Empire at Home
excerpted from the book
Freeing the World to Death
essays on the american empire
by William Blum
Common Courage Press, 2005, paper
Conversations (sort of) with Americans
One of the joys of being an author, of
being interviewed and having many essays floating around the Internet,
is that it brings me into contact with a lot of swell folks I
wouldn't otherwise be in touch with: morons, Jesus freaks, New
Agers babbling about "the pure rhythm of the essence of the
universal life force", those whose idea of intellectualism
is turning off the TV for an hour, those who have swallowed the
American Dream and the American Empire whole without even spitting
out the pits, those who believe that any foreigner with half a
brain would rather be an American... the whole primitive underbelly
of this supposedly rational society. In sum total, a group that
represents one of the 12 signs that the world is ending.
My contact with these charmers arises
when they call in questions during radio interviews, or sometimes
it's the person who's actually interviewing me. They also pop
up in audiences I speak before, but mostly it's via email that
I have the pleasure of encountering their fine minds.
I'm waiting to receive my first e-mail
with anthrax in it. Well, there are viruses in e-mail, why not
When New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman
called the anti-globalization demonstrators in Seattle "a
Noah's ark of flat-earth advocates", Noam Chomsky observed:
"From his point of view that's probably correct. From the
point of view of slave owners, people opposed to slavery probably
looked that way."
And that's the way that people like me
and Noam look to my interrogators. Honed to an unusual deadness
of perception by years of Monday night football, Fox News Channel,
the local tabloid, and Rush Limbaugh, they are scarcely aware
that large numbers of people simply do not think the way they
do, that there's an alternative universe of facts and opinions
out there. Inasmuch as their core political and social beliefs
reflect the dominant ideology in the United States, they are not
challenged as often as those on the left are. They thus tend to
take their beliefs for granted and are not used to defending them
as much as the left is, are not as practiced at it. I think the
hostile manner in which they first engage me stems partly from
the shock that such people like me even exist and are actually
speaking to them over one of their favorite radio programs, or
that words written by such a person have found their way to their
Internet mailbox. To them, I've just stepped off the number 36
bus from Mars. And I'm upsetting their tranquility. I may even
I present here several fragments of my
conversations with these lovely creatures as well as some typical
questions from other types.
Q. Why do you hate America so much?
A: What do you mean by "hating America"?
Are you asking me if I hate every building in America, every park,
every person, every baseball team? Just what do you mean? What
I hate, actually, is American foreign policy, what the United
States does to the world.
Q. If you don't like the United States
why don't you leave?
A. Because I'm committed to fighting US
foreign policy, the greatest threat to peace and happiness in
the world, and being in the United States is the best place for
carrying out the battle. This is the belly of the beast, and I
try to be an ulcer inside of it.
Q. What other country is better than the
A. In what respect?
Q. In any respect.
A. Well, let's start with education. In
much of Western Europe university education is free or considerably
more affordable than here; even in poor Cuba it's free. Then there's
[Note: I think that the people who ask
this question truly believe that there's no good answer to their
challenge; my response invariably marks the end of the dialogue.]
Q. Do you regard yourself as patriotic?
A. Well, I guess you're speaking of some
kind of blind patriotism, but even if you have a more balanced
view of it, what you're thinking about me would still be correct.
I'm not patriotic. In fact, I don't want to be patriotic. I'd
go so far as to say that I'm patriotically challenged. Many people
on the left, now as in the 1960s, do not want to concede the issue
of patriotism to the conservatives. The left insists that they
are the real patriots because of demanding that the United States
lives up to its professed principles. That's all well and good,
but I'm not one of those leftists. I don't think that patriotism
is one of the more noble sides of mankind. George Bernard Shaw
wrote that patriotism is the conviction that your country is superior
to all others because you were born in it.
Q. Do you think the United States has
ever done anything good in the world? How about World War Two?
Would you have fought in that war?
A. Okay, get ready to scream now. If I
had been old enough, and knowing what I know now, I would have
been glad to fight against fascism, but I would not have been
enthused about fighting for the United States, or for the United
States government to be more precise. Our leaders bore a great
responsibility for the outbreak of the world war by abandoning
the Spanish republic in the civil war. Hitler, Mussolini and the
Spanish fascists under Franco all combined to overthrow the republican
government, while the United States, Great Britain, France and
the rest of the world, except the Soviet Union and a couple of
others, stood by; worse than standing by, American corporations,
like the oil companies and General Motors, were aiding the fascist
At the same time, the US and Britain refused
the entreaties of the Soviet Union to enter into some sort of
mutual defense pact. The Russians knew that Hitler would eventually
invade them, but that was fine with the Western powers who were
nudging Adolf eastward at Munich. (It was collusion, not appeasement.)
This finally forced the Soviets into their pact with Hitler, to
be able to stall for time while they built up their defenses.
Hitler derived an important lesson from all this. He saw that
for the West, the real enemy was not fascism, it was communism
and socialism, so he proceeded accordingly. Stalin got the same
message. Hitler was in power for nine years before the United
States went to war with him-hardly a principled stand against
fascism-and then it was because Germany declared war on the United
States, not the other way around.
[When the subject is Iraq and the questioner
has no other argument left to defend US policy there, at least
at the moment, I may be asked:]
Q. Just tell me one thing, are you glad
that Saddam Hussein is out of power?
A. No. Tell me, if you went into surgery
to correct a knee problem and the surgeon mistakenly amputated
your entire leg, what would you think if someone then asked you:
Are you glad that you no longer have a knee problem? Of course
you wouldn't be glad. The cost to you would not be worth it. It's
the same with the Iraqi people, the cost of the bombing, invasion,
occupation, and daily violence and humiliation has been a terrible
price to pay for the removal of Hussein, whom many Iraqis actually
Q. Don't you realize that the wars you
criticize give you the freedom to say all the crap that comes
out of your mouth?
A. Oh that's just a conservative cliché.
Our wars are not fought for any American's freedom. There's been
no threat to our freedom of speech from abroad, only at home,
like the Red Scare, McCarthyism, Cointelpro, and The Patriot Act.
Q. Why do you put down the establishment
'media so much when you cite them so often as your source?
A. The main shortcoming of the establishment
media lies in errors of omission, much more than errors of commission.
It's not that they tell bald lies so much as it is that they leave
out parts of stories or entire stories, or historical reminders,
which if included might put the issue in a whole new light, in
a way not compatible with their political biases. Or they may
include all the facts, leading to an obvious interpretation, but
leave out suggesting an alternative interpretation of the same
facts which stands the first interpretation on its head. But the
information they do report is often quite usable for my purposes.
Q. You make no distinctions among US presidents
since World War Two. Do you put Truman in the same category as
A. There have been all kinds of differences
in the political views of the administrations from Truman to Bush
Jr. but virtually all the significant differences concerned domestic
issues. In foreign policy, they were all habitually interventionist,
brutal, fanatically anti-communist, concerned mainly with making
the world safe for US multinational corporations, and unconcerned
about human rights (although they all paid a great deal of lip
service to the concept). Truman was a major architect of the Cold
War. Clinton's bombing of Yugoslavia was just as illegal, immoral
and based on lies as Bush, Jr's bombings of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Q. So much of what you say just builds
a wall between people, blaming one side for everything. Don't
you think that we all share the blame and that you should stop
thinking in simplistic terms of US and THEM?
A. I've been an activist since Vietnam,
and you can't blame me or people like me for Vietnam, any more
than you can blame us for Iraq, or all the other bloody American
interventions in between. WE have been protesting what THEY have
been doing for decades. THEY make their decisions and Congress
is in bed with them and WE have virtually nothing to say in the
matter. And don't tell me to elect different people to Congress
unless you're prepared to provide a billion dollars to change
the many state laws making it so difficult for third parties to
get on the ballot; and that would be only a tiny first step.
"Is there anything the US government tells you about foreign
policy that you don't believe?"
... America's state religion: patriotism, a phenomenon which has
convinced many of the citizenry that "treason" is morally
worse than murder or rape...
Patriotism, like religion, meets people's need for something greater
to which their individual lives can be anchored.
Winning Hearts and Mindless
[The Ecologist, London), September 2003]
Since the United States thumbed its nose
at the world by invading Iraq, the burning question among the
ranks of the anti- war movement here as well as elsewhere has
been: How do we stop the monster before it kills again?
In the absence of European and Arab governments
showing a lot more courage to stand up to the empire, it's the
American people we have to look to, for no one has the potential
leverage over the monster than the monster's own children have.
And that's the problem, for the American people are...well .,.how
can one put this delicately? ...like one in every 50 adult Americans
claims a UFO abduction experience; a National Science Board survey
found that 27 percent of adults believe the sun revolves around
the earth; according to a Gallup poll 68 percent believe in the
devil (12 percent are unsure); and most Americans believe God
There are all kinds of intelligence in
this world: musical, scientific, mathematical, artistic, academic,
literary, and so on. Then there's political intelligence, which
might be defined as the ability to see through the bullshit which
every society, past, ç present and future, feeds its citizens
from birth on to assure the continuance of the prevailing ideology.
Polls conducted in June showed that 42%
of Americans believed that Iraq had a direct involvement in what
happened ( on 11 September, most of them being certain that Iraqis
were 7 among the 19 hijackers; 55% believed that Saddam Hussein
had close ties to al Qaeda; 34% were convinced that weapons of
mass destruction had recently been found in Iraq (7% were not
) sure); 24% believed that Iraq had used chemical or biological
weapons against American forces in the war (14% were unsure).
"If Iraq had no significant WMD and
no strong link to Al Qaeda, do you think we were misled by the
government?" Only half said yes.
Given the intensive news coverage and
high levels of public attention [to the events in Iraq],"
said one pollster, "this level of misinformation suggests
some Americans may be avoiding having an experience of cognitive
dissonance." That is, having the facts conflict with their
One can only wonder what, besides a crowbar,
it would take to pry such people away from their total support
of what The Empire does to the world. Perhaps if the government
came to their homes, seized their first born, and took them away
screaming? Well, probably not if the government claimed that the
adored first born had played soccer with someone from Pakistan
who had a friend who had gone to the same mosque as someone from
Afghanistan who had a picture of Taliban leader -. Mohammed Omar
on his wall.
We're speaking here of people who get
virtually all their news from the shock-and-awe tabloid weeklies,
AM-radio talk shows, and television news programs which, because
of marketplace pressure, aim low in order to reach the widest
possible audience, resulting in short programs with lots of commercials,
weather, sports, and entertainment. These news sources don't necessarily
have to explicitly state the above falsehoods to produce such
distorted views; they need only channel to their audience a continuous
stream of statements from the government and conservative "experts"
justifying the war and demonizing Saddam Hussein as if they were
neutral observers; ignore contrary views except when an expert
is on hand to ridicule them and label them "conspiracy theories";
and never put it all together in a coherent enlightening manner.
This constant drip-drip of one- sided information, from sources
who can be described as stenographers for the powers-that-be,
can produce any benighted variety of the human species.
One company, Clear Channel, owns 1,200
US radio stations and sponsored "Rallies for America"
which promoted the White House plan to attack Iraq.
Many Americans, whether consciously or
unconsciously, actually pride themselves on their ignorance. It
reflects their break with the overly complicated intellectual
tradition of "old Europe". It's also a source of satisfaction
that they have a president who's no smarter than they are. They
could be happy under totalitarianism, might well come to prefer
it, and may be helping to advance it in the United States even
as you read this.
This, then, is a significant segment of
the target audience of the American anti-war movement, which has
the unenviable task of winning hearts and mindless.
"Mit der Dummheit kampfen Gotter
selbst vergebens," wrote Friedrich Schiller. "With stupidity
even the gods struggle in vain."
... amongst the developed nations, the United States is the worst
place to be a worker, or sick, or seeking a university education;
or, in the land of the two million incarcerated, to be a defendant.
the World to Death
Index of Website