PETRAS ESSAYS IN ENGLISH

November 20, 2001

Open letter to french “friends of America”

James Petras

The images and realities of US intellectual and political experience as reflected in the columns of rightwing journalists in Europe is highly simplified if not outright distorted. For example, the editor of La Nouvel Observateur, Jacques Julliard, ( El Mundo, November 16, 2001, p.13 ) attacks French left intellectuals for the "miseria del antiamericanismo" ( mean-spirited anti-americanism ). Likewise, the rightwing academic Bernard-Henri Levy addresses a harsh " letter to those who are mistaken " referring to Western intellectuals critical of the US war in Afghanistan. Both writers defend Washington's war ( mistakenly referred to as the " americanos " forgetting the other half of the hemisphere ) in Afghanistan, and accuse critics of being "anti-American". Both writes are profoundly ignorant of the history and current divergences of opinion in "America" ( del Norte ).

For Julliard, criticisms of US destructive interventions in Central America, South Africa and Indochina – costing over 7 million lives – proceeds from a " delirious logic ". Bernard-Henri Levy, celebrating the successful carpet bombing of Afghanistan, denounces Western intellectuals for not recognizing the liberatory effects of several million tons of explosives and five million displaced refugees. These rightwing French intellectuals who claim to be "pro-American" are in reality supporters of one historical tendency in US politics. In their political zeal they confuse their own ideological rhetoric with the complex and conflicting realities of the US. In a sense they are nothing more than apologists for the "Americans" who exercise military and political power. Today, in the real, existing US, there are millions of "Americans" who oppose the war - even if they are a minority. Secondly, a majority of the US public, including lawyers, academics, journalists and religious leaders – across the political spectrum – oppose the dictatorial powers assumed by Bush, specifically the establishing of secret military tribunals to try foreigners suspected of associating with terrorists.

The war, the rise of authoritarianism and the erosion of democratic freedoms is dividing "America". The question facing the ill-informed French apologists for war is – which "America" do you support? – the America of military tribunals and carpet bombing or the America of habeas corpus, the Bill of Rights and the self-determination of nations?

The current conflict between democratic and republican American and authoritarian, imperial powers has a long history, from the founding of the country.

The democratic republican tradition began with those who struggled against colonial England, those who fought in the civil war against slavery, those who opposed the US invasion of Cuba and the Philippines, those who confronted the Nazis and later opposed the war in Vietnam.

Julliard and Levy do not support some abstract ( but official ) America – they support the "other America" – the America of conquest of the weak, appeasement of the powerful and of injustice to the American majority. Their slavish prostration before the power of the bombs of Washington puts them in the same position as those who defended the British empire against the US anti-colonial revolution, the slaveholders in the South, and the American "anti-Bolsheviks", like Henry Ford, who saw the Nazi bombs as a powerful antidote to communism.

We, American intellectuals who live in the United States – reject this bloody pro-Americanism. We are pro-American –as are many European and Latin American intellectuals who support the America that stands in the republican-democratic tradition. We are against "foreign entanglements", as George Washington advised in his farewell address and for the unconditional defense of the Bill of Rights. We join with the vast majority of Americans rejecting the violation of our Constitution and the usurpation of the rule of law. To Mssr Julliard and Levy and their colleagues in France, our answer is that we far prefer the French democrats ( who you dishonestly refer to as "anti-American") to your adulation of the powerful war machine and the military tribunals established to defend it. Washington may "win the war" in Afghanistan but the gangsters and drug-lords which it brings to power, will lead to new wars and rebellions. Today's majorities will become tomorrows minorities. State terror will breed individual terror. This is what frightens many Americans, and that Julliard and Levy ignore from their Parisian cafes. Ultimately it is not Washington's overseas supporters and intellectual apologists who pay for Washington's wars – it is the American people. We have enough problems defending our freedoms from Executive encroachments – we do not need "supporters" who beat the war drums and lead us down the road of military "justice".

Today to be "pro-American" is to defend the values of democratic-republican America. The real anti- Americans are those who, in the name of this unholy war, have confused the politics of the imperial state with the sovereignty of the people.

We in the United States, particularly those of us concerned with freedom, realize that unjust wars overseas erode democracy at home. Arbitrary power has no frontier. As one of your illustrious philosophers ( J.P. Sartre) remarked at the time of your Algerian War, " colonial wars are the cancer of democracy".

The responsibility of the intellectuals – including your countrymen – is to go beyond official propaganda, and de-mystify the power of destruction for profit.

The Northern Alliance is financed and directed by Washington, as a useful political instrument, despite the mass executions, pillage and rape.

To deflect attention from the new barbarities in the name of liberation is pathological – a case of deep- seated perversity in which the victims are accused of the crimes commited against them, a practice perfected by the occupying power in Vichy France during World War II. Levy and Julliard are not fascists, just imitators, and certainly not pro-American, at least not in the democratic-republican tradition.