This unique history book— part of a planned trilogy — is a burning hot indictment of U.S. roots and the myths that sustain them. Authored by Mumia Abu-Jamal and filmmaker/writer Stephen Vittoria, Murder Incorporated, Dreaming of Empire, Book One sets out to expose the story of the United States that we were never taught in school.
Murder Incorporated is not strictly chronological or linear. Rather, it’s a tapestry woven of historical accounts, impressive original-source materials and searing commentary. This along with the decidedly non-academic approach makes the book very accessible and lends it a sense of urgency.
America’s Dark Heart. Although the book is filled with scenes of brutality and violence against oppressed people everywhere, Mumia and Vittoria’s account of the Spanish invasion of the Caribbean and Central America is hair-raising. At the end of the sixteenth century, between 60 and 80 million natives of these areas were gone, wiped out through disease and massacres. As the authors put it, “That’s how these Americas came to be. They are the bones upon which this beast was fed and raised.”
Most newcomers to the early U.S. came as slaves or indentured servants. The rich, however, were granted vast tracts of land from the king and had the power of life and death over most residents. Life was brutal for the majority who organized food and bread riots, struggles against conscription into the British Army, and efforts to free fellow citizens from debtors’ prison.
When it comes to the Founding Fathers, their own words convict them. John Winthrop, a colonial governor, thanked God for smallpox — “God hath consumed the natives with a miraculous plague”; Benjamin Franklin praised God for “extirpating savages”; and Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner who compared African Americans to orangutans and advocated the “extermination” of native tribes. He also had slaves as young as ten whipped to spur production on his highly profitable plantation. He and George Washington were the richest men in the colonies.
The authors remind us in no uncertain terms that racism, far from being an artifact of a former epoch, is at the very nexus of U.S. history and culture.
U.S. dominance. The book devotes many pages to the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny, twin pillars of U.S. imperialism.
The Monroe Doctrine states that everything that happens in the Southern Western Hemisphere is the business of the U.S. and that European powers should stay out. America’s intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean always meant disaster for the indigenous. From Cuba to El Salvador to Grenada and Venezuela, U.S. history is replete with examples of blatant imperialism. The authors rightly see the Monroe Doctrine as the basis for the Spanish-American war, a thoroughly expansionist conflict. It’s easy to see that today’s “regime change” is a direct outgrowth of the Monroe Doctrine.
Manifest Destiny is the idea that occupation of the American continent is God-ordained. This resulted in the near extinction of Native Americans. Abe Lincoln advocated the eradication of Indians, because they stood in the way of westward expansion.
Another chapter explains how the Mexican-American War embodied both the idea of Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine, and was made possible by these sinister beliefs. To whip up support, the government claimed that Mexicans were invading U.S. territory and killing Americans. This was a lie. The war started in 1846 with an American invasion. Its real purpose was American expansionism. The plan was to acquire more land in the southern United States in order to expand slavery into more states and keep the profits rolling in. Fredrick Douglass denounced it and the pro-war furor in the country. “The deep disgrace which must forever attach to our inhuman course, seems to oppose no availing check to the mad spirit of proud ambition, blood and carnage, let loose in the land.”
The ongoing struggle. This history book is not for the faint-hearted. It is meant to shock and arouse us. We burn with righteous indignation at all the abuse and lies. Yet, the end of the book is disappointing. Its last chapter is dedicated to all those who have “looked at the monster straight in the eye and said, ‘No, not this time’.” Its final salute is to an anti-Viet Nam War activist and gay Episcopal priest who was a noted pacifist.
As a socialist feminist my response to the book was hardly non-violent. If Murder Incorporated shows us anything about America’s Evil Empire, it’s that the powerful will never give their power away — we will have to take it from them. That means revolution, not just mutiny — a unity of mutineers into one sustained force capable of confronting the Empire where it lives.
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