Friday, February 27, 2009

Secret American Empire - Ch.1

Mystery Woman of Jakarta

I was ready to rape and pillage when I headed to Asia in 1971. At twenty-six, I felt cheated by life. I wanted to take revenge.

I am certain, in retrospect, that rage earned me my job. Hours of psychological testing by the National Security Agency (NSA) identified me as a potential economic hit man. The nation's most clandestine spy organization concluded that I was a man whose passions could be channeled to help fulfill its mission of expanding the empire. I was hired by Chas. T. Main (MAIN), an international consulting firm that did the corporatocracy's dirty work, as an ideal candidate for plundering the Third World.

Although the causes for my rage are detailed in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, they can be summarized in a few sentences. The son of a poor prep-school teacher, I grew up surrounded by wealthy boys. I was both terrified and mesmerized by women and, therefore, shunned by them. I attended a college I hated because it was what my mother and father wanted. In my first defiant act, I dropped out, landed a job I loved as a copy boy on a big city newspaper, and then, tail between my legs, returned to college in order to avoid the draft. I married too young because it was what the one girl who finally accepted me demanded. I spent three years in the Amazon and Andes as an impoverished Peace Corps volunteer – once again forced to evade the draft.

I consider myself a true and loyal American. This too contributed to my rage. My ancestors fought in the Revolution and most other US wars. My family was predominantly conservative Republican. Having cut my literary teeth on Paine and Jefferson, I thought a conservative was someone who believed in the founding ideals of our country, in justice and equality for all; I was angered by the betrayal of these ideals in Vietnam and by the oil company – Washington collusion that I saw destroying the Amazon and enslaving its people.

Why did I choose to become an EHM, to compromise my ideals? Looking back, I can say that the job promised to fulfill many of my fantasies; it offered money, power, and beautiful women – as well as first-class travel to exotic lands. I was told, of course, that I would be called upon to do nothing illegal. In fact, if I did my job well, I would be lauded, invited to lecture at Ivy League schools, and wined and dined by royalty. In my heart I knew that this journey was fraught with peril. I was gambling with my soul. But I thought I would prove the exception. When I headed for Asia, I figured I would reap the benefits for a few years, and then expose the system and become a hero.

I have to admit, too, that I had developed a fascination for pirates and adventure at an early age. But I had lived the opposite type of life, always doing what was expected of me. Other than quitting college (for a semester), I was the ideal son. Now it was time to rape and pillage.

Indonesia would be my first victim...

The earth's largest archipelago, Indonesia consists of more than seventeen thousand islands stretching from Southeast Asia to Australia. Three hundred different ethnic groups speak more than 250 distinct languages. It is populated with more Muslims than any other nation. By the close of the 1960s we knew that it was awash in oil.

President John F. Kennedy had established Asia as the bulwark of anti-communist empire builders when he supported at 1963 coup against South Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem was subsequently assassinated and many people believed the CIA gave that order; after all, the CIA had orchestrated coups against Mossadegh of Iran, Qasim of Iraq, Arbenz of Venezuela, and Lumumba of the Congo. Diem's downfall led directly to the buildup of US military forces in Southeast Asia and ultimately the Vietnam War.

Events did not transpire the way Kennedy had planned. Long after the US president's own assassination, the war turned catastrophic for the United States. In 1969, President Richard M. Nixon initiated a series of troop withdrawls; his administration adopted a more clandestine strategy, focused on preventing a domino effect of one country after another falling under communist rule. Indonesia became the key.

One of the principle factors was Indonesia's President Haji Mohammed Suharto. He had earned a reputation as a stalwart anti-Communist and a man who did not hesitate to sue extreme brutality in executing his policies. As head of the army in 1965 he had crushed a Communist-infested coup; the subsequent blood-bath claimed the lives of 300,000-500,000 people, one of the worst politically engineered mass murders of the century, reminiscent of those of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung. Another estimated one million people were thrown into jails and prison camps. Then, in the aftermath of the killings and arrests, Suharto took over as president, in 1968.

When I arrived in Indonesia in 1971, the goal of US foreign policy was clear; stop communism and support the president. We expected Suharto to serve Washington in a manner like that of the shah of Iran. The two men were similar; greedy, vain, and ruthless. In addition to coveting its oil, we wanted Indonesia to set an example for the rest of Asia, as well as for the entire Muslim world.

My company, MAIN, was charged with developing integrated electrical systems that would enable Suharto and his cronies to industrialize and become even richer, and would also ensure long-term American dominance. My job was to create the economic studies necessary to obtain financing from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Soon after my arrival in Jakarta, the MAIN team met at the elegant restaurant on the top floor of the Hotel Intercontinental Indonesia. Charlie Illingworth, our project manager, summarized our mission: “We are here to accomplish nothing short of saving this country from the clutches of communism.” He then added, “We all know how dependent our own country is on oil. Indonesia can be a powerful ally to us in that regard. So, as you develop this master plan, please do everything you can to make sure that the oil industry and all the others that serve it – ports, pipelines, construction companies – get whatever they are likely to need in the way of electricity for the entire duration of this twenty-five-year-plan.”

Most government offices in Jakarta in those days opened early, around 7am, and shut their doors at about 2pm. Their employees broke for coffee, tea, and snacks; however, lunch was postponed until the closing hour. I made a habit of rushing back to the hotel, changing into my bathing suit, heading for the pool, and ordering a tuna fish sandwich and cold Bintang Baru, a local beer. Although I dragged along a briefcase stuffed with official papers I had collected during my meetings, it was a subterfuge; I was there to work on my tan and ogle the beautiful bikini-clad women, mostly American wives of oil workers who spent their weekdays in remote locations or executives with offices in Jakarta.

It did not take long for me to become enamored with a woman who appeared to be about my age and of mixed Asian American heritage. In addition to her stunning physique, she seemed unusually friendly. In fact, sometimes the way she stood, stretched, smiled at me while ordering food in English, and dove into the pool appeared flirtations. I found myself quickly turning away. I knew I must be blushing. I cursed my puritanical parents.

Every day, around four o'clock, approximately an hour and a half after my arrival, she was joined by a man who, I was certain, was Japanese. He arrived dressed in a business suit, which was unusual in a country where formal attire generally consisted of slacks and a well-pressed shirt, often made from local batik cloth. They chatted for a few moments and then departed together. Although I searched for the in the hotel bars and restaurants, I never saw them together or alone anywhere except at the pool.

One afternoon, as I rode the elevator to the ground floor, I steeled myself. I would approach her, talk with her. I told myself there was nothing to lose, I knew she was married to the Japanese man and I just wanted to speak with someone in English. How could she possibly object? Once I made that commitment, if felt jubilant.

I strolled toward the pool with a buoyant sense of anticipation, humming my favorite song. But, as soon as I arrived, I stopped in my tracks, dismayed and confused. She was not in her usual place. I searched frantically around, but there was no sign of her anywhere. I dropped my briefcase next to a lounge chair and rushed into the surrounding gardens. I had never explored them before and now found that they were vast, bursting with orchards of every conceivable color, a profusion of birds-of-paradise, and bromeliads that dwarfed those I had seen in the Amazon; but all I could think about was my missed opportunity to admire them with her. Palms and exotic bushes formed little nooks and hideaways. I thought I spied her lying on a towel in the grass on the other side of a hedge. I raced around it – and managed to wake up a woman. She clutched her loose bikini top to her breasts, sat up, glared at e menacingly, her eyes accusing me of voyeurism, and shouted in a language I did not understand. I apologized as best I could and returned to the spot where I had left my briefcase.

When the waiter approached to take my order, I pointed at the vacant chair where she usually sat. he bowed, smiled, and picked up my briefcase to move it there for me.

“No, no, tidak,” I said, still pointing. “The woman. Where is she?” I figured that it was part of a pool waiter's job to know the habits of regular clients. I suspected the Japanese executive was a good tipper.

“No, no.” he repeated. “Tidak.”

“Do you know where she went?” I threw my hands out at my sides and shrugged in what I thought was a universal gesture.

He mimicked my movements, smiled idiotically, and parroted back my words. “Where she went.”

“Yes. Where?”

“Yes,” he repeated. “Where?” He shrugged again, his expression aping Alice in Wonderland's Cheshire Cat. Then he snapped his fingers. “Yes.” He laughed.

I held my breath, relieved that my theory about pool waiters was about to be confirmed.

“Tunafich sanich and Bintang Baru,” he stated.

Deflated, I only managed to nod. He trotted off.

Four o'clock came and went. There was no sign of either her or the man who had always joined her. I trudged off to my room, showered, dressed, and headed out. I had to get away from this hotel. I would immerse myself in the local scene.

- pages 13-18, The Secret History of the American Empire

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