James Woolsey and Subcommander Marcos Say Yes

by Bill Weinberg

On September 13, 2001, the New York Times’ Tom Friedman wrote: “Does my country really understand that this is World War III? And if this attack was the Pearl Harbor of World War III, it means there is a long, long war ahead.”

More sophisticated minds have since challenged this declaration as numerically incorrect. While sharing the pro-war consensus, former CIA Director James Woolsey is on the lecture circuit asserting that the global crusade against terrorism is World War IV–the Cold War having been III. “This fourth world war, I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us,” Woolsey told a group of UCLA students in April. “Hopefully not the full four-plus decades of the Cold War.”

Woolsey’s mathematics are shared by the unlikeliest of intellectual allies–Subcommander Marcos, verbose spokesman for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas. Marcos issued his communique asserting that the planet is in a “Fourth World War” in 1997–well before the 9-11 attacks. But his analysis illuminates why the new hawks prominently include those such as Friedman, who has made a career of boosting globalization as a boon and inevitability. For Marcos, the Fourth World War is indistinguishable from corporate global integration: “Globalization, neoliberalism as a global system, should be understood as a new war of conquest for territories… A world order returned to the old epochs of the conquests of America, Africa and Oceania. This is a strange modernity that moves forward by going backward. The dusk of the twentieth century has more similarities with previous brutal centuries than with the placid and rational future of some science-fiction novel. In the world of the post-Cold War, vast territories, wealth, and above all, a qualified labor force, await a new owner.”

Significantly, the Maya Indian rebels of the Zapatistas launched their revolt on Jan. 1, 1994, the precise moment that NAFTA took effect. The changes to the Mexican constitution calling for privatization of communal indigenous and peasant lands as a condition of the trade pact were declared a “death sentence” for Mexico’s Indians. These lands–protected as traditional village holdings as a gain of Emilianio Zapata’s peasant insurgency in the Mexican Revolution of 1910-7–now stand to be delivered to the highest multinational bidder. This is the most obvious example of “reconquest of territory” via the legalistic and bureaucratic means of “free trade” policy–or “neoliberalism” by its Latin American moniker.

If war is an extension of policy by other means, then it is axiomatic that Marcos’ “Fourth World War” and Woolsey’s “World War IV” are one and the same. Since 9-11, the war of reconquest has become, to a far greater degree, an actual shooting war.

In the Cold War (“World War III”), “communism” was the official target, but the real targets were often indigenous peoples fighting for their land and resources. The renewed Cold War of the 1980s saw actual genocide against the Maya Indians of Guatemala–as UN investigations have now confirmed. The bloodletting was an effort (largely successful) to force the Indians back into submission before the communist guerillas they had come to support could threaten Guatemala’s landed oligarchy. In World War IV, a “dirty war” has this time come to the Maya lands on the Mexican side of the border, in Chiapas. But the new Zapatista guerillas are proudly indigenist–not communist. And their movement was largely launched to protect their reduced and impoverished landbase from reconquest by triumphalist post-Cold War capital.

There is a double sense in which this is the Fourth World War. The “Fourth World” is a term coined by defenders of indigenous peoples to denote land-based, stateless ethnicities, distinct from the “First,” “Third” or (now non-existent) “Second” worlds. The Center for World Indigenous Studies in Olympia, WA, has been publishing a “Fourth World Journal” that reports on indigenous land struggles worldwide since 1984. In their fourth issue, at the height of the grueling Reagan-era wars for Central America, they published an essay by UC Berkeley geographer (and specialist on Nicaragua’s Miskito Indians) Bernard Nietschmann, who posited a universally overlooked essence to the crisis on the isthmus. Rather than left-versus-right, East-versus-West, communism versus the “Free World,” Nietschmann saw the Central American conflict as primarily one of nations versus states.

In Nietschmann’s eyes, states–whether right-wing like the Guatemalan military dictatorship, or left-wing like the Nicaraguan revolutionary regime–were claiming the land and resources of stateless but distinct nations within their official borders. When these native nations fought back, the offensives launched against them sometimes reached the point of genocide.

Criticizing Henry Kissinger’s 1983 report to the Reagan administration that mapped the White House policy of rolling back Central America’s revolutionary movements, Nietschmann (who died in 1999) wrote: “Not included in the Kissinger Report is mention much less analysis of Maya peoples (more than one-half of Guatemala’s claimed population and territory), who are being invaded and occupied under the guise of economic development. No mention is made of the Miskito, Sumo and Rama nations which have fielded the Americas’ only Indian army and who are fighting Central America’s largest army over Indian control of one-third of Nicaragua’s claimed territory. The report ignores [Panama’s] Kuna who have their own autonomous nation run by the Kunas’ own political, economic and social systems. These are different and distinct from those of Panama, and of the East or West, North of South. Not only does the Kissinger Report overlook the Maya, Miskito or Kuna, it only refers indirectly to indigenous peoples by mentioning Indians three times.”

Like Stalinism in the Cold War, the threat of terrorism is real–and not only to those things in the West which are genuinely worth defending (pluralism, secularism, basic rights for women), but also to indigenous peoples, who are invariably targeted by religious fundamentalists as heathens, much as they are relegated “backward” or “primitive” by globophiles. But the anti-terrorist states of World War IV have a paradoxically incestuous relationship with the Islamic terrorists, which they groomed to fight Communism in the Cold War from Egypt to Palestine to Afghanistan. And the actual targets of the global anti-terror campaign are more frequently indigenous peoples defending their lands from corporate resource plunder than actual terrorists.

The Zapatistas have played their cards very well, fastidiously avoiding targeting civilians, even for the brief period in 1994 when they were “at war” with the Mexican state. They are still perceived as occupying the moral high ground virtually across Mexico’s political spectrum–so it has been impossible for either the US or Mexican governments to effectively label them “terrorists.” But throughout the hemisphere, militarization in the name of counter-terrorism is now used to disenfranchise indigenous peoples.

Most US military aid to Mexico is still in the name of the War on Drugs, which can be seen as a 1990s transition war between the Third and the Fourth, especially in the western hemisphere. In Colombia, the transition has been made from the Drug War to the Terror War–yet the military (supported by the US to the tune of $2 billion since 1996) has been used against U’wa Indians protecting their lands from exploitation by Occidental Petroleum. Under the Andean Initiative (as Bush has dubbed his expanded version of Clinton’s Plan Colombia), military aid is also being distributed to Ecuador–where Shuar and Quichua Indians are resisting Occidental’s new trans-Andean pipeline. Also included is Bolivia–where the Huarani and Aymara Indians are resisting new pipelines being built by Shell and Enron.

In Eurasia and Africa as well, the US-led War on Terror is being unleashed on native peoples who are themselves targets of terror. The Indonesian military is let slip on the native people of Aceh, whose lands are coveted and exploited by Exxon. The Nigerian military defends Chevron and Shell from Ijaw and Itsekiri tribespeople asserting control over their own homelands. In Algeria, the latest recipient of US counter-terrorism aid, the indigenous Berbers are caught between the military dictatorship and the jihadis, both equally hostile to their autonomy demands–while Halliburton and BP-Amoco are assured of security for their oil and gas operations.

In Iraq, Kurds in the north and Ma’adan (“Marsh Arabs”) in the south–as well as Turkomans and Assyrians–are grateful to see the last of Saddam Hussein, who bitterly persecuted them, but pledge to resist the US occupation if they are denied local autonomy in the new order. And the lands of these ethnic minorities include some of the most oil-rich in Iraq.

In the Central Asian heartland now encircled by US and allied troops based in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, some of the most remote land-based cultures on Earth stand to be expropriated by the final thrust of corporate capitalism. The US Energy Department is even funding oil exploration in Siberia–where indigenous peoples such as the Evenks are making a last stand to save their culture from extinction, demanding rights to their ancestral lands from an intransigent Russian government.

And within the United States, the Navajo, Shoshone, Inuit and other native nations who faced the prospect of their lands becoming “National Sacrifice Areas” in the Cold War, to be plundered for their strategic coal and uranium, now face a renewed corporate threat in the atmosphere of economic “liberalization” and emphasis on “energy independence” given war and fear in the Middle East.

This may be the Fourth World War not only by the math of global conflicts since 1914, but because, even more so than the Cold War, it is a war on the Fourth World.


Center for World Indigenous Studies