“Too Hard to Be Free”?

In this new wave of ‘combating terrorism’, ‘fighting oppression’ and spreading ‘Western’ ideas of civilization, ‘freedom’, and ‘democracy’, at what point are we[2] going to step back and admit, “okay, we were wrong… again”? Or perhaps that question should read, “when are we going to be forced to admit we were wrong… again?”
In this technological age, where our methods and ability to perform a multitude of tasks instantaneously extends and evolves continuously and rapidly, will this wave of new imperialism fall on the same harsh curve as its predecessors? One can always dream I guess…
Before I truly begin with yet another amble through my mind, let me state that I currently suffer from a rather remarkable lack of current affairs. Given my present location[3], the only source of information (that I can read and/or understand) is via irregular viewing of BBC World or Euro News. Even more rarely I may get to check various websites for more/different information. I trust others will pick up on and correct any errors, both factual and assumed.

Since the end of World War II (and arguably since the Great War) the world saw the emergence of a new world power, one that advocated (in speech, if not necessarily action) freedom, equality, and democracy for all – a land of opportunity: the land of hopes and dreams…
This new power brought something else with it: it didn’t have an agenda of invasion or ‘traditional’ empire-building. Rather, it was to stand as a shining example of humanity (racism aside…), a beacon of hope and pillar of support from which the people of the world can build their own freedom.
This was a fairly new, exciting country, one that had united in casting off its former imperial infringements[4] in revolution and solving its internal disputes. It was the United States of America.

As the years came and went (along with US international presence) between the two world wars, the number of world powers dwindled as their respective empires shrank. All the while the financial strength of the USA (the power that enabled it to enter the world stage) increased as it sold its products and provided financial services for a war-fatigued Europe . The closure of World War II saw the situation accelerate rapidly, leaving (primarily) two opposing superpowers in its wake: the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Empires of the other world powers crumbled back to their countries of origin as revolutionary movements in the formally ‘owned’ countries forged their own levels and choices of democracy and freedom.
Whilst the former powers received token acknowledgement in their acceptance and collaboration on various projects (i.e. the United Nations), it was from this point that the battle began between the two remaining super powers, in an attempt to whittle that number down to one.
And, whilst the Soviet Union took their border states (thus bringing down the so called ‘Iron Curtain’) the USA continued their indirect, or alternative, form of imperialism – one that was, it was claimed, built upon helping support ‘democratic’ and ‘free’ states from the incoming wave of ‘communist infiltration and subversion’. They were defending the freedom and democracy of the world, provided that those notions conformed to the American plan or at least guaranteed amiability towards the benefactor.
But, in spite of this thin veil, why were/are American citizens not just oblivious to, but supportive of, such a policy? For all its faults, America is not under under dictatorial rule and its formation and constitution, whilst open to misinterpretation and misrepresentation, hardly seems to counteract freedoms. So how can the freedom-spouting citizens allow their successive leaders to support (to the extent of overriding popular feeling) and impose American-style democracy upon other people, all the while feeling no sense of irony?[5]
The answer, whilst relatively complex and long winded as a whole, can be summarized into a few areas: personality, propaganda, and fear.

Firstly personality. Whilst the vast bulk of American citizens do seem genuinely concerned about being in a position to ‘help’ the world in providing freedom and democracy, it is also a fact that a very large part of the population has never left the country, and as such have very little understanding if even the existence of different mindsets, besides the information they’re fed. What this means is that for them (the majority) the notion of exporting their form of democracy and American ideals to the rest of the world (cleverly called ‘uncivilized’ as opposed to ‘different’) is an obvious one, and is applicable universally. As their exists no real knowledge of other places and cultures (and a very controlled information system), these people struggle to comprehend why people are fighting back against these ideals, all the while retaining the belief that their government our only trying to help.
In brief: the American public rarely complain because they feel their actions have a sense of ‘moral goodness’.

Related to this personality scenario is the issue of propaganda.
It is no hidden fact that the vast majority of mass media networks are controlled (and hence dictated to) by people of a similar political orientation, namely the ‘right wing’. Whilst this does not mean that they create the news items, it does mean that the most well-known options for receiving information is relatively limited in its scope (in some areas) and certainly its representation of the facts/topics is well refined. It also, surely, is no coincidence that much of this information is supportive/adheres closely to what the (‘right wing’) White House government says. This may well also explain why, historically, many reports either contradicting the government line or revealing the negative aspects of government action/inaction/policy rarely make mainstream news. Given that the owners of these media outlets fall into the ‘media mogul’ category, the knock on effect is that they also tend to own many of the TV stations that choose which programs to host. Clearly, this not only limit the widespread availability of alternative viewpoints, but gives the moguls the choice as to what degree of ‘alternativeness’ they are prepared to allow in appeasement.
With limited access to (or at least harder to find) alternative information, can it be surprising that a large proportion of the population effectively lies dormant to the outside world, or, at least, is coerced into believing what is told (since an opposing voice is rarely heard)?

Of course, we can not forget the role of fear in this course of propaganda (both government and media-run), especially since the events of 11th September 2001 and the start of the current round of TWAT (The War Against Terrorism).
Of course, fear has had a role at all stages of American policy, both in order to gain support for action and inaction alternatively. In the Cold War for example, the Communist ‘threat’ was justification for many active causes: the nuclear arms race, intervention in Korea, Cuba, and ultimately Vietnam and initially Cambodia and Laos.
Post-Vietnam, the fear of similarly high losses and extended campaigns were reason enough to try and limit involvement/lack of knowledge in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, in African conflicts and struggles, and with Saddam Hussein’s ‘Kurdish Problem’. A strange idea to grasp given today’s activities.
Because now, once more, we’re back solidly in the camp of fear of inaction and, in fairness, it is sometimes difficult not to be drawn into this cycle. Why wouldn’t you be afraid? You’re being told that your very existence is being threatened by an invisible enemy. It could be anyone and everyone. They live amongst you. Maybe they’re even related to you. How do you not fear that?
What this means is that this trio – fear, propaganda, and personality – have been put together and had their desired effect upon the public, allowing the governmental pursuit of absolute superpower status and the imposition of American democracy, ideals (and businesses).

So, when will it end?
Will it end?
And, if it ends, what will follow it? Are we really dumb enough as a species to allow our errors to be repeated ad infinitum?
Personally, I find it hard to trust us not to fuck it up, but I hope we don’t. I also hope and believe that sooner or later this current wave of neo-imperialism will cease, but it looks like we may have a short wait for this to happen. Nonetheless, questioning, resistance and opposition to this wave, such as we saw in response to the planned, and executed, invasion of Iraq (regardless as to whether that was successful or not) will undoubtedly aid this decline, and inevitably accelerate it.
Related to this, I firmly believe that it is vital we, as people of the world [how fucking dramatic am I!] continue to speak out against things we disagree with/believe should be different, if only to limit our ability (and apparent desire) to self-harm.
By this I mean that only by voicing our dissent and daring to be different can we hope to at least limit our present (and future) imperialists’ fascination for nuclear weapons. Owning the largest nuclear weapons supply in the world is not a preventative or defensive measure any longer (no matter what your leaders may tell you), it is simply an extreme continuation of the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) policies or yester-year. But it goes one better.
Because now, whilst acting as a defence (and – ironically enough – simultaneously serving as justification for the invasion of fellow ‘nuclear states’) publicly, they privately serve as both a threat and near carte blanche in diplomacy and neo-imperialist expansion. Just out of curiosity, how many times do we need to be capable of destroying the world before we consider ourselves ‘adequately’ defended?
Perhaps we could start to downscale and perhaps – just maybe – we could start spending all those billions of dollars/pounds/euros/yen/whatever we currently spend of producing these weapons on the safe destruction and disposal of them? Maybe we could even afford a quick look (or passing glance) at why other people actually want to cause us harm and maybe pursue more productive countermeasures than retaliation, invasion, and forced freedom. Maybe.
Maybe when we do this we’ll find that forcing a country and its people to be ‘free’ (the way we want them to be free, don’t forget) is actually one of the reasons these people want to harm us. Strange, huh? But maybe it gets stranger. What if we find out that, actually, “they” are just like “us”? And just like “us”, “they” don’t like having policy dictated dictated to “them”, but rather want to be given some of the tools but able to adjust their comfort levels at their own pace and through their own understanding.
But why stop there? We might also find out that, actually, the policies we have pursued in recent times of ‘forced freedom’ is not actually the smartest move in the world, and in fact has an alarming tendency to leave a bigger, more complex mess in its wake.

Incidentally, at the time of writing, the people of Iraq are gearing up to vote on their exciting, new (and yes, probably shiny) constitution, with 1/3 of the majority ethnic groups (the Sunni Muslims) opposed to it. Violence and invasion troop (sorry, I mean ‘peace keeper’) deaths are escalating. The country is still in turmoil (see also Afghanistan), and terrorist attacks are still occurring internationally and arguably more frequently.

So, the ultimate questions:
Did we really fuck up (again)?
Are we really wrong (again)?
Are we ever going to be truly able to impose freedom?
Are we truly free?
Is TWAT (The War Against Terrorism) really making the world a safer place?

Or, is it really just too hard to be free?



  1. Too Hard to be Free by Amen (Album: We Have Come for Your Parents) – www.comaamerica.com
  2. By ‘we’ I refer collectively to the ‘Western’ world, perhaps more specifically the Power Elite.
  3. Eastern Desert, Egyptian Red Sea
  4. Which, ironically, would include ‘terroristic acts’ under most recent legislation
  5. Such references specifically to the US by no means exempt the role of former superpowers in such actions (Britain and France, for example), but unlike these former powers, for reasons stated above, the USA had a chance to stand up as a beacon for true freedom and democracy, without fear of hypocrisy. It now, admittedly, struggles in this regard.

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