excerpted from the book
by William Blum
Common Courage Press, 2000
For 70 years, the United States convinced much of the world
that 1 there was an international conspiracy out there. An International
Communist Conspiracy, seeking no less than control over the entire
planet, for purposes which had no socially redeeming values. And
the world was made to believe that it somehow needed the United
States to save it from communist darkness. "Just buy our
weapons," said Washington, "let our military and our
corporations roam freely across your land, and give us veto power
over whom your leaders will be, and we'll protect you."
It was the cleverest protection racket since men convinced
women that they needed men to protect them-if all the men vanished
overnight, how many women would be afraid to walk the streets?
And if the people of any foreign land were benighted enough
to not realize that they needed to be saved, if they failed to
appreciate the underlying nobility of American motives, they were
warned that they would burn in Communist Hell. Or a CIA facsimile
thereof. And they would be saved nonetheless.
A decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, America is still
saving countries and peoples from one danger or another. The scorecard
reads as follows: From 1945 to the end of the century, the United
States attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign govemments,
and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling
against intolerable regimes. In the process, the US caused the
end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions
more to a life ~f agony and despair.
As I write this in Washington, DC, in April 1999, the United
States is busy saving Yugoslavia. Bombing a modem, sophisticated
society back to a pre-industrial age. And The Great American Public,
in its infinite wisdom, is convinced that its govemment is motivated
by "humanitarian" impulses.
Washington is awash with foreign dignitaries here to celebrate
the 50th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,
three days of unprecedented pomp and circumstance. The prime ministers,
presidents and foreign ministers, despite their rank, are delighted
to be included amongst the schoolyard bully's close friends. Private
corporations are funding the opulent weekend; a dozen of them
paying $250,000 apiece to have one of their executives serve as
a director on the NATO Summit's host committee. Many of the same
firms lobbied hard to expand NATO by adding the Czech Republic,
Hungary and Poland, each of which will be purchasing plentiful
quantities of military hardware from these companies.
This marriage of NATO and the transnationals is the foundation
of the New World Order, the name George Bush gave to the American
Empire. The credibility of the New World Order depends upon the
world believing that the new world will be a better one for the
multitude of humanity, not just for those for whom too much is
not enough, and believing that the leader of the New World Order,
the United States, means well.
Let's have a short look at some modem American history, which
may be instructive. A congressional report of 1994 informed us
Approximately 60,000 military personnel were used as human
subjects in the 1940s to test two chemical agents, mustard gas
and lewisite [blister gas]. Most of these subjects were not informed
of the nature of the experiments and never received medical followup
after their participation in the research. Additionally, some
of these human subjects were threatened with imprisonment at Fort
Leavenworth if they discussed these experiments with anyone, including
their wives, parents and family doctors. For decades, the Pentagon
denied that the research had taken place, resulting in decades
of suffering for many veterans who became ill after the secret
Now let's skip ahead to the 1990s. Many thousands of American
soldiers came home from the Gulf War with unusual, debilitating
ailments. Exposure to harmful chemical or biological agents was
suspected, but the Pentagon denied that this had occurred. Years
went by while the Gls suffered terribly: neurological problems,
chronic fatigue, skin problems, scarred lungs, rnemory loss, muscle
and joint pain, severe headaches, personality changes, passing
out and much more. Eventually, the Pentagon, inch by inch, was
forced to move away from its denials and admit that, yes, chemical
weapon depots had been bombed; then, yes, there probably were
releases of the deadly poisons; then, yes, American servicemen
were indeed in the vicinity of these poisonous releases, 400 soldiers;
then, it might have been 5,000; then, "a very large number",
probably more than 15,000i then, finally, a precise number-20,867;
then, "The Pentagon announced that a longawaited computer
model estimates that nearly 100,000 U.S. soldiers could have been
exposed to trace amounts of sarin gas..."
Soldiers were also forced to take vaccines against anthrax
and nerve gas not approved by the FDA as safe and effective, and
punished, sometimes treated like criminals, if they refused. (During
World War II, US soldiers were forced to take a yellow fever vaccine,
with the result that some 330,000 of them were infected with the
hepatitis B virus.3) Finally, in late 1999, almost nine years
after the Gulf War's end, the Defense Department announced that
a drug given to soldiers to protect them against a particular
nerve gas, "cannot be ruled out" as a cause of lingering
illnesses in some veterans.4
The Pentagon brass, moreover, did not wam American soldiers
of the grave danger of being in close proximity to expended depleted
uranium weapons on the battlefield.
If the Pentagon had been much more forthcoming from the outset
about what it knew all along about these various substances and
weapons, the soldiers might have had a proper diagnosis early
on and received appropriate care sooner. The cost in terms of
human suffering was incalculable. One gauge of that cost may lie
in the estimate that one-third of the homeless in America are
And in the decades between the 1940s and 1990s, what do we
find? A remarkable variety of govemment programs, either formally,
or in effect, using soldiers as guinea pigs-marched to nuclear
explosion sites, with pilots then sent through the mushroom clouds;
subjected to chemical and biological weapons experiments; radiation
experiments; behavior modification experiments that washed their
brains with LSDi exposure tO the dioxin of Agent Orange in Korea
and Vietnam...the list goes on...literally millions of experimental
subjects, seldom given a choice or adequate information, often
with disastrous effects to their physical and/or mental health,
rarely with proper medical care or even monitoring.
The moral of this little slice of history is simple: If the
United States govemment does not care about the health and welfare
of its own soldiers, if our leaders are not moved by the prolonged
pain and suffering of the wretched warriors enlisted to fight
the empire's wars, how can it be argued, how can it be believed,
that they care about foreign peoples? At all.
When the Dalai Lama was asked by a CIA officer in 1995: "Did
we do a good or bad thing in providing this support [to the Tibetans]?'',
the Tibetan spiritual leader replied that though it helped the
morale of those resisting the Chinese, "thousands of lives
were lost in the resistance" and that "the U.S. Govemment
had involved itself in his country's affairs not to help Tibet
but only as a Cold War tactic to challenge the Chinese."
"Let me tell you about the very rich," wrote F.
Scott Fitzgerald. "They are different from you and me."
So are our leaders.
Consider Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to
Jimmy Carter. In a 1998 interview he admitted that the official
story that the US gave military aid to the Afghanistan opposition
only after the Soviet invasion in 1979 was a lie. The truth was,
he said, that the US began aiding the Islamic fundamentalist Moujahedeen
six months before the Russians made their move, even though he
believed-and told this to Carter-that "this aid was going
to induce a Soviet military intervention".
Brzezinski was asked whether he regretted this decision.
Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea.
It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap
and you want me to regret it' The day that the Soviets officially
crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the
opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War. Indeed, for
almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by
the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization
and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.7
Besides the fact that there is no demonstrable connection
between the Afghanistan war and the breakup of the Soviet empire,
we are faced with the consequences of that war: the defeat of
a govemment committed to bringing the extraordinarily backward
nation into the 20th century; the breathtaking camage; Moujahedeen
torture that even US govemment officials called "indescribable
horror"; half the population either dead, disabled or refugeesi
the spawning of thousands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists
who have unleashed atrocities in numerous countries; and the unbelievable
repression of women in Afghanistan, instituted by America's wartime
And for playing a key role in causing all this, Zbigniew Brzezinski
has no regrets. Regrets? The man is downright proud of it! The
kindest thing one can say about such a person-as about a sociopath-is
that he's arnoral. At least in his public incamation, which is
all we're concemed with here. In medieval times he would have
been called Zbigniew the Terrible.
And what does this tell us about Jimmy Carter, whom many people
think of as perhaps the only halfway decent person to occupy the
White House since Roosevelt? Or is it Lincoln?
In 1977, when pressed by joumalists about whether the US had
a moral obligation to help rebuild Vietnam, President Carter responded:
"Well, the destruction was mutual."9 (Perhaps when he
observed the devastation of the South Bronx later that year, he
was under the impression that it had been caused by Vietnamese
In the now-famous exchange on TV between Madeleine Albright
and reporter Lesley Stahl, the latter was speaking of US sanctions
against Iraq, and asked the then-US ambassador to the UN: "We
have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's
more children than died in Hiroshima. And-and you know, is the
price worth it."
Replied Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice,
but the price-we think the price is worth it."
One can give Albright the absolute full benefit of any doubt
and say that she had no choice but to defend administration policy.
But what kind of person is it who takes a job appointment knowing
full well that she will be an integral part of such ongoing policies
and will be expected to defend them without apology? Not long
afterwards, Albright was appointed Secretary of State.
Lawrence Summers is another case in point. In December 1991,
while chief economist for the World Bank, he wrote an intemal
memo saying that the Bank should encourage migration of "the
dirty industries" to the less-developed countries because,
amongst other reasons, health-impairing and death-causing pollution
costs would be lower. Inasmuch as these costs are based on the
lost eamings of the affected workers, in a country of very low
wages the computed costs would be (much lower. "I think,"
he wrote, "the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic
waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face
up to that." Despite this memo receiving wide distribution
and condemnation, Summers, in 1999, was appointed Secretary of
the Treasury by President Clinton. This was a promotion from being
Undersecretary of the Treasury-for intemational affairs.
We also have Clinton himself, who on day 33 of the aerial
devastation of Yugoslavia-33 days and nights of destroying villages,
schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, the ecology, separating
people from their limbs, from their eyesight, spilling their intestines,
traumatizing children for the rest of their days...destroying
a life the Serbians will never know again-on day 33 William Jefferson
Clinton, cau. tioning against judging the bombing policy prematurely,
saw fit to declare: "This may seem like a long time. [But]
I don't think that this air campaign has been going on a particularly
long time." And then the man continued it another 45 days.
Clinton's vice president, Albert Gore, appears eminently suitable
to succeed him to the throne. In 1998, he put great pressure on
South Africa, threatening trade sanctions if the govemment didn't
cancel plans to use much cheaper generic AIDS drugs, which would
cut into US companies' sales. South Africa, it should be noted,
has about three million HlV-positive persons among its largely
impoverished population. When Gore, who at the time had significant
ties to the drug industry, was heckled for what he had done during
a speech in New York, he declined to respond in substance, but
instead called out: "I love this country. I love the First
It's interesting to note that when Madeleine Albright was
heckled in Columbus, Ohio in February 1998, while defending the
administration's Iraq policy, she yelled: "We are the greatest
country in the world!"
Patriotism is indeed the last refuge of a scoundrel, though
Gore's and Albright's words don't quite have the ring of "Deutschland
uber alles" or "Rule Britannia".
In 1985, Ronald Reagan, demonstrating the preeminent intellect
for which he was esteemed, tried to show how totalitarian the
Soviet Union was by declaring: "I'm no linguist, but I've
been told that in the Russian language there isn't even a word
for 'freedom'." In light of the above cast of characters
and their declarations, can we ask if there's a word in American
English for "embarrassment"?
No, it is not simply that power corrupts and dehumanizes.
Neither is it that US foreign policy is cruel because American
leaders are cruel.
It's that our leaders are cruel because only those willing
to be inordinately cruel and remorseless can hold positions of
leadership in the foreign policy establishment; it might as well
be written into the job description. People capable of expressing
a full human measure of compassion and empathy toward faraway
powerless strangers - (let alone American soldiers - do not become
president of the United States, or vice president, or secretary
of state, or national security adviser or secretary of the treasury.
Nor do they want to.
There's a sort of Peter Principle at work here. Laurence Peter
wrote that in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his
level of incompetence. Perhaps we can postulate that in a foreign
policy establishment committed to imperialist domination by any
means necessary, employees tend to rise to the level of cruelty
they can live with.
A few days after the bombing of Yugoslavia had ended, the
New York Tmes published as its lead article in the Sunday Week
in Review, a piece by Michael Wines, which declared that "Human
rights had been
elevated to a military priority and a preeminent Westem value...The
war only underscored the deep ideological divide between an idealistic
New World bent on ending inhumanity and an Old World equalIy fatalistic
about unending conflict...there is also a yawning gap between
the West and much of the world on the value of a single life."
And so on. A paean to the innate goodness of the West, an
ethos unfortunately not shared by much of the rest of the world,
who, Wines lamented, "just don't buy into Westem notions
of rights and responsibilities." The Tmes fed us this morality
tale after "the West" had just completed the most ferocious
sustained bombing of a nation in the history of the planet, a
small portion of whose dreadful consequences are referred to above.
During the American bombing of Iraq in 1991, the previous
record for sustained ferociousness, a civilian air raid shelter
was destroyed by a depleted-uranium projectile, incinerating to
charred blackness many hundreds of people, a great number of them
women and children. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, reiterating
US military statements that the shelter had been a command-and-control
center, said: "We don't know why civilians were at that location,
but we do know that Saddam Hussein does not share our value for
the sanctity of human life."~8
Similarly, during the Viemam War, President Johnson and other
govemment officials assured us that Asians don't have the same
high regard for human life as Americans do. We were told this,
of course, as American bombs, napalm, Agent Orange and helicopter
gunships were disintegrating the Viemamese and their highly regarded
And at the same time, on a day in February 1966, David Lawrence,
the editor of US News & World Report was moved to put the
following words to paper: "What the United States is doing
in Vietnam is the most significant example of philanthropy extended
by one people to another that we have wimessed in our times."
I sent Mr. Lawrence a copy of a well-done pamphlet entitled
American Atrocities in Vietnam, which gave graphic detail of its
subject. To this I attached a note which first repeated Lawrence's
quotation with his name below it, then added: "One of us
is crazy", followed by my name.
Lawrence responded with a full page letter, at the heart of
which was: "I think a careful reading of it [the pamphlet]
will prove the point I was trying to make-namely that primitive
peoples with savagery in their hearts have to be helped to understand
the true basis of a civilized existence."
The American mind-as exemplffled by that of Michael Wines
and David Lawrence-is, politically, so deeply formed that to liberate
it would involve uncommon, and as yet perhaps undiscovered, philosophical
and surgical skill. The great majority of Americans, even the
most cynical, who need no convincing that the words that come
out (of a politician's mouth are a blend of mis-, dis- and non-information,
and should always carry a veracity health waming - appear to lose
their critical faculties when confronted by "our boys who
are risking their lives". If love is blind, patriotism has
lost all five senses.
To the extent that the cynicism of these Americans is directed
toward their government's habitual foreign adventures, it's to
question whether the administration's stated interpretation of
a situation is valid, whether the stated goals are worthwhile,
and whether the stated goals can be achieved-but not to question
the govemment's motivation. It is assumed a priori that our leaders
mean well by the foreign people involved-no matter how much death,
destruction and suffering their policies objectively result in.