This essay is excerpted from Matt Kennard’s new book, The Racket: A Rogue Reporter vs. the Masters of the Universe, just out from Zed Books.
I started working as a reporter at the Financial Times soon after the financial crisis began and at the height of the so-called “War on Terror”. I was a young, ambitious reporter assigned to one of the world’s most respected broadsheets, ready to speak the truth. I learnt soon enough that this was not the place to do it. Maybe I should have guessed. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, I had had a partial awakening. As the war drums sounded in 2003, I learnt that the United States and the United Kingdom, despite now pushing for a war with him, had, in the 1980s, been supporting Saddam Hussein.
The man we were presenting as the devil incarnate had only years earlier been our buddy. Soon after, I saw that my government thought nothing of rewriting intelligence to trick its own citizens into a totally illegal war. I thought, maybe naively, that working at the FT would allow me to continue learning, and in some senses I was right, though not the lessons they intended. There I was exposed to the other side of this war-industry coin — the world of high finance. These wars were not the vanity project of deluded leaders; they were merely the latest stage in a global elite’s prolonged war on the people of our world with the sole aim of pumping up their bottom line. I saw the real rulers of the world up close now — they were not the politicians but the big money men behind them, the puppeteers who made everything move. I was stationed at their house organ, so raising the alarm did not, to put it politely, go well.
Over the following years, I witnessed first-hand how powerful the propaganda system that covers for these racketeers really is. It is almost impossible to go up against it as an individual on the inside (I tried). I was based at the FT in Washington, DC and New York, but I also traveled extensively during this period, reporting from four continents, more than a dozen countries and the same number of cities within the US itself. Everything I saw contradicted what I had been told about how the world works. But as I wrestled with what I was doing, I knew in the back of my mind that, as a journalist, speaking out against this contradiction is a bad idea: doing so will instantly, and adversely, affect your career, which I suppose is why so few do it. If you speak out against the racketeers, well, you are instantly anti-American, you hate freedom, you love terrorists and so on.
Ideological “training” of this kind is at its most potent in the racket-supporting media of the western world where I once worked (and it usually works to dispel independent thinking). I was actually taught this eyes-wide-shut philosophy first when I went to do a Masters at Columbia University’s Journalism School in New York, apparently the best of its kind in the world, but in thrall to the racket and its lies, like the rest of the American elite. And the attempt to beat these critical thoughts out of my head continued as I progressed further up the hierarchy of the ideological system. On the day I left the Financial Times, for example, my boss told me simply: “Go away and do your ‘save the world’ stuff and maybe you can come back when you’re a bit older.” I took his advice, but I won’t be back. Instead I present, eyes open still, the report they wouldn’t send to press.
The United States emerged from World War II in a position of peerless global power. Western Europe and the Soviet Union were in ruins after six years of devastating warfare, and the imperial structures that had previously ruled most of the world were falling apart. The Americans meanwhile had made a miraculous recovery from the economic depression that had consumed the nation since the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and its place as No. 1 had been planned for quite consciously throughout the war. When it was realized in 1945, attention switched to extending the American elite’s customer base, and so, at the close of World War II, the racket was set in place.
The Harvard evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker once told me that power itself perverts human notions of morality and justice: “Dominance, fairness, and communality are three very different modes of thinking about social relationships. Someone in power will tend not to think of his relations to his or other peons in terms of fairness,” he said. The American elite, its powerful big business players and allied governments (regardless of political party) are motivated by dominance, not fairness. The people in power know this — it is the population that is lied to. Of course, the need to pierce the propaganda bubble is not new. Every emperor, fat cat and superpower from time immemorial has willingly entertained myths about their actions so as to utilize the good-will of their people to pursue their own criminal enterprises.
The historian Cornelius Tacitus said it best at the height of Roman dominion. “The Romans create a desert,” he wrote, “and call it peace.” These myths that Americans are treated to from a young age — and this ideological training reaches out beyond US borders — still present the US as an impressive discontinuity in the world of power politics. Unlike all previous superpowers, the United States is a “moral” power, driven by principles and values, as opposed to domination and greed. America is “exceptional” we are told — not exceptionally violent, which is the truth, but exceptional to the extent that it has a “higher calling”; it is a “shining city upon a hill”. A brief foray into the world with eyes open teaches you quickly that this is the opposite of the truth. But keeping your eyes open will always be harder than seeking solace in your own divine moral superiority and the turpitude of your enemies. And so the myth takes hold. Repeat after me: when the US does it, Terror is Peaceseeking; Domination is Partnership; Fear is Stability. It’s easy.
A couple of years after my initiation at the Financial Times a few things started to become clearer. I came to realize a difference between myself and the rest of the people staffing the racket — the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) workers, the economists in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and so on. While I was coming to understand how the racket really worked, I started to see them as willing dupes. There was no doubt they seemed to believe in the virtue of the mission; they imbibed all the theories that were meant to dress up global exploitation in the language of “development” and “progress”. I saw this with American ambassadors in Bolivia and Haiti, and with countless other functionaries I interviewed. They genuinely believe the myths, and of course are paid handsomely to do so.
To help these agents of the racket get up in the morning there also exists, throughout the West, a well-stocked army of intellectuals whose sole purpose is to make theft and brutality acceptable to the general population of the US and its racketeering allies. And this system of indoctrination is so ingrained in the media and university system that it is near impossible to even divine it. I remember writing an article for the Financial Times about former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, who was backed by over a billion dollars of US aid; the editors got rid of the factual prefix “US-backed” before Mubarak’s name without without even thinking. When I submitted another article using the prefix “Iranian-backed” for the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, it sailed through. That is how thought control operates and that is how the racket survives with its moral sheen intact. Power has completely corrupted the minds of these people.
When Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, was closing down Manta, the US military base in his country, he told the Americans that they could keep it as long as they allowed Ecuador to put a military base in Miami. This was preposterous to Washington and its lackeys in the media — for them it is apparently a natural law that the US should be allowed the hundreds of military bases that disfigure sovereign states all around the world. That is the imperial mindset and it infects the entire American elite.
What will become clear as you read my new book is that the patterns and modus operandi of the racket are repeated all over the world, over and over again. So, for example, the manner in which I saw American “aid agencies” and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) subvert groups organizing independently in Bolivia is repeated in Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, all over Latin America, and in the rest of the world. The names of the individuals involved in each case are different but the dynamic is similar; the racket’s method of control, so clever and hidden, is the same, and the names of the oppressors are interchangeable with any of the racketeers of the “American era”. All have served the institutions that work to undermine individual or group sovereignty and increase the racketeers’ control, whether the individuals staffing the racket be nice or horrible, good or bad, well-meaning or psychopathic — the institutions they serve continue to extinguish the yearning for independence of people the world over.
There is another, more insidious, part of this global control that I discuss in my book as well. In addition to the dominance of the US elite, the succor given to American corporations by the racket has made the proliferation of US “culture” inevitable, creating a new dimension of so-called soft power. But, as you will see later, the racketeers are genuinely afraid of the creative arts. There exists the potential within our culture, and the arts, not just to expose the racket for what it is, but to help dismantle it. For this reason the racketeers continue to co-opt the arts and culture as much as possible: the CIA was supporting US arts throughout the Cold War, and no doubt continues to do so.
For your own good
The racket is bigger than the US elite, of course, and by now you may be thinking that it may have something to do with the capitalist system writ large. Yes, institutions like the World Bank represent a broad global capitalist class, but the US is the overwhelming power within these arrangements and the US military is the enforcer of capitalistic forces throughout our world. The mechanics of the racket have actually been pretty constant; the institutional structure erected to maintain a pretense of altruism while practicing savage domination has been replicated across the world for quite some time now.
I witnessed not long ago, for example, US support for the military coup in Honduras in 2009, which threw out a democratically elected president so the racketeers could prop up the business community and their political puppets. But like I said before, you can be sure that a similar dynamic was in place when the US helped take out democratically elected presidents Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954 and Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973, unleashing decades of hell on the people of those countries. The needs of this rapacious racket remain the needs of every dominant imperial class, communist or capitalist — more markets for their products, and complete subjugation of popular forces in their satellites.
But there is a twist to this story.
The American elite that has grown fat from looting abroad is also fighting a war at home. From the 1970s onwards, the same white-collar mobsters have been winning a war against the people of the US, in the form of a massive, underhand con. They have slowly but surely managed to sell off much of what the American people used to own under the guise of various fraudulent ideologies such as the “free market”. This is the “American way”, a giant swindle, a grand hustle. In this sense, the victims of the racket are not just in Port-au-Prince and Baghdad; they are also in Chicago and New York City. The same people that devise the myths about what we do abroad have also built up a similar ideological system that legitimizes theft at home; theft from the poorest, by the richest. The poor and working people of Harlem have more in common with the poor and working people of Haiti than they do with their elites, but this has to be obscured for the racket to work.
Many actions taken by the US government, in fact, habitually harm the poorest and most destitute of its citizens. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a good example. It came into force in January 1994 and was a fantastic opportunity for US business interests, because markets were opened up for an investment and export bonanza. Simultaneously, thousands of US workers lost their jobs to workers in Mexico where their wages could be beaten down by even poorer people.
The inevitable conclusion is that our entire world is at the mercy of an elite business community who run it in secret. The economic imperatives of this racket trump even the safety of working Americans. During the Iraq conflict in 2003, large parts of the Pentagon and the British “intelligence” community did not want to attack Iraq because they believed it would increase the threat of terrorism. But the ideological zeal within the racket to maintain a grip over a region with immense oil production was a higher priority than decreasing the threat to American lives. The racket, then, is a disaster for those poor countries submissive to it, but also for the majority of Americans. The American elite is not in the business of helping out its fellow citizens.
Perhaps for many the extent of US domination is unknown, or perhaps people half suspect it, in which case the pages that follow will provide indisputable evidence. For those readers who feel they already know the damage done by US foreign policy, the revelation will come from evidence of the damage done at home where the war against poor and ordinary working Americans is just as fierce. A vast ideological edifice has been built which presents brutal violence against the poor at home and abroad as altruism. It must be targeted at its foundations. As Harold Pinter wrote in his Nobel Prize-winning speech in 2005, when it comes to the US “it never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.” He continued: “The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”
The media would have you believe that there is no racket, that it’s purely an accident that we live in a world where 85 people — 85 people! — own half the world’s wealth while more children die of starvation every year than died in the Holocaust. Of course it’s not an accident, a mere quirk of history — it is the result of a huge injustice, the policies of a giant mob. To help our species and planet survive it is necessary to shake off the hypnosis and see the racket for what it is.
They know who they are; it’s time to blow their cover.
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