William Blum

The Anti-Empire Report #41

By William Blum – Published January 12th, 2007

Johnny got his gun

In the past year Iran has issued several warnings to the United States about the consequences of an American or Israeli attack. One statement, issued in November by a high Iranian military official, declared: “If America attacks Iran, its 200,000 troops and 33 bases in the region will be extremely vulnerable, and both American politicians and military commanders are aware of it.” 1 Iran apparently believes that American leaders would be so deeply distressed by the prospect of their young men and women being endangered and possibly killed that they would forswear any reckless attacks on Iran. As if American leaders have been deeply stabbed by pain about throwing youthful American bodies into the bottomless snakepit called Iraq, or were restrained by fear of retaliation or by moral qualms while feeding 58,000 young lives to the Vietnam beast. As if American leaders, like all world leaders, have ever had such concerns.

Let’s have a short look at some modern American history, which may be instructive in this regard. A report of the US Congress in 1994 informed us that:

Approximately 60,000 military personnel were used as human subjects in the 1940s to test two chemical agents, mustard gas and lewisite [blister gas]. Most of these subjects were not informed of the nature of the experiments and never received medical followup after their participation in the research. Additionally, some of these human subjects were threatened with imprisonment at Fort Leavenworth if they discussed these experiments with anyone, including their wives, parents, and family doctors. For decades, the Pentagon denied that the research had taken place, resulting in decades of suffering for many veterans who became ill after the secret testing. 2

In the decades between the 1940s and 1990s, we find a remarkable variety of government programs, either formally, or in effect, using soldiers as guinea pigs – marched to nuclear explosion sites, with pilots sent through the mushroom clouds; subjected to chemical and biological weapons experiments; radiation experiments; behavior modification experiments that washed their brains with LSD; widespread exposure to the highly toxic dioxin of Agent Orange in Korea and Vietnam … the list goes on … literally millions of experimental subjects, seldom given a choice or adequate information, often with disastrous effects to their physical and/or mental health, rarely with proper medical care or even monitoring. 3

In the 1990s, many thousands of American soldiers came home from the Gulf War with unusual, debilitating ailments. Exposure to harmful chemical or biological agents was suspected, but the Pentagon denied that this had occurred. Years went by while the veterans suffered terribly: neurological problems, chronic fatigue, skin problems, scarred lungs, memory loss, muscle and joint pain, severe headaches, personality changes, passing out, and much more. Eventually, the Pentagon, inch by inch, was forced to move away from its denials and admit that, yes, chemical weapon depots had been bombed; then, yes, there probably were releases of deadly poisons; then, yes, American soldiers were indeed in the vicinity of these poisonous releases, 400 soldiers; then, it might have been 5,000; then, “a very large number”, probably more than 15,000; then, finally, a precise number – 20,867; then, “The Pentagon announced that a long-awaited computer model estimates that nearly 100,000 U.S. soldiers could have been exposed to trace amounts of sarin gas.” 4

If the Pentagon had been much more forthcoming from the outset about what it knew all along about these various substances and weapons, the soldiers might have had a proper diagnosis early on and received appropriate care sooner. The cost in terms of human suffering has been incalculable.

Soldiers have also been forced to take vaccines against anthrax and nerve gas not approved by the FDA as safe and effective; and punished, sometimes treated like criminals, if they refused. (During World War II, soldiers were forced to take a yellow fever vaccine, with the result that some 330,000 of them were infected with the hepatitis B virus. 5 )

And through all the recent wars, countless American soldiers have been put in close proximity to the radioactive dust of exploded depleted uranium-tipped shells and missiles on the battlefield; depleted uranium has been associated with a long list of rare and terrible illnesses and birth defects. It poisons the air, the soil, the water, the lungs, the blood, and the genes. (The widespread dissemination of depleted uranium by American warfare – from Serbia to Afghanistan to Iraq – should be an international scandal and crisis, like AIDS, and would be in a world not so intimidated by the United States.)

The catalogue of Pentagon abuses of American soldiers goes on … Troops serving in Iraq or their families have reported purchasing with their own funds bullet-proof vests, better armor for their vehicles, medical supplies, and global positioning devices, all for their own safety, which were not provided to them by the army … Continuous complaints by servicewomen of sexual assault and rape at the hands of their male counterparts are routinely played down or ignored by the military brass … Numerous injured and disabled vets from all wars have to engage in an ongoing struggle to get the medical care they were promised … One should read “Army Acts to Curb Abuses of Injured Recruits” (New York Times, May 12, 2006) for accounts of the callous, bordering on sadistic, treatment of soldiers in bases in the United States … Repeated tours of duty, which fracture family life and increase the chance not only of death or injury but of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 6

National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered”, on December 4 and other days, ran a series oná Army mistreatment of soldiers home from Iraq and suffering serious PTSD. At Colorado’s Ft. Carson these afflicted soldiers are receiving a variety of abuse and punishment much more than the help they need, as officers harass and punish them for being emotionally “weak.”

Keep the above in mind the next time you hear a president or a general speaking on Memorial Day about “honor” and “duty” and about how much we “owe to the brave young men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom and democracy.”

And read “Johnny Got His Gun” by Dalton Trumbo for the ultimate abuse of soldiers by leaders of nations.

The conscience of our leaders

After he ordered the bombing of Panama in December 1989, which killed anywhere from 500 to a few thousand totally innocent people, guilty of no harm to any American, the first President George Bush declared that his “heart goes out to the families of those who have died in Panama”. 7

When asked by a reporter: “Was it really worth it to send people to their death for this? To get Noriega?”, Bush replied: “Every human life is precious, and yet I have to answer, yes, it has been worth it.” 8

Speaking in November 1990 of his imminent invasion of Iraq, Bush, Sr. said: “People say to me: ‘How many lives? How many lives can you expend?’ Each one is precious.” 9

While his killing of thousands of Iraqis was proceeding merrily along in 2003, the second President George Bush was moved to say: “We believe in the value and dignity of every human life.” 10

In December 2006, the White House spokesman for Bush, Jr., commenting about American deaths reaching 3,000 in Iraq, said President Bush “believes that every life is precious and grieves for each one that is lost.” 11

Both father and son are on record expressing their deep concern for God and prayer both before and during their mass slaughters. “I trust God speaks through me,” said Bush the younger in 2004. “Without that, I couldn’t do my job.” 12

After his devastation of Iraq and its people, Bush the elder said: “I think that, like a lot of others who had positions of responsibility in sending someone else’s kids to war, we realize that in prayer what mattered is how it might have seemed to God.” 13

God, one surmises, might have asked George Bush, father and son, about the kids of Iraq. And the adults. And, in a testy, rather ungodlike manner, might have snapped: “So stop wasting all the precious lives already!”

In the now-famous exchange on TV in 1996 between Madeleine Albright and reporter Lesley Stahl, the latter was speaking of US sanctions against Iraq, and asked the then-US ambassador to the UN, and Secretary of State-to-be: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And – and you know, is the price worth it?” Replied Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.” 14

Ten years later, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, continuing the fine tradition of female Secretaries of State and the equally noble heritage of the Bush family, declared that the current horror in Iraq is “worth the investment” in American lives and dollars. 15

And don’t forget that we can’t pull out of Iraq now because it would dishonor the troops who haven’t died yet.

The American media as the Berlin Wall

In December 1975, while East Timor, which lies at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago, was undergoing a process of decolonization from Portugal, a struggle for power took place. A movement of the left, Fretilin, prevailed and then declared East Timor’s independence from Portugal. Nine days later, Indonesia invaded East Timor. The invasion was launched the day after US President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had left Indonesia after giving President Suharto permission to use American arms, which, under US law, could not be used for aggression. But Indonesia was Washington’s most valuable ally in Southeast Asia and, in any event, the United States was not inclined to look kindly on any government of the left.

Indonesia soon achieved complete control over East Timor, with the help of the American arms and other military aid, as well as diplomatic support at the UN. Amnesty International estimated that by 1989, Indonesian troops had killed 200,000 people out of a population of between 600,000 and 700,000, a death rate which is probably one of the highest in the entire history of wars. 16

Is it not remarkable that in the numerous articles in the American daily press following President Ford’s death last month, there was not a single mention of his role in the East Timor massacre? A search of the extensive Lexis-Nexis and other media databases finds mention of this only in a few letters to the editor from readers; not a word even in the reports of any of the news agencies, like the Associated Press, which generally shy away from controversy less than the newspapers they serve; nor a single mention in the mainstream broadcast news programs.

Imagine if following the recent death of Augusto Pinochet the media made no mention of his overthrow of the Allende government in Chile, or the mass murder and torture which followed. Ironically, the recent articles about Ford also failed to mention his remark a year after Pinochet’s coup. President Ford declared that what the United States had done in Chile was “in the best interest of the people in Chile and certainly in our own best interest.” 17

During the Cold War, the American government and media never missed an opportunity to point out the news events embarrassing to the Soviet Union which became non-events in the communist media.

Man shall never fly

The Cold War is still with us. Because the ideological conflict that was the basis for it has not gone away. Because it can’t go away. As long as capitalism exists, as long as it puts profit before people, as it must, as long as it puts profit before the environment, as it must, those on the receiving end of its sharp pointed stick must look for a better way.

Thus it is that when Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced a few days ago that he plans to nationalize telephone and electric utility companies to accelerate his “socialist revolution”, the spokesperson for Capitalism Central, White House press secretary Tony Snow, was quick to the attack: “Nationalization has a long and inglorious history of failure around the world,” Snow declared. “We support the Venezuelan people and think this is an unhappy day for them.” 18

Snow presumably buys into the belief that capitalism defeated socialism in the Cold War. A victory for a superior idea. The boys of Capital chortle in their martinis about the death of socialism. The word has been banned from polite conversation. And they hope that no one will notice that every socialist experiment of any significance in the past century has either been corrupted, subverted, perverted, or destabilized … or crushed, overthrown, bombed, or invaded … or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States. Not one socialist government or movement – from the Russian Revolution to Cuba, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the FMLN in Salvador, from Communist China to Grenada, Chile and Vietnam – not one was permitted to rise or fall solely on its own merits; not one was left secure enough to drop its guard against the all-powerful enemy abroad and freely and fully relax control at home. Even many plain old social democracies – such as in Guatemala, Iran, British Guiana, Serbia and Haiti, which were not in love with capitalism and were looking for another path – even these too were made to bite the dust by Uncle Sam.

It’s as if the Wright brothers’ first experiments with flying machines all failed because the automobile interests sabotaged each test flight. And then the good and god-fearing folk of America looked upon this, took notice of the consequences, nodded their collective heads wisely, and intoned solemnly: Man shall never fly.

Tony Snow would have us believe that the government is no match for the private sector in efficiently getting large and important things done. But is that really true? Let’s clear our minds for a moment, push our upbringing to one side, and remember that the American government has landed men on the moon, created great dams, marvelous national parks, an interstate highway system, the peace corps, built up an incredible military machine (ignoring for the moment what it’s used for), student loans, social security, Medicare, insurance for bank deposits, protection of pension funds against corporate misuse, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, the Smithsonian, the G.I. Bill, and much, much more. In short, the government has been quite good at doing what it wanted to do, or what labor and other movements have made it do, like establishing worker health and safety standards and requiring food manufacturers to list detailed information about ingredients.

When George W. took office one of his chief goals was to examine whether jobs done by federal employees could be performed more efficiently by private contractors. Bush called it his top management priority. By the end of 2005, 50,000 government jobs had been studied. And federal workers had won the job competitions more than 80 percent of the time. 19

We have to remind the American people of what they’ve instinctively learned but tend to forget when faced with statements like that of Tony Snow – that they don’t want more government, or less government; they don’t want big government, or small government; they want government on their side.

And by the way, Tony, the great majority of the population in the last years of the Soviet Union had a much better quality of life, including a longer life, under their “failed nationalized” economy, than they have had under unbridled capitalism.

None of the above, of course, will deter The World’s Only Superpower from continuing its jihad to impose capitalist fundamentalism upon the world.

Unwelcome guests at the table of the respectable folk

Sen. Joseph Biden, Democrat from Delaware, the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has announced four weeks of hearings focused on every aspect of US policy in Iraq. He really wants to get to the bottom of things, find out how and why things went so wrong, who are the ones responsible, hold them accountable, and what can be done now. The committee will hear the testimony of top political, economic and intelligence experts, foreign diplomats, and former and current senior US officials, like Condoleezza Rice, Brent Scowcroft, Samuel Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright and George Shultz. 20 All the usual suspects.

But why not call upon some unusual suspects? Why do congressional committees and committees appointed by the White House typically not call experts who dissent from the official explanations? Why not hear from people who had the wisdom to protest the invasion of Iraq and condemn it in writing before it even began? People who called the war illegal and immoral, said we should never start it, and predicted much of the horrible outcome. Surely they may have some insights and analyses that will not be heard from the mouths of the usual suspects.

Likewise, why didn’t the September 11 Committee, or any of the congressional committees dealing with the terrorist attack, call upon any of the numerous 9-11 experts who have done extensive research and who question various aspects of the official story?

Traditionally, of course, such committees have been formed to put a damper on dissident questioning of official stories, to ridicule them as “conspiracy theorists”, not to give the dissidents a larger audience.


  1. Fars News Agency, November 21, 2006
  2. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, “Is Military Research Hazardous to Veterans’ Health? Lessons Spanning Half a Century”, December 8, 1994, p.5
  3. Ibid., passim
  4. Washington Post, October 2 and 23, 1996 and July 31, 1997 for the estimated numbers of affected soldiers.
  5. Journal of the American Medical Association”, September 1, 1999, p.822
  6. Washington Post, December 20, 2006, p.19
  7. New York Times, December 22, 1989, p.17
  8. New York Times, December 22, 1989, p.16
  9. Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1990, p.1
  10. Washington Post, May 28, 2003
  11. Washington Post, January 1, 2007, p.1
  12. Washington Post, July 20, 2004, p.15, statement attributed to President Bush in the Lancaster (Pa.) New Era newspaper from a private meeting with Amish families on July 9. The White House later said Bush said no such thing. Yes, we know how the Amish lie.
  13. Los Angeles Times, June 7, 1991, p.1
  14. CBS “60 Minutes”, May 12, 1996
  15. Associated Press, December 22, 2006
  16. National Security Archivehttp://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/ – Search “Ford Timor”; William Blum, Rogue State, p.188-9
  17. New York Times, September 17, 1974, p.22
  18. Washington Post, January 10, 2007, p.7
  19. Washington Post, March 23, 2006, p.21
  20. Washington Post, January 5, 2007

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to williamblum.org is provided.

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Books by William Blum

America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else

Rogue State

Rogue State

A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower

Killing Hope

Killing Hope

U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II

Freeing the World to Death

Freeing the World to Death

Essays on the American Empire

West-Bloc Dissident

West-Bloc Dissident

A Cold War Memoir