- by Graham Holton
- The Guardian
- Issue #2073
Endless Holocausts: Mass Death in the History of the United States Empire by David M Smith is an encyclopaedic overview of the atrocities and the destruction of human lives committed under the rise of American imperialism. The US government has always portrayed itself as a fighter for democracy and human rights, “a unique force for good in the world.” Endless Holocausts proves that this is not so. The US Empire is maintained by a network of client states that “encompass 40 per cent of the world’s countries.” It is supported by 800 foreign bases, with 200,000 military staff and contractors deployed in 140 countries, including Australia.
Smith begins with the genocide of America’s native peoples, which had a pre-contact population of at least 2 million, declining to 600,000 by 1800. The genocide continued as the US government carved out its territory, with the indigenous population reduced to 237,000 by 1900. US police kill around 20 Indigenous people every year. Smith argues convincingly that the “Indigenous Peoples Holocaust” amounts to thirteen million lives and is ongoing.
Smith examines the treatment of Hispanics and immigrants before moving on to the US’s numerous invasions and assisted toppling of governments. In 1954 the CIA overthrew the Arbenz government in Guatemala, followed by coups in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s, and the low intensity wars in Central America in the 1980s. The direct result of US military intervention was the death of over 700,000 people.
The US invasion of the Philippines and Cuba in 1898, intervention in the Soviet Union during the Russian Revolution and the Mexican Civil War (1910 to 1920) implicated the US in 12 million deaths. The US support of the Guomindang in China, Italy’s colonisation of Libya, the war against Ethiopia and support for the Fascists in Spain resulted in the death of 3.5 million people. Between 1950 and 1980 the US was involved in wars in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia which killed 12 million people. If the anti-communist wars during the Biafran War and the Bangladesh War are included, then this is another 11 million dead. The US proxy war in Afghanistan killed 1.5 million. Thus, in first 35 years of the Pax Americana following World War II, the US was involved in the death of 29 million people.
African Americans have faced terrible treatment at the hands of the US government since the 19th century, living under a stereotyped social identity that has had a devastating cumulative psychological impact on the disenfranchised population. Deprivation and living in slums has had led to high rates of hypertension, diabetes, and other disabilities, as well as gun violence; harassment by police; and hunger. In total 9 million preventable deaths have occurred amongst the African American population since 1900.
The ascendency of US Imperialism has been accompanied by the most violent labour history in the industrialising world. Between 1850 and 1855, the US building the Panama Railway in what was then Colombia, saw the death of 12,000 workers from Colombia, Jamaica, Ireland, and China. Thousands of workers died in mining, canal building, textiles and other industries by 1900. In 1891 the New Jersey Bureau of Statistics of Labor and Industry reported that “the destruction of human life is much greater in the peaceful pursuits of industry than in war”. Eric Forner has estimated that 700,000 workers died in the US between 1880 and 1900. John F Witt in Accidental Republic (2006) finds that by the early 1900s, “accidents were the leading cause of death among workers in hazardous industries as diverse as railroads, mining, metalwork, rubber work, shipping and canals, quarries, telegraph and telephones, electric lighting, brick- and tile-making, and terra-cotta work.”
Between 1930 and 1970, 3.3 million workers died from work related diseases. In 2019 the National Safety Council and the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that between 1990 and 2018 there were 170,000 work related fatalities. When all the deaths due to US corporations are totalled, inside the US and abroad, it equates to 13.5 million workers.
Michael Parenti writes in America Besieged (2001): “There is no social formation more profoundly immoral than a big capitalist corporation.” Total deaths in the US from drug overdoses, tobacco, automobiles, dangerous consumer goods, medical experiments, public health crises, and environmental pollution come to 60 million, all preventable.
Smith concludes that the US created holocausts at home and abroad amounting to more than 74 million dead. That US imperialism and big business have caused such destruction and loss of human life is staggering. Unfortunately, the US government has learnt little in its pursuit of Empire and Capitalism.
Smith has written a scholarly yet digestible work showing clearly how great is the tragedy of US imperialism – the highest stage of US Capitalism. This raises the question of why the Australian government is pursuing an ever closer alliance with a nation with such a savage history, a nation which persists in its violent acts around the world?