Conversations (sort of) with Americans
One of the joys of being an author, of being interviewed and having many essays floating around the Internet, is that it brings me into contact with a lot of swell folks I wouldn’t otherwise be in touch with: morons, Jesus freaks, NewAgers babbling about “the pure rhythm of the essence of the universal life force”, those whose idea of intellectualism is turning off the TV for an hour, those who have swallowed the American Dream and the American Empire whole without even spitting out the pits, those who believe that any foreigner with half a brain would rather be an American … the whole primitive underbelly of this supposedly rational society. In sum total, a group that represents one of the 12 signs that the world is ending.
My contact with these charmers arises when they call in questions during radio interviews, or sometimes it’s the person who’s actually interviewing me. They also pop up in audiences I speak before, but mostly it’s via email that I have the pleasure of encountering their fine minds.
I’m waiting to receive my first e-mail with anthrax in it. Well, there are viruses in e-mail, why not bacteria?
When New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called the anti-globalization demonstrators in Seattle “a Noah’s ark of flat-earth advocates”, Noam Chomsky observed: “From his point of view that’s probably correct. From the point of view of slave owners, people opposed to slavery probably looked that way.”
And that’s the way that people like me and Noam look to my interrogators. Honed to an unusual deadness of perception by years of Monday night football, Fox News Channel, the local tabloid, and Rush Limbaugh, they are scarcely aware that large numbers of people simply do not think the way they do, that there’s an alternative universe of facts and opinions out there. Inasmuch as their core political and social beliefs reflect the dominant ideology in the United States, they are not challenged as often as those on the left are. They thus tend to take their beliefs for granted and are not used to defending them as much as the left is, are not as practiced at it. I think the hostile manner in which they first engage me stems partly from the shock that such people like me even exist and are actually speaking to them over one of their favorite radio programs, or that words written by such a person have found their way to their Internet mailbox. To them, I’ve just stepped off the number 36 bus from Mars. And I’m upsetting their tranquillity. I may even appear scary.
I present here several fragments of my conversations with these lovely creatures as well as some typical questions from other types.
Q. Why do you hate America so much?
A: What do you mean by “hating America”? Are you asking me if I hate every building in America, every park, every person, every baseball team? Just what do you mean? What I hate, actually, is American foreign policy, what the United States does to the world.
Q. If you don’t like the United States why don’t you leave?
A. Because I’m committed to fighting US foreign policy, the greatest threat to peace and happiness in the world, and being in the United States is the best place for carrying out the battle. This is the belly of the beast, and I try to be an ulcer inside of it.
Q. What other country is better than the United States?
A. In what respect?
Q. In any respect.
A. Well, let’s start with education. In much of Western Europe university education is free or considerably more affordable than here; even in poor Cuba it’s free. Then’s there’s health care …
[Note: I think that the people who ask this question truly believe that there’s no good answer to their challenge; my response invariably marks the end of the dialogue.]
Q. Do you regard yourself as patriotic?
A. Well, I guess you’re speaking of some kind of blind patriotism, but even if you have a more balanced view of it, what you’re thinking about me would still be correct. I’m not patriotic. In fact, I don’t want to be patriotic. I’d go so far as to say that I’m patriotically challenged. Many people on the left, now as in the 1960s, do not want to concede the issue of patriotism to the conservatives. The left insists that they are the real patriots because of demanding that the United States lives up to its professed principles. That’s all well and good, but I’m not one of those leftists. I don’t think that patriotism is one of the more noble sides of mankind. George Bernard Shaw wrote that patriotism is the conviction that your country is superior to all others because you were born in it.
Q. Do you think the United States has ever done anything good in the world? How about World War Two? Would you have fought in that war?
A. Okay, get ready to scream now. If I had been old enough, and knowing what I know now, I would have been glad to fight against fascism, but I would not have been enthused about fighting for the United States, or for the United States government to be more precise. Our leaders bore a great responsibility for the outbreak of the world war by abandoning the Spanish republic in the civil war. Hitler, Mussolini and the Spanish fascists under Franco all combined to overthrow the republican government, while the United States, Great Britain, France and the rest of the world, except the Soviet Union and a couple of others, stood by; worse than standing by, American corporations, like the oil companies and General Motors, were aiding the fascist side.
At the same time, the US and Britain refused the entreaties of the Soviet Union to enter into some sort of mutual defense pact. The Russians knew that Hitler would eventually invade them, but that was fine with the Western powers who were nudging Adolf eastward at Munich. (It was collusion, not appeasement.) This finally forced the Soviets into their pact with Hitler, to be able to stall for time while they built up their defenses. Hitler derived an important lesson from all this. He saw that for the West, the real enemy was not fascism, it was communism and socialism, so he proceeded accordingly. Stalin got the same message. Hitler was in power for nine years before the United States went to war with him – hardly a principled stand against fascism – and then it was because Germany declared war on the United States, not the other way around.
[When the subject is Iraq and the questioner has no other argument left to defend US policy there, at least at the moment, I may be asked:]
Q. Just tell me one thing, are you glad that Saddam Hussein is out of power?
A. No. Tell me, if you went into surgery to correct a knee problem and the surgeon mistakenly amputated your entire leg, what would you think if someone then asked you: Are you glad that you no longer have a knee problem? Of course you wouldn’t be glad. The cost to you would not be worth it. It’s the same with the Iraqi people, the cost of the bombing, invasion, occupation, and daily violence and humiliation has been a terrible price to pay for the removal of Hussein, whom many Iraqis actually supported anyhow.
Q. Don’t you realize that the wars you criticize give you the freedom to say all the crap that comes out of your mouth?
A. Oh that’s just a conservative clichŽ. Our wars are not fought for any American’s freedom. There’s been no threat to our freedom of speech from abroad, only at home, like the Red Scare, McCarthyism, Cointelpro, and The Patriot Act.
Q. Why do you put down the establishment media so much when you cite them so often as your source?
A. The main shortcoming of the establishment media lies in errors of omission, much more than errors of commission. It’s not that they tell bald lies so much as it is that they leave out parts of stories or entire stories, or historical reminders, which if included might put the issue in a whole new light, in a way not compatible with their political biases. Or they may include all the facts, leading to an obvious interpretation, but leave out suggesting an alternative interpretation of the same facts which stands the first interpretation on its head. But the information they do report is often quite usable for my purposes.
Q. You make no distinctions among US presidents since World War Two. Do you put Truman in the same category as Reagan?
A. There have been all kinds of differences in the political views of the administrations from Truman to Bush, Jr. but virtually all the significant differences concerned domestic issues. In foreign policy, they were all habitually interventionist, brutal, fanatically anti-communist, concerned mainly with making the world safe for US multinational corporations, and unconcerned about human rights (although they all paid a great deal of lip service to the concept). Truman was a major architect of the Cold War. Clinton’s bombing of Yugoslavia was just as illegal, immoral and based on lies as Bush, Jr’s bombings of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Q. So much of what you say just builds a wall between people, blaming one side for everything. Don’t you think that we all share the blame and that you should stop thinking in simplistic terms of US and THEM?
A. I’ve been an activist since Vietnam, and you can’t blame me or people like me for Vietnam, any more than you can blame us for Iraq, or all the other bloody American interventions in between. WE have been protesting what THEY have been doing for decades. THEY make their decisions and Congress is in bed with them and WE have virtually nothing to say in the matter. And don’t tell me to elect different people to Congress unless you’re prepared to provide a billion dollars to change the many state laws making it so difficult for third parties to get on the ballot; and that would be only a tiny first step.
For your further reading entertainment, here are a couple of email exchanges in full without any alterations made to them except for the removal of the senders’ names and the correction of obvious typos.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org, March 2, 2004
President George W. Bush should go on world wide television and make the following statement….. “The United States of America from this moment on will rule the planet. We will decide who is to live and who is to die..If you do not do as we say your children will die horrible deaths at the dropping of our bombs..both conventional and nuclear. We will decide who is to be fed and who will starve. Thank you and have a nice evening.” It would be great to bomb France and Germany back into the Stone Age. I am perfectly serious here. We have the power to rule the world..we should do it. And by the way..the USA does not make mistakes sir. If we killed tens of thousands of people in Iraq and elsewhere it was for a Godly cause. Go to hell you unAmerican
all love in christ
[my response] JHC
You’re beautiful. You’ve restored my faith in Christianity as the way to a more compassionate and peaceful world. May God bless you, and your children, and your children’s children, but not the children of the devil who dwell in France and Germany. Hallelujah, I’ve been saved. Amen.
William Henry Blum
From: email@example.com, April 2, 2003 you’re one very angry man; stop projecting it onto others.
Reading your work I’m beginning to FEEL that the more radical and left you go you reach the far far right and become apologists for Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot.
Listen a bit more carefully to the voices of Iraqis in exile, those that have defected and those refugees with the courage to speak out. Don’t you think that their voice counts??? They want the monster Saddam out. They want to stop being terrorised. Do you really think that the average American or Australian live in a state of terror too frightened to speak out or stand up to their leaders. Give me a fucking break
[my response] I’ve gotten several emails lately from Iraqis living in exile, taking me to task because of my opposition to a war against their country. Each one went into great detail about how horrible a person Saddam Hussein is and how much they hate him. How can I not want to overthrow him? they demanded to know.
I replied that if the only thing that was involved in the war was the removal of Saddam Hussein, with no harm done to the people or the land, I wouldn’t object to it too much.
I also asked each of the Iraqis if they would be willing to be in Iraq when the bombs begin to fall. Would they be willing to see their family killed, their home demolished, and their school and their mosque and their job all wiped out? Would they be willing to ingest particles of depleted uranium, which would remain in their body radiating forever? Or see their child lose a leg to a cluster bomb land mine?
I also said that I despise George W. Bush at least as much as they despise Saddam Hussein, that Bush is at least as evil as Hussein – he’s just killed a few thousand people in Afghanistan and is planning the same for Iraq; how many has Hussein killed lately? But my loathing of Bush, I told them, doesn’t mean that I would like to see some foreign power bomb Washington; and I’d object to that not simply because I happen to live in Washington.
[from AG] Would you have been willing for the reign of terror in Iraq to continue year after year? For thousands more innocent civilians including children & mothers tortured, maimed, killed merely for speaking out against Saddam. Children’s eyes gouged out to elicit confessions from a parent; people having their tongues cut out and then left to bleed to death on streets; live bodies thrown into large mince machines.
This is all well-documented. A report of the UN in 1995 stated that human rights abuses of Saddam’s regime are the worst of any country since World War 11.
It is not the intention of the ‘coalition of the willing’ to deliberately harm civilians. Saddam was given the opportunity to seek exile; that he did not means he is also responsible for the small number of civilian casualties that have resulted so far. However it was the intention of the Sept 11 terrorists to hurt as many innocent civilians as possible. I suggest you read ‘Saddam’s Bombmaker’ by nuclear physicist Khidir Hamza and others who have defected. Hamza was head of Saddam’s nuclear weapons project pre and post the Gulf War of 1991. General Wafiq al-Samarrai who was the head of Iraq’s intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, until he defected in 1994 and Hussein Kamel (Saddam’s son-in-law) who escaped but was enticed back (his entire family was then killed) both corroborated what Hamza revealed to the CIA. You surely can’t argue that such a state of terror exists in the USA???? You would have had your tongue cut out for speaking out against Bush! Bush is not responsible for past mistakes, blunders, atrocities committed by previous US governments especially Kissinger who in my opinion should be tried as a war criminal.
[my response] “Children’s eyes gouged out to elicit confessions from a parent; people having their tongues cut out and then left to bleed to death on streets; live bodies thrown into large mince machines.”
I challenge you to offer any proof of any of the above. Have you no ability at all to recognize propaganda? Is there anything the US government tells you about foreign policy that you don’t believe?
[from AG] Unbelievable. You are paranoid. Propaganda, you say. I’m wasting my time talking to such a person with such a narrow closed mind that he cannot respond to suffering. Proof. There’s plenty but you are too frightened to find it. Go out on the street and talk to an Iraqi refugee. Web sites of Amnesty International, Red Cross, UN … I laughed yesterday when I got your e-mail but today I feel sick Go and get some therapy.
[my response] English translation – You have no proof at all to offer. Just what I thought.
[AG then sent me an Amnesty International report dealing with events in Iraq during 2001]
[my response] I challenged you on these words of yours:
“Children’s eyes gouged out to elicit confessions from a parent; people having their tongues cut out and then left to bleed to death on streets; live bodies thrown into large mince machines.”
I see nothing about these things in the Amnesty report.
This is a chapter from Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire by William Blum.