The American Empire in Asia in the 1800s: an enthralling if disturbing story of US imperialism in east Asia and the western Pacific

Carlton Meyer, “The American Empire in Asia in the 1800s” (Tales of the American Empire, 9 July 2021)

This short history documentary is an excellent entry in Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire series and a great introduction to the history of American foreign policy during the 19th century for the general public. Meyer quickly dispels the notion that American imperialism began with US victory over the Spanish in the Spanish-American War in 1898 that led to US colonisation of Cuba and the Philippines, as is accepted by most US historians. Indeed the first US President George Washington is known to have referred to the new United States in the early 1780s as a “nascent empire” and even as early as 1778, David Ramsay, South Carolina’s delegate to the Continental Congress, wrote that the North American continent would be the foundation of an empire that would make the Roman empire and the Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great “sink into insignificance“. The early US empire got under way in the 1830s when US warships, on the pretext of protecting US merchant and whaling ships, attacked islands in eastern and southeast Asia whose inhabitants (Malays, Dayaks) had threatened such ships and killed some of their sailors. US warships became regular visitors to eastern Asia and China in particular, working with the British to protect British interests and later American opium interests in southern China. The visits of US warships under Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan in the 1850s, forcing the Japanese to westernise later in the 1870s, should be seen in the context of growing US imperial influence in the eastern Asian region.

Capitalising on local political disputes in the Samoan islands, the US Navy established a naval station in those islands, an action that brought the US into conflict with the German navy there. Disputes with the Germans and local Samoan political factions eventually led to the islands being parcelled among Germany and the US: those islands that came under American rule remain so to this day as American Samoa, the German part later passing through New Zealand rule and becoming independent Western Samoa in 1962, renamed Samoa in 1997.

These details plus others Meyer mentions show that the US acquired its various colonies not by accident or because of other nations’ predatory actions but deliberately to enable US elites to profit from seizing and exploiting other people’s lands and resources. This empire of direct US colonies may no longer exist in the form created in the late 19th / early 20th centuries but it continues in the global outreach and ambitions of the US Navy, as succinctly demonstrated in the US Navy advertisement that ends the short documentary.

Fascinating archival maps, photographs and film shorts illustrate the documentary and the riveting if disturbing tale it tells.

What the Media Won’t Tell You About Venezuela: mini-documentary won’t tell you much more either

What the Media Won’t Tell You About Venezuela” (ReallyGraceful, 3 June 2017)

Viewers of this very short mini-documentary on Venezuelan politics won’t learn very much about why Venezuela’s current socialist government under President Nicolas Maduro continues to survive despite the country’s poverty and food shortages – nor will they learn anything about what’s actually fuelling the food shortages there. The thrust of ReallyGraceful’s video is to show that the people of Venezuela – and by implication, people in other middle and lower income nations around the world – are caught between two camps of evil, or what ReallyGraceful herself perceives as evil, and that the Western mainstream news media will push their audiences to choose one of these camps (usually the US and its allies) as the good guys. In the film, former President Hugo Chavez and the socialist ideology and structures he implemented in Venezuela are viewed by ReallyGraceful as part of Venezuela’s ongoing problems; at the same time ReallyGraceful correctly identifies Venezuela being under siege by the US and forces allied with it (among them, Israel and the global finance industry including the Bank of International Settlements) as part and parcel of the problem as well.

While ReallyGraceful does well in fingering the dominance of the oil industry in Venezuela’s economy over past decades as the underlying foundation of Venezuela’s recent past and current problems, she fails to note that this dominance is the result of policies made by past politically conservative governments in the country working together with US political and corporate interests to the detriment of Venezuelan people. Such policies privileged foreign oil interests (to the extent that other industries in the country suffered from lack of support and declined) and ignored the healthcare, educational and other social needs of the Venezuelan people. When Chavez became President in 1999, he sought to rectify the dire economic straits of the majority of Venezuelan people by using oil revenues to fund social services and other programs. To his credit also, Chavez tried to diversify Venezuelan industry and support programs aimed at reviving agriculture though with mixed success.

ReallyGraceful notes that food shortages have been severe in Venezuela but fails to realise that, again, the favouring of the oil industry and US oil interests by conservative governments before Chavez led to the decline of agriculture in Venezuela to the point where the country became overly dependent on imports of food, even food staples. For some reason, or perhaps because his time as President was cut short, Chavez never tried to wrest control of food imports away from companies owned by wealthy families and individuals opposed to his government and socialist ideology, and current President Maduro and his government are perhaps too preoccupied in dealing with more urgent issues to be able to address this issue of food imports. The result is that food importers can use classic-economics demand and supply phenomena as blackmail over the general public and create social and economic chaos for the Maduro government.

ReallyGraceful’s anti-socialist stance blinds her to the possibility of Venezuelans as individuals and in groups, communities and non-profit organisations confronting the food shortage issue by growing their own food and organising their own food markets to sell, barter or otherwise distribute food to those who need it most.

I note though that ReallyGraceful ends her film by observing that Venezuela is under pressure from the US and the global finance industry to yield its natural resources to foreign ownership and control. As she always does, she invites viewers to comment on her mini-documentaries, which is her way of admitting that she is open to criticism and counter-opinions.

The Empire enters the Cocaine Trade: an introduction to US involvement in a sordid trade

Carlton Meyer, “The Empire enters the Cocaine Trade” (Tales of the American Empire, 25 June 2021)

For a nation committed to neo-capitalist ideology – under which any and all activities with the potential to generate considerable profits (at minimal cost to those undertaking them) are more than just desirable, they are legitimate no matter how unethical they are or how much suffering to others they might cause – it should come as no surprise to fans of Tales of the American Empire series that the US military and intelligence agencies are involved in trafficking in illegal drugs such as opioid narcotics and cocaine, and profiting from that trafficking. This episode is the first in an ongoing investigation of the involvement of the US government and its agencies in the illegal drug trade among other topics that the series returns to from time to time. It also considers the role that US mainstream news media has played and continues to play in either ignoring, condoning or denying US government complicity in the global trade (usually in collusion with other criminal organisations) to the extent that vast numbers of Americans and others around the world who consider the US to be an important ally and friend are completely unaware that the US even engages in illicit drug trafficking, let alone know how deeply entwined in criminal activity the US government is.

The episode consists mainly of interviews going back nearly 50 years in which US government officials admit their government’s participation in drug trafficking and even protection of drug dealers, supposedly in the name of fighting Communism. In many cases, as detailed by individual US Drug Enforcement Administration agents, former Nazi war criminals were helped and given safe haven in South America by CIA agents among others through profitable drug trafficking rings. Many rogue CIA agents made large amounts of money doing so. Other interviewees describe in considerable detail what their roles were in sending planes packed with illegal drugs from South America to the US, all of which could have been intercepted by border patrols, and their cargo seized and impounded. One interviewee considers the damage that such trafficking does to US democracy, especially when such activities are part and parcel of US collusion with fascist forces in other countries (particularly countries in Latin America) to overthrow democratic governments, crush democratic opposition and deny those countries’ citizens their freedoms and rights.

There’s not much actually said about when and how the US became involved in the global cocaine trade – no actual year or incident that can be said to signify the start of an unlovely addiction on the part of the US government and its agencies to the illegal drug trade -but then the whole sordid history of how the US became involved in such trade, and how its politics became corrupted due to the massive profits that were made and how much of those profits went into politicians’ pockets or election campaigns, would take many, many episodes to cover. The episode under review aims mainly to introduce audiences to an aspect of US geopolitics that they have never been informed of. I’m sure sequels to this episode will be very informative and more specific on details of how far and how deeply US complicity in the illegal drug trade goes.

What the Media Won’t Tell You About China: the historical context behind the downfall and rise of modern China

“What the Media Won’t Tell You About China” (ReallyGraceful, 20 June 2018)

This short film is less a historical documentary about China and how it came to be the nation is it now and more a demonstration of the historical context behind contemporary China and its politics. The aim is to show why China takes the actions it does and how the intent of these actions is deliberately twisted by Western mainstream media to suggest that China is an aggressor with sinister imperial designs. ReallyGraceful shows how Confucianism as a political and social philosophy has influenced and shaped the relationship between the government and the people, individually and collectively, and helped give China long-lasting stability that lasted through several dynastic cycles and was ended by European, particularly British, imperial economic ambitions.

The film focuses on a few significant events that destabilised China or influenced its political direction: the Opium Wars and the corruption and instability that mass opium addiction brought to China; the Boxer Rebellion, which discredited the Qing dynasty; Mao Zedong’s Long March; and the civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists that made the country vulnerable to Japanese invasion. Along the way, RG notes the association that Mao Zedong had with Yale University in the US (a short one, by the way) and spends some time detailing the links between Yale University and one George Herbert Walker Bush, a former US President and CIA Director, through the notorious Skull & Bones Society: this association suggests that the Chinese Communists had quite intimate and complicate contacts with the CIA and the Skull & Bones Society that go right back to the 1920s. This association with its networks was rent asunder by the Tiananmen Square event which, as ReallyGraceful sets out meticulously, turns out to be nothing like its portrayal in Western mainstream media: instead the “massacre” was actually an attempt by the CIA, using people embedded among the protesting students, to take control of the protest, turn it into a violent revolution and force (through violence) the overthrow of the Communist government and with it the dissolution of the Communist Party of China.

After the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, China forged ahead with its economic development to the extent that the nation is now the largest economy in the world and owns over a trillion US dollars’ worth of US debt. China has become a major global investor in several countries in Africa and elsewhere. The country now wields such major economic influence through trade and trading networks that it is now in a position to challenge US global financial hegemony by enticing its trade partners – and Middle Eastern suppliers of oil – to trade in petro-yuan rather than in petro-dollars. This threatens the privileged status of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency, not least because a move away from using the US dollar would result in plummeting demand for the dollar, leading to the dollar’s deflation and the dire consequences for US trade and the economy.

RG passes no judgement on China’s human rights situation though her description of what happened during the Tiananmen Square events suggests she is less likely than most to view China as a heavily authoritarian and oppressive state that brutalises its peoples. As this short film is an opinion piece, RG gives no sources for her information. Mao Zedong’s link to Yale University and the Skull and Bones Society will come as a surprise to many – it certainly did to me – but Google searches confirm that Mao indeed received help in his political and literary career from Yale University through its Yale-in-China Group; he might never have risen as high as he did without financial help and other support from that group, and the history of China would have taken a very different direction!

RG’s portrayal of the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989 merits mention and praise in the way her commentary slides right into a more objective and critical view of those events without any bias. She puts up information and invites viewers to consider this information for themselves and to find out more and share their discoveries with others. While the film omits to mention significant events of the 20th century – the Japanese invasion of China surely merits one mention, as does the way in which China became the new workshop to the world at the expense of working and middle class jobs in Western countries whose leaders saw nothing wrong in companies offshoring jobs to China – it does well enough as an introduction to modern China and how it has become the nation it is.

The United States Started the Korean War: an unjust lie corrected

Carlton Meyer, “The United States Started the Korean War” (Tales of the American Empire, 11 June 2021)

Most histories on the Korean War (1950 – 1953) state that the war began when 75,000 North Korean soldiers crossed the 38th parallel which formed the border between North and South Korea to overrun the latter country. Only intervention by the United States and its allies in South Korea, so the story goes, saved South Korea from becoming Communist and reuniting with North Korea to form one Korean nation. In this short historical documentary, Meyer demonstrates with various sources and films and photographs of the period that the US wanted a war in the Korean peninsula to throw out Communist rule and install a new colonial government answerable to the US so that US corporations with business in the Korean peninsula could resume their operations and continue profiting at the expense of Korean workers and their families. In addition, US corporations had lost their business in China after the 1949 Communist Revolution in that country and were keen to get that business back. A war would give the US a chance of defeating the Communists in China and reinstalling Chiang Kaishek as China’s leader.

From there, Meyer goes into considerable detail into the lead-up to open warfare in the Korean peninsula in the late 1940s, including South Korean workers’ protests, strikes and rebellions against repressive rule by the South Korean government, backed by the US. US political and military leaders regarded South Korea as a convenient battleground on which to fight godless Communism. Americans were not too keen on helping South Korea recover from Japanese imperial rule and the devastation of World War II. The CIA secretly encouraged South Korean troops to cross the 38th parallel frequently and skirmish with North Korean troops in order to capture territory for Seoul. The US attitude created an environment in which South Korean harassment and even invasion of North Korean territory would lead to open warfare.

Meyer’s marshalling of his facts is good if quite fast, and viewers might need to run the film a few times to absorb the information. The actions of President Harry Truman in declaring war on North Korea without the approval of US Congress, in violation of the US Constitution, are to be noted. The film ends on a very dark note in which Meyer reels off statistics of millions of Koreans ending up as refugees or dead as a result of the three-year war.

If Meyer had gone a little slower in his narration, the film would obviously not seem rushed for those viewers not familiar with the Korean War. However this short film is clear in its aims: to show that the US had a clear agenda and interest in seeing a hot war erupting in the Korean peninsula, and did not care for Koreans, living in both North and South Korea, caught up in the crossfire.

What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran: the history behind Iran’s relationship with the US and the West

“What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran” (ReallyGraceful, 23 November 2017)

Back in 2017 I’d been watching short history mini-documentaries on ReallyGraceful’s Youtube channel but fell out of this habit for various reasons, most of which I’m too ashamed to mention. I vow from now on to watch more of RG’s videos when I can as they are highly educational yet short enough for viewers to watch whenever they have spare time and moreover watch a second or third time to digest the information Grace gives. The videos come jam-packed with facts pulled from (I presume) many and varied sources and include stills and snippets of interviews and news articles that come and go at a steady but not rushed pace.

“What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran” is a useful introduction to the history of Iran’s fractious relationship with the West and the United States in particular over the 20th century. It starts with how the British Empire’s need for oil to fuel its naval ships – so it could have the upper edge in fuel efficiency and speed over the naval forces of Germany, the chief economic rival of Britain in the late 19th / early 20th centuries – led that evil empire to buy a 51% stake in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, originally founded by a London millionaire in 1908 to explore and drill for oil in Iran. In 1935, the company was renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and in 1951, the company was nationalised as an Iranian company by the Iranian government, at the time led by Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. In 1953, Mosaddeq was deposed in a coup engineered by the CIA and elements in both the US and British governments, and the company (renamed British Petroleum) was back under British control. Twenty-five years of repressive and corrupt rule by the US-backed Shah followed. In early 1979 the Shah’s government was overthrown in a popular revolution. The Iranian Revolution led to the destabilisation of the US government under then President Jimmy Carter.

Thus began over 40 years of animosity between Iran and the United States, and by implication the West as well, with all the associated disinformation and propaganda in Western mainstream media portraying Iran as a backward, oppressive and corrupt theocracy, and the consequences this animosity had not only on Iran’s future economic development but on the stability, security and political integrity of Iran’s neighbours Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the documentary’s second half Grace moves into the present day to examine Iran’s present geopolitical context, in particular the country’s nuclear production program and how it is continually misrepresented by Western mainstream media as a nuclear weapons development program. Grace asks why wouldn’t Iran want to have a nuclear weapons development program, given that the US has destabilised Iraq and Afghanistan through invasion and continued occupation, and that Israel has long had nuclear weapons in violation of international law governing nations’ access to and use of nuclear energy. She looks at the possible agenda behind Israel’s access to nuclear energy and its production, why the US and the West turn a blind eye to Israel’s actions both overt and covert, and Israel’s interest in conquering more territory at the expense of Lebanon, Syria and other nations in its neighbourhood for its Greater Israel project. Grace concludes that ultimately US and Western actions in supporting Israel and destabilising Arab and other nations in the Middle East / North Africa region are tied to Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich nations’ continuing use of the US dollar in selling oil to the West – because US global political dominance depends very much on other nations’ dependence on US dollars (and the continued printing of US dollars by the US Treasury) for all global financial transactions.

For such a short documentary, this film ranges far and wide in time and space, touching on many topics worth investigating in more detail in their own right. Viewers will need to do their own research on the topics Grace raises in her video, if only to confirm if she is right in what she says. The film is very dense in facts and may not always drill down deeply enough into the details of how different facts and information are linked; it’s up to viewers to find these links and work out the wider narrative behind the links themselves.

American Special Forces Destroyed a Hospital in 2015: US cowardice and incompetence on display over Kunduz hospital attack

Carlton Meyer, “American Special Forces Destroyed a Hospital in 2015” (Tales of the American Empire, 14 May 2021)

This episode in Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire series focuses on the US Air Force attack on a hospital, Kunduz Trauma Centre, in the city of Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, on 3 October 2015 that killed at least 42 people, injured over 30 others and left another 33 people unaccounted for. At the time of the attack, Médecins Sans Frontières was using the hospital to treat women and children and combatants from both the Taliban and pro-government forces, and had informed all warring sides including US forces of the hospital’s exact geographic coordinates (and confirmed them as well with US military officials back in September 2015). While the hospital was treating Taliban militants at the time of the attack, all these militants were unarmed. The hospital was brightly lit up at the time as well.

The episode presents the case that US Special Forces destroyed the hospital as revenge for an incident in which a C-130 transport aircraft crashed while taking off from Jalalabad, killing six American airmen and five contractors, sometime after Kunduz fell to insurgent fighters in September 2015. A quick history of the US Special Forces and its connection to the CIA and the US government in carrying out secret operations (which amount to war crimes) without informing the US Defense Department or State Department is given. It goes into much technical detail about the attack, what the hospital did to alert US military forces that it was under attack, and shows that various parties within the US military were busily shifting responsibility for the order to attack onto the crew who carried out the order to bomb the hospital. Not only did the US military and the US government cover up and avoid culpability for the attack but also later changed course to justify the attack on the hospital, and US mainstream media followed suit in covering up and then obscuring who was responsible for bombing the hospital.

The episode does well in presenting its case that the US attack on Kunduz Trauma Centre is a war crime and the US military and media reaction to the attack exposes US cowardice and incompetence. I would have liked to have seen how the attack might have fit a pattern of US military strikes on hospitals and other medical and non-military institutions in Afghanistan and other nations during wars in which the US is a major combatant either directly or indirectly through proxy armies such ISIS but perhaps that is beyond the scope of Meyer’s series to cover. There is nothing either about the consequences of the Kunduz Trauma Centre attack on the Afghan people, apart from MSF having to leave Kunduz (and how that would have affected Kunduz residents’ access to medical care and their attitude towards foreign occupying forces), or on the United States’ conduct of the war in Afghanistan. It would seem that, like so many other incidents in which US forces bombed and killed Afghan civilians and unarmed militants alike, any lessons the Kunduz Trauma Centre attack could teach have not been learned by the US and its allies.

The American Occupation of Iran 1941 – 1978: Iran as a pawn of British and US self-interests

Carlton Meyer, “The American Occupation of Iran 1941 – 1978” (Tales of the American Empire, 13 March 2020)

So much history is covered in this short 8-minute documentary that it bears watching at least a couple of times – though a few questions might be raised at the end of the video. In 1941, broke and needing oil badly for its armed forces, Britain decided to invade Iran to seize the country’s oil rather than pay royalties to the Iranians on oil production. Claiming to be neutral, the US actually provided military aid to allow both Britain and the Soviet Union to invade the country and then partition it and seize Iranian assets. Although Iran put up a fight, its armed forces were overwhelmed. The ruling Shah (Reza Shah Pahlavi) at the time was deposed and his son Mohammed Reza Pahlavi agreed to replace him as a puppet ruler of a virtual American colony.

Under the 1941 Lend Lease Act, the US government provided military assistance to the British and the Soviets while at the same time the US public had to accept rationing of food and fuel, wage freezes and increased income taxation. Housing construction was halted and automobile factories had to switch over to producing war materiel. 30,000 US troops were sent to occupy Iran and Iran’s government had to accept Americans in major positions. Even after World War II ended, when most US troops returned home, the Iranian government under Mohammed Reza Pahlavi still relied on US advisors. Most of the country’s oil profits went to British and US oil companies, and the Shah frittered much of whatever oil profits came to Iran on buying US weapons and equipment (and setting up a nascent nuclear manufacturing program) and on enriching himself and members of his family. The US helped Mohammed Reza Pahlavi establish SAVAK, a combined secret police / domestic security / intelligence agency, which later gained notoriety among the Iranian public for torturing and executing people who opposed the Pahlavi government.

There are a few errors in Meyer’s presentation: he refers to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company as the Anglo-American Oil Company (they were actually two different companies, the former being the forerunner of BP and the latter the forerunner of Esso) and appears to insinuate that Germany invaded Poland in 1939 after the Soviets had done so (in fact Germany invaded Poland first, then the Soviets did so). Mention of Iran nationalising the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s assets in the early 1950s under Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh might have a few viewers scratching their heads as to what Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and his US advisors were doing that Mossadegh would dare to nationalise a British company, as it was after this nationalisation that the British and the Americans would work together to depose Mossadegh and install a new government that would not upset London and which would allow the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company to continue keeping much of Iran’s oil wealth in its own coffers.

On the other hand, I do not have an issue with Meyer calling Iran’s current government a democracy as Iran does hold regular Presidential and parliamentary elections, however imperfect and corrupted the country’s government and political institutions may be. Indeed, Iran’s politics seems to be no more and no less “democratic” than those of Western nations where leaders are more likely to be hand-picked by their parties or other interested organisations, be they local or foreign, and presented to voters as the only choices rather than the voting electorate itself being allowed to put forward credible candidates for leadership positions.

In the last few minutes of the video, Meyer quickly updates viewers on the events that led to the downfall of the Shah in 1979. Meyer probably could have made much more of US arrogance and failure to read the mood of the Iranian general public and the widespread dissatisfaction at all levels of society with the Pahlavi royal family’s corruption and the increasing violence of SAVAK. Viewers will note the parallel between the US ignorance of the changing reality on the ground in Iran, as people joined protests and mass demonstrations against the Shah’s rule, and the current US bewilderment and panic at events in many parts of the world – in China (Hong Kong and Xinjiang), Russia, Syria and Venezuela among others – where US-supported grifters like Alexei Navalny (Russia) and Juan Guaido (Venezuela) have failed to rally public support behind them to lead a coup against governments the US desires to replace with puppet regimes. This parallel and similar parallels between the 1953 overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and the 2014 overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych – both coups involved violent mobs paid by US agencies to support overthrowing those leaders – surely make 20th-century Iranian history worth studying. A third parallel may be observed between the impoverishment of the US general public during World War II and the current impoverishment of Americans, the degradation of US national infrastructures and the evisceration of US culture, education, healthcare and other social services to feed an insatiable psychopathic appetite among US elites that celebrates violence, brutality and destruction in the service of empire.

The images used in the video are old and unfortunately the later part of the video uses photographic portraits of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi while Meyer does a general survey of that Shah’s rule – surely some old film footage of the Shah’s excesses might have been available. These are perhaps minor points in what is a general historical sketch of the vicious nature of both the US and British empires and their elites in a nation that has too much of a resource that both empires still need.

Conquering the Middle East: overview of the US plan to destabilise seven nations in five years

Carlton Meyer, “Conquering the Middle East” (Tales of the American Empire, 2 April 2021)

This episode in Carlton Meyer’s long-running “Tales of the American Empire” series revolves around a long-term military policy that the US had developed some time in the 1990s to invade seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa in the space of five years, overthrow their governments and install new puppet governments friendly to the US and Israel. This policy was communicated to retired 4-star US general Wesley Clark in the weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center towers on 11 September 2001 by a colleague, also a 4-star general, who later showed Clark a classified memo from the then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld listing the seven countries targeted for invasion: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. Clark later spoke to Democracy Now! about the memo and the plan in 2007. By then, Iraq had been invaded and its government replaced by one amenable to the Americans (with President Saddam Hussein having been executed on 30 December 2006), Lebanon had been invaded by Israel and Somalia by Ethiopia, and Sudan was starting to break up after civil war ended in January 2005 and the southern part of the country that would later become independent South Sudan in 2011 had its autonomy restored. Syria would soon be hit by a devastating and prolonged drought that, together with the burden of coping with refugees from Iraq and Palestine, would strain the country’s economy and political stability.

Meyer’s short film connects the US policy with Israel’s notorious Yinon Plan, formed in 1982, to expand Israeli territory as far east as Baghdad and as far west to the Nile River. According to the film the strategy was supported by the US oil industry to grab new oil-fields and by the US military-industrial complex which makes huge profits from prolonged warfare with no end. The film does not say who else would have benefited from this policy though it does mention that in the case of destabilising Syria from 2011 onwards with a de facto army made up of ISIS and other jihadi mercenaries, the US struck a deal with Turkey: Turkey would receive Syrian territory along its border with Syria if it would supply arms and military and transport equipment.

The film follows the fate of each of the seven countries on the list in the order they were to be invaded and destabilised, and their governments ousted and replaced. The summaries are short but succinct: the actions of the US and the West in undermining the countries on the list are shocking, with the use of jihadi mercenaries (many recruited through social media) as a de facto army in Syria; infiltration of political, economic and cultural institutions in several of these countries; US sanctions targeting Syria and Hezbollah causing a liquidity crisis in Lebanon’s banks in 2019; the NATO invasion of Libya in 2011 resulting in the murder of Muammar Gaddafi and chaos in that country that continues to the present; US encouragement and support for Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 2006, leading to war for several years; and the splitting of Sudan into two nations and the replacement of former President Omar al Bashir through a coup with a president acceptable to the West. Of the seven target countries, Syria and Iran have proven more resilient than the others, with Syrian President Bashar al Assad still in power in Syria due to his leadership and strong public and military support for him along with help from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah in pushing back and defeating ISIS-allied jihadi forces; and Iran overcoming Color Revolution attempts that took place over 2017-2018 and 2019-2020. The policy of destabilising these nations still remains in place.

With the accession of Joe Biden to the US Presidency in January 2021 and the installation of Anthony Blinken as US Secretary of State, the policy has roared back into action as a virtual centrepiece of the Biden Administration’s Middle Eastern / North African foreign policy with US forces carrying out a bombing raid on Syrian territory along the Iraqi border one month into Biden’s presidency.

The film serves as a good introduction to current US foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa, and to the recent histories of some of the countries on the US kill list that have been invaded and wrecked. Viewers need to do their own research to get a better understanding of the enormity of the destruction and suffering the US and the West have caused to these nations though as the film by necessity has to cover several countries quickly and the coverage is either too broad or so selective as to be almost cherry-picking. The events described in the film need to be seen in a larger context: after mention of the Yinon Plan, Israel drops out of the film’s target sights, even its invasion of Lebanon in 2006 is glossed over. Viewers will get no sense of the Biden Administration as being beholden to the US military-industrial complex, Wall Street, the media corporations, the intelligence community, foreign governments and their Capitol Hill lobbyists, and other Deep State players with their own self-serving agendas. The eager participation of Britain, France, other states in the European Union, and other Western nations in infiltrating and weakening nations like Lebanon, Libya, Syria and others – in Britain’s case, by running huge propaganda and disinformation campaigns and creating organisations (actually fronts for British companies founded by ex-intel agents) that embed themselves in target nations’ security and justice institutions – go unmentioned.

It becomes clear that the West no longer has the moral authority, if it ever did, to insist that other nations must abide by its interpretation of the international rules-based order when Western nations clearly act like vultures in picking on nations much weaker than themselves.

Red Rover: a sparing character study of human behaviour in extreme situations

Brooke Goldfinch, “Red Rover” (2015)

In less than 15 minutes, “Red Rover” explores very minimally in a character-driven study the reactions of individuals and a community to an imminent global disaster, with the suggestion that future apocalypses and the destruction of civilisation are more likely to be caused by humans themselves than by whatever natural disaster triggers the apocalypse. In a world where lockdowns, mass hysteria and the sudden wipe-out of civil liberties may have caused far more deaths than the mystery COVID-19 pandemic itself has done to justify such government actions, this short film gains more relevance than it would have done otherwise. Two teenagers, Lauren (Natalie Racoosin) and Conrad (Christopher Gray) plot their escape from a remote and insular Christian religious community when they discover that everyone in the community has agreed to commit mass suicide via a communal Thanksgiving-style feast ahead of a supposed imminent asteroid crash into the planet. The two youngsters plan to take Lauren’s young brother John (Ian Etheridge) with them but disaster intervenes. With their families dead, the teenagers travel into town to find shelter. They accidentally come across a group sex orgy in which all the participants are high on drugs. The youngsters continue their search and muse on their future together: marriage, children, establishing a home together. Unfortunately too late Lauren and Conrad discover their time together to achieve what they want is much, much shorter than they’d prefer.

With spare acting and even more spare dialogue, Racoosin and Gray infuse life and credibility into young people who have had limited life experiences and who are at a loss in dealing with a world outside their community. They are forced to grow up more quickly than they expected to; at the same time they cling to remnants of the world that has suddenly destroyed itself, in heart-breaking scenes where Lauren dons a ballgown and Conrad talks about taking her to the prom and marrying her. The minor cast playing the teenagers’ parents do good work sketching out their families’ cult-like behaviours in very early scenes. The film crew pay close attention to the details of background surroundings: the dining room scene with a table heaped up with poisoned foods, the barren township with abandoned cars, plastic sheets scuttling across empty roads and broken glass in shopfronts.

An impression of the world falling apart, even before the asteroid may arrive, and the sad, passive resignation and melancholy that greet Lauren and Conrad wherever they go, linger long after the film ends in a blaze of light. In spite of this, the two teenagers seem determined to experience freedom and the joy of living in the short time they have together. The film drives home the point that even in the face of imminent extinction, people can still choose to live life defiantly and to its full extent. The reactions of two communities, at first utterly unlike each other but with more similarities than either of them can imagine, to the asteroid strike are sure to provoke much personal reflection or communal discussion about the nature of human denial and passivity in extreme situations.