The following is a speech delivered by March Forward! co-founder Mike Prysner at the 2008 National Conference on Socialism, hosted by the PSL.
Sisters and brothers, I’m delighted to see so many of you here who are ready to fight, or already fighting against this criminal system—its criminal policies and its criminal wars. I think it’s important to point out that we are incredibly lucky that we have the luxury to talk about imperialism, and fighting imperialism, in a setting such as this.
I think before we begin we should take a second to remember those who do not have this luxury—who know about imperialism not from books but from the bombs that rain down on their cities, from the pools of blood in their homes, and from funerals of their siblings, their parents and their children. As we discuss and analyze imperialism, we must always keep in our minds the human side, and remember that the human suffering caused by imperialism is too vast to even describe.
I joined the army when I was 17. Most people join the military for economic reasons: job training, college money, etc. While this was also a factor for me, my main motivation was believing in my heart that this country and this government were a force for good in the world; that we freed the oppressed and that we helped those in need; that we stood for freedom and democracy. So much so that I was willing to dedicate my entire life to those ideals, and possibly lose my life defending them.
Somewhere along the line I transformed from a patriot into a revolutionary.
This is because I was forced to re-examine everything I believed, and everything I had been taught growing up in the U.S. I spent most of my life knowing I was going to join the army because I wanted to be a part of something just, honorable, and good—but all that was shattered when I was sent to Iraq in 2003.
I went from believing that I was some heroic savior to realizing that I was nothing more than a thug for Halliburton, Exxon and General Electric.
When the war was starting, I believed the case that the Iraqi people needed to be liberated—that the war was going to save the peoples’ lives and improve the harsh conditions they were living under. I believed we were going there to help people.
But I don’t remember helping anybody. I remember people crying. I remember men crying as they were tortured in our detention facilities. I remember children crying when we kicked down the door to their homes. I remember women crying as we put sand bags over the heads of their husbands and sons and took them away. I remember people screaming that we were worse than Saddam. I remember pools of blood in the street. I remember being attacked by rockets and mortars at night and eventually understanding that if I were on the other side of those gates I’d be firing those rockets too--and I realized that whoever was shooting at us was not my enemy, he was my brother, and I had more in common with him than the politicians who sent us to that war.
I realized what I was a part of, and it wasn’t this glorified war of liberation. It was a brutal, unprovoked occupation, not to help anybody, but to steal vast oil reserves that belonged to the people and not U.S. corporations. And I realized that the only thing to do was to stand up and fight back.
We can live believing this fantasy that this government stands for freedom and democracy, and that wars are to free the oppressed, and to save lives, and to protect people from harm; or the fantasy that this country once stood for those things but has strayed from its path. But there is only one reality, and that reality is that the U.S. government kills for profit. Since WWII the U.S. government has been the single most destructive force on the planet—no country has taken more lives and caused more destruction. It has bombed every corner of the globe, invaded sovereign nations and sponsored the most oppressive dictators.
For what? To feed the military industrial complex over a trillion dollars a year. To reap billions of dollars in profits for a tiny group of bankers and CEOs. It has destroyed millions of lives to feed a system that has an unquenchable thirst for ever-increasing profits.
We can look at the Iraq war as just a microcosm of U.S. imperialism. The majority of the population has come to realize that the Iraq war had nothing to do with national security, and had nothing to do with bringing democracy to Iraq. It is a blatantly unprovoked, brutal war of aggression.
However, simply understanding that the Iraq war was waged for profit is limited. Many who rightfully see that invading Iraq was about securing its vast oil resources for U.S. companies, stop short at pointing the finger at the Bush administration. While the Bush administration was led by extremely reactionary neoconservatives, the Iraq war—and the "war on terror" as a whole—was backed by virtually the entire establishment.
Some in the anti-war movement have called for a return to "American values," as if the Iraq war was out of character for the U.S. government. But the U.S. has perpetually been at war since its birth, massacring indigenous people all over the globe. Since WWII, and the rise of the military industrial complex, the U.S. has been the single most destructive force on the planet, causing more death and devastation than any other nation. Both Democrats and Republicans have sent poor and working people in the U.S. to kill poor and working people in all corners of the earth. Securing access to foreign markets through all-out violence and repression has been the status quo for the U.S. government.
We have nothing to gain by fighting these wars; we have everything to gain by fighting against them. This economic crisis will only deepen, plunging more and more workers into poverty everyday, and these wars will only continue to destroy the lives of workers abroad and at home. This is not a grim outlook—this is a society ripe for change. Only a revolutionary party can harness the inevitable negative sentiments against the system, and transform them into revolutionary consciousness.
The fight against imperialism is going to continue, and we are going to continue to be on the front lines. Imperialism can bring about its own demise—together we will not only end these imperialist wars but end the era of imperialism altogether, and begin a new era based on justice and human solidarity.