Our Shared Moral Inheritance:
the Migrant Crisis and Our Present Responsibility
The origins of the present migrant crisis manifesting itself in detention camps along the border of the southern United States are not difficult to trace. However, lost amidst questions of whether these asylum seekers should be let in, turned back, and all manner of questions in between, the question of why these poor souls have braved the journey northward from their homes in Central America is frequently, and as will be shown, incorrectly, written off as simply the product of corrupt governance and rampant organized crime in their countries of origin. Real and destructive as these two circumstances are in countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, from whence many of these migrants come, these are but the residual aftereffects, the ripe fruits of purposely disruptive and destructive U.S. Foreign and Economic policy during, particularly, the latter half of the 20th century. Using both modern scholarship and declassified U.S. State Department and CIA archives, the case will be made that the origins of the migrant crisis today in fact stem directly from U.S. interventionism in these countries, and as such place a unique level of irrefutable moral responsibility on each American citizen to demand earnest and efficacious action from our National and State governments in order to alleviate the plight of our beleaguered and desperate southerly neighbors.
“We should consider any attempt on their part [European nations] to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.”
– James Monroe, The Monroe Doctrine, 1823
“I think that it’s not asking too much to have our little region over here [the Western Hemisphere] which never has bothered anybody.”
— Henry Stimson, U.S. Secretary of War, 1945, speaking about the postwar global order.
It was the result of a conversation that the concept of this short book occurred to me. Speaking to a retired Colonel of the U.S. Air Force (who shall remain nameless), the topic of the southern border of the United States came up. It was (the destitute migrants piling up in detention facilities) the unfortunate end product of corrupt governments and organized crime run rampant, he sadly declared. I was surprised at such a reading of the situation and so volunteered that what he was presuming to be the causes of the problem were themselves the visible effects of a much deeper problem, namely U.S. foreign policy over the last sixty-odd years. I proceeded to list off a half dozen democratically elected Presidents who had been ousted by U.S. instigated and funded coups, as well as cited the inherent impoverishment of these same countries under the developed and largely still extant global capitalist system resultant from regional U.S. economic policy. Of those unfortunate ex-leaders I mentioned the Colonel had heard of only one—Salvador Allende, the unfortunate Chilean President—but with a wave of the hand the Colonel dismissed such happenings as “ancient history,” having no bearing at all on the current crisis.
Several things stood out to me as a result of this conversation, all of them unsettling. This was, after all, a person of likely greater knowledge of U.S. foreign policy in the last century or half century than ninety percent of the adult population of the country. First was the notion that something that happened in 1960 or ’70 qualified as “ancient history.” The pyramids, built roughly 4,000 years ago—Jesus, who lived roughly 2,000 years ago: those were instances of ancient history (at least in terms of human civilization). Second, was the explicit notion that something which happened forty, fifty, or sixty years ago had no real bearing on the present state of geopolitical affairs in southern half of the Western Hemisphere. This was quite baffling and was given no further answer other than: It simply didn’t—which I took to mean it couldn’t—which really meant, honestly faced up to, that the Colonel’s moral compass refused to entertain the possibility for fear of indictment by his own conscience.
As will be convincingly shown in the chapters to follow, the above pretentions of innocence on the part of our government regarding the present geopolitical situation of Central and South America are superficial at best, pitiably ignorant as something of a middle ground, and at near-worst morally evasive. The active military and economic interventions in the countries to be examined (those from which the majority of the migrants are now fleeing) led directly, and irreversibly, to the migrants now arrived at our door. If our shared humanity does not already stir your conscience, consider that we (every single American) have directly and incontrovertibly benefited from the exploitive policies pursued by our government—whether in terms of cheap produce, manufactured goods, natural resources—take your pick. Consider also the lives lost, the economic situation hopelessly impoverished, the social institutions eroded—all the result of our government refusing to allow the states of Central America to exercise their autonomy, repeatedly violating their sovereignty. As a result of these circumstances we are all now definitely, inextricably ethically bound to provide real assistance to those massing at our southern border—the lone exception being those of the absolutely lowest moral order, those who shrug and, wittingly or unwittingly, reecho Thucydides, saying “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must” before looking the other way.
A brief aside to those who hasten to say that while the situation is deplorable it really can’t be expected of the United States to simply open it’s borders or to otherwise take on the onerous responsibility of raising up the poor souls wasting away in detention camps—but that they firmly intend to make a personal donation of toiletries or other essentials in lieu of demanding efficacious help at the level of national or state policy: This is quite as inappropriate as telling your neighbor whose house has burnt down that what he and his family need now are a good new set of bed linens—which you feel obliged out of a sense of shared humanity to supply him. It is factors of magnitude more inappropriate, however, considering that you started or helped start the fire—knowingly or in ignorance—by supporting administration after administration, congress after congress, who behaved in precisely the same beastly and inhumane manner toward our neighbors, and benefitted from their suffering and exploitation.
Whatever intentions one ascribes to U.S. foreign policy—whether to “good intentions, poor results”—à la Vietnam, or Iraq in the present day—or whether what we see in the word today are the just desserts of backfiring self-serving machinations—if the United States is to really be the moral leader of the world (that is without every other country rolling its metaphorical eyes round the dinner table) then the citizens of the United States today must honor the moral debt incurred by past generations, the balance of which continues to accumulate to the present day.
The contents of the book will be broken down as follows: A chapter each will be dedicated to the countries of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras as these countries account for the overwhelming majority of all those now seeking refuge in the United States. By telling the stories of these countries one gets the story of regime change in Central and South America generally, with only some minor details changing from case to case. No country south of our border has escaped the negative influence of dictatorial U.S. foreign policy. From Haiti to Columbia, the Dominican Republic to Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Panama, Argentina—the story is appallingly more or less the same. But I encourage anyone whose moral indignation is roused by this book to proceed with their own minute investigation of the history of our other neighbors. Research of this kind has never been easier, and the more you know the better prepared you will be to unmask the ill-disguised euphemisms of desperate hegemonic domination that have passed, and continue to pass, for the foreign and economic policy of our government to date. Following these historical, geopolitical, and economic examinations of the countries in question, I will conclude with two further chapters, one dedicated to the alleged communist threat that underwrote virtually all the interventionist U.S. policy decisions in the post-war era, and the other dedicated to those whose moral compass is still perhaps unmoved—or are afraid of the consequences of doing what is ethically right and proper—by making the argument that it is not only our moral obligation to assist the desperate migrants at the southern border, but that it is perfectly within the means of the country to do so.
While it is likely to happen anyway—particularly among those who do not even bother to read what is really quite a short book considering its topic—I do not wish to be branded “Anti-American” or some other such fatuous slur. For I believe that in writing this book I am promoting the best of America, the best of its values, of the way for America to be not only a strong economic leader but a moral leader, truly commanding the respect of our neighbors and the world. I believe in America, but I despise a great deal of its historical involvement in the southern portion of the Western Hemisphere, some sordid details of which follow.
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