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An Upside Down History
by Eduardo Galeano
It could be any week on that great U.S. military base we know as Planet Earth and
here’s the remarkable thing: there’s always news. Something’s always happening
somewhere, usually on more than one continent, as befits the largest, most
destructive, most technologically advanced (and in many ways least successful)
military on the planet. In our time, the U.S. military has been sent into numerous wars,
failed to win a single one, and created plenty of blowback. But hey, who has to win a
specific war when it’s “wartime” all the time?
These last weeks were the American military equivalent of a no-news period. Nothing
really happened. I mean, yes, there was the war in Afghanistan, the usual round of
night raids, dead civilians, and insider attacks. Nothing worth spending much time on,
other than whether the U.S. might, in frustration over Afghan President Hamid Karzai,
exercise the “zero option” after 2014 and leave -- or not. And yes, there was that
drone attack last week in the tribal borderlands of Pakistan that killed three “militants”
(or so we’re told), despite the complaints of the country’s new government. (I mean,
what say should it have in the matter?)
And there was the news that Washington was seeking an “expanded role” for its
military in the Philippines, where the question of the month was: Could the Pentagon
“position military equipment and rotate more personnel” there, “while avoiding the
contentious issue of reestablishing American bases in the country” -- so said “officials
from both countries,” according to the New York Times. After all, if we call the places
where our troops are stationed “Philippine bases,” what’s the problem? And, believe
me, no one wants to hear a lot of whining about it from a bunch of Filipinos either!
And don’t forget about those American drones now flying over Mali from a base
recently established in Niger, part of a blowback-generating set of Pentagon
operations on the African continent. They got a little attention last week. And one
more thing, conveniently on the same continent: since Secretary of Defense Chuck
Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey put in calls to their
Egyptian counterparts as they were launching a military coup in an ongoing pre-
revolutionary situation, the Pentagon has, it seems, never been less than in touch
with its Egyptian military pals, a crew significantly trained, advised, and paid for by
And that’s just what made it into the news in the most humdrum military week of 2013.
Today, Eduardo Galeano, one of the great global writers, takes us from 1916 to late
tomorrow night via eight little excerpts from his new book, Children of the Days: A
Calendar of Human History, reminding us of what some really newsworthy moments
were like. Think of it as a kind of highlight reel from almost a century of the American
way of war. Tom
Iraq Invades the United States
And Other Headlines from an Upside Down History of the U.S. Military and the World
By Eduardo Galeano
[The following passages are excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s new book, Children
of the Days: A Calendar of Human History (Nation Books).]
The Day Mexico Invaded the United States
On this early morning in 1916, Pancho Villa crossed the border with his horsemen, set
fire to the city of Columbus, killed several soldiers, nabbed a few horses and guns,
and the following day was back in Mexico to tell the tale.
This lightning incursion is the only invasion the United States has suffered since its
wars to break free from England.
In contrast, the United States has invaded practically every country in the entire world.
Since 1947 its Department of War has been called the Department of Defense, and
its war budget the defense budget.
The names are an enigma as indecipherable as the Holy Trinity.
In 1945, while this day was dawning, Hiroshima lost its life. The atomic bomb’s first
appearance incinerated this city and its people in an instant.
The few survivors, mutilated sleepwalkers, wandered among the smoking ruins. The
burns on their naked bodies carried the stamp of the clothing they were wearing when
the explosion hit. On what remained of the walls, the atom bomb’s flash left silhouettes
of what had been: a woman with her arms raised, a man, a tethered horse.
Three days later, President Harry Truman spoke about the bomb over the radio.
He said: “We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we
pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.”
It was among the largest military expeditions ever launched in the history of the
Caribbean. And it was the greatest blunder.
The dispossessed and evicted owners of Cuba declared from Miami that they were
ready to die fighting for devolution, against revolution.
The US government believed them, and their intelligence services once again proved
themselves unworthy of the name.
On April 20, 1961, three days after disembarking at the Bay of Pigs, armed to the
teeth and backed by warships and planes, these courageous heroes surrendered.
The World Upside Down
On March 20 in the year 2003, Iraq’s air force bombed the United States.
On the heels of the bombs, Iraqi troops invaded U.S. soil.
There was collateral damage. Many civilians, most of them women and children, were
killed or maimed. No one knows how many, because tradition dictates tabulating the
losses suffered by invading troops and prohibits counting victims among the invaded
The war was inevitable. The security of Iraq and of all humanity was threatened by the
weapons of mass destruction stockpiled in United States arsenals.
There was no basis, however, to the insidious rumors suggesting that Iraq intended to
keep all the oil in Alaska.
Around this time in 2010 it came out that more and more US soldiers were committing
suicide. It was nearly as common as death in combat.
The Pentagon promised to hire more mental health specialists, already the fastest-
growing job classification in the armed forces.
The world is becoming an immense military base, and that base is becoming a mental
hospital the size of the world. Inside the nuthouse, which ones are crazy? The soldiers
killing themselves or the wars that oblige them to kill?
Geronimo led the Apache resistance in the nineteenth century.
This chief of the invaded earned himself a nasty reputation for driving the invaders
crazy with his bravery and brilliance, and in the century that followed he became the
baddest bad guy in the West on screen.
Keeping to that tradition, “Operation Geronimo” was the name chosen by the U.S.
government for the execution of Osama bin Laden, who was shot and disappeared on
this day in 2011.
But what did Geronimo have to do with bin Laden, the delirious caliph cooked up in
the image laboratories of the U.S. military? Was Geronimo even remotely like this
professional fearmonger who would announce his intention to eat every child raw
whenever a U.S. president needed to justify a new war?
The name was not an innocent choice: the U.S. military always considered the Indian
warriors who defended their lands and dignity against foreign conquest to be
Robots with Wings
Good news. On this day in the year 2011 the world’s military brass announced that
drones could continue killing people.
These pilotless planes, crewed by no one, flown by remote control, are in good
health: the virus that attacked them was only a passing bother.
As of now, drones have dropped their rain of bombs on defenseless victims in
Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Palestine, and their services are
expected in other countries.
In the Age of the Almighty Computer, drones are the perfect warriors. They kill without
remorse, obey without kidding around, and they never reveal the names of their
War Against Drugs
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan took up the spear that Richard Nixon had raised a
few years previous, and the war against drugs received a multimillion-dollar boost.
From that point on, profits escalated for drug traffickers and the big money-laundering
banks; more powerful drugs came to kill twice as many people as before; every week
a new jail opens in the United States, since the country with the most drug addicts
always has room for a few addicts more; Afghanistan, a country invaded and occupied
by the United States, became the principal supplier of nearly all the world’s heroin;
and the war against drugs, which turned Colombia into one big U.S. military base, is
turning Mexico into a demented slaughterhouse.
Eduardo Galeano is one of Latin America’s most distinguished writers. He is the
author of Open Veins of Latin America, the Memory of Fire Trilogy, Mirrors, and many
other works. His newest book, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History
(Nation Books) has just been published in English. He is the recipient of many
international prizes, including the first Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom, the
American Book Award, and the Casa de las Américas Prize.
Mark Fried is the translator of seven books by Eduardo Galeano, including Children
of the Days. He is also the translator of the recently released Firefly by Severo
Sarduy. He lives in Ottawa, Canada.
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Copyright 2013 Eduardo Galeano