The first edition of this book was written during 1999-2000 and published in 2000. It was inspired by the brutal US bombing of Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999. For this 2005 edition, most chapters as well as the Introduction, have been revised and updated to reflect many of the events since 2000. However, several sections of the book still reflect the fact that they were first written during the Clinton administration and its bombing of Yugoslavia because the text is as applicable today as it was then.
This book could be entitled: Serial chain-saw baby killers and the women who love them.
The women don’t really believe that their beloved would do such a thing, even if they’re shown a severed limb or a headless torso. Or if they believe it, they know down to their bone marrow that lover-boy really had the best of intentions; it must have been some kind of very unfortunate accident, a well-meaning blunder; in fact, even more likely, it was an act of humanitarianism.
For more than 70 years, the United States convinced much of the world that there was an international conspiracy out there. An International Communist Conspiracy, seeking no less than control over the entire planet, for purposes which had no socially redeeming values. And the world was made to believe that it somehow needed the United States to save it from communist darkness. “Just buy our weapons,” said Washington, “let our military and our corporations roam freely across your land, and give us veto power over who your leaders will be, and we’ll protect you.”
It was the cleverest protection racket since men convinced women that they needed men to protect them, for if all the men vanished overnight, how many women would be afraid to walk the streets?
And if the people of any foreign land were benighted enough to not realize that they needed to be saved, if they failed to appreciate the underlying nobility of American motives, they were warned that they would burn in Communist Hell. Or a CIA facsimile thereof. And they would be saved nonetheless.
More than 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, America is still saving countries and peoples from one danger or another. The scorecard reads as follows: Between 1945 and 2005 the United States has attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the US has caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair.
In April 1999 the United States was busy saving Yugoslavia, bombing a modern, sophisticated society back to a near-third-world level. And The Great American Public, in its infinite wisdom, was convinced that its government was motivated by “humanitarian” impulses.
At that time Washington was awash with foreign dignitaries come to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; three days of unprecedented pomp and circumstance. The prime-ministers, presidents and foreign ministers, despite their rank, were delighted to be included amongst the close friends of the world’s only superpower. Private corporations funded the opulent weekend; a dozen of them paying $250,000 apiece to have one of their executives serve as a director on the NATO Summit’s host committee. Many of the same firms lobbied hard to expand NATO by adding the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, each of which would be purchasing plentiful quantities of military hardware from these companies.
This marriage of NATO and the transnationals was the foundation of the New World Order, the name George Bush, Sr. gave to the American Empire. The credibility of the New World Order depended upon the world believing that the new world would be a better one for the multitude of humanity, not just for those for whom too much is not enough; and believing that the leader of the New World Order, the United States, meant well for the planet and its people.
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.
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 then sent through the mushroom clouds; subjected to chemical and biological weapons experiments; radiation experiments; behavior modification experiments that washed their brains with LSD; exposure to the 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.
Proceeding now to 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 GIs 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 the 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.”
Soldiers were also 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, US 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.) Finally, in late 1999, almost nine years after the Gulf War’s end, the Defense Department announced that a drug given to soldiers to protect them against a particular nerve gas, “cannot be ruled out” as a cause of lingering illnesses in some veterans.
The Pentagon brass, moreover, did not warn American soldiers of the grave danger of being in close proximity to expended depleted uranium weapons on the battlefield. Depleted uranium is a radioactive metal associated with a long list of rare and gruesome illnesses and birth defects.
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 was incalculable. One gauge of that cost may lie in the estimate that one-third of the homeless in America are military veterans.
This scenario is in danger of being repeated to a distressing degree for the veterans of the invasion of Afghanistan beginning in 2001 and Iraq two years later. Depleted uranium, for example, has again been widely used by the United States in both countries. (See chapter 12.)
Soldiers 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.
And throughout all these years, and all these wars, the numerous complaints by servicewomen of sexual assault and rape at the hands of their male counterparts were routinely played down or ignored by the military brass … “boys will be boys”.
The moral of this little slice of history is simple: If the United States government does not care about the health and welfare of its own soldiers, if American leaders are not moved by the prolonged pain and suffering of the wretched warriors they enlist to fight the empire’s wars, how can it be argued, how can it be believed, that they care about foreign peoples? At all.
When the Dalai Lama was asked by a CIA officer in 1995: “Did we do a good or bad thing in providing this support [to the Tibetans]?”, the Tibetan spiritual leader replied that though it helped the morale of those resisting the Chinese, “thousands of lives were lost in the resistance” and that “the U.S. Government had involved itself in his country’s affairs not to help Tibet but only as a Cold War tactic to challenge the Chinese.”
“Let me tell you about the very rich,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. “They are different from you and me.”
So are American leaders.
Consider Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to Jimmy Carter. In a 1998 interview he admitted that the official story that the US gave military aid to the Afghanistan opposition only after the Soviet invasion in 1979 was a lie. The truth was, he said, that the US began aiding the Islamic fundamentalist moujahedeen six months before the Russians made their move, even though he believed – and told this to Carter, who acted on it – that “this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention”.
Brzezinski was asked whether he regretted this decision.
Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.
Besides the fact that there is no demonstrable connection between the Afghanistan war and the breakup of the Soviet empire, we are faced with the consequences of that war: the defeat of a government committed to bringing the extraordinarily backward nation into the 20th century; the breathtaking carnage; moujahedeen torture that even US government officials called “indescribable horror”; half the population either dead, disabled or refugees; the spawning of thousands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists who have unleashed atrocities in numerous countries; and the astounding repression of women in Afghanistan, instituted by America’s wartime allies.
And for playing a key role in causing all this, Zbigniew Brzezinski has no regrets. Regrets? The man is downright proud of it! The kindest thing one can say about such a person – as about a sociopath – is that he’s amoral. At least in his public incarnation, which is all we’re concerned with here. In medieval times he would have been known as Zbigniew the Terrible.
In the now-famous exchange on TV 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: “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.”
One can give Albright the absolute full benefit of any doubt and say that she had no choice but to defend administration policy. But what kind of person is it that takes a job appointment knowing full well that she will be an integral part of such ongoing policies and will be expected to defend them without apology? It is a person who expects to be rewarded for such unquestioning loyalty. Not long afterwards, Albright was appointed Secretary of State.
Lawrence Summers, currently the president of Harvard, is another case in point. In December 1991, while chief economist for the World Bank, he wrote an internal memo saying that the Bank should encourage migration of “the dirty industries” to the less-developed countries because, amongst other reasons, health-impairing and death-causing pollution costs would be lower. Inasmuch as these costs are based on the lost earnings of the affected workers, in a country of very low wages the computed costs would be much lower. “I think,” he wrote, “the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.” Despite this memo receiving wide distribution and condemnation, in 1993 the Clinton administration appointed Summers Undersecretary of the Treasury, for international affairs no less, and then Secretary of the Treasury.
There’s also President Clinton himself, who on day 33 of the aerial devastation of Yugoslavia – 33 days and nights of destroying villages, schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, the ecology, separating people from their limbs, from their eyesight, spilling their intestines, traumatizing children for the rest of their days … destroying a life the Serbians may never know again – on day 33 William Jefferson Clinton, cautioning against judging the bombing policy prematurely, saw fit to declare: “This may seem like a long time. [But] I don’t think that this air campaign has been going on a particularly long time.” And then the man continued it for another 45 days.
Clinton’s vice president, Albert Gore, did not break new ground in moral leadership in 1999 when he played a leading role in putting great pressure on the South African government by threatening them with trade sanctions if they didn’t cancel plans to produce or buy affordable generic AIDS drugs, which would cut into US companies’ sales. South Africa, it should be noted, at the time had an estimated six million HIV-positive persons among its largely impoverished population. When Gore, who at the time had significant ties to the drug industry, was heckled for what he had done during a speech in New York, he declined to respond in substance, but instead called out: “I love this country. I love the First Amendment.”
Which brings us to the Bush administration: President George W., Vice-president Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and others of the imperial mafia, supporting, legalizing, covering up, and untroubled by, a hundred kinds of torture, brutality, and humiliation inflicted upon thousands of poor souls in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantánamo Base in Cuba; hundreds more taken by the CIA to other countries to be tortured.
Yes, American leaders are different from you and me.
No, the lesson here is not that power corrupts and dehumanizes.
Neither is it that US foreign policy is cruel because American leaders are cruel.
It’s that these leaders are cruel because only those willing and able to be inordinately cruel and remorseless can hold positions of leadership in the foreign policy establishment; it might as well be written into the job description. People capable of expressing a full human measure of compassion and empathy toward faraway powerless strangers – let alone American soldiers – do not become president of the United States, or vice president, or secretary of state, or secretary of defense, or national security advisor, or attorney general, or secretary of the treasury. Nor do they particularly want to.
There’s a sort of Peter Principle at work here. Laurence Peter wrote that in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence. Perhaps we can postulate that in a foreign policy establishment committed to imperialist domination by any means necessary, employees tend to rise to the level of cruelty they can’t live with.
A few days after the bombing of Yugoslavia had ended, the New York Times published as its lead article in the Sunday Week in Review a piece by Michael Wines, which declared that “Human rights had been elevated to a military priority and a pre-eminent Western value. … The war only underscored the deep ideological divide between an idealistic New World bent on ending inhumanity and an Old World equally fatalistic about unending conflict. … there is also a yawning gap between the West and much of the world on the value of a single life.”
And so on. A paean to the innate goodness of the West, an ethos unfortunately not shared by much of the rest of the world, who, Wines lamented, “just don’t buy into Western notions of rights and responsibilities.” The Times fed us this morality tale after “the West” had just completed the most ferocious sustained bombing of a nation in the history of the planet, a small portion of whose dreadful consequences are referred to above.
During the American bombing of Iraq in 1991, the previous record for sustained ferociousness, a civilian air raid shelter was destroyed by a depleted-uranium projectile, incinerating to charred blackness many hundreds of people, a great number of them women and children. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, reiterating US military statements that the shelter had been a command-and-control center, said: “We don’t know why civilians were at that location, but we do know that Saddam Hussein does not share our value for the sanctity of human life.”
Similarly, during the Vietnam War, President Johnson and other government officials assured us that Asians don’t have the same high regard for human life as Americans do. We were told this, of course, as American bombs, napalm, Agent Orange, and helicopter gunships were disintegrating the Vietnamese and their highly valued lives.
And at the same time, on a day in February 1966, David Lawrence, the editor of US News & World Report, was moved to put the following words to paper: “What the United States is doing in Vietnam is the most significant example of philanthropy extended by one people to another that we have witnessed in our times.”
I sent Mr. Lawrence a copy of a well-done pamphlet entitled American Atrocities in Vietnam, which gave graphic detail of its subject. To this I attached a note which first repeated Lawrence’s quotation with his name below it, then added: “One of us is crazy.”, followed by my name.
Lawrence responded with a full page letter, at the heart of which was: “I think a careful reading of it [the pamphlet] will prove the point I was trying to make – namely that primitive peoples with savagery in their hearts have to be helped to understand the true basis of a civilized existence.”
The American mind – as exemplified by that of Michael Wines and David Lawrence – is, politically, so deeply formed that to liberate it would involve uncommon, and as yet perhaps undiscovered, philosophical and surgical skill. The great majority of Americans, even the most cynical – who need no convincing that the words that come out of a politician’s mouth are a blend of mis-, dis- and non-information, and should always carry a veracity health warning – appear to lose their critical faculties when confronted by “our boys who are risking their lives”. If love is blind, patriotism has lost all five senses.
To the extent that the cynicism of these Americans – and their counterparts in the media – is directed toward their government’s habitual foreign adventures, it’s to question whether the administration’s stated interpretation of a situation is valid, whether the stated goals are worthwhile, and whether the stated goals can be achieved – but not to question the government’s motivation. It is assumed a priori that their leaders mean well by the foreign people involved – no matter how much death, destruction and suffering their policies objectively result in.
Congressman Otis Pike (R-NY) headed a committee in 1975 which uncovered a number of dark covert actions of US foreign policy, many of which were leaked to the public, while others remained secret. In an interview he stated that any member of Congress could see the entire report if he agreed not to reveal anything that was in it. “But not many want to read it,” he added.
“Why?” asked his interviewer.
“Oh, they think it is better not to know,” Pike replied. “There are too many things that embarrass Americans in that report. You see, this country went through an awful trauma with Watergate. But even then, all they were asked to believe was that their president had been a bad person. In this new situation they are asked much more; they are asked to believe that their country has been evil. And nobody wants to believe that.”
This can be compared to going to a counselor because your child is behaving strangely, and being told, “You have a problem of incest in your family.” People can’t hear that. They go to a different counselor. They grab at any other explanation. It’s too painful.
An American education
In The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides, speaking of the practice of plundering villages, the main source of a warrior’s livelihood, tells us that “no disgrace was yet attached to such an achievement, but rather credit”.
Almost all of us grew up in an environment in which we learned that thou shalt not murder, rape, rob, probably not pay off a public official or cheat on your taxes – but not that there was anything wrong with toppling foreign governments, quashing revolutions, or dropping powerful bombs on foreign people, if it somehow served America’s “national security”.
Let us look at some of our teachers. During the bombing of Yugoslavia, the esteemed (= famous) CBS News reporter, Dan Rather, declared: “I’m an American, and I’m an American reporter. And yes, when there’s combat involving Americans, you can criticize me if you must, damn me if you must, but I’m always pulling for us to win.” (During the Cold War, US journalists were quick to criticize their Soviet counterparts for speaking in behalf of the State.)
What does this mean? That he’s going to support any war effort by the United States no matter the legal or moral justification? No matter the effect on democracy, freedom or self-determination? No matter the degree of horror produced? No matter anything? Many other American journalists have similarly paraded themselves as cheerleaders in modern times in the midst of one of the Pentagon’s frequent marches down the warpath, serving a function “more akin to stenography than journalism”. During these wars, much of the media, led by CNN, appear to have had a serious missile fetish, enough so to suggest a need for counseling.
The president of National Public Radio (NPR), Kevin Klose, is the former head of all the major, worldwide US government broadcast propaganda outlets, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and the anti-Castro Radio Marti, which broadcasts into Cuba from Florida. NPR, it can be said, has never met an American war it didn’t like. It was inspired to describe the war against Yugoslavia as Clinton’s “most significant foreign policy success.”
And Robert Coonrod – from 1997-2004 the head of the congressionally-created Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds over 1,000 public television and radio stations nationwide – has a résumé remarkably similar to that of Klose, from Voice of America to Radio Marti.
Is it any wonder that during America’s wars NPR has one military officer after another on the air offering commentary but virtually never anyone unambiguously opposed to the war? Moreover, is it any wonder that countless Americans, bearing psyches no less malleable than those of other members of the species, are only dimly conscious of the fact that they even have the right to be unequivocally against a war effort and to question the government’s real intentions for carrying it out, without thinking of themselves as (horror of horrors) “unpatriotic”? Propaganda is to a democracy what violence is to a dictatorship.
In Spain, in the 16th century, the best minds were busy at work devising rationalizations for the cruelty its conquistadors were inflicting upon the Indians of the New World. It was decided, and commonly accepted, that the Indians were “natural slaves”, created by God to serve the conquistadors.
Twentieth-century America took this a step further. The best and the brightest have assured the public that United States interventions – albeit rather violent at times – are not only in the natural order of things, but they’re actually for the good of the natives.
The media and the public do in fact relish catching politicians’ lies, but these are typically the small lies – lies about money, sex, drug use, and other peccadillos, and the ritual doubletalk of campaignspeak. A certain Mr. A. Hitler, originally of Austria, though often castigated, actually arrived at a number of very perceptive insights into how the world worked. One of them was this:
The great masses of the people in the very bottom of their hearts tend to be corrupted rather than consciously and purposely evil … therefore, in view of the primitive simplicity of their minds, they more easily fall a victim to a big lie than to a little one, since they themselves lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big.
The big lies tend to elude exposure. How many Americans, for example, doubt the official rationale for dropping the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – to obviate the need for a land invasion of Japan, thus saving thousands of American lives? However, it’s been known for years that the Japanese had been trying for many months to surrender and that the US had consistently ignored these overtures. The bombs were dropped, not to intimidate the Japanese, but to put the fear of the American god into the Russians. The dropping of the A-bomb, it has been said, was not the last shot of World War II, but the first shot of the Cold War.
The “humanitarian” bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, which even many on the left swallowed without gagging, or the “liberation” of Iraq in 2003, which most on the left saw through, but most Americans did not at first, are two recent examples of the idea of United States “altruism”, which has been a recurrent feature of America’s love affair with itself. From 1918 to 1920, the United States was a major part of a Western invasion of the infant Soviet Union, an invasion that endeavored to “strangle at its birth”, as Winston Churchill put it, the Russian Revolution, which had effectively removed one-sixth of the world’s land surface from private capitalist development. A nation still recovering from a horrendous world war, in extreme chaos from a fundamental social revolution, and in the throes of a famine that was to leave many millions dead, was mercilessly devastated yet further by the invaders, without any provocation, aiming to put the “White Russians” in power in place of the Red ones.
When the smoke had cleared, the US Army Chief of Staff put out a report on the undertaking which said: “This expedition affords one of the finest examples in history of honorable, unselfish dealings … to be helpful to a people struggling to achieve a new liberty.”
Seventy years later, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, was moved to tell an audience in California that the United States has “so many friends” in the Pacific because of “our values, our economic system, and our altruism”. He made these remarks shortly after directing the slaughter by bombing of a multitude of Panamanian innocents.
In his inauguration speech of January 2005, which lasted 21 minutes, President George W. Bush used the word “liberty” 15 times and the word “freedom” 27 times; that’s one or the other word casually dropped exactly once every 30 seconds, as he assured the world that America’s interventions were fueled only by the deeply-felt desire to bring these blessings to one country after another.
Author Garry Wills has commented on this American benevolence toward foreigners: “We believe we can literally ‘kill them with kindness’, moving our guns forward in a seizure of demented charity. It is when America is in her most altruistic mood that other nations better get behind their bunkers.”
What is it, then, that I mean to say here – that the US government does not care a whit about human life, human rights, humanity, and all those other wonderful human things?
No, I mean to say that doing the right thing is not a principle of American foreign policy, not an ideal or a goal of policy in and of itself. If it happens that doing the right thing coincides with, or is irrelevant to, Washington’s overriding international ambitions, American officials have no problem walking the high moral ground. But this is rarely the case. A study of the many US interventions detailed in the “Interventions” chapter, shows clearly that the engine of American foreign policy has typically been fueled not by a devotion to any kind of morality, nor even simple decency, but rather by the necessity to serve other masters, which can be broken down to three imperatives:
- the care and feeding of American corporations: making the world open and hospitable for neo-liberal globalization; enhancing the financial statements of defense contractors who have contributed generously to members of Congress and residents of the White House;
- preventing the rise of any society that might serve as a successful example of an alternative to the capitalist model;
- expanding the empire: establishing political, economic and military hegemony over as much of the globe as possible to facilitate the first two imperatives, and to prevent the ascendancy of any regional power that might challenge American supremacy.
To American policymakers, these ends have justified the means, and all means have been available.
In the wake of the 1973 military coup in Chile, which overthrew the socialist government of Salvador Allende, the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Jack Kubisch, was hard pressed to counter charges that the United States had been involved. “It was not in our interest to have the military take over in Chile,” he insisted. “It would have been better had Allende served his entire term, taking the nation and the Chilean people into complete and total ruin. Only then would the full discrediting of socialism have taken place. Only then would people have gotten the message that socialism doesn’t work. What has happened has confused this lesson.”
Though based on a falsehood made up for the occasion – that Allende’s polices were leading Chile to ruin – Kubisch’s remark inadvertently expressed his government’s strong fealty to the second imperative stated above.
Enemies without number, threats without end
During the Cold War, US foreign policy was carried out under the waving banner of fighting a moral crusade against what cold warriors persuaded the American people, most of the world, and perhaps themselves, was the existence of a malevolent International Communist Conspiracy. But it was always a fraud; there was never any such animal as the International Communist Conspiracy. There were, as there still are, people living in misery, rising up in protest against their condition, against an oppressive government, a government likely supported by the United States. To Washington, this was proof that the Soviet Union (or Cuba or Nicaragua, etc., functioning as Moscow’s surrogate), or China, was again acting as the proverbial “outside agitator”.
In the final analysis, this must be wondered: What kind of omnipresent, omnipotent, monolithic, evil international conspiracy bent on world domination would allow its empire to completely fall apart, like the classic house of cards, without bringing any military force to bear upon its satellites to prevent their escaping? And without an invasion from abroad holding a knife to the empire’s throat?
It is now well known how during the Cold War the actual level of Soviet military and economic strength was magnified by the CIA, the Defense Department, the White House, et al., how data and events were falsified to exaggerate the Russian threat, how worst-case scenarios were put forth as if they were probable and imminent, even when they failed to meet the demands of plausibility. One of the most enduring Soviet-threat stories – the alleged justification for the birth of NATO – was the coming Red invasion of Western Europe. If, by 1999, anyone still swore by this fairy tale, they could have read a report in The Guardian of London on newly declassified British government documents from 1968. Among the documents was one based on an analysis by the Foreign Office joint intelligence committee, which the newspaper summarized as follows:
The Soviet Union had no intention of launching a military attack on the West at the height of the cold war, British military and intelligence chiefs privately believed, in stark contrast to what Western politicians and military leaders were saying in public about the “Soviet threat”.
“The Soviet Union will not deliberately start general war or even limited war in Europe,” a briefing for the British chiefs of staff – marked Top Secret, UK Eyes Only, and headed The Threat: Soviet Aims and Intentions – declared in June 1968.
“Soviet foreign policy had been cautious and realistic”, the department argued, and despite the Vietnam war, the Russians and their allies had “continued to make contacts in all fields with the West and to maintain a limited but increasing political dialogue with Nato powers”.
After the Cold War, Washington spinmeisters could no longer cry “The Russians are coming, and they’re ten feet tall!” as a pretext for intervention, so they have had to regularly come up with new enemies. America cherishes its enemies. Without enemies, it appears to be a nation without moral purpose and direction. The various managers of the National Security State need enemies to protect their jobs, to justify their swollen budgets, to aggrandize their work, to give themselves a mission in the aftermath of the Soviet Union, to send truckloads of taxpayer money to the corporations for whom the managers will go to work after leaving government service. And they understand the need for enemies only too well, even painfully. Presented here is US Col. Dennis Long, speaking in 1992, shortly after the end of the Cold War, when he was director of “total armor force readiness” at Fort Knox:
For 50 years, we equipped our football team, practiced five days a week and never played a game. We had a clear enemy with demonstrable qualities, and we had scouted them out. [Now] we will have to practice day in and day out without knowing anything about the other team. We won’t have his playbook, we won’t know where the stadium is, or how many guys he will have on the field. That is very distressing to the military establishment, especially when you are trying to justify the existence of your organization and your systems.
The United States had postponed such a distressing situation for as long as it could. A series of Soviet requests during the Cold War to establish a direct dialogue with senior NATO officials were rejected as “inappropriate and potentially divisive”. Longstanding and repeated Soviet offers to dissolve the Warsaw Pact if the West would do the same with NATO were ignored. After one such offer was spurned, the Los Angeles Times commented that the offer “increases the difficulty faced by U.S. policy-makers in persuading Western public opinion to continue expensive and often unpopular military programs.”
In 1991, Colin Powell touched upon the irony of the profound world changes in cautioning his fellow military professionals: “We must not … hope that it [the changes] will disappear and let us return to comforting thoughts about a resolute and evil enemy.”
But the thoughts are indeed comforting to the military professionals and their civilian counterparts. So since the end of the Cold War, one month the new resolute and evil enemy has been North Korea, the next month the big threat is Libya, then China, or Iraq, or Iran, or Sudan, or Syria, or Afghanistan, or Serbia, or that old reliable demon, Cuba – countries each led by the newest Hitler, or at least a madman or mad dog; a degree of demonizing fit more for a theocratic society than a democratic one.
And in place of the International Communist Conspiracy, Washington has told the American people, on one day or another, that they’re threatened by drug trafficking, or military or industrial spying, or the proliferation of “weapons of mass destruction”, or organized crime, or, the latest flavor of the month, terrorism.
Moreover, in August 1999, a National Security Council global strategy paper for the next century declared that “the nation is facing its biggest espionage threat in history.”
A remarkable statement. What ever happened to the KGB? Any Americans now past the age of 30 had it drilled into their heads from the cradle on that there was a perpetual Soviet dagger aimed at their collective heart in the hand of the spy next door. Thousands lost their jobs and careers because of their alleged association to this threat, hundreds were imprisoned or deported, two were executed. Surely Senator Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover are turning over in their graves.
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary. – H.L. Mencken, 1920
Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear – kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor – with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real. – General Douglas MacArthur, 1957
September 11, 2001
In light of what happened on this infamous date it may appear to some that the threats to the United States claimed by Washington officials were not in fact exaggerated, but rather were very real. But it is not the intention of the above text to imply that there never was or never will be a serious terrorist attack inside the United States. Given the constant belligerence and destructiveness of US foreign policy, retaliation has to be expected, at one time or another, at one place or another, in one form or another. (Chapter one deals with precisely this cause and effect.) But with all the scare talk issued by American administrations, what exactly has taken place in the real world? According to the State Department, in the six-year period of 1998-2003 the number of actual terrorist attacks by region was as follows:
- Latin America - 692
- Asia - 468
- Western Europe - 222
- Middle East - 208
- Africa - 174
- Eurasia - 93
- North America - 6
For more than forty years the “imminent threat” of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe or nuclear attack upon the United States was drummed into the American consciousness. Nothing of the sort ever happened of course. Nothing of the sort was ever seriously contemplated by the Soviets of course, for obvious reasons of self-preservation if nothing else. Then, with the demise of the Soviet Union, as elucidated above, multiple new “threats” to American security were declared by officials, and echoed by the media, to heighten the sense of danger and validate the replacement of the American republic by the national security state.
The attack of September 11 does not justify a half century of cynical propaganda.
After the attack it was Christmas every day for the national security managers. All their wish lists were fulfilled, and then some. In short order they massively increased the military budget; imposed sharp cutbacks in social spending; promoted obscenely extensive tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals and corporations; launched efforts to cut back on environmental legislation; unilaterally abrogated a leading arms control treaty; announced plans which would extend the reach of The American Empire, under the rubric of an “anti-terrorism crusade”, to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, and elsewhere; created a new Office of Homeland Security; greatly increased surveillance and prosecutory powers over the American people, including license to enter their homes virtually at will; rescinded virtually all legal rights for over a thousand people who were incarcerated for weeks or months, even years, without being charged with a crime; created an atmosphere in which many critics of the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq suffered professional punishment and were called upon to prove their loyalty; and so it went.
What has taken place in the United States since the attack is a state of affairs much desired by the political and corporate elite. Indeed, it lends credence to the proposition that the purpose of all the fear mongering was what critics had always charged: to facilitate fulfilling wish lists.
Cold War continuum
Though the putative “communist threat” has disappeared, the taxpayers still fill tractor-trailers to the bursting with cash and send them off to what had once been known as the War Department, then humorously renamed the Defense Department. … That department’s research into yet more futuristic weapons of the chemical dust and better ways to kill people en masse proceeds unabated, with nary a glance back at the body fragments littering the triumphant fields. … Belief in an afterlife has been rekindled by the Clinton and Bush administrations new missile defense system, after universal certainty that Star Wars was dead and buried. … NATO has also risen from the should-be-dead, more almighty than ever. … Many hundreds of US military installations, serving a vast panoply of specialized warfaring needs, still dot the global map, including many new ones in the territory of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. … Even as you read this, American armed forces and special operations forces are being deployed in well over 100 countries in every part of the world. … Washington is supplying many of these nations with sizeable amounts of highly lethal military equipment, and training their armed forces and police in the brutal arts, regardless of how brutal they already are. … American nuclear bombs are still stored in a number of European countries, if not elsewhere … And American officials retain their unshakable belief that they have a god-given right to do whatever they want, wherever they want, to whomever they want, for as long as they want.
In other words, whatever the diplomats and policymakers at the time thought they were doing, the Cold War skeptics have been vindicated – it was not about containing an evil, expansionist, communist Soviet Union after all; it was about American imperialism, with “communist” merely the name given to those who stood in its way.
American foreign-policy makers are exquisitely attuned to the rise of a government, or a movement on the verge of taking power, that will not lie down and happily become an American client state, that will not look upon the free market or the privatization of the world known as “globalization” as the summum bonum, that will not change its laws to favor foreign investment, that will not be unconcerned about the effects of foreign investment upon the welfare of its own people, that will not produce primarily for export, that will not allow asbestos, banned pesticides, and other products restricted in the developed world to be dumped onto their people, that will not easily tolerate the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or the World Trade Organization inflicting a scorched-earth policy upon the country’s social services and standard of living, that will not allow an American or NATO military installation upon its soil … To the highly-sensitive nostrils of Washington foreign-policy veterans, Yugoslavia in the 1990s smelled a bit too much like one of these governments.
Given the proper pretext, such bad examples have to be reduced to basket cases; or, where feasible, simply overthrown, like Albania and Bulgaria in the early 1990s; failing that, life has to be made impossible for these renegades, as with Cuba, still.
And this was the foundation – the sine qua non – of American foreign policy for the entire twentieth century, both before and after the existence of the Soviet Union, from the Philippines, Panama and the Dominican Republic in the first decade of the century, to El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Yugoslavia in the last decade.
Can we in fact say that the Cold War has actually ended? If the Cold War is defined as a worldwide struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union for the hearts and minds of the Third World (for whatever motives), then certainly it is over. But if the Cold War is seen not as an East-West struggle, but rather a “North-South” struggle, as an American effort – as mentioned above – to prevent the rise of any society that might serve as a successful example of an alternative to the capitalist model, and to prevent the rise of any regional power that might challenge American supremacy, then that particular map with the pins stuck in it still hangs on the wall in the Pentagon’s War Room. (Said a Defense Department planning paper in 1992: “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival … we must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” [emphasis added])
The current manifestation of this continuum, by whatever name, can be viewed as yet another chapter in the never-ending saga of the war of the rich upon the poor. And with the Soviet presence and influence gone, American interventions are more trouble-free than ever. (Consider that US friendliness toward Iraq and Yugoslavia lasted exactly as long as the Soviet Union and its bloc existed.)
There’s a word for such a continuum of policy. Empire. The American Empire. An appellation that does not roll easily off an American tongue. No American has any difficulty believing in the existence and driving passion for expansion, power, glory, and wealth of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or the British Empire. It’s right there in their schoolbooks. But to the American mind, to American schoolbooks, and to the American media, “The American Empire” is an oxymoron. However, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the open threats made to several other countries, and a hundred instances of shameless arrogance emanating from the Bush administration has begun to make the label of “empire” more plausible to the media; some Americans are becoming rather proud of the idea.
The Madman philosophy
In March 1998, an internal 1995 study, “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence”, by the US Strategic Command, the headquarters responsible for the US strategic nuclear arsenal, was brought to light. The study stated:
Because of the value that comes from the ambiguity of what the US may do to an adversary if the acts we seek to deter are carried out, it hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed. The fact that some elements may appear to be potentially ‘out of control’ can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an adversary’s decision makers. This essential sense of fear is the working force of deterrence. That the US may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project to all adversaries.
The author of these words would have the world believe that the United States has only been pretending to be “out of control” or “irrational and vindictive”. However, it can be argued – based on the objective facts of what Washington has inflicted upon the world, as described in this book – that for more than half a century American foreign policy has, in actuality, been clinically mad.
On the other hand, the desire for world hegemony, per se, is not necessarily irrational, whatever else one may think of it morally or otherwise. Michael Parenti has pointed out that US foreign policy “may seem stupid because the rationales offered in its support often sound unconvincing, leaving us with the impression that policymakers are confused or out of touch. But just because the public does not understand what they are doing does not mean that national security leaders are themselves befuddled. That they are fabricators does not mean they are fools.”
A Truth Commission
Since the early 1990s the people of South Africa, Argentina, Guatemala, Chile and El Salvador have held official Truth Commissions to look squarely in the eyes of the crimes committed by their governments. There will never be any such official body to investigate and document the wide body of Washington’s crimes, although several unofficial citizens’ commissions have done so over the years for specific interventions, such as in Vietnam, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq; their findings were of course totally ignored by the establishment media (whose ideology is a belief that it doesn’t have any ideology).
In the absence of an official Truth Commission in the United States, this book is offered up as testimony.
This is a chapter from Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower by William Blum.