Against terrorism or expansion of the American Empire?
Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2002
By William Blum
William Blum, author of three books covering U.S. foreign policy, gave the following speech at the University of Colorado in Boulder on October 16, 2002.
Good evening, it's very nice to be here, especially since the bombs have not yet begun to fall; I mean in Iraq, not Boulder; Boulder comes after Iraq and Iran if you folks don't shape up and stop inviting people like me to speak.
The first time I spoke in public after September 11 of last year, I spoke at a teach-in at the University of North Carolina. As a result of that, I and some of the other speakers were put on a list put out by an organization founded by Lynne Cheney, the wife of you know who. The organization's agenda can be neatly surmised by a report it issued, entitled "Defending Our Civilization: How Our Universities are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It." In the report and on their website they listed a large number of comments made mainly by faculty and students from many schools which indicated that these people were not warmly embracing America's newest bombing frenzy. These people were guilty of suggesting that some foreigners might actually have good reason for hating the United States, or what I call hating U.S. foreign policy.
Because of that listing, as well as things I wrote subsequently, I've gotten a lot of hate mail in the past year, hate e-mail to be exact. I'm waiting to receive my first e-mail with anthrax in it. Well, there are viruses in e-mail, why not bacteria?
The hate mail almost never challenges any fact or idea I express. They attack me mainly on the grounds of being unpatriotic. They're speaking of some kind of blind patriotism, but even if they had a more balanced view of it, they would still be right about me. I'm not patriotic. 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. And remember that the German people who supported the Nazi government can be seen as being patriotic, and the German government called them just that.
The past year has not been easy for people like me, surrounded as we've been by an orgy of patriotism. How does one escape "United We Stand," and "God Bless America"? And the flag - it's just all over - I buy a banana and there it is, an American flag stuck on it.
We're making heroes out of everyone - the mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, became a hero. On Sept. 10 he was an arrogant, uncompassionate reactionary - suddenly he was a hero, even a statesman, speaking before the U.N. George Bush also became a hero. People who called him a moron on September 10 welcomed him as hero and dictator after the eleventh.
In the play, Galileo, by Bertolt Brecht, one character says to another: "Unhappy the land that has no heroes." The other character replies: "No. Unhappy the land that needs heroes."
Although I'm not loyal to any country or government, like most of you I am loyal to certain principles, like political and social justice, economic democracy, human rights.
The moral of my message to you is this: If your heart and mind tell you clearly that the bombing of impoverished, hungry, innocent peasants is a terrible thing to do and will not make the American people any more secure, you should protest it in any way you can and don't be worried about being called unpatriotic.
There was, sadly, very little protest against the bombing of Afghanistan. I think it was a measure of how the events intimidated people, events, along with their expanding police powers, led by Ayatollah John Ashcroft. I think it was also due to the fact that people felt that whatever horrors the bombing caused, it did get rid of some really nasty anti-American terrorists.
But of the thousands in Afghanistan who died from American bombs, how many do you think had any part in the events of 9-11? I'll make a rough guess and say "none." How many do you think ever took part in any other terrorist act against the United States? We'll never know for sure, but my guess would be a number in the very low one digits, if that. Terrorist acts don't happen very often after all, and usually are carried out by a handful of men. So, of all those killed by the American actions, were any of them amongst any of those few handfuls of terrorists, many of whom were already in prison?
Keep in mind that the great majority of those who were at a training camp of al Qaeda in Afghanistan were there to help the Taliban in their civil war, nothing to do with terrorism or the United States. It was a religious mission for them, none of our business. But we killed them or have held them under terrible conditions at the Guantanamo base in Cuba for a very long time now, with no end in sight, with many attempts at suicide there amongst the prisoners.
It is remarkable indeed that what we call our government is still going around dropping huge amounts of exceedingly powerful explosives upon the heads of defenseless people. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Beginning in the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev put an end to the Soviet police state, then the Berlin Wall came down. People all over Eastern Europe were joyfully celebrating a NEW DAY, and South Africa freed Nelson Mandela and apartheid began to crumble, and Haiti held its first free election ever and chose a genuine progressive as president ... it seemed like anything was possible; optimism was as widespread as pessimism is today.
The United States joined this celebration by invading and bombing Panama, only weeks after the Berlin Wall fell.
At the same time, the U.S. was shamelessly intervening in the election in Nicaragua to defeat the Sandinistas.
Then, when Albania and Bulgaria, "newly freed from the grip of communism," as our media would put it, dared to elect governments not acceptable to Washington, Washington just stepped in and overthrew those governments.
Soon came the bombing of the people of Iraq for 40 horrible days without mercy, for no good or honest reason, and that was that for our hopes of a different and better world.
But our leaders were not through. They were soon off attacking Somalia, more bombing and killing.
Meanwhile they continued bombing Iraq for years.
They intervened to put down dissident movements in Peru, Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia, just as if it were the cold war in the 1950s in Latin America, and the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, and still doing it in the 1990s.
Then they bombed the people of Yugoslavia for 78 days and nights.
And once again, last year, they grossly and openly intervened in an election in Nicaragua to prevent the left from winning.
Meanwhile, of course, they were bombing Afghanistan and, in all likelihood, have now killed more innocent civilians in that sad country than were killed here on Sept. 11, with more to come as people will continue to die from bombing wounds, cluster-bomb landmines, and depleted-uranium toxicity.
All these years, they're still keeping their choke hold on Cuba.
And that's just a partial list.
There was none of the peace dividend we had been promised, not for Americans nor for the rest of the world.
What the heck is going on here? We had been taught since childhood that the cold war, including the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the huge military budgets, all the foreign invasions and overthrows of governments - the ones we knew about - was all to fight the same menace: The International Communist Conspiracy, headquarters in Moscow.
So what happened? The Soviet Union was dissolved. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved. The East European satellites became independent. The former communists even became capitalists....yet nothing changed in American foreign policy. Even NATO remained, NATO which had been created - so we were told - to protect Western Europe against a Soviet invasion, even NATO remains, bigger than ever, getting bigger and more powerful all the time, a NATO with a global mission. The NATO charter was even invoked to give a justification for its members to join the U.S. in the Afghanistan invasion.
The whole thing had been a con game. The Soviet Union and something called communism per se had not been the object of our global attacks. There had never been an International Communist Conspiracy. The enemy was, and remains, any government or movement, or even individual, that stands in the way of the expansion of the American Empire; by whatever name we give to the enemy - communist, rogue state, drug trafficker, terrorist.
You think the American Empire is against terrorists? What do you call a man who blows up an airplane killing 73 people, who attempts assassinations against several diplomats, who fires cannons at ships docked in American ports? What do you call a man who places bombs in numerous commercial and diplomatic buildings in the U.S. and abroad? Dozens of such acts. His name is Orlando Bosch, he's Cuban and he lives in Miami, unmolested by the authorities. The city of Miami once declared a day in his honor - Orlando Bosch Day. He was freed from prison in Venezuela, where he had been held for the airplane bombing, partly because of pressure from the American ambassador, Otto Reich, who earlier this year was appointed to the State Dept. by George W.
After Bosch returned to the U.S. in 1988, the Justice Dept condemned him as a totally violent terrorist and was all set to deport him, but that was blocked by President Bush, the first, with the help of son Jeb Bush in Florida. So is George W. and his family against terrorism? Well, yes, they're against those terrorists who are not allies of the empire.
The plane that Bosch bombed, by the way, was a Cuban plane. He's wanted in Cuba for that and a host of other serious crimes, and the Cubans have asked Washington to turn him over to them; to Cuba he's like Osama Bin Laden is to the United States. But the U.S. has refused. Can you imagine the reaction in Washington if bin Laden showed up in Havana and the Cubans refused to turn him over? Can you imagine the reaction in the United States if Havana proclaimed Osama Bin Laden Day?
Washington's support of genuine terrorist organizations has been very extensive. To give just a couple of examples of the past few years - The ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have carried out numerous terrorist attacks for years in various parts of the Balkans, but they've been our allies because they've attacked people out of favor with Washington.
The paramilitaries in Colombia, as vicious as they come, could not begin to carry out their dirty work without the support of the Colombian military, who are the recipients of virtually unlimited American support. This, all by itself, disqualifies Washington from leading a war against terrorism.
Bush also speaks out often and angrily against harboring terrorists. Does he really mean that? Well, what country harbors more terrorists than the United States? Orlando Bosch is only one of the numerous anti-Castro Cubans in Miami who have carried out hundreds, if not thousands of terrorist acts, in the U.S., in Cuba, and elsewhere; all kinds of arson attacks, assassinations and bombings. They have been harbored here in safety for decades. As have numerous other friendly terrorists, torturers and human rights violators from Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti, Indonesia and elsewhere, all allies of the Empire.
The CIA is looking for terrorists in caves in the mountains of Afghanistan at the same time as the Agency sits in bars in Miami having beers with terrorists.
What are we to make of all this? How are we to understand our government's foreign policy? Well, if I were to write a book called The American Empire for Dummies, page one would say: Don't ever look for the moral factor. U.S. foreign policy has no moral factor built into its DNA. Clear your mind of that baggage which only gets in the way of seeing beyond the clichés and the platitudes.
I know it's not easy for most Americans to take what I say at face value. It's not easy to swallow my message. They see our leaders on TV and their photos in the press, they see them smiling or laughing, telling jokes; see them with their families, hear them speak of God and love, of peace and law, of democracy and freedom, of human rights and justice and even baseball ... How can such people be moral monsters, how can they be called immoral?
They have names like George and Dick and Donald, not a single Mohammed or Abdullah in the bunch. And they even speak English. Well, George almost does. People named Mohammed or Abdullah cut off arms or legs as punishment for theft. We know that that's horrible. We're too civilized for that. But people named George and Dick and Donald drop cluster bombs on cities and villages, and the many unexploded ones become land mines, and before very long a child picks one up or steps on one of them and loses an arm or leg, or both arms or both legs, and sometimes their eyesight. And the cluster bombs which actually explode do their own kind of horror.
But our leaders are perhaps not so much immoral as they are amoral. It's not that they take pleasure in causing so much death and suffering. It's that they just don't care ... if that's a distinction worth making. As long as the death and suffering advance the agenda of the Empire, as long as the right people and the right corporations gain wealth and power and privilege and prestige, as long as the death and suffering aren't happening to them or people close to them ... then they just don't care about it happening to other people, including the American soldiers whom they throw into wars and who come home - the ones who make it back - with Agent Orange or Gulf War Syndrome eating away at their bodies. Our leaders would not be in the positions they hold if they were bothered by such things.
It must be great fun to be one of the leaders of an empire, glorious in fact ... intoxicating ... the feeling that you can do whatever you want to whomever you want for as long as you want for any reason you care to give ... because you have the power ... for theirs is the power and the glory.
When I was writing my book Rogue State a few years ago I used the term "American Empire," which I don't think I had seen in print before. I used the term cautiously because I wasn't sure the American public was quite ready for it. But I needn't have been so cautious. It's now being used proudly by supporters of the empire.
There's Dinesh D'Souza, the conservative intellectual at the Hoover Institution, who became well-known with his theories on the "natural" inferiority of Afro-Americans. Earlier this year, he wrote an article entitled "In praise of American empire," in which he argued that Americans must finally recognize that the U.S. "has become an empire, the most magnanimous imperial power ever."
Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment writes: "And the truth is that the benevolent hegemony exercised by the U.S. is good for a vast portion of the world's population. It is certainly a better international arrangement than all realistic alternatives."
And syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer speaks of America's "uniquely benign imperium."
So that's how people who are wedded to American foreign policy are able to live with it - they conclude, and proclaim, and may even believe, that our foreign policy is a benevolent force, an enlightened empire, bringing order, prosperity and civilized behavior to all parts of the globe, and if we're forced to go to war we conduct a humanitarian war.
Well, inasmuch as I've devoted much of my adult life to documenting in minute detail the exact opposite, to showing the remarkable cruelty and horrific effects of U.S. interventions on people in every corner of the world, you can understand, I think, that my reaction to such claims is ... Huh? These conservative intellectuals ... Is that an oxymoron? They are as amoral as the folks in the White House and the Pentagon. After all, the particles of depleted uranium are not lodging inside their lungs to keep radiating for the rest of their lives; the International Monetary Fund is not bankrupting their economy and slashing their basic services; it's not their families wandering in the desert as refugees.
The leaders of the empire, the imperial mafia - Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney and Powell and Rice and Wolfowitz and Perle - and their scribes as well, are as fanatic and as fundamentalist as Osama Bin Laden. And the regime change they accomplished in Afghanistan has really gone to their heads. Today Kabul, tomorrow the world.
So get used to it, world. The American Empire. Soon to be a major motion picture, coming to a theatre near you.
A while ago, I heard a union person on the radio proposing what he called "a radical solution to poverty - pay people enough to live on." Well, I'd like to propose a radical solution to anti-American terrorism - stop giving terrorists the motivation to attack America.
Now our leaders and often our media would have us believe that we're targeted because of our freedom, our democracy, our wealth, our modernity, our secular government, our simple goodness, and other stories suitable for schoolbooks. George W. is still repeating these clichés a year after 9-11. Well, he may believe it but other officials have known better for some time. A Department of Defense study in 1997 concluded: "Historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States."
Jimmy Carter, some years after he left the White House, was unambiguous in his agreement with such a conclusion. He said:
We sent Marines into Lebanon and you only have to go to Lebanon, to Syria or to Jordan to witness first-hand the intense hatred among many people for the United States because we bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers - women and children and farmers and housewives -- in those villages around Beirut. ... As a result of that ... we became kind of a Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful. That is what precipitated the taking of our hostages and that is what has precipitated some of the terrorist attacks.
The terrorists responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 sent a letter to the New York Times which stated, in part: "We declare our responsibility for the explosion on the mentioned building. This action was done in response for the American political, economical, and military support to Israel the state of terrorism and to the rest of the dictator countries in the region." And finally, several members of al Qaeda have repeatedly made it quite plain in the past year that it's things like U.S. support of Israeli massacres and the bombing of Iraq that makes them hate the United States.
I present more evidence of the same sort in one of my books along with a long list of U.S. actions in the Middle East that has created hatred of American foreign policy.
I don't think, by the way, that poverty plays much of a role in creating terrorists. We shouldn't confuse terrorism with revolution.
And the attacks are not going to end until we stop bombing innocent people and devastating villages and grand old cities and poisoning the air and the gene pool with depleted uranium. The attacks are not going to end until we stop supporting gross violators of human rights who oppress their people, until we stop doing a whole host of terrible things. We'll keep on adding to the security operations that's turning our society into a police state, and it won't make us much safer.
It's not just people in the Middle East who have good reason for hating what our government does; we've created huge numbers of potential terrorists all over Latin America during a half century of American actions far worse than what we've done in the Middle East. I think that if Latin Americans shared the belief of many Muslims that they will go directly to heaven for giving up their life and acting as a martyr against the great enemy, by now we would have had decades of repeated terrorist horror coming from south of the border. As it is, there have been many non-suicidal terrorist attacks against Americans and their buildings in Latin America over the years.
There's also the people of Asia and Africa. The same story.
The State Department recently held a conference on how to improve America's image abroad in order to reduce the level of hatred; image is what they're working on, not change of policies.
But the policies scorecard reads as follows: From 1945 to the end of the century, the United States attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist movements fighting against insufferable regimes. In the process, the U.S. bombed about 25 countries, caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair.
If I were the president, I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently. I would first apologize - very publicly and very sincerely - to all the widows and orphans, the tortured and impoverished, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism. Then I would announce that America's global interventions have come to an end and inform Israel that it is no longer the 51st state of the union but - believe it or not - a foreign country. I would then reduce the military budget by at least 90 percent and use the savings to pay reparations to our victims and repair the damage from our bombings. There would be enough money. Do you know what one year's military budget is equal to? One year. It's equal to more than $20,000 per hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born.
That's what I'd do on my first three days in the White House. On the fourth day, I'd be assassinated.
On page two of The American Empire for Dummies, I'd put this in a box outlined in bright red: Following its bombing of Iraq, the United States wound up with military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Following its bombing of Yugoslavia, the United States wound up with military bases in Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Hungary, Bosnia and Croatia.
Following its bombing of Afghanistan, the United States is now winding up with military bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and perhaps elsewhere in the region.
That's not very subtle, is it? Not really covert. The men who run the empire are not easily embarrassed. And that's the way the empire grows, a base on every corner, ready to be mobilized to put down any threat to imperial rule, real or imagined. Fifty-seven years after World War II ended, the U.S. still has major bases in Germany and Japan; and 49 years after the Korean War ended, the U.S. military is still in Korea.
A Pentagon report of a few years ago said: Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere ... we must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.
The bombing, invasion and occupation of Afghanistan have served the purpose of setting up a new government that will be sufficiently amenable to Washington's international objectives, including the installation of military bases and communications listening stations and, perhaps most important of all, the running of secure oil and gas pipelines through Afghanistan from the Caspian Sea region, which I'm sure many of you have heard about.
For years, the American oil barons have had their eyes on the vast oil and gas reserves of the Caspian Sea area, ideally with an Afghanistan-Pakistan route to the Indian Ocean, thus keeping Russia and Iran out of the picture. The oilmen have been quite open about this, giving very frank testimony before Congress for example.
Now they have their eyes on the even greater oil reserves of Iraq. If the U.S. overthrows Saddam Hussein and installs a puppet government, as they did in Afghanistan, the American oil companies will move into Iraq and have a feast and the American empire will add another country and a few more bases.
Or as General William Looney, the head of the U.S.-U.K. operation that flies over Iraq and bombs them every few days, said several years ago: If they turn on their radars we're going to blow up their goddamn missiles. They know we own their country. We own their airspace. ... We dictate the way they live and talk. And that's what's great about America right now. It's a good thing, especially when there's a lot of oil out there we need.
We've gone through a few months now of a song and dance show that passes for debate, a debate about whether to attack a sovereign nation that has not attacked us, that has not threatened to attack us, that knows it would mean instant mass suicide for them if they attacked us. This debate is absurd not simply because Iraq is not a threat - by now, even the Martians must know that - but because our imperial mafia know that Iraq is not a threat, at all. They've been telling us one story after another about why Iraq is a threat, an imminent threat, a nuclear threat, a threat increasing in danger with each passing day, that Iraq is a terrorist state, that Iraq is tied to al Qaeda, only to have each story amount to nothing; they told us for a long time that Iraq must agree to having the weapons inspectors back in, and when Iraq agreed to this they said "No, no, that isn't good enough." How soon before they blame the horror in Bali on Iraq?
Does any of this make sense? This sudden urgency of fighting a war in the absence of a fight? It does, I suggest, only if you understand that this is not about Saddam Hussein and his evilness, or his weapons, or terrorism. What it's about is that the empire is still hungry and wants to eat Iraq and its oil and needs to present excuses to satisfy gullible people. And then they want to eat Iran. And then? ... I understand when George W. was asked: "Who next?" he said "Whatever."
The empire, in case you missed it, is not content with merely the earth; the empire has been officially extended to outer space. The Pentagon proudly admits this and they have a nice name for it. They call it "full-spectrum dominance," and for years now they've been planning to fight wars in space, from space, and into space. And that's a quote.
And if you're wondering "Why now?" about Iraq. I think - as many have said - that the coming election plays a role. It's going to decide which party will control congress and there's nothing like a lot of talk about war and defending America to sway voters, and make them forget about the economy and health care at the same time.
In addition to all the absurdities and lies they've been throwing at us, what I've found most remarkable and disturbing about this period has been the great absence in the mass media of the simple reminder that a U.S. attack upon Iraq means bombs falling on people, putting an end to homes, schools, hospitals, jobs, futures. The discussion has focused almost entirely on whether or not to go after the evil Saddam and his supposed evil weapons. What it all means in terms of human suffering is scarcely considered worthy of attention. Is that not odd?
Also absent from the discussion is that over the course of several years in the 1990s, the U.N. inspectors found and destroyed huge amounts of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq. I'm sure that most Americans are convinced that Saddam got away with hiding virtually all his weapons and that he'll get away with it again if there's a resumption of the inspections. But that's not what happened. Scott Ritter, chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, recently stated that "since 1998 Iraq has been fundamentally disarmed; 90-95 percent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have been verifiably eliminated. This includes all of the factories used to produce chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and long-range ballistic missiles; the associated equipment of these factories; and the vast majority of the products coming out of these factories."
And we have similar testimony from others who were involved in the inspections.
Each of the big American bombing campaigns carries its own myths with it, but none so big as the one before last. I must remind you of that.
We were told that the U.S./NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 was to save the people of Kosovo from ethnic cleansing by the Serbs. And since the ethnic cleansing finally came to an end, the bombing seems to have worked. Right? First there was the ethnic cleansing, then came the bombing, then came the end of the ethnic cleansing. What could be simpler? I'm sure that about 90 percent of those Americans who think about such things firmly believe that, including many of you, I imagine.
But it was all a lie. The bombing didn't end the ethnic cleansing. The bombing caused the ethnic cleansing! The systematic forced deportations of large numbers of Kosovars - what we call ethnic cleansing - did not begin until about two days after the bombing began, and was clearly a reaction to it by the Serb forces, born of great anger and feelings of powerlessness due to the heavy bombardment. This is easily verified by looking at a daily newspaper for the few days before the bombing began the night of March 23/24, and the few days after. Or simply look at the New York Times of March 26, page 1, which reads:
... with the NATO bombing already begun, a deepening sense of fear took hold in Pristina [the main city of Kosovo] that the Serbs would NOW vent their rage against ethnic Albanian civilians in retaliation. The next day, March 27, we find the first reference to a "forced march" or anything of that sort.
How is it possible that such a powerful lie could be told to the American people and that the people would swallow it without gagging? One reason is that the media don't explicitly point out the lies; at best you have to read between the lines.
There's the story from the Cold War about a group of Russian writers touring the United States. They were astonished to find, after reading the newspapers and watching television, that almost all the opinions on all the vital issues were the same. "In our country," said one of them, "to get that result we have a dictatorship. We imprison people. We torture them. Here you have none of that. How do you do it? What's the secret?"
Can any of you name a single American daily newspaper that unequivocally opposed the U.S.-NATO bombing of Yugoslavia three years ago?
Can any of you name a single American daily newspaper that unequivocally opposed the U.S. bombing of Iraq eleven years ago?
Can any of you name a single American daily newspaper that unequivocally opposed the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan?
Isn't that remarkable? In a supposedly free society, with a supposedly free press, with about 1500 daily newspapers, the odds should be way against that being the case. But that's the way it is.
I suppose that now some of you would like me to tell you how to put an end to all these terrible and absurd things I've talked about. Well, good luck to all of us.
I could say that personally I proceed from the assumption that if enough people understand what their government is doing and the harm that it causes, at some point the number of such people will reach critical mass and some changes can be effectuated. But that may well be a long way off. I hope I live to see it.
I'm sure that if all Americans could see their government's bomb victims up close, see the body fragments, smell the burning flesh, see the devastated homes and lives and communities, there would be a demand to end such horror so powerful that even the imperial mafia madmen couldn't ignore it. But how to get Americans to see the victims? I and many of you don't need to see those terrible sights to be opposed to the madmen's policies, but most Americans do. If we could figure out why we have this deep empathy for the victims, this imagination, it might be a very good organizing tool.
Gandhi once said that "Almost anything you do will be insignificant, but you must do it." And the reason I must do it is captured by yet another adage, cited by various religious leaders: "We do these things not to change the world, but so that the world will not change us."
Sam Smith, a journalist in Washington, whom some of you are familiar with, in his new book makes the point that "Those who think history has left us helpless should recall the abolitionist of 1830, the feminist of 1870, the labor organizer of 1890, and the gay or lesbian writer of 1910. They, like us, did not get to choose their time in history but they, like us, did get to choose what they did with it."
He then asks: Knowing what we know now about how certain things turned out, but also knowing how long it took, would we have been abolitionists in 1830, or feminists in 1870, and so on?
We don't know what surprises history has in store for us when we give history a little shove, just as history can give each of us a little shove personally. In the 1960s, I was working at the State Department, my heart set on becoming a Foreign Service Officer. Little did I know that I would soon become a ranting and raving commie-pinko-subversive-enemy of all that is decent and holy because a thing called Vietnam came along. So there is that kind of hope as well.
Let me close with two of the laws of politics which came out of the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, which I like to cite:
The First Watergate Law of American Politics states: "No matter how paranoid you are, what the government is actually doing is worse than you imagine."
The Second Watergate Law states: "Don't believe anything until it's been officially denied."
Both laws are still on the books.
¤ The World's Only Superpower
[William Blum left the U.S. State Department in 1967, abandoning his aspiration of becoming a Foreign Service Officer, because of his opposition to what the United States was doing in Vietnam. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower, and West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Political Memoir.]
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