The ‘Liberal World Order’ Was Built With BloodRoundup
tags: Cold War, international relations, Indonesia, coups, U.S. Imperialism
Vincent Bevins (@vinncent) is the author of The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World.
If you read the commentary coming out of New York and Washington, or speak with elites in Western Europe, it’s easy to find people panicking about the loss of “American leadership.” From Joe Biden’s campaign pledges to trans-Atlantic think tanks, exhortations to revive American supremacy and contain China are everywhere.
They have reason to be worried: This moment is shaking the foundations of America’s hegemony. It is painfully clear that the United States is ill-equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, which does not play to American strengths (we can’t shoot it, after all). President Trump has for years been dismissing allies and antagonizing international institutions. And China is seemingly laying the groundwork for its arrival as a great power. American officials are now talking openly about a “new Cold War” to confront Beijing, and China now seems such a threat that Hal Brands of the American Enterprise Institute wonders whether the United States should get back in the business of covertly toppling unfriendly governments.
It’s unsurprising that establishment pundits, American policymakers and their allies would be alarmed about American decline. The United States and Western Europe have been the winners of the process that created this globalized world, the main beneficiaries of Washington’s triumph at the end of the Cold War. But a lot of people feel very differently.
In early April, I received a message from Winarso, a man I know in Indonesia who runs an organization that cares for the survivors of the mass murder that took place there in the 1960s. He was trying to raise money to buy rice so his community wouldn’t starve under lockdown. A dollar still goes a very long way in Indonesia, as Winarso knows too well. To explain America’s economic and political power, he points to the Cold War. It’s easy to see that Washington was truly victorious in the 20th century, he told me, because “we all got the U.S.-centered version of capitalism that Washington wanted to spread.” I asked him how America won. He answered quickly. “You killed us.”
I have spent the last three years with the losers of that great game, the individuals whose lives were shattered so this global order could be constructed. I spent most of my time interviewing the victims and survivors of a loose network of mass murder programs that targeted civilian opponents of Washington’s Cold War allies. I got to know people on four continents who lived through the coups and C.I.A. plots that Mr. Brands is talking about. To fully understand the nature of American power — and its future — their experiences are as important as those of anyone in a Paris boardroom or Washington think tank.
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