One of the highlights, or at least one of the most-repeated sound bites, from the most recent Republican presidential debate, was Carly Fiorina's announcement that, if elected, she had no plans to talk to President Putin of Russia, but would instead send him a message with an arms buildup and deployment of American forces in Eastern Europe and the Baltic. Right there you could tell that the disgraced former Hewlett-Packard CEO -- that's honestly her primary credential -- was angling for the neocon or hawk vote. She was throwing red meat to those who feel that President Obama's policy or general attitude has weakened the U.S. and emboldened the world's terrorists and authoritarians. Fiorina apparently has an idealistic, absolutist notion of American history. We learn today that she told a gathering in South Carolina earlier this month that "We are the only nation in human history that does not conquer territory, but liberates people." The blindness of this statement is breathtaking, considering that every inch of the United States was conquered from indigenous people, or previous colonial occupiers, by people from across the Atlantic Ocean or their descendants.
Her supporters and right-wing apologists in general are now trying to tell us what Fiorina really meant, which apparently was that whenever the U.S. projects force in the wider world, we liberate rather than conquer. Tell that to the Filipinos, some of whom may regard us as liberators twice over -- first from the Spanish and then from the Japanese -- while thousands died more than a century ago fighting an American occupation, premised on the islands' unfitness for self-rule, that lasted, not counting the Japanese interruption, for almost half a century. Tell that to the Hawaiians who may not mind American statehood and representation in Congress but still remember that they were an independent state unilaterally annexed by the U.S. Ask the Iraqis: if a vote were held today, how many would say they were "liberated" from Saddam Hussein and how many would say we "conquered" them? Quite a few might say "all of the above," but the moral of the story is that "liberation" is subjective, a propaganda word. The Germans and Japanese may have been glad to be rid of their respective tyrannies after World War II, but do they really feel liberated or conquered? Consider Germany more closely: is it fair to say they were simultaneously "liberated" by the U.S. and "conquered" by the U.S.S.R.? Had West Germany any more right to go Communist, ever, than East Germany had to go capitalist until Gorbachev let go the leash? Were the Americans, and later NATO, ready to let "liberated" western Europe vote in Communist governments,had voters so chosen? Evidence suggests that they were not, and that they took steps, admittedly non-violent (as far as we know), to influence elections to prevent such results. It can't be proven that we actually did thwart the will of the people, but any intent to thwart the election of an ideologically unwelcome government is the intent of a conqueror, not a liberator. You can go on and on and it proves only this: when Americans talk about liberation they really mean making a nation safe for America and Americanism, but they sincerely believe that this is what everyone in the world wants, unless they're barbarians or religious fanatics. The Soviets rationalized their conquests similarly; they were just as convinced that everyone wanted to be "liberated" their way, and whoever didn't want to live under Leninism suffered from "false consciousness" and required re-education. If nations have any rights that people everywhere are bound to respect, then people have to respect whatever indigenous process produces governments in nations. To take any other attitude or, worse, to act on it, is really the opposite of any objective meaning "liberation" has. When Carly Fiorina speaks of "liberation," she endorses conquest. Perhaps she even promises it.