During the recent G7 summit the corporate media went into pro-US propaganda overdrive. The BBC’s Global News channel – or UK global propaganda outlet – has spent the years since the Iraq War spinning the US Military’s assault on the Black and Brown homelands of the world as ‘America spreading democracy’. Media Lens has responded to the brutal consequences, condemning BBC Paul Wood’s misrepresentation “The coalition came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights” (22 December 2005). Previously, BBC defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus also historically spun American Military aggression as “the promotion of democracy throughout the Muslim world” (5 December 2002). In the near two decades since Iraq, consecutive BBC Political Editors Andrew Marr and Nick Robinson have also regularly spouted this propaganda position. And this ongoing orthodoxy was parroted ad-infinitum during the summit by the rest of the corporate media. The other trope repeatedly invoked was that of a supposed transatlantic ‘special relationship’.
Even leaving aside the death toll and victims of torture resulting from historically recent US militarism, for America to actually spread democracy it would have to be one itself. Reflecting the genealogical critique of Philosopher-Historian Michel Foucault – that the mechanisms of power rarely disappear but instead evolve – the US reality is that much of its slavery-era anti-democratic oppressions are still intact, albeit in mutated form.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, African-Americans were driven out of the public sphere by a violent campaign of lynching, torture and intimidation known as ‘disenfranchisement’. This deliberate political exclusion persisted into the 1960s in the practice of murdering voter registration activists, some of which was fictionalised in the pro-federal establishment film Mississippi Burning (1988). Currently, this agenda manifests itself in ‘Voter Suppression’ tactics. Poll Stations are closed down in Black and Latino areas, resulting in reports of 6+ hour waits, to cast a ballot – as exampled in the infamous experience of 102 years-old Desline Victor. Impediments to voting are also created by new regulations which refuse to recognise forms of ID common among Black and Latino groups, therefore blocking their attempts at voting.
In the academic publication The New Jim Crow (2010), Michele Alexander documents a similar oppressive continuity, recording that there are more Black Americans in the US penal apparatus than were held in slavery in the 1850s. Given the privatisation of US Prisons, much of this captivity is for profit, and can also similarly involve prisoners being used as cheap labour. In most US states prisoners lose the right to vote, so once again they can’t take democratic action, even against their own caged exploitation.
There is also the issue of taking Black lives with impunity of which the Black Lives Matter movement rightly complains. Much of this begins with the historic lynching tradition. Given often the complicity of authority figures – sheriffs, police officers, local judges, handing victims over to lynch mobs – this practice has historically been relabelled as supposedly respectable ‘extra-judicial killing’. Building on this, in recent years many states have passed ‘Stand Your Ground, Shoot First Laws’. There have been attempts to excuse current killings of many Black youths such as, Trayvon Martin and Jordon Davis on just this legal provision.
Those wondering about the relevance of these practices for foreign policy need only reflect on why examples of the US historic lynching postcard resemble so closely the human trophy photography to come out of Abu Graib and Guantanamo Bay. One of Guantanamo’s interrogators was “Lieutenant Richard Zuley, a Chicago police detective in the Navy Reserve… During his career with the Chicago Police Department, Zuley conducted police interrogations primarily on Black Chicagoans. These interrogations involved the use of torture techniques similar to those he would later use at Guantánamo Bay.” Again echoing the issue of institutional continuity, the American Military’s practice of assassinating those globally, whose arguments of US racist-imperialism it finds too inconvenient to put on trial, is similarly once again spun as merely ‘extra judicial killing’.
Neither claims of ‘America spreading democracy’ or the ‘special relationship’ stand much scrutiny, given that for generations Britain has been welcoming those seeking refuge from US racial and political oppression. Therefore the real predominant special relationship that the British general public actually embraced has been with Americans, who were the US establishment’s victims.
The singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson enjoyed his time in the UK in the early 20th C, whereas in his own country he was subjected to racial and political persecution, predominantly by Federal authorities.
Post-war footage of African-American Rhythm-&-Blues performers freely plying their trade in Britain, shows the artists in occasional off-stage anxiety as this was the first time they’d been in un-segregated spaces, sharing train carriages and the like with white citizens. Some of this footage can be found in the first episode of a previous BBC arts documentary Blues Britannia (2011), which demonstrates the ongoing self-conscious lengths the BBC’s Global News channel attempts in re-branding American establishment traditions as ‘democratic’.
Also, many American artists objecting to working-class exploitation and oppression came to Britain fleeing the political persecution of US McCarthyism. The composer and harmonica player Larry Adler was one of these. While here he produced the score for the popular UK film Genevieve (1953). Two decades later he told the New York Times how even his foreign work was treated under McCarthyism.
Remember the film ‘Genevieve?’ I composed and played the music for that. Six weeks before it opened at the Sutton in New York a print was requested without my name. My music was nominated for an Oscar. As no composer’s name was on the credits they nominated Muir Mathieson, who conducted the orchestra. I made the fact known to the Academy but no correction was made and my name never restored.
The Adventures of Robin Hood was one of UK television’s most successful exports of the late 50’s and early 60’s. However, its producer Hannah Weinstein and previously successful Hollywood writing team including Ring Lardner Jr. (a joint Oscar recipient), Ian Hunter, Robert Lees, Waldo Salt, Adrian Scott and Editor Howard Koch (another joint Oscar recipient), were fleeing the McCarthyite Black List. In 1990 a fiction film – Fellow Traveller (1990) director Philip Saville, starring Ron Silver, Daniel J Travanti – was made largely inspired by their situation. The production company back then was ‘Screen Two’ a division of the BBC.
While largely hated by large parts of America, in the 1960s and 70’s Muhammad Ali, similar to Robeson, enjoyed respite in the UK. Part of Ali’s fondness for Britain was that when stripped of his World title by US authorities, a little known Oxfordshire based Irish former bareknuckle fighter Paddy Monaghan, put together a petition demanding his reinstatement. Even though only publicised by a working-class, unknown, un-resourced figure, this petition got 22,224 signatures in the UK. You’d hope given Ali’s relationship to Britain, and that images of the resulting friendship that occurred between the two men can be found in the BBC’s photo-archive, that this alongside the history of McCarthyism, would inform BBC News/Current-Affairs spin on US democracy. Sadly not!
Significantly the UK has now gone from the country that used to welcome those seeking refuge and relief from American oppression, to one that on US government insistence imprisons and – according the UN’s Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer and medical journal The Lancet – tortures Julian Assange (Assange is now an absented non-person in corporate media coverage). This turnaround has occurred due to the elitist subversion of Party democracy in the UK, and because the corporate news media – as demonstrated by BBC News output – is willing in the Orwellian manner of Winston Smith at the Ministry of Truth, to absent and rewrite, its own Arts, Historical, and Archive material.
The origins of the constructed ‘special relationship’ narrative, owes much to the correspondence and occasional friendship between a retired Winston Churchill and President Kennedy. And also to the fact, that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher launched their attacks on the post-war consensus in their countries, from largely shared agendas and at around the same time. Actually UK Labour was historically to the Left of even US Democrats. Labour’s 1960s Prime Minister Harold Wilson could not expect his Party to accept following America into Vietnam – so there was no all across the political spectrum ‘special relationship,’ and very few instances where Britain has ever been able to say to the US ‘don’t do x…”
The notion of a ‘special relationship’ was infamously remanufactured when Neoliberal New Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw tried to market the war on the Iraqi people on the basis of the heady days of world war alliances. This was quite a reboot. America aided Britain’s fight against the eugenicist Nazis by providing racially segregated regiments. Historian Graham Smith (When Jim Crow met John Bull – 1987), notes than when American forces arrived in Britain they attempted – thankfully unsuccessfully in some cases – to impose segregation on the UK social spaces that GIs might visit. Owners/landlords of pubs, dance halls and cafes were often appalled both by the racism and the threat of being posted off-limits to service personnel, at a time of great economic hardship, if they refused. This was not new. Smith cites similar diktats in WWI given to French Authorities about not ‘Spoiling the negroes” (Ibid., page 10).
Race issues also threatened the judicial independence of British sovereignty. During the Second World War, 11 African-American GIs were executed for rape on UK soil. And rape was not a death penalty crime under British law. It’s questionable how many – if any – of these soldiers committed this crime because American authorities of the time viewed relations between black men and white women as a sex crime in itself. The case of Leroy Henry particularly incensed the British public. He’d been having a relationship with a local white woman before being arrested for rape and having a confession beaten out of him, resulting in a death sentence. Indicative of the British low opinion of American justice and the solidarity later to be shown Muhammad Ali decades later, the people of the city of Bath put together a 30,000-strong petition, which got his sentence commuted.
White Americans also brought racial violence and lynching practices to UK shores. The wartime memory of many British Tommies is fighting in UK dance halls and elsewhere alongside Black GIs against White American racists. Victims of violence also included British Colonial Servicemen and volunteer Colonial Technicians (recognition of this in some BBC archives does not impact on its ‘US spreading democracy’ news narrative). West Indies cricketing legend Learie Constantine was in charge of the Caribbean technical volunteers, and was subsequently given a peerage for his war service and sporting achievements. He wrote the following letter of complaint to the British government.
I cannot lay sufficient emphasis on the bitterness being created amongst the technicians by these attacks on coloured British subjects by white Americans … I am … loth to believe that coloured subjects of the Empire who are here on vital work could be attacked at random and at will and pleasure of these white American soldiers without the means of redress … I have lived in this country for a long time and claim many friends among the white population and I shiver to think that I am liable to attack by these men if I am seen in the company of my friends. I suggest something be done urgently, as I can foresee a crisis.
Corporate media apologists might question how much this experience was part of public consciousness. However, the middle section of the film Yanks (1979, director John Schlesinger) features an attempted dance hall lynching of a Black GI who’d been seen dancing with a white woman. And this film is primarily a wartime set romantic vehicle for Richard Gere, not a piece of political agit-prop. There were also similar phenomena internationality, including the Battle of Manners Street, in New Zealand where white American servicemen attempted to violently segregate a Services Club to the exclusion of local Maoris. Race and the US wartime presence were also believed to be contributing factors to the two days of rioting in Australia known as the Battle of Brisbane.
Post-war even in America it was impossible to sell in the cultural market place, the US establishment as a credible site of authority. The Black figure offered as an idealised son-in-law of a middle-class white family in the film, Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967) is not a member of the US establishment but a doctor working for a UN based organisation. Marvel Comics when starting the title Nick Fury, Agent of Shield, originally made Shield a UN based organisation, rather than US. The central protagonist of The President’s Analyst (1967) is on the run from the world’s intelligence agencies, the worst of which are the CIA and FBI. Indicative of the fear of oppression of US authorities the producers did not even feel safe in using the actual acronyms of US intelligence agencies.
When Tony Blair threw his weight behind America’s foreign wars, he did so flying in the face of this history and the cultural sensibilities it generated. He also threw into reverse Britain’s position as a post-war decolonising power. He subverted the Labour Party’s historical identity as a pro-workers organisation with a socialist agenda by aligning it with the right wing US Republican Party. He also subverted Labours’ historic anti-imperialist sensibility, which kept Britain under Harold Wilson’s Labour out of Vietnam. Perhaps most shocking for older Labour traditionalists and Black Britons, he took the UK’s intelligence and military sectors and forced them into relations with the US security services, that had historically tried to break the Civil Rights Movement, drive Martin Luther King to suicide, fed details of his sex life to the right wing press, and which had an assassination programme of American Black Liberationists entitled COINTELPRO.
Blair chose to support America’s Iraq War 5 years after arguably the worst lynching in US history – in 1998, James Byrd, “a Black man in Jasper, Texas was ‘lynched by dragging‘,” behind a pick-up truck until his body disintegrated. Three years after the start of the Iraq War, in Jenna, Louisiana “whites responded to black students sitting under the ‘white tree’ at their school by hanging three nooses from the tree.” And America’s post-war civil war Black Lives Matter crisis has still continued to manifest itself. As for Presidential and federal authority, this was also 5 years since Bill Clinton bombed a medical manufacturer in Sudan. 9/11 resulted in 3000 American deaths and many more injured. Clinton’s bombing is credited with “several tens of thousands of deaths” of Sudanese civilians caused by a medicine shortage” by German Ambassador Werner Daum and others.
Just as no one in the corporate media questions the death toll and torture of current US-led imperialism, no one also scrutinises the nature of just what has been unleashed on the world, or the massive ideological reboot needed to sustain it. Instead, we get ‘America spreading democracy’ and the ‘special relationship.The post The G7 and the Orwellian Twin Tropes Propagandising US Global Domination first appeared on Dissident Voice.
This content originally appeared on Dissident Voice and was authored by Gavin Lewis.