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Does the U.S. owe anything for its past?

“One of the things you see when you look at the history of Congo is that it’s a lot easier to destroy something than to build it,” said author Adam Hochschild in an interview last week with Alison Stewart. On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first democratically elected leader, Hochschild discussed how the U.S. and Belgian governments quietly authorized Lumumba’s assassination amid Cold War fears. The coup that followed ultimately resulted in the 32-year rule of Joseph Mobutu, who “left the country as a wreck from which it is still not recovered.”

We received many strong reactions to the interview, not only over the U.S.’s role in Congo but over its involvement in the affairs of other nations as well. One commenter, Theo, noted:

“Since 1945, [the] U.S. has led or been in involved in over 50 coups that toppled democratically elected government all over the world. America is not neither a friend of democracy nor a practitioner. Today America supports many dictators in Middle East and other parts of the world. It is a shame that US talks so much about democracy, but always ready to destroy a democratic government.”

Ukumbwa shared similar thoughts:

“The history of this nation is reprehensible. Capitalism has merely allowed it to amass enough virtual capital and political power to make it look pretty. The psychic tragedy is immense. Lumumba and the Congo story is just ONE example of that US/American tragedy.”

And Julliette commented:

“Years ago as a high school student I wondered how German citizens could have ignored the genocidal policies of their Nazi rulers. Now I wonder how we Americans remain oblivious to the policies of the US government/CIA in abetting the overthrow and assassination of democratically elected leaders in countries around the world from Latin American to Africa.”

Recognizing some of the U.S.’s darker sides of history is a sobering experience – but what are the U.S.’s responsibilities now? Does the government owe anything for past administrations’ involvements with the domestic politics of Congo and other nations, and if so, what? Do Americans, as beneficiaries of the current global system, have any responsibilities toward these nations themselves?