veterans, a guy named Osama Bin Laden, as its leader.
And so, we can add all of the ensuing deaths at the hands of Al Qaeda and the U.S. “response” in attacking Iraq — a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 — to the U.S. covert death toll.
The U.S. has backed many, many proxy wars across the globe, as the primary or sole proximate belligerent. The count, in fact, is staggering. In the 20th century alone, the U.S.-backed Chinese Civil War saw about 9 million dead. The Greek Civil War, “just” 160,000. The Iran Crisis: 2,000. The First Indochina War: 125,000. The Paraguayan Civil War: 50,000. The Malayan emergency: 10,000. Kenya’s Mau Mau Uprising: 11,000. The Second Indochina War: 850,000. The First Taiwan Straight Crisis: 520. The Algerian War: 10 million dead.
It goes on and on and on. Lebanon. Tibet. Central America. Congo. Rhodesia. Malawi. South Africa. Eritrea. Dominican Republic. Thailand. Bolivia. Nigeria. Yemen. Angola. Ethiopia. Cambodia. Mozambique. Bangladesh. Laos. Syria.
All of these nations have been backed by American funding, training and/or weapons, often with U.S.-friendly leaders being installed in the process, some several times, in a sneaky attempt to control global outcomes to favor the United States and its interests, in secret.
Tens of millions of human beings have been played like pawns, been mowed down, or killed one another due to the planet’s prime enabler: the U.S. of A.
It’s Not Just Guns
The United States exports more than just firearms and militants. It has plastic. Some 157,000 extra-large shipping containers-worth of plastic waste alone — weighing over 1.1 billion kilograms (2.5 billion pounds) — are shipped to Hong Kong, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam, each and every year, as we bury our leavings elsewhere.
Greenpeace.org, a thorn in Americans’ feel-good side, reports, “These countries have served as dumping grounds for the world’s plastic waste, then are named [by those who created the mess] as the largest contributors to ocean plastic pollution. Importation of cheap subsidized plastic waste from the U.S. prevents other countries from investing in and creating domestic collection systems for their own plastic waste.”
As Mr. McGuire told a young Dustin Hoffman in 1967’s The Graduate, “I want to say just one word to you: plastics.”
The Guardian has some great graphs to show just where American plastics go, in the world, before ending up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is larger, at over 1,600,000 square km, than all but 18 nations on Earth. And as Forbes reports, that one is only part of the northern Pacific vortex, which comprises three separate patches. Beyond these, there are two more in the Atlantic Ocean, and one in the Indian Ocean.
We are swimming in plastics.
Bonus fact: the United States invented the stuff, and it’s taken just 100 years to turn the planet into a real-life wasteland.
Not so fun fact: we’ve dispatched half the fish on Earth; and more than 100 million of them die each year due to our plastic waste, alone.
Now, we’re swimming!
Murder at Home
The second means Americans have adopted of aiming their bullying is inward — in acts of self-hate. Here, it takes many forms.
God-fearing Americans are second only to (the far more religious) Brazilians in causing the most gun deaths in the world, according to World Population Review. Interestingly, to pick up the bully thread again, just one third of American gun deaths are homicides or mass shootings, as ghastly as these are, anywhere, whereas fully two-thirds of domestic gun deaths are acts of suicide. In the U.S., more people kill themselves with guns than any other nation on Earth, apart from Brazil, kills in total.
As I said, bullies are people crying out in pain.
While guns and weapons-based violence are as-yet the most deadly U.S. export — overt or covert — a new scourge is hitting home, one borne of uniquely American ingenuity. Food products, a euphemism for things that aren’t actually food, but that look, smell and taste like it, and are created in laboratories then pumped out of factories, and kept from decaying by an encyclopedia of chemicals that no non-food scientist understands, are one of America’s greatest inventions, and exports.
More than one third of Americans — 39.7% — are now clinically obese, according to the CDC, while the majority — about ¾ of all Americans, including infants and the elderly — are now overweight. Troublingly, these statistics represent a near-doubling of the disease burden in little more than 20 years, according to Wikipedia.
As I wrote in Death and Diet just last week, one third of all U.S. deaths are caused by our diets, according to the latest global science. That’s 658,000 Americans dead, every single year, from food. Or at least, food-like things that we eat.
Our waistbands and the resultant death toll are increasing, dramatically.
In just two years, over 1 million Americans will die from food. That’s more than 10,000,000 deaths over a fifteen-year period, without acceleration. More likely, we’ll hit that dubious milestone within a decade.
Food is a quiet killer.
American genocide has many names. Its most infamous and most deadly was slavery. While scholars don’t agree on the exact death toll caused by slavery, we do know that all 4,000,000 of U.S.-based African slaves were… enslaved. Historian Herbert Klein says that 85,000 of them died in U.S.-bound ships, never arriving. That covers just the “official” slave ships. There were significant amounts of “illegal” slave shipments as well, as sick as it is to think of any slave shipments as being legal.
Moreover, the Gilder Lehrman Institute reports that half of all slave babies died — twice the rate of white ones. So we can add hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of dead Black babies to the nation’s genocidal totals, over the 250 year period of sanctioned American slavery. The prime cause of this tragedy? Chronic undernourishment.
We should stop there. But. Nearly 100 years later, Americans had a case of amnesia. After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. rounded up 110,000 all of its Japanese-origin residents, including 66,000 citizens, and interned them in work camps, where they toiled for over two years on home soil, while war raged. Nearly 2,000 of them died there due to disease.
Dirty White Man
Of course, the U.S. wasn’t always white. Up to 50 million indigenous people representing scores of tribes across the land once exclusively called it home. Approximately 90% of these — 40,000,000 humans — died due to the diseases that dirty, livestock-cohabiting Europeans brought with them, and against which the locals had no natural immunity. Of those who survived, countless more died defending their land from the attackers, or attempting to resist genocide. This article on History.com tabulates scores of targeted massacres on Native Americans, whose singular goal was the neutralization of a people who looked different, and whose nature-centric views clashed with those that favored a fearsome “true” God.
In all, 95% of the indigenous population — tens of millions — fell to conquest.
No, the United States doesn’t claim the top spot today as the world’s least peaceful nation. Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq — all nations ravaged by American interloping and proxy wars — get to claim those prizes on IEP’s Global Peace Index.
We can only give half credit to the Americans for destroying them.
But when you consider that somewhere north of 100 million non-American human beings have lost their lives to American forces or proxy acts over the course of modern history, in dozens upon dozens of nations that never once attacked or provoked it;
when you consider that because American leaders care more for money than for their own human charges, they not only turn a blind eye toward corporate profiteering, but officially aid and abet the proliferation of toxic Franken-foods at home, today, for which more than a half-million Americans perish, annually;
when you consider how violently the U.S. has attacked its own non-European denizens: first the indigenous populations that stood in the way of colonial profiteering; then the African ones who fueled the next wave of American economic and military might — killing millions more in the process;
and when you consider that America is leading the world, not only in current firearms deaths at home, but of polluting the planet we all live on with plastic and with greenhouse gases, of which the US produces the second-most, after China, and leads the world in per capita GSGs, threatening the lives of over 1.2 billion humans who will likely be displaced, as a result;
then it is hard not to see the United States as the biggest bully in the history of civilization; and the greatest threat to global stability, in climate, in political sovereignty, and in living a life unmolested by a war-mongering bully.
Which begs the question: what freedoms, exactly, is the U.S. championing, with its history of (as-yet not nearly reconciled) slavery, murderous politics, countless proxy wars, proliferation of off-shored garbage and waste, and ingested poisons that now kill more Americans than anything else, by far… except, perhaps, COVID-19, this year?
On the topic of questions, why run readers through a downer of a history lesson, other than to cause depression, or protest? This is all old news, right? Or “fake”? Where’s the insight?
Well, it gets back to the opening salvo of this piece: what matters are the goals we set, in being our best, least broken, selves. I am an optimist. Always have been. So, in spite of the fact that the track record Americans have for murderous actions is astounding, it is a nation made up of nothing more than 330 million individuals, with wildly divergent views about what is right and healthy, with a (presumable) majority favoring not killing either foreigners or citizens, at home.
And so, America’s growing pains are thus: facing its own history without excuses; taking in the staggering breadth of its murderousness, at home and abroad; and then beginning the hard, tactical work of plotting a brighter, less deadly future.
Each and every life saved is an entire world, to that person. It’s also at least part of the world inhabited by his/her/their loved ones. So even shaving a small percentage off the national death toll would be a step in the right direction. So, too, would an elected body that respects the sanctity of life above the cult of money, or bullying other nations to cripple their right to decide what form of government works for them, or how they would like their own citizens to act. Theirs are not our homes to wreck or build.
What is our dominion is to look hard in our broken mirror, take the full measure of our own ugly choices, and make better ones in the future.
Running for office is one way of doing so. Fighting for causes that are just, save lives, build equity and inclusion is another. Eating better is a third — and incredibly easy — means of doing so; or helping those we love do so, as well. And being honest with ourselves — the way the post-war Germans have been, by and large, by teaching the brutal truth about their own genocidal bent in World War II, is as good as any means of preventing a rerun of some terrible things.
In Germany, it has been incredibly effective. Maybe it’s America’s turn for a planetary “mea culpa.”
The Americans have been slow in reckoning with our own ugly past. The government has been complicit in making it difficult, if not impossible, to know just how ugly our present is. CIA-fueled proxy wars that kill countless foreigners regularly, and a government-fueled food system that kills 660,000 Americans each year at home, are decidedly not transparency in action. They are signs of a sick bully, aiming its rage outward and inward simultaneously, at anything it can smash, in a cry for help.
The so-called “Pillars of Positive Peace” listed by the Institute for Economics & Peace — the organization that ranked the U.S. 121st out of 163 nations — include: a well-functioning government, equitable distribution of resources, low levels of corruption, the acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbors, the free flow of information, and high levels of human capital. The U.S., if we are honest, is not doing well with any of these.
But. That doesn’t mean that the potential doesn’t exist — it does, in spades — for America the actor to become the America of its founding documents.
To lay “its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers… as shall seem most likely to effect [all people’s] Safety and Happiness,” as our Declaration of Independence dreams.
I care too much about my adopted homeland not to contribute to manifesting a society that takes its own words seriously. One means of doing so is with truth-telling. Another is in making choices about what products to buy or ingest, and how much waste to generate from my own choices. If money drives America, then vote with your dollars! A third is to join other voices in protest against the various transgressions for which our nation, and the home-grown hostiles it tolerates and enables, should be held responsible. This is called the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution!
Progress is admittedly easiest to effect on a systemic level, through politics. I’m aware of the staggering power that resides behind closed doors. But the power of grassroots efforts can be profound, as we have seen time and again on foreign and domestic soil, alike.
It begins with something simple: a nation full of citizens willing to look itself in the mirror, to see its naked brokenness, and in doing so, to become better informed, to fuel better decisions — ones that have the power to heal and mend, rather than double down on the death and destruction of our past and current record.