The Bloody Road to Empire
An interview with William Blum
by David Ross
William Blum quit his job at the State Department in 1967
because of his opposition to the U.S. governmentís war
in Vietnam. He became a freelance journalist and author exposing
U.S. malfeasance around the world, culminating in his all encompassing
and extensively documented book, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and
CIA Intervention Since World War II. Noam Chomsky, reportedly
the most quoted scholar in the world, lauded Killing Hope. The
first edition, he wrote, was far and away the best book on the
topic. Blum's latest book, Rouge State: A Guide to the Worlds
Only Superpower, further exposes the dirty underbelly of the U.S.
Empire. Both books are must read material.
David Ross: In Killing Hope you have fifty-four chapters
on different interventions by the U.S. government into sovereign
countries around the world.
William Blum: Well, many of the chapters deal with multiple
interventions. There are probably well over a hundred separate
and serious interventions by the U.S. government into maybe seventy
or eighty countries, in which I deal with.
DR: How do you define an intervention?
Blum: Well, Iíve confined it to serious interventions.
I donít want to be accused of being picayune, of criticizing
our government for every little foible or statement. I'm talking
about the attempt to overthrow governments, whether successful
or not, suppressing popular revolutions, or popular movements,
against very suppressive governments. I'm talking about assassinations,
about serious interference in foreign elections, great manipulation
of the media, subverting labor unions, things like that. Those
are the elements, some of whichóor sometimes all of them
are included in the interventions which I deal with.
DR: Let's talk about your chapter on Greece 1947 to early
1950's: From Cradle of Democracy to Client State Now, a lot of
people don't know that the U.S. Government intervened in Greece.
Blum: Well, the average American is unaware of the great
bulk of the case studies in my book. Which is why I wrote it.
I felt there was a big gap to be filled. Greece was one example
of about half a dozen after the Second World War where the U.S.
took the side of its supposed former enemies, aiding people who
had been Nazis or had served the Nazis, or the Japanese. There
are at least half a dozen of these countries. And in the case
of Greece, there was a civil war going on. On one side you had
the Greek right wing, which had actively corroborated with the
Nazis who had occupied Greece during the war. On the other side
you had the left, which had fought against the Nazis and had successfully
forced them to leave the country. Now, which of those two sides
do you think the U.S. government took? Of course the side which
had been pro-Nazi. What the U.S. government feared most was a
left wing, socialist, or communist government anywhere in the
worldóincluding Europe, of courseóand they had to
suppress that in its infancy.
DR: That's the threat to the powers that be, in generalóany
type of a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.
Blum: Right. Well, any place in the world where there has
been the possibility of a successful example to the capitalist
model, thatís where the U.S. has intervened. And that's
why they have been so unrelenting in their hostility towards Cuba.
Cuba was seen immediately as a possible successful example to
the capitalist model, and so the U.S. policy has been aimed at
making sure that the Cuba revolution could not be successful,
and they have caused it untold harm, in a thousand ways. And
weíll never know what the Cuban revolution might have turned
into, because the U.S. made life so impossible for it. But even
so, for decadesóand even todayóthe Cuba revolution
has inspired people all over the third world. So the U.S. has
been quite right from this point of view in seeing that the Cuba
revolution threatened to be a good example which would inspire
other third world people, and that has been the motivation behind
their intervention. And I can name two-dozen other places where
the same motivation came into play to suppress any such possible
DR: Thatís what Noam Chomsky wrote about the independence
movement in Vietnam. It was the threat of a ìgood example.
Blum: Right. And I would say, as would Chomsky, that contrary
to common belief, the U.S. did not lose the war in Vietnamóit
succeeded in achieving its purposeóto make sure that Vietnam
would be a basket case, as they made sure Iraq would be a basket
case, and in 1999, they made sure that Yugoslavia would be a basket
case. We turn any possible good example into a basket case, and
thatís the crux of our foreign policy. Which is very hard
for the average American to believe. They canít believe
that their government can be so malicious-minded, and they call
people like me a conspiracy nut, because Iíve applied a
connection between these apparently far-removed eventsóand
my book shows a great connection.
DR: How about your chapter on Chile. In 1964 to 1973 the
U.S Government intervened, you sub-titled the chapter: ìA
Hammer and Sickle Stamped on Your Childís Forehead?
Blum: That was a poster put up in Chile by the right wing,
implying that if Salvador Allende was victorious and became President,
that the children of Chile would have a hammer and sickle stamped
on their foreheads. That was a major intervention by the U.S.,
again, to prevent a good example. In fact, this particular example
carried with it a very additional special threat, here, it would
not even be a revolution, which is a result of a coup, but it
would be the result of a legal, democratic, and fair election.
And this would be totally contrary to all that we have been taught
about in the cold war about communism, or so-called communismóthat
they can take power only through violence, and they can retain
power only through great suppression and oppression of the population.
And here you had a man, Salvador Allende, who had won a free
election, and in the course of his three-years-plus in power,
his party had significantly increased its share of the vote.
And it was after the last election, in 1973, when the U.S. government
and their Chilean allies saw that they would be unable to defeat
Allendeís socialist party in elections, they knew the only
recourse was a coup. And the CIA had been prepping the military
for three years to make them hostile to the governmentóin
countless waysóand to create chaos in the society, economic
chaos, which would give the military the excuse to take power.
It worked just as they intended.
DR: How about your chapter on ìGuatemala 1962 to 1980ís:
A Less Publicized ëFinal Solution?
Blum: Final Solution, which is, of course, a reference to
the holocaust. What has been done to the people of Guatemala,
and particularly the Native Indian population, is every bit as
horrible as what was done to the Jews in Europe. We donít
hear about it much; we certainly donít call it a holocaust,
because our side did it with great support by the U.S. governmentóall
the wayófor forty years. In 1954 we overthrew a legally
elected government, a very benevolent government; a social democratic
government, we would call it today. We overthrew that, and for
forty years, almost, the level of horror in Guatemala set all
kinds of records, for this sad world.
DR: Iíve read that over two hundred thousand people
were killed in Guatemala. Now, this was in support of United
Brands Fruit, which became Chiquita Banana?
Blum: Initially. One of the main instigations of the coup
was the fact that the government there wanted to use some of the
unused land of the fruit company for more social purposes. The
United Fruit Company happened to be very well connected to the
Eisenhower administration. They were close to John Foster Dulles,
Allen Dulles, and Eisenhowerís aides. It was an amazing
connection that they had there. The result was that the government
of Guatemala, led by Arbenz, was overthrown fairly easilyóas
is the case with banana republics, of course, and that was the
beginning of the end of the people of Guatemala. And itís
still going on, I mean, even though, officially, the State Department
would say that Guatemala is now a free country, the death squads
still act with impunity, the U.S. government still arms and trains
the military, which carries out its hostile acts against the population.
The poor are as poor as ever, and so on; there hasnít
been any change at all.
DR: The British Empire ruled through direct Imperialism,
installing their British mandates. After World War II, the U.S.
government took over, and used a policy of Neo-Imperialism, or
Neo-Colonialism where they supported puppet dictators throughout
the world and didnít directly rule.
Blum: Right, exactly, thatís much better for their
PR, so they can say that they are not imperialists. They say,
ìWell, we donít have a Governor General running
the place, you know, itís these independent people.î
Yeah. The U.S. is the inventor and the perfecter of advertising
and public relations( they know how to manipulate world opinion
like no one has come even close to, especially the American public.
It is remarkable, in light of all that has been documentedóin
my book and elsewhereóthat the average American still cannot
believe that his government or her government means ill. They
think the motivation is always to help other people. They can
criticize certain policies for being foolish or mistaken, or even
causing more harm than good, but they donít question the
motivation. Theyíre convinced, down to their very toes
that our government means well. And my new book is inspired by
that beliefóI mean, in particular, last yearís bombing
of Yugoslavia, which we were told was an act in humanitarianism.
My book, ìRogue Stateî, was written in response
to that. Itís in effect a mini-encyclopedia of all the
unhumanitarian acts of the U.S. government over the past sixty
years or so. Itís aimed at those Americans who are so
convinced that we mean well.
DR: ìRouge State: A Guide to the Worlds Only Superpowerî
came out in May 2000. In it you have a chapter on war criminals.
You state that our former President, Bill Clinton, has committed
war crimes. Why, do you think, could Bill Clinton be successfully
prosecuted as a war criminal?
Blum: Well, for what he did to the people of Yugoslavia alone.
Itís very unknown in this nation that during the bombing
of Yugoslavia and afterwards, legal scholars of several nations,
including the U.S., U.K., Greece, and Norway filed briefs with
the tribunal in the Hague which was set up to try the war criminals
in the former Yugoslavia. They named in these briefs, all the
leaders of NATOófrom Clinton and Blair on down to Havel
of Czechoslovakiaóand gave great detail about the nature
of these war crimes. They showed exactly how they had violated
human rights, and had committed crimes against humanity, and other
things which have been covered under Nuremberg, and which were
being applied to Serbians and others in Yugoslaviaóthe
former Yugoslaviaóbut not to NATO. And the tribunal in
The Hague, it turns out, was formed under U.S. instigation, and
itís being financed completely by NATO powers. So the
chance of this tribunal indicting any member of NATO is almost
nil. Itís not really a legal body, itís a political
body and thatís the way itís been acting. I go
into some detail about the suits filed against NATO by these legal
scholars, which has been ignored by the tribunal.
DR: In Iraq, additionally, thereís an ongoing genocide.
1.5 million civilians have died since 1991 as a result of the
sanctions according to UNICEF reports and the Red Cross. The
U.S. government, predominately, has directed and executed this
deadly sanctions regime; these too, of course, are war crimes.
You canít just kill civilians in large numbers, as agreed
upon in the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Convention, and the Nuremberg
Tribunal. These are international treaties, the supreme law of
Blum: The U.S. has been guilty of dozens of war crimes.
There have been multiple places where theyíve been guilty
of that. The bombing of Panama, the average American has no idea
what happened there. It was outrageous. It was a totally unprovoked,
the bombing of a people who had not threatened or attacked the
U.S. in any way. They bombed a large area of poor neighborhoodsóalways
the pooróand they killed hundreds, or thousands, probably,
they made many more thousands homeless. And all for reasons which
they wonít admit, but I go into them in my chapter on Panama,
in ìKilling Hope.î
DR: Noriega was on the CIA payroll under George Bush. He
was getting two hundred thousand a year, I believe, but he got
out of line, and he started supporting the Sandinistas. The U.S.
Government was also worried about the Panama Canal. Is that correct?
Blum: I donít think he was the main reason at all
for the invasionóthatís just the excuse they gave.
They needed to use an excuse like that because the man was/is
a known obnoxious individual who dealt in drugs and so on, and
was very brutal with his own people. He was an easy target to
choose as the excuse. But there were much more important excuses,
including the fact that in two months after the invasion, there
was an election scheduled in Nicaragua, and this was a warning
to the people of that country that if they voted to in favor of
the Sandinistas, that they might face the same kind of punishment,
the same kind of invasion. That was one reason. Another main
reason was that this invasion took place just two weeks after
the Berlin Wall came down, and there was a danger to the Pentagon,
and their allies, that they would not have any enemy to fatten
their budget and to keep their jobs. They needed enemies, and
they needed to show that there was still a need for a powerful
military. And so they staged this invasion to show that the military
was still a powerful force, and could do all kinds of marvelous
things. Those are some of the real reasons for the invasion.
Noriega was unimportant.
DR: What are the structures of the mass media in the United
States that filter out the facts that you document in your books?
Blum: Well, itís personnel; I mean, whom do they hire?
The Washington Postówhich I mention because I live in
Washington, DCóthey would not hire someone like me to be
a writer. Someone like me would never want to write for them,
because I know I would be censored. And so you have two safeguards
there to guarantee that the Washington Post will wind up with
people writing for them who share their world-view. And the people
who hire the writers of course accept this world-view, or they
would not be the editors or executives if they didnít.
And these papers are owned by multinational corporations who
certainly share their view. So the game is fixed. Once you start
with such ownership and such personnel, youíve guaranteed
that youíre not going to have a staff of writers who question
the foreign policy status quo.
DR: Theyíre also dependent on advertising, which comes
from the big corporations, in general.
Blum: Right. Well, the Post can be often fairly liberal
when it comes to domestic issues. But I maintain that itís
foreign policy, which separates the men from the boys when discussing
peopleís politics or their ideology. The Post can accept,
and they do have stories fairly often about poverty in America,
and the lack of health care, and often things like that, but when
it comes to foreign policy, I doubt if you can find a single daily
newspaper in the United States which unequivocally opposed the
invasion or the bombing of Yugoslavia, or unequivocally opposed
the bombing of Iraq, or the invasion of Panama, or Granada. These
are sacrosanctóthese foreign invasions. When ìour
boys are putting their lives on the line,î the media holds
its tongue. And even though weíve reached the stage where
our boys are seldom putting their lives on the line at all(weíre
bombing from fifteen thousand feet above the victims, and thereís
no danger to our boys, our great heroes. So even thatís
passÈ. But the media is quite conditioned to keep their
lips sealed when it comes to any kind of foreign warfare.
DR: Weíre told in the U.S. that we have a democracy
here. Who really controls U.S. foreign policy?
Blum: Well, the Pentagon, again, itís a question of
personnelólike with the newspapers. Whoís going
to be hired by the State Department, or the Pentagon? I, myself,
at one time worked for the State Department.
This was during the war in Vietnam(and I was opposed to the
war. I was trained to be a Foreign Service officer, and I became
very much opposed to the war in Vietnam, and I began to be very
active in the anti-war movement while I was still employed at
the State Department. Of course, eventually the people there
in security found out about my activities, and I was called in,
and I was advised that I would be, well, it was suggested that
I would be happier in the private sector. And, well, I had planned
to leave anyhow, so I left. Thereís no room for
any kind of dissidence in these agencies. I had a friend who worked
for the Washington Post for years, and he quit because he couldnít
take the politics. So occasionally some people are going slip
through the filters, people who donít belong in these institutions,
thatís bound to happen. But they will either be fired,
or theyíll quit in disgust. So you wind up with personnel
who are True Believers, and thatís why these policies continue.
DR: Is it the super-rich, the top one percent or the top
percentile of that that are determining policy?
Blum: Well, no, itís not just them. I mean, many
of the True Believers are not rich, but they are fanatic ideologues,
and they have important positions in the foreign policy establishment.
They donít have to be rich to hold such views. Anyone
whoís raised in this society is well indoctrinated to have
certain beliefs, whether theyíre rich or whether theyíre
poor. Now, the policies in the end are carried out to make life
easy for the American multinationalóto make the world safe
for their investments, and to eliminate as much friction and opposition
in the Third World to such investments as they can. So itís
to their benefit, but they are not the only ones who are holding
these positions in these agencies.
DR: What alternative models of government can activist strive
for that would replace this model that we have thatís intervening
militarily in countless countries around the world?
Blum: Well, this has to be done in stages, thereís
no choice. I mean, Iím a socialist, and I can answer your
question by saying I would love to see an American form of socialism,
but thatís not going to happen in my lifetime, or even
in my sonís lifetime. I think all we can hope for in the
reasonable future is the kind of society that someone like Ralph
Nader is in favor of: Heís pushing for highly increased
democracy. Heís not a socialist, as far as I know. But
heís certainly a believer in true democracy, and that would
make a major change in all kinds of policies if we could institute
that. So thatís all we can hope for in the foreseeable
DR: Noam Chomsky has written that the Soviet Union was not
socialist at all; it quickly became a bureaucratic dictatorship
after the revolution. And some of the socialist organizations
say that thereís never been an example of socialism yet.
Would you agree with that?
Blum: There hasnít been a real good example because
the U.S. government and some of its allies have made sure there
hasnít. Thatís what I was saying before. In fact,
in the entire twentieth century, every significant or even half-significant
attempt at building a socialist society anywhere in the world
has been invaded, destabilized, overthrown, bombed, or just had
life simply made impossible for it, by the U.S. government, and,
in some cases, some other allies. The U.S. invaded the Soviet
Union, they invaded Cuba, and they have not made life feasible
for socialism anywhere in the world. And so we have never had
any attempt at socialism, which has been allowed to rise or fall
on its own merits. We have not had that example. Weíll
never know what the Soviet Union would have been if it had not
been subjected to the most hostile of worlds. I mean, for the
first twenty years of its existence, it was not even recognized
by any other country(in the West, at least. And besides, the
invasion by fourteen nationsóhow many Americans are aware
of thatófourteen nations including the U.S., France, the
UK and so on staged a major invasion of the Soviet Union from
1918 to 1920. The U.S. suffered five thousand casualties in that
invasion. And the main instigator of this invasion was Winston
Churchill of England, who was quite open about what he had in
mind. He wanted toóas he wrote lateróìstrangle
Bolshevism in its cradle.î
DR: How can people get a hold of you and your books?
Blum: Well, they can call my publisher. Common Courage Press
of Maine publishes both books, and their number to order books
is 1-800-497-3207. Or it would be easier to write to me at my
firstname.lastname@example.org. And I can tell them how to get the book from
me at a cheaper price than they would get it from my publisher,
in fact, and I would sign it. Some chapters of my books can be
perused at http://members.aol.com/bblum6/American_holocaust.htm.
Note the capital A, and the underline after American.
David Ross is a grassroots activist from Northern California
who has worked with the Redwood Peace Coalition to expose U.S.
malfeasance in Yugoslavia. He has also worked to pass Measure
F, a proposal for two town hall meetings, and the formation of
an official committee instituted to ensure democratic control
over corporations conducting business within the city of Arcata.
He can be reached at email@example.com.