The word “whataboutism” is used to silence and insult opponents of U.S. imperialism. It should be embraced to reveal what is too often kept hidden, writes Margaret Kimberley.
By Margaret Kimberley
Black Agenda Report
Anyone who speaks out against imperialism, capitalism, or racism with concrete examples of the terrible harm they do, can expect to be charged with the dreaded term “whataboutism.” Like clockwork, the act of revealing American crimes will result in an accusation that is used to silence dissent.
When war propaganda prevails regarding Ukraine or any other place where the hegemon is doing its dirty work, it is reasonable to ask probing questions. Why are the deaths of 14,000 people killed by Ukraine’s civil war swept under the rug? Why is it forbidden to ask about the U.S. destruction of Libya? But once having asked a good question, one will be told that raising the topic is proof of the whataboutism sin.
The word whataboutism is in the dictionary and is defined as, “the act or practice of responding to an accusation of wrongdoing by claiming that an offense committed by another is similar or worse.” That meaning is accurate and also completely defensible.
The charge is meant to censor the speaker, excuse U.S. actions, and defend its human rights violations. The denials and apologies are exactly why whataboutism should be defended. It is terrible when lies and crimes are not countered with verifiable information exposing them.
The term has gained popularity in part because there is so much hypocrisy to point out and there are so many adherents to American exceptionalism who defend what they should condemn. When the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it would begin investigating “the Situation in Ukraine” corporate media and their political partners gloated and pointed fingers at Russia.
They didn’t point out that the U.S., like Russia, is not a signatory of the Treaty of Rome which brought the ICC into existence. Not only is the U.S. not a member state, but in 2002 Congress passed the American Service Members Protection Act , popularly known as the Hague Invasion Act. It gives the U.S. the right to extract any American held at the court in the Hague. The removal part isn’t even necessary because the act prohibits the extradition of Americans to the ICC.
The chest thumping about the investigation into Ukraine should surely be followed by a discussion of U.S. hostility to the ICC. It is a clear example of when and how whataboutism should be practiced. Not mentioning the U.S. relationship or rather lack of relationship with the ICC would be an indication of agreement with exceptionalist doctrine.
The Illness of Exceptionalism
If Vladimir Putin is described as a war criminal, thug, dictator, and a modern day Hitler, it is appropriate and indeed necessary to ask about American presidents. For brevity’s sake consider only those American presidents who served since 2001. U.S. invasions and interventions in western Asia, North Africa, central Asia and the Horn of Africa have displaced more than 37 million people since the “war on terror” began. Why shouldn’t George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden be called war criminals too? Silence in the face of their criminality gives license and approval to U.S. aggressions.
American exceptionalism is an illness which infects most of the population of this country. Unfortunately most people need little prompting to defend their nation’s misdeeds. George W. Bush is now thought of as a kindly old man who paints pictures of puppies. There is little inclination to acknowledge the one million dead from the Iraq invasion. Doing so would create great discomfort.
Every news story about migrants attempting a perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe should mention the destruction of Libya which took place under the direction of Barack Obama. But Obama is the first Black president, and he is still considered a model of rectitude, a man who brought hope and change. Pointing out his responsibility for an ongoing humanitarian crisis is too much for people propagandized into believing in his goodness and the nation’s.
Even Donald Trump, who is ordinarily disparaged and reviled, is not called out for continuing his predecessors’ wars or for killing at least 40,000 Venezuelans through his sanctions regime. Trump derangement syndrome doesn’t extend to his crimes against people of the global south. The power of the white supremacist exceptionalist myth has a very strong hold.
That myth can’t be rooted out and destroyed unless inconvenient facts are brought to light. If the clueless and compromised want to shout, “Whataboutism!” at the top of their lungs by all means they should do so. Although the targets of their scorn should not feel the need to justify themselves. In fact they should proudly own the word, and double down on providing whatever information is causing cognitive dissonance.
The world needs to know about America’s crimes and those of its allies too. When the same European nations that turn away African and Middle Eastern refugees announce that they will accept any and all Ukrainians surely whataboutism is in order. When Biden presumes to lecture Russia, his decision to steal $7 billion in Afghanistan’s assets should be brought to light. Afghans are in such a desperate state that many of them resort to selling their kidneys in order to feed themselves.
The crisis in Ukraine is just the latest example of an opportunity to point out the wrongs committed by the U.S. and its partners. No one should shrink from doing so, not even when whataboutism is used as a pejorative instead of as the badge of honor that it is.
Margaret Kimberley is executive editor and senior columnist of Black Agenda Report, and author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents. Her work can also be found at patreon.com/margaretkimberley and on Twitter @freedomrideblog. Ms. Kimberley can be reached via email at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
I think this book can help explain westerners exceptionalism.
Dismantling Global White Privilege: Equity for a Post-Western World
by Chandran Nair
WHATABOUTISM? WHAT ABOUT US/NATO?
“Hillary”-Eva, the female
“Hitler” has added some detail –
Screeching and laughing and gloating
And infamously misquoting
Caesar – “We came, we saw, he died” –
Not statesmanlike, and mad beside,
Yahooing at the buggery –
All part of NATO’S thuggery.
Piss-weak ICC surely should
Punish US, which would do good.
US says that court cannot try
War crimes by any US guy.
Africans, though – oh, they can pay.
They’re black, you see, so that’s okay.
US, which hates democracy,
Is in love with hypocrisy.
When contrasting foreigners crimes framed to excite the American nationalist with American perpetrated ones, I insist it is Americans responsibility to hold their leaders responsible and foreigners to do likewise. Americans always want to punish foreign leaders but never their own for crimes committed.
Unfortunately, a lot of exceptionalism goes back to childhood brainwashing and is not easily removed. Ordinary people like the flattery and lies.
Likewise, much of the present-day Russia hatred and China hatred is based on Cold War “political education”. Again, it’s not easily removed, because it’s flattering and feels good to ordinary people.
What to do? I do not know.
A superb analysis from Margaret Kimberly of Black Agenda Report. Just another spot-on piece brought to us from CN on a daily basis. Thank you !
WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?
I appreciate all analyses but many that I might have wished to support give me qualms instead.
They imply that “we” (you and I) are superior, “we” are “democratic” and so forth.
In the case of the US-West (NATO) v Russia, I must support Russia. Give me a nation whose army fights with
arguments solidly based on white supremacist themes and racial feelings, who have for years bombed its
own residents in the north forcing many to flee to Russia, who burn victims alive, who worship
Nazi killers regularly, who fight behind flags with swastikas, who use helmets with Nazi insignia…
and I will not be supporting them in any way The personal disasters in any war will occur and reoccur
as they have done in history. I simply cannot back the Ukrianians .
A rather good analysis by Margaret bringing home the basic unfairness of American exceptionalism as braced up by its various hypocrisies and double-standards. Traditionally exceptionalism has been used to justify every American campaign of modern-day aggression and imperialism and now-a-days whataboutism is heaped-up to achieve a similar objective by serving as the rationale-fig leaves currently. Basically, it is still the old wine in a new bottle !
Best article I have read about the truth of all the horrible harm the US with the help of most European countries has done to so many countries. The US has killed many millions of people thru out the world and not one president has ever been punished.
Great article! She should be on CNN, MSNBC, Fox. But they will never invite her!
Remember seeing the map of Russian troops based in Russia in their own country
and then some later seen along Belarus before the invasion. All the newsmedia over and
over again claimed Russian aggression and like Hitler. Gone was the world map we have seen many
times of US military bases (over 800) all over the world and surrounding Russia. Making this
comparison about aggression would make it obvious even to a third grader as to which is the greater aggressor.
Which is claiming the exceptional?
Excellent article! Thank you Ms Kinberley!
On the “ICC,” they are rather “selective” on who they want to prosecute for “war Crimes” and such. If they were really honest and sincere, they would have put up “WANTED” posters for a half-dozen US Presidents, dozens of State Depart officials, British Presidents, going back to Tony Blair and moving forward, plus Israeli politicians, Mossad agents, and military commanders as well.
Margaret nailed it with the “whataboutism” narrative perfectly!
Thank you Margaret Kimberley for a great rundown of US hypocrisy. But right now, “whataboutism” is too symmetrical for me. The more potent question is “Who provokes and who responds.” Every mainstream media editorial comment I see refers to Russia’s “unprovoked attack, “unprovoked invasion,” …etc. Yes indeed, the US national security state’s warmongers know full well that they are vulnerable to the charge of decades of provocations against Russia, so they are shielding themselves from the charge by spreading the Big Lie that Russia’s action was unprovoked. Let me say at the same time that I can’t agree that Russia’s invasion, while provoked mightily, is justified. But leaving out the history of US-NATO’s grievous provocations is an error of omission that must be corrected.
The more I learn about the stuff we have been doing over there, especially by that Nuland critter, the more I’m starting to think that the attack WAS justified. If our enemies had a bio-lab in Mexico, we’re hosting neo Nazi rally’s and organizations, we’re arming the Mexicans to take back California, is say ok to a preemptive attack. After all, the US has been doing it for decades!!!
I meant were hosting and were arming, I’d say ok. ?
America/Americans aren’t ‘exceptional’ – but rather exceptionable…which isn’t quite the same.
On the joys of hypocrisy and disdain for verity!
The positive intent in the use of “whataboutism” is to induce self-awareness in an accusing individual or country, and to expose hypocrisy in respect to morals, ideals, and principles. This in turn should lead to a more neutral discussion of context and history, for a better understanding of the events that led to the current crisis, and hopefully to a better understanding of what all sides (there are usually far more than just two) need to establish as a basis for the end of conflict.
It is not helpful to attempt to psychologically analyze the other in a conflict like that in Ukraine, or to assume that we “know” what Russia’s greater intent is. It will be more helpful for our diplomats to take Russia at her word as a starting point; that is, to address and seriously re-visit Russia’s proposals to the United States and NATO before the invasion.
If our intent is to stop war and minimize human suffering, making a stand on a “principle”, such as “each country should have the right to join whatever alliance they want” is not helpful in light of context, history, and the situation on the ground. Sending more military aid and equipment to Ukraine is counter-productive, and will only add to human suffering and increase the chances of this morphing into a greater, more destructive, and dangerous war.
In order to address “principle”, the United States and NATO must acknowledge their hypocrisy and the bad examples that they have set in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Israel, and place self-constraints and a commitment to change future behavior on the table in exchange for an end to the current invasion. If the West does not do this, then an insistence on what in the West is a hypocritical “principle”, without any self-awareness, will only perpetuate a dangerous polarity and set the stage for even greater future grievances between blocks of power on the planet. Being willing to change our behavior should not be seen as capitulating to force or the threat of force, but a real acknowledgement of the fact that we are moving into a multi-polar future, and that new security commitments will need to be made between all blocks of power, so that we can move in a more positive direction. This should have been done months ago, and the West’s refusal to do so is now bearing poisonous fruit.
Thank you so much for this analysis.
“The word “whataboutism” is used to silence and insult opponents of U.S. imperialism.”
That tends to be the definition assigned by spectators and supplicants who live in illusions that they are engaged in “transformative struggles”.
However some others would tend to offer another definition which is approximately this.
“Whataboutism” is used by some who retain the illusion that the significance they seek to assign to themselves is similarly assigned to them by the their target audience/distrubutors of beneficence, in instances where their agency is largely restricted to an exhalation of wind signifying nothing, whose significance they hope to increase by the interaction of amplitude and repetition.
It is a tool of integration/re-integration into conditions they seek to transcend, whilst their feeling of “righteousness” is enhanced by the belief that ““whataboutism” is used to silence and insult opponents of U.S. imperialism.” whom they deem to be themselves.
Hypocrites pull “whataboutism” to try to protect themselves from being called out on their hipocrisy.
A great article!
Tnx CN, Ms Kimberly.
Tnx 4 intro 2 Intellectual ME 4 New Term… & agree w/ toprate logic.
Oh & BTW… PROPS 2 Commenter Olivio below4 apt comparison.
Great post! It’s obvious to me that most people who use the term ‘whataboutism’ as a criticism are trying to deflect attention away from their own weak argument by impugning any contextual information as an irrelevant distraction.
Bring on World War 3. Because you fake left-wingers and progressives clearly don’t care about war or the destruction it causes – you just want any excuse to bash the US and UK! You also silence anyone you believe isn’t part of your group, just like the American and British establishment.
HEADLINE: Putin has detonated a nuclear bomb!
ConsortiumNews & John Pilger: Yeah, but what about Iraq! What about Afghanistan!
HEADLINE: It’s over! U.S. launches nuclear missiles at Russia.
ConsortiumNews & John Pilger: Yeah, but what about Iraq! What about Afghanistan!
The crimes of US/UK/NATO don’t require excuses for anyone to condemn any more than do the vicious cruelties of Vladimir Putin. The only government which has detonated nuclear weapons in war is the USA. The nearest the world came to nuclear holocaust was in 1962 when the USA under President Kennedy placed nuclear-tipped missiles in Turkey, aimed at the USSR. Thankfully, Presidents Khrushchev and Kennedy were able to come to an agreement. As President Zelenskyy ought to be doing right now, rather than allowing his fellow citizens to be slaughtered. NATO and the US have made it clear they will not come to his aid with direct military action against Russia.
“HEADLINE: Putin has detonated a nuclear bomb!” ha ha, this is the point exactly. What about Hiroshima? We always have a “what about ism” we can use it seems. Don’t you see that as a problem?
Brill! Thank you
Whataboutism is the latest tactic to shut down dissent. It means the official narrative is completely bogus and indefensible. That’s why establishment loving liberals employ it so frequently.
As a regular practitioner of ‘whataboutism”, let me thank Ms Kimberley. As usual, she hits the nail on the head!
The SMITH MUNDT ACT of 1948 was MODERNIZED in the 2012 NDAA REAUTHORIZATION. How badly had we as a nation messed up until JUNE 23rd 2013, SNOWDEN flew to Moscow. GENERAL Martin Dempsey and Seymour Hersh saw us loose our soul, maybe a glolbally televised interview btwn SNOWDEN and PUTIN would be revealing.
No! Russia has invaded Ukraine. Journalists are meant to INFORM and EDUCATE the public. Instead, we get people like John Pilger saying, “But what about the U.S, but what about the UK?” We know about the U.S. We know about the UK. Pilger has spent his ENTIRE LIFE covering these two countries. How about some information on Russia for a change, on the country’s history, previous conflicts, life under Putin’s rule, the Russian people themselves, etc. We don’t get any of that – we get kept in IGNORANCE.
But what about Iraq? WE KNOW ABOUT IRAQ!
“We know about the U.S. We know about the UK.” Do you? Given the role the corporate media plays in misinforming the public, I don’t think you do know much about those.
Huge numbers of people in the Global South, in countries kept poor and chaotic by the US/UK/EU for the benefit of the ruling class, are right now pointing out the double standard being employed by the media and liberal politicians who rightly state the vicious cruelties of Putin but refuse to even discuss, let alone stop, their own greater cruelties. Approaching 400,000 dead in Yemen, as one example of a cruelty that could be stopped in a few days if the US & UK ended their supply of weapons to be used against the men, women and children of that devastated country. Putin is clearly inspired by the West’s many examples for him to follow.
Do you remember the flags of Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Palestine flying everywhere? Did we all become Libyan and ….. Did we sanction US/UK for the war crimes. Did corporations leave US/UK. Yes you do know about US/Uk but how have you or the media portrayed the events. Where was the condemnation?
“George W. Bush is now thought of as a kindly old man who paints pictures of puppies.”
Hitler was also a painter.
Those who blame someone of whataboutism can easily be countered by calling them hypocrites.
I disagree only with the one million killed figure for Iraq. That study came out in 2005 and ignores everything before 2003. If one asks how many Iraqis would not have died if the US had left Iraq alone in a time frame from the first Gulf War to the levelling of Mosul by US bombardment in 2012, the true figure is around 3 million killed, not to mention countless millions more whose health was destroyed, immiserated, or fled as refugees.
Midge–yes, I agree. I was going to comment that while going back in our history of war mongering presidents is a painful task, we have to go back to George HW at least, to bring the current Mid East mess into context. While we saw coverage of smart bombs precisely hitting military targets during the Gulf I war, what we didn’t see and only learned if you were paying attention after the war was the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure–and of course, the Bush/Clinton sanctions that caused horrific consequences to its civilian population. But of course, as Albright assured us, “it was worth it.”
I think “groupthink” as a reply to “whataboutism” would be appropriate.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. And if you have the almighty gall to start casting stones whilst having done just what you’re complaining about, you should be immediately stoned as well.
“OFFICIAL: …you have been found guilty by the elders of the town of uttering the name of our Lord, and so, as a blasphemer,…
OFFICIAL: …you are to be stoned to death.
MATTHIAS: Look. I– I’d had a lovely supper, and all I said to my wife was, ‘That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.’
OFFICIAL: Blasphemy! He’s said it again!”
Sanctimonious, mythical, vicious circle thinking, proving to be not conducive to extending human life on the planet.
What of deeper contemplation, before the act of stoning in blind rage?
Excellent article! Margaret Kimberley is one of the few that holds America to its own moral standards.
Sanctions are America’s favorite Weapon of War. Look at any list of American National “Emergencies”, one on-going since 1979 (Iran), almost all accompanied by sanctions, often nominally on leaders but the People are the only ones affected (and they do not usually blame their leaders). Afghan is topical. Trump’s (Bolton’s/ Pompeo’s/ Elliot Abram’s) ENFORCEMENT of Obama’s 2015 Venezuela sanctions are typical in the harm they do. Everyone remembers Madeleine Albright’s (Clinton’s) sanctions starving 500,000 Iraqi toddlers: “We think the price is worth it.”
Now Biden is piling HIS sanctions on Russia. Putin has quite a lot of power in that area as well, and if he can get China to cooperate, THEIR sanctions will be devastating for the West.
“is one of the few that holds America to its own moral standards”
If she one of the few, how can the standards to which she attempts to hold America be America’s own moral standards, given the apparent necessity of others holding America to them ?
“its own purported moral standards” I think she meant.
” I think she meant.”
Thank for illustrating a catalysed conditioned reaction in “perception management” and an affirmation of Mr. Rove’s observation that
We are an empire
We create our own reality to which others react (interpret)
Whilst they are reacting we create another reality
To which they react (interpret).
When you add notions of Scientific Management/Taylorism to ensure others are concentrating on producting/putting food on the table and are too tired to think, and that criticism is deemed to be an attack
Then you have contributory reasons to explore:
What are “The United States of America” and how are they facilitated ?
and then add the salt of projection to poison the dish.
Thank you for your co-operation/interaction.
“Whataboutism” is a common misspelling of “Damning evidence that western powers are lying about their motives and values.”
Caitlin Johnstone: hxxps://caitlinjohnstone.substack.com/p/is-this-russian-propaganda-notes?s=r
Very good article – written with Margaret Kimberley’s incisive intelligence and and objectivity. “Whataboutism” is the latest facile retort to deflate any criticism of the war machine, along the lines of “conspiracy theory”, but at least it’s not a below-the-belt accusation of being unpatriotic or siding with the enemy – an all too frequent response these days to anyone thinking outside the box. Indeed, two wrongs don’t make a right, but it’s good to point out double standards and hypocrisy nonetheless.
Wow. Like you read my mind. Just yesterday, after watching a Glenn Greenwald clip on the biolab issue, where he used the word, the same point occured to me about its use (he wasnt really using it in a argument, but didn’t point out the cynicism in its use). So, waking up to see someone articulate a defense, is encouraging. Imagine a guy, (with a record of deceit), puffing on a cigarette, standing in front of a class preaching to the kids about the failings of a third actor (smoker) in the room for clouding up the room with smoke, and when his cigarette smoking is pointed out, he yells “whataboutism”. Not even suggesting they both stop, just the other guy. The very individuals who shout whatsboutism, in their personal lives, would not take seriously any lecture on a subject from a person visibly failing on the very issue