History of America’s Dark Side
By Larry Romanoff, March 13 , 2023
There are several aspects to what we can term “America’s Dark Side”: these are civilian slaughter (“pacification”), torture, and human experimentation. This essay deals only with the first – civilian pacification by slaughter. These programs are conceived and implemented by military officers and elected officials, but are executed by average Americans. It is almost unthinkable that people exist who will execute such inhuman atrocities against other human beings, but there seem to be many of them.
In an historically-enlightening article titled “A Long History of America’s Dark Side”, American authors Peter Dale Scott and Robert Parry draw a stunning, if depressing, picture of the pattern of US military atrocities that formed the basic philosophy of US colonisation. The site’s editor noted, “Many Americans view their country and its soldiers as the good guys spreading democracy and liberty around the world, and when the US inflicts death and destruction, it’s viewed as a mistake or an aberration“. The authors provide extensive documentation that American atrocities have never been mistakes but instead were part of a carefully-planned policy to perform what was called “the pacification” of native populations that resisted US colonisation.
I urge you to read the above article by Scott and Parry. It also is only “a scratch on the surface” of a huge topic, but provides more detail on a travesty of immense proportion. They point out that there is a very dark but seldom acknowledged thread running through US military tradition that has always explicitly used brutal violence and terror to suppress local populations, whether native Indians in the US or “protecting US interests” in the Philippines, Vietnam or Central and South America. “The American people are largely oblivious to this hidden tradition because most of the literature advocating state-sponsored terror is carefully confined to national security circles and rarely spills out into the public debate, which is instead dominated by feel-good messages about well-intentioned US interventions abroad.” Over the decades, congressional and journalistic investigations have exposed some of these abuses. But when that does happen, the cases are usually deemed anomalies or excesses by out-of-control soldiers. But the historical record shows that terror tactics have long been a dark side of U.S. military doctrine. The theories survive today in textbooks on counterinsurgency warfare, “low-intensity” conflict and “counter-terrorism.”
The United States has a very long history of acts of unconscionable brutality against the populations of other nations. The record that suggests these are neither a “mistake” nor an “aberration” but rather conscious counterinsurgency doctrine . There is a dark – seldom acknowledged – thread that runs through U.S. military doctrine, dating back to the early days of the Republic. This military tradition has explicitly defended the selective use of terror, whether in suppressing Native American resistance on the frontiers in the 19th Century or in protecting U.S. interests abroad in the 20th Century or fighting the “war on terror” over recent decades.
“The policy began with battles during the Northern and Southern US states, evolving into a concept of “total war” which meant devastating attacks on civilians and the economic infrastructure became an integral part of the subjugation process. When US General Sherman was battling the South, his troops burned homes, left fields and plantations in flames and engaged in widespread rapes and murders of civilians, as a means to destroy their will to fight. Essentially the same tactics were used against the native Indians, where violence and terrorism became the basis of a victorious US colonisation strategy. With the natives, the authors quote in part from the US Congressional Record, “They were scalped; their brains knocked out; the men used their knives, ripped open women, clubbed little children, knocked them in the head with their guns, beat their brains out, mutilated their bodies in every sense of the word”. Slaughter became the American way to bring peace.”
The bodies of Moro insurgents and civilians killed by US troops during the Battle of Bud Dajo in the Philippines, March 7, 1906.
“When the Americans moved outside their own borders to create military colonies in much of the undeveloped world, these so-called “pacification” policies accompanied them. When the US invaded the Philippines, it followed these policies to the letter, burning homes, massacring civilians, killing children, torturing and mutilating bodies, all to “pacify” the people – to brutalise them into accepting their new position as an American colony. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were herded onto bridges, killed and thrown overboard, so the rivers flowed with dead bodies. One news correspondent reflected the Americans’ deep racism when he described scenes where “American soldiers killed men, women, children … from lads of 10 and up, … the Filipino, as such, was little better than a dog. It is not civilized warfare, but we are not dealing with a civilized people. The only thing they know and fear is force, violence, and brutality.” A US Army war document praised this “exemplary criminal violence – the murder and mutilation of captives and the display of their bodies”. These atrocities were widely regarded in military circles as “pacification in its most perfected form”.
According to Scott and Parry:
“When the United States claimed the Philippines as a prize in the Spanish-American War, Filipino insurgents resisted. In 1900, the U.S. commander, Gen. J. Franklin Bell, consciously modeled his brutal counterinsurgency campaign after the Indian wars and Sherman’s “march to the sea.” Bell believed that by punishing the wealthier Filipinos through destruction of their homes — much as Sherman had done in the South — they would be coerced into helping convince their countrymen to submit. Learning from the Indian wars, he also isolated the guerrillas by forcing Filipinos into tightly controlled zones where schools were built and other social amenities were provided. “The entire population outside of the major cities in Batangas was herded into concentration camps,” wrote historian Stuart Creighton Miller. “Bell’s main target was the wealthier and better-educated classes. … Adding insult to injury, Bell made these people carry the petrol used to burn their own country homes.”
“For those outside protected areas, there was terror. A supportive news correspondent described one scene in which American soldiers killed “men, women, children … from lads of 10 and up, an idea prevailing that the Filipino, as such, was little better than a dog. … “Our soldiers have pumped salt water into men to ‘make them talk,’ have taken prisoner people who held up their hands and peacefully surrendered, and an hour later, without an atom of evidence to show they were even insurrectos, stood them on a bridge and shot them down one by one, to drop into the water below and float down as an example to those who found their bullet-riddled corpses.” Defending the tactics, the correspondent noted that “it is not civilized warfare, but we are not dealing with a civilized people. The only thing they know and fear is force, violence, and brutality.” [Philadelphia Ledger, Nov. 19, 1900]
“In 1901, anti-imperialists in Congress exposed and denounced Bell’s brutal tactics. Nevertheless, Bell’s strategies won military acclaim as a refined method of pacification. In a 1973 book, one pro-Bell military historian, John Morgan Gates, termed reports of U.S. atrocities “exaggerated” and hailed Bell’s “excellent understanding of the role of benevolence in pacification.” Gates recalled that Bell’s campaign in Batanga was regarded by military strategists as “pacification in its most perfected form.” [See Gates’s Schoolbooks and Krags: The United States Army in the Philippines, 1898-1902.] “The campaign against the Huk movement in the Philippines … greatly resembled the American campaign of almost 50 years earlier,” historian Gates observed. “The American approach to the problem of pacification had been a studied one.” But the war against the Huks had some new wrinkles, particularly the modern concept of psychological warfare or psy-war.”
My Lai massacre victims photo by U. S. Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle. Capt. Colin Powell in Vietnam, prior to his promotion. Source
The US copied its successes into Vietnam. US General Colin Powell, who later served as US Secretary of State, endorsed the routine practice of murdering Vietnamese males as a necessary part of the counterinsurgency effort. “Counterinsurgency” in US military-speak means killing all the people who resist your invasion of their country; they are the “insurgents” who must be eliminated. In Vietnam, the US destroyed all the dams and water supplies, much of the farmland and crops, destroyed entire towns and massacred all inhabitants. The American “pacification” of Vietnam and neighboring countries in the end claimed millions of lives, and these were not primarily military casualties but the organised murder of civilians meant to terrorise the entire population into accepting permanent US occupation. Fortunately for the Vietnamese, it failed.
Indonesia was the same. The CIA overthrew the existing government to install a dictator more compliant to US military colonisation and, in an effort to “pacify” the population, rounded up and hacked to death with machetes more than 3 million Indonesian peasants, in what was the greatest human slaughter in recent history. Hundreds of thousands of bodies were dumped in rivers, impaled on bamboo stakes so they wouldn’t sink, and many mutilated bodies were put on display to serve as a warning to others. By all accounts, Indonesian rivers were blood-red for weeks. “We saw with our own eyes the massacre of the people who were surrendering: all dead, even women and children, even the littlest ones. Not even pregnant women were spared: they were cut open. They did what they had done to small children the previous year, grabbing them by the legs and smashing their heads against rocks.” One American military leader boasted, “We did the same thing in Java, in Borneo, in the Celebes, in Irian Jaya. It worked”.
New York Times columnist James Reston spoke approvingly of the bloody massacres as “a gleam of light in Asia”. US Embassy officer Robert Martens who was in charge of compiling the lists of Indonesians selected for the slaughter, told the media, “I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment”, the victims of course being blamed for their own misfortune. And the New York Times had the gall to publish an article titled: “U.S. Stood By as Indonesia Killed a Half-Million People, Papers Show”. How can you tell a bigger lie than that?
And as usual, the Americans then re-wrote the history books to eliminate any record of their immense human slaughter. Bonnie Triyana, an Indonesian historian, said, “Ours is an oblivious society. Almost no one knows that millions were killed.”
And this surprisingly (partially) honest entry in Wikipedia: “Robert J. Martens, political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta from 1963 to 1966, told journalist Kathy Kadane in 1990 that he led a group of State Department and CIA officials who drew up the lists of roughly 5,000 Communist Party operatives, which he provided to an Army intermediary. Kadane asserts that approval for the release of names came from top U.S. Embassy officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Marshall Green, deputy chief of mission Jack Lydman who later denied all involvement. The State Department volume Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, which the CIA attempted to suppress in 2001, acknowledges that the U.S. Embassy provided lists of communist leaders to Indonesians involved in the purges. U.S. government officials, among them Marshall Green, “published memoirs and articles that sought to divert attention from any possible U.S. role, while questioning the integrity and political loyalties of scholars who disagreed with them”.”
Washington Post senior editor Stephen Rosenfeld justified these mass killings as “the grim but earned fate of a conspiratorial revolutionary party”. So, the Indonesian peasants that were mercilessly slaughtered were part of a “conspiracy” that was plotting a “revolution” against the US invaders, and therefore deserved their fate. He also boasted that due to the massacres, the US could now “enjoy the fruits in the geopolitical stability of that important part of Asia”.
Scott and Parry again:
“In 1965, the U.S. intelligence community formalized its hard-learned counterinsurgency lessons by commissioning a top-secret program called Project X. Based at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School at Fort Holabird, Maryland, the project drew from field experience and developed teaching plans to “provide intelligence training to friendly foreign countries,” according to a Pentagon history prepared in 1991 and released in 1997. Called “a guide for the conduct of clandestine operations,” Project X “was first used by the U.S. Intelligence School on Okinawa to train Vietnamese and, presumably, other foreign nationals,” the history stated. Linda Matthews of the Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Division recalled that in 1967-68, some of the Project X training material was prepared by officers connected to the Phoenix program. “She suggested the possibility that some offending material from the Phoenix program may have found its way into the Project X materials at that time,” the Pentagon report said.”
“In the 1970s, the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School moved to Fort Huachuca in Arizona and began exporting Project X material to U.S. military assistance groups working with “friendly foreign countries.” By the mid-1970s, the Project X material was going to armies all over the world. In its 1992 review, the Pentagon acknowledged that Project X was the source for some of the “objectionable” lessons at the School of the Americas where Latin American officers were trained in blackmail, kidnapping, torture, murder and spying on non-violent political opponents. But disclosure of the full story was blocked near the end of the first Bush administration when senior Pentagon officials working for then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney ordered the destruction of most Project X records.”
Few people, and even fewer Americans, seem to recognise the boldly dishonest propaganda that accompanies every US military incursion. It is always the same: while the Americans are the aggressors in nations like the Philippines, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and so many more, the standard narrative of the US government and the media is that the locals are “rebels”, “insurgents” or “terrorists”. Fabricated for a gullible public, this presentation leads readers to believe the Americans are nobly and selflessly putting down a rebellion for the cause of democracy and justice, which they of course are not. People are defending their country and their lives against a brutal invader, but are demonised in the American media as terrorist renegades. It is not easy for us to accept the truth that it is the “rebels and insurgents” in places like Iraq and Afghanistan who are inevitably the good guys in these invasions.
FILE – In this Dec.26, 1969, file photo, LT. Gen William R. Peers, head of the Army panel flying to Vietnam to investigate the initial probe into the alleged My Lay massacre, sights along his cigar during a preflight news conference in the Pentagon. On March 16, 1968, U.S. soldiers of Charlie Company sent on whatthey were told was a mission to confront a crack outfit of their Vietcong enemies, met no resistance, but over the course of three or four hours Killed 504 unarmed civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly, in My Lay and a neighboring community. (AP Photo/File) Source
The Vietnam War was the first time Americans learned of the horrors inflicted by their own government, when live film of the war was broadcast on US television. They were able to actually see the widespread destruction of villages, the brutal interrogations and executions, and see the live results of dropping napalm onto schools and hospitals. The realisations resulting from witnessing their nation’s “pacification” strategies in real life led to drastic upheavals that threatened to tear apart American society, and led to the ending of the war. From that, the US government understood that graphic images would destroy public support for its wars, and created a new PR field called “perception management” where the media were forced to report only sanitised versions of US foreign military adventures, and where great effort was focused not on eliminating barbaric and reprehensible behavior, but on managing.
Scott and Parry again:
“Reagan also added an important new component to the mix. Recognizing how graphic images and honest reporting from the war zone had undercut public support for the counterinsurgency in Vietnam, Reagan authorized an aggressive domestic “public diplomacy” operation which practiced what was called “perception management” — in effect, intimidating journalists to ensure that only sanitized information would reach the American people. Reporters who disclosed atrocities by U.S.-trained forces, such as the El Mozote massacre by El Salvador’s Atlacatl battalion in 1981, came under harsh criticism and saw their careers damaged. Some Reagan operatives were not shy about their defense of political terror as a necessity of the Cold War. Neil Livingstone, a counter-terrorism consultant to the National Security Council, called death squads “an extremely effective tool, however odious, in combatting terrorism and revolutionary challenges.” In this context, they referenced Michael McClintock’s “Instruments of Statecraft”.
“When Democrats in Congress objected to excesses of Reagan’s interventions in Central America, the administration responded with more public relations and political pressure, questioning the patriotism of the critics. For instance, Reagan’s United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick accused anyone who took note of U.S.-backed war crimes of “blaming America first.” Many Democrats in Congress and journalists in the Washington press corps buckled under the attacks, giving the Reagan administration much freer rein to carry out brutal “death squad” strategies in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. What is clear from these experiences in Indonesia, Vietnam, Central America and elsewhere is that the United States, for generations, has sustained two parallel but opposed states of mind about military atrocities and human rights: one of U.S. benevolence, generally held by the public, and the other of ends-justify-the-means brutality embraced by counterinsurgency specialists.”
Mrs. Nguyễn Thị Tẩu (Chín Tẩu) killed by US soldiers, part of her brain is lying nearby. Source
“Normally the specialists carry out their actions in remote locations with little notice in the national press. But sometimes the two competing visions – of a just America and a ruthless one – clash in the open, as they did in Vietnam. Or the dark side of U.S. security policy is thrown into the light by unauthorized leaks, such as the photos of abused detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or by revelations about waterboarding and other torture authorized by George W. Bush’s White House as part of the “war on terror.” Only then does the public get a glimpse of the grim reality, the bloody and brutal tactics that have been deemed “necessary” for more than two centuries in the defense of the purported “national interests.”
Mr. Romanoff’s writing has been translated into 32 languages and his articles posted on more than 150 foreign-language news and politics websites in more than 30 countries, as well as more than 100 English language platforms. Larry Romanoff is a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. He is one of the contributing authors to Cynthia McKinney’s new anthology ‘When China Sneezes’. (Chapt. 2 — Dealing with Demons).
His full archive can be seen at
He can be contacted at:
 A Long History of America’s Dark Side
 The True Story of Indonesia’s US-Backed Anti-Communist Bloodbath
 U.S. Stood By as Indonesia Killed a Half-Million People, Papers Show
 Indonesian mass killings of 1965–66
 Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counter-Insurgency, Counter-Terrorism, 1940-1990
Copyright © Larry Romanoff, Blue Moon of Shanghai, Moon of Shanghai, 2023