ISBN 978-1-78360-167-7. “America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy – the Truth about US foreign Policy and Everything Else” by William Blum was originally published by Zed Books in 2013 (this edition with new preface from 2014). Why has America’s Democracy Project cost so many lives? Why do so few American’s even understand the levels of wholesale slaughter conducted around the world in their name? These are the difficult questions that only a few ask. Blum is one of them. His style is readable: a clever mix of Michael Moore’s polemic and Noam Chomsky’s insight. And for those who find latter’s philosophising a tad tedious you’ll find “America’s Deadliest Export” a welcome introduction to the topic. It is easy to warm to this compilation of Blum’s blogs compiled around the period 2000 to 2013. The bite-sized chunks fizz with the anger of an author who once worked for the US State Department. He left due to his opposition to the war in Vietnam and never looked back. Since then he has fought hard on the frontline against US exceptionalism. He deserves that you pick up this book and read.
It really is surprising that it has taken us so long to read anything by Blum. Given his track record he should be pretty high in the to-read list for us students of really-existing, value-free, foreign policy. Imagine yourself as a space alien judging the human race from a purely neutral standpoint. How would it understand us? By what we say? By what we believe? By what we do? A morally neutral judge would start by what we do as a demonstration of our values. Unfortunately this is not a pretty picture and remains largely diverse from what we believe about ourselves. It would appear evident that HAVE to lie to ourselves and maintain our delusion about our righteousness for if we were to accept the reality of our actions for what they are. For any other path lies madness. What if, all along, we were the ‘evil empire’? What if, during the Cold War, we were not the good guys? What if it was the West that encircled and threatened the Soviet Union with over-whelming military might? Imagine how much our world would have to change in order to make this reality compatible with our belief-systems.
Blum is founder and editor of the “Washington Free Press” which claims in his blurb to be the first ‘alternative’ newspaper in the US capital. As a journalist Blum has travelled around Europe and South America where in Chile, in the early 1970s, he wrote about the Allende government’s “socialist experiment” before he experienced the violent overthrow of that government by the CIA. He puts out a monthly newsletter called “The Anti-Empire Report” and his previous books include “Rogue State“, “Killing Hope“, “Freeing the World to Death” and “West-Bloc Dissident“. As such he is firmly placed in the tradition of Gore Vidal, John Pilger, et al. Whereas Chomsky was quoted by Venezuelan President Chavez at the United Nations it was Blum who was quoted at length by Osama Bin Laden in a recorded speech from 2006. Bin Laden stated that “it would be useful” for Americans to read Rogue State, apparently to gain a better understanding of their enemy. Such notoriety earnt Blum a brief 15 minutes of fame after which he was utterly shunned by academic institutions by being too closely associated with THEM – the officially stated enemy flavour-of-the-month. The main body of Blum’s work will be familiar with those of us who study Chomsky and others (as named above).
The book sprawls like a never-ending stream of consciousness with chapters organised loosely by topics with such titles as “WikiLeaks”, “Condoleezza Rice” and “Cuba”. Whereas it is largely a searing critique of US Foreign Policy it does broach US domestic policy too covering such topics as patriotism, ideology, the Cold War, religion, the environment and the liberal credentials (or otherwise) of Barack Obama. It is a fun rollercoaster ride that, at times, will blow your socks off in a manner that Chomsky does not. Welcome to Blum-world. From his Introduction:
“Has there ever been and empire that didn’t tell itself and the rest of the world that it was unlike all other empires, that its mission was not to plunder and control but to enlighten and liberate?”
Thus Blum kicks off in style blaming the American people for allowing such deceits as the war in Iraq to happen because Americans “like the majority of people elsewhere in the world – aren’t very sophisticated politically or intellectually“. Yet Blum claims he is not preaching to the converted suggesting that even those quite aware of the dangers of empire have quite short memories. People may be against their empire’s latest little adventure for a whole variety of reasons yet fail to heed these lessons in all circumstances “leaving them unable to see through the newest government lie or propaganda trick“. Hence empire is being endlessly inventive in how it packages and sells its conquests to its people lest those people grow wise. One need only take a walk along London’s Embankment Gardens and glance through the lists of battles under the statues of our military heroes to see that truth… Gaza, Jordan, Mesopotamia, Palestine, and on and on. It need only take on hundred years of history (often so much less) for the public memory to be reset. Hence endless wars of conquest can be fought year after year in different places in a manner suggestive of Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-four“.
“The reason so many Americans support US war crimes is that they’re convinced that no matter how bad things look, the government means well.”
This is a pernicious myth that ranks right up there with “this time it will be different” – a myth Chomsky et al as demolished time after time yet it remains in the operating system like so many zombies that stalk climate change denial. Hence the US public revels in the un-killable myth of the ‘good war’ to justify all ends. So, who is the extremist? It is a term so often used in our propaganda (about our enemies) yet real actions suggest otherwise. Our establishment endlessly ask what is it that attracts young people to extremism? Yet Blum asks the more pertinent question:
“..what makes a million young Americans willing to travel to places like Afghanistan and Iraq to risk life and limb to kill other young people, who have never done them any harm, and to commit unspeakable atrocities and tortures?”
…by joining the US Military… A highly pertinent question indeed. Likewise when a senior defence official states that their aim is to make terrorism “unacceptable” and “discredited” Blum answers:
“When will the dropping of bombs on innocent civilians by the United States, and invading and occupying their country, without their country attacking or threatening the US, become completely discredited?”
Blum illustrates the absurdities of these concepts with an array of neatly introduced anecdotes that never get through the mainstream media filters. Do any of us know the real reason why liquids were banned from airlines? Apparently such a “liquid bomb” is practically impossible to concoct on a plane. It has never been tried. The one group who thought it up in 2006 never even managed to make such a device. It cannot be done yet it has been used as an effective plot device to conjure up fear in the travelling public. It is yet another fictional bogey-man hoisted upon us to induce a state of perpetual fear in which we shall demand the government keep us safe. Safe from what?
Consider the tale Blum tells of two terrorist: Zacarias Moussaoui, a genuine Jihadist, and Orlando Bosch, and anti-Cuban terrorist. Bosch masterminded the blowing up of a Cuban airliner. He admits he was involved. His act killed 73 people including the young Cuban fencing team. Bosch remains a free man in the USA whilst Moussaoui is in prison for life. No wonder people hate America.
Did you know that in the 1973 Peace Accords between the USA and North Vietnam that America promised unconditional reparations to rebuild the country worth $3.25 billion? Not a dime of this money has ever surfaced in Vietnam. Apparently this is part of a consistent pattern in which the USA has never really rebuilt any country it has bomber back to the stone-age. The same thing happened to Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Sudan, Yugoslavia and Panama. Then there is the issue of the “unintended” civilian casualties which Blum rightly points out are regularly estimated before the bombs are dropped. Hence the USA and NATO know darn well they will kill innocents. Yet they do it just the same. The United Nations defines terrorism as “the use or threat of violence against a civilian population to induce the government to change policies“. Yet this is exactly (almost word for word) what the USA says is its intention when bombing civilians. We are the terrorists.
Blum continues with his propaganda-busting by turning his attention to Iran. How many times has our media told us that Iran wishes to wipe Israel from the map? How many of us know that the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never said anything of the sort? He actually suggest that Israel would cease to become relevant on the world stage as it would be washed away by history in the same peaceful way that the Soviet Union ended. Likewise the story that Iran and its President supports Holocaust Denial is not really true. There was a conference in Tehran where various academics gathered to review the holocaust. The conference attracted a wide array of peoples of different beliefs including many Jews who believe the memory of Nazi Death Camps has been hijacked by Israel to promote Zionism. They went further by saying that this memory is being used to oppress Palestinians and that the state of Israel cannot be justified by Jewish religious law anyway as the Messiah had not returned.
It is a little known fact that 30,000 Jews live openly in Iran without persecution. Who can now say that about the Jews of “liberated” Iraq? When one of Israel’s leading military historians was interviewed in 2007 he said this about the “threat” of a nuclear Iran:
“Americans believe they’re only people who deserve to have nuclear weapons, because they are good and democratic and they like Mother and apple pie and the flag. But Americans are the only ones to have used them… We (Israel) are in no danger at all of having an Iranian nuclear weapon dropped on us.”
The entire reason to fabricate the “threat” of Iranian nuclear power is to build up the need for “security” so Israel can buy more weapons itself. Blum concludes:
“We have to keep this in mind: America, like Israel, cherishes its enemies. Without enemies, the United States appears to be a nation without moral purpose or direction.”
Blum picks up on the American track-record on human rights. For example the USA voted “No” against a 1981 UN Resolution promoting human rights which included access to food. The USA was the only nation to vote against it. The same Resolution was proposed in 1982 and 1983 yet the USA voted against it on all occasions. The principle of the objection is that access to food is not a right and should be governed by the free market. The USA suggested that poor countries might sue them for food.
Blum touches upon the environment and climate change on occasion too. Did you know that WikiLeaks revealed that the United States
“..used threats, spying and more to get its way at the crucial 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen.” ?
Really? Is nothing sacred? We move on to look at Cold War propaganda with Blum’s observation that:
“During the Cold War, if an American journalist or visitor to the Soviet Union reported seeing churches full of people, this was taken as a sign that the people were rejecting and escaping from communism. If the churches were empty, this clearly was proof of the suppression of religion. If consumer goods were scarce, this was seen as a failure of the communist system. If consumer goods were plentiful, this gave rise to speculation about what was happening in the Soviet Union that was prompting the authorities to buy off the citizenry.”
…and Blum goes on to provide very similar observation about how the western media portrays Venezuela and Cuba. It is hard to know what to believe any more without the counter-filter of Chomsky and Blum to show what truths may be undiscovered beneath the lies. Who knows? What will we REALLY learn about the Greek debt crisis (time of writing June 2015) if we were to ignore the mainstream press portrayal of Greece as the bad guy of Europe? When the veil is lifted distrust follows. If only more of us were curious enough to go and seek out another version of this truth in order to balance our world view.
When Venezuela refused to renew a broadcast licence to a TV station there it was greeted with dismay and cries of “suppression of free speech” in the western media. Yet who was really brave enough to point out that the TV station had supported an anti-government coup in 2002? If the US had been in charge the TV station would have either been bombed &/or all its employees rounded up and sent to Guantanamo Bay. If anything such actions by an official “enemy” Government seemed pretty lenient and liberal in comparison to us. Why can we not see the obvious hypocrisy beyond our filters and doctrine?
The way Blum (rightly) sees it the Cold War was
“..a struggle between the United States and the Third World. People from all over the Third World were fighting for economic and political changes against US-supported repressive regimes. These acts of self-determination didn’t coincide with the needs of the American power elite, and so the United States moved to crush those governments and movements even though the Soviet Union was playing virtually no role at all in these scenarios.”
Writing as a man who lived through the 1970s and 1980s prior to the end of the Cold War I can personally testify that this is true. We took it for granted that the Commies were behind it all. In retrospect I have been saddened to learn about just how negligible a threat the Soviet Union really was to us. In fact I am darned angry – as we all should be. I wasted most of my entire life believing a lie. I trusted my system of Government to be truthful. We have been let down.
After the Chilean coup that ousted the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973, the former State Department foreign service officer Jack Kubisch attempted to conceal CIA involvement with some curious logic. Kubisch claimed that Allende would lead the Chilean people to “complete and total ruin” therefore he should have been allowed to do so as a lesson to others. Such claims were nonsense and Blum paint this as a picture of the US Government suppressing the rise of any successful alternative. A practice it continues against Cuba to this day. The only thing that really lead to ruin was the US suppression of democracy. But that goes without saying. All of which leads to a perpetual set of wrong lessons to be preaching other wannabe Super Powers. In what position do such actions place the people of China or of Russia’s Vladimir Putin when Khrushchev wrote this of the Cuban Missile Crisis:
“…the United States had no moral or legal quarrel with us. We hadn’t given the Cubans anything more than the Americans were giving to their allies. We had the same rights and opportunities as the Americans. Our conduct in the international arena was governed by the same rules and limits as the Americans.”
So when the bar is set so low by the USA there is no wonder that we live in such a barbaric world. This system persists simply because it suits the USA to engineer its own enemies. Since its system of internal propaganda has convinced the domestic audience [that WE are the good guys and THEY are the bad guys] no one who matters will question our motives. This is a dreadful state of affairs and can hardly pass as sustainable. Surely somebody in power, somewhere, has to put a stop to it. Why do we sit astride a juggernaut propelled along to the point of its own self-destruction without attempting to rise above the problem and setting a genuinely good example? What is it? A fear of looking weak? Is this bullshit machismo that runs our nations’ foreign affairs?
Blum rapidly moves on to dissect the concept of “socialism” as applied in polite conversation between Americans. My own personal experience at the dinner table with American colleagues only a few years ago is testimony to how Americans have no knowledge of what “Socialism” is. For them it is a swear word to be bandied around and applied to anyone they do not like. A man who sat opposite me at dinner genuinely expressed his disgust at Barack Obama’s healthcare socialism as if he had any idea what universal free healthcare looked like in a modern, civilised, western democracy. Clearly his ignorance was double in that he had not-a-clue as to what socialism was. The rules of his tribe genuinely were the laws of nature and he could see it no other way. For Americans socialism “failed”. They ignore the fact that America spent 45 years attempting to bomb any socialist experiment back to the stone age. No independent socialist experiment, with democratic consent, has been allowed to proceed. Even mild forms of social democracy were ruthlessly suppressed. How does America KNOW that socialism is evil and won’t work? Has it ever tried it? For the sake of a healthy pluralist society all ideas have to be on the table yet socialism has become an embarrassment that nobody will talk about. In that our western system of suppression and propaganda has been highly effective.
Blum goes on to compare socialist experiments with the Wright Brothers’ first attempt to fly. Imagine if the automobile industry had sabotaged the first test flight and for over one-hundred years convinced everyone that man shall never fly. Yet there is ample evidence of what Governments in the non-socialist experiments can achieve with (you know) socialist methods. Just look at the effort to win World War Two. Or look at modern Communist China. Blum spells it out like this
People “don’t want more government, or less government; they don’t want big government, or small government; they simply want government on their side.”
..and that seems to be a perfectly, ideological-free, way of expressing it. Seeing as we voted for the government should we not get what we deserve? Blum then regales us with tales about just how popular Communism still is in the countries of the former Soviet Union. It still produced better results for the vast majority of people than does the unbridled capitalism they have now. The endless, bottomless pit, of American hypocrisy on such matters is neatly described by Blum by using US Abortion policy as a reference. It seems that Americans are meant to have more respect for the life of a foetus than for the lives of any other human being. Blum suggests the young American enlisting the US Armed Forces should be warned of the risks inherent in their roles enforcing the new empire in the same fashion that a pregnant women is warned about the risks from abortion.
Blum reflects upon a poll suggesting that conservative Republicans are allegedly happier that their more-liberal Democrat counter-parts. Whilst one conservative heralded such a finding by saying that “happiness is a function of fending for oneself” Blum responds
“…Republicans may be happier [because] their social conscience extends no further than themselves and their circle of friends, family and some groups of other conservative Republicans.”
“..I’m blessed/cursed with a social conscience that assails my tranquillity.”
This is exactly how I feel. How can anyone be happy with the state of the world, its endless cruelty and injustice, if they feel responsible for others who suffer? How can anyone take pleasure from how the world works? Ignorance I understand; but it takes a truly sick mind to understand that we are the problem and be happy with it. Hence we can only assume such conservatives remain deeply ignorant of how the world works. They assume that their position, their wealth, their power, their money is granted by divine right and hence does not come at anyone else’s expense. They are wrong. Indeed, that is a bizarrely naïve belief! Far more realistic is Blum’s quote of Ralph Nader:
“Capitalism will never fail because socialism will always be there to bail it out.”
Some people in American politics ‘get it’. Not all are so blessed. Most Americans cherish values that are dramatically at odds with doctrine. In 1987 nearly half of over one thousand Americans surveyed believed that the Marxist maxim “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was found in the US Constitution. This agrees with many of the findings reported by Chomsky over the years where surveys repeatedly show the majority of Americans with quite leftist belief systems.
By far the best part of Blum’s work is the chapter on the peculiar phenomenon of American patriotism. He doesn’t mince his words kicking off with a long list of hideous crimes against humanity conducted by people who claimed they were acting out of patriotism. Writes Blum:
“I don’t love any country. I’m a citizen of the world. [..] I don’t make much of distinction between patriotism and nationalism.”
In this we agree with Blum 100%. To be anything less is to elevate your tribe above another. Nothing is more barbaric or ignorant. The differences between patriotism and nationalism are pretty hard to distinguish in practice. You should be loyal to your family, do a good job for your work colleagues, be partisan for your sports team, etc. But when you draw an arbitrary boundary around a patch of land and declare allegiance to the people and institutions within it solely based upon shared history, language, tradition or ethnic origins then you invite disaster. It propels the needs of YOUR people over the needs of other human beings.
It is hard to draw the line between harmless/healthy competition and malignant one-up-man-ship. Hence it is so easy to slide down the slope from a bit of benign fun to a holocaust. The trick is to value what is intrinsic, feeling good by being good, without the need to boost your tribe through the act of measuring yourself against others. The world of sport pulls it off through concepts of “good sportsmanship” whilst in geopolitics there should be civil diplomacy. Sports teams do not have armies (unless their supporters count themselves as such) but diplomats do. Where there are armies there is the temptation to use them. We feel secure when there is someone with us to fight our corner but our security ULTIMATELY is built only on cooperation – not the invention of enemies.
Blum inevitably quotes one of our favourites from Dr Samuel Johnson who said “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” before reminding us that it was American writer Ambrose Bierce who said it was the first. You want quotes? Blum has quotes. They are all here, from George Bernard Shaw to George Orwell. The USA is the only nation with a pledge of allegiance which is the hallmark of a totalitarian state. I admit that whenever I see American stating their allegiance to their flag it gives me the creeps. All I see are SS Officers kissing the Swastika as they marched off to build death camps. Its a Jonestown state of mind. A religion designed to overcome reason. Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin wrote this about the ideological function of patriotism:
“The very existence of the state demands that there be some privileged class vitally interested in maintaining that existence. And it is precisely the group interests of that class that are called patriotism.”
“Overloaded with a sense of America’s moral superiority each year the State Department judges the world, issuing reports evaluating the behaviour of all other nations [..] in the areas of religious freedom, human rights, the war of drugs, trafficking in persons and counterterrorism. [..] The criteria used in these reports are mainly political, wherever applicable; Cuba, for example, is always listed as supporter of terrorism whereas anti-Castro exile groups in the United States, which have committed hundreds of terrorist acts, are not listed as terrorist groups.”
He goes on to cite example after example of American exceptionalism leading to contempt for International Law. Condoleezza Rice once claimed that the US need no longer be guided by “notions of international law and norms” or “institutions like the United Nations” because it was “on the right side of history“. Yup Adolph Hitler was firm in that belief too. Blum has the quotes to prove it.
Why do Americans wallow in this irony-free zone seemingly utterly ignorant of both history and their own actions in the world? Blum lists the US interventions in Muslim countries as evidence as to why Jihadists target the USA. Muslims do not have an irrational hatred of America. The Defence Science Board in a 2004 report (that advised the US Secretary of Defence) stated that:
“Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel against Palestinian rights [..] when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”
The Report concluded that “No public relations campaign can ever save America from flawed policies“. Quite. US domestic security is directly related to good foreign policy. Blum is insightful and utterly correct when he concludes that if modern United States had been around at the time of the American Revolution it would have crushed that revolution. In 1941 the priest and editor Edward Dowling said “The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first, the widespread delusion among the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it.” A technically accurate description.
Blum seems to have garnered the trick of pulling out an endless stream of examples to illustrate his work. These are backed up with a procession of official reports that back his position. The cherry on top is the long queue of quotes from history’s great and good that endorse his viewpoint. Yes this is polemical and direct to the point. It hits a nerve and it hits it dead centre. This book is a frightening wake up call to anyone who entertains the fantasy that the western world is a force for good. We, as people, as individuals, as communities, CAN do good. We as nations COULD do good. It is a choice. The establishment chooses not to. This is an irrational choice for most of humanity yet it serves a traditional purpose. It preserves all that is good for a select few by raising the drawbridge against all others. As long as we can keep THEM out then can feel good about ourselves only through the choice of not seeing their agony and by believing in our own charity.
We have had empires for thousands of years. The operating system is the same. It just gets better weapons. The lies it tells us to justify its own existence are perpetually re-invented for each generation – just in time for the amnesia to kick in. Every time we forget what we were told last time and choose to believe that THIS time it will be different. It is easy to maintain such a delusion when you convince yourself that your team is the good guys, everyone else is an enemy. But can this continue forever? Is there a limit to empire? Will the human race grow-up? Will a population of 11 billion people on a dwindling resource base lead to better sharing arrangements or are we doomed to fight each other to the last scrap? There is a right way and a wrong way. The trouble is our track record is poor. We seem duty-bound by some form of machismo politics to think with our collective testicles rather than raise up our fellow man.
When climate change leads to chaos then there will be suffering on an unimaginable scale. The resources to make the world a better place will be depleted over the coming centuries. We either live with justice and in harmony or die in misery on top a pile of money and human wreckage. Our empire’s response is simply to wish that this suffering happens somewhere else – to somebody else.
Can you sleep at night thinking that is a satisfactory arrangement? I cannot.