The Bloody Road to Empire

An interview with William Blum

by David Ross
Arcata, California


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 success.

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 the land.

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 future.

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 e-mail address, 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 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

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