"Goodness has nothing to do with it"

A speech by William Blum, author of Rogue State, November 2, 2007, at the University of Vermont in Burlington


Up until recently I had been in effect banned from speaking on college campuses. This ban lasted for a full year, ever since January of last year when Osama bin Laden, in one of his audiotapes, recommended that Americans read my book Rogue State. With this announcement I was swamped by the media-CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, and many others. People who called in to the TV and radio programs I was on attacked me as if I and bin Laden were friends and I had asked him for the endorsement. I had to point out that he and I were not really friends; in fact, I hadn't spoken to him in more than a month.

Interviewers pressed me to repudiate bin Laden's support. Wolf Blitzer on CNN was genuinely annoyed with me because I wouldn't do so.

My reply was this: "There are two elements involved here: On the one hand, I totally despise any kind of religious fundamentalism and the societies spawned by such, like the Taliban in Afghanistan. On the other hand, I'm a member of a movement that has the very ambitious goal of slowing down, if not stopping, the American Empire, to keep it from continuing to go around the world doing things like bombings, invasions, overthrowing governments, and torture. To have any success, we need to reach the American people with our message. And to reach the American people we need to have access to the mass media. What has just happened has given me the opportunity to reach millions of people I would otherwise never reach. Why should I not be glad about that? How could I let such an opportunity go to waste?"

Those who called in to the programs, and sometimes the host, in addition to numerous e-mails [I received], repeated one main argument against me: Where else but in the United States could I have the freedom to say what I was saying on national media?

Besides their profound ignorance in not knowing of scores of countries with at least equal freedom of speech (and especially since September 11 that is the case), what they are saying in effect is that I should be so grateful for my freedom of speech that I should show my gratitude by not exercising that freedom. If they're not saying that, they're not saying anything.

Bin Laden quoted part of a paragraph of mine. The full paragraph reads:xxxxxIf 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 the orphans, the impoverished and the tortured, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism. I would then announce that America's global interventions-including the awful bombings-have come to an end. And I would inform Israel that it is no longer the 51st state of the union but-oddly enough-a foreign country. I would then reduce the military budget by at least 90 percent and use the savings to pay reparations to the victims and repair the damage from the many American bombings and invasions. There would be more than enough money. Do you know what one year of the U.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.xxxxxAnother reason I think bin Laden liked my book is that it challenges the myth the White House pushes-that anti-American terrorists hate us for our freedom, our democracy, our wealth, our secular government, or our films, music, fashions. The terrorists want to change our way of life we are told.

What the anti-American terrorists in fact hate, what motivates their violent acts, is U.S. foreign policy-what the U.S. has done to the Middle East over the past half century. In one of my chapters I have a long list of the many American interventions in the Middle East, the overthrow of governments, the bombings, the invasions, the shooting down of passenger planes, the unlimited support of Israel.

Look at the actual statements of what the terrorists themselves have said to explain their behavior. I have many such quotes in the same chapter. There's not a word about freedom, democracy, wealth, secular government, or our culture or clothing. International polls taken by major polling organizations in recent years show again and again that the problem is not cultural, it's not a clash of civilizations, it's much simpler, it's what we have done to them and continue to do-in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Palestine. People in the Middle East otherwise like the U.S. a great deal, the polls make very clear.

And it works the same all over the world. In the period of the 1950s to the 1980s in Latin America, in response to a long series of Washington interventions, there were countless acts of terrorism against U.S. diplomatic and military targets as well as the offices of U.S. corporations. If Latin American Catholics believed that if they martyred themselves in killing the Yankee Satan, they would go to heaven, there probably would have been a rash of suicide bombings aimed at American targets in Latin America as there has been in the Middle East.

I don't think, by the way, that poverty plays much of a role in creating terrorists. The 9-11 hijackers, or alleged hijackers, were not a bunch of poor peasants; they were largely middle and upper class, and educated. Bin Laden himself is, or was, a millionaire. So we shouldn't confuse terrorism with revolution. _For many years, going back to at least the Korean War, it's been fairly common for accusations to be made against the United States that it chooses as its bombing targets only people of color, those of the Third World, or Muslims. Many opponents of U.S. foreign policy, in the U.S. and abroad, including Muslims all over the world, have made such an accusation. But it must be kept in mind that in 1999 one of the most sustained and ferocious American bombing campaigns ever-seventy-eight days in a row-was carried out against the people of the former Yugoslavia-white, European Christians. The United States is in fact an equal-opportunity bomber. There are only two qualifications for a country to become an American bombing target: (1) it poses some sort of obstacle to the desires of the empire; and (2) it is virtually defenseless against aerial attack.

The many U.S. bombings have been a major reason for the hatred of U.S. foreign policy, not the myth the White House feeds us about democracy and so on.

Another foreign policy myth has to do with American motivations for its many interventions.

I like to ask the question: What does U.S. foreign policy have in common with Mae West, the Hollywood sexpot of the 1940s? The story is told of a visitor to her mansion, who looked around and said: "My goodness, what a beautiful home you have." And Mae West replied: "Goodness has nothing to do with it." And that's one of the important points I try to make about U.S. foreign policy-goodness has nothing to do with it.

It's one of the main barriers to reaching millions of Americans, who have a deeply held belief that no matter what the U.S. does abroad, no matter what horror may result, no matter how bad it may look, the government of the United States means well. American leaders may make mistakes, they may blunder, they may lie, they may even on the odd occasion cause more harm than good, but they do mean well. Their intentions are always honorable, if not divinely inspired. Of that most Americans are certain. They genuinely wonder why the rest of the world can't see how benevolent and self-sacrificing America has been. Even many people who take part in the antiwar movement have a hard time shaking off some of this mindset; they march to spur America-the America they love and worship and admire-back onto its normal path of goodness.

But what are they and all of us to make of the horror of Iraq and the many other Iraqs the U.S. government has been responsible for? How are we to understand the fact that since World War Two the United States has attempted to overthrow more than fifty foreign governments, it has dropped bombs on the people of around thirty countries, has attempted to assassinate some sixty foreign leaders, helped to suppress dozens of populist or nationalist movements, has tortured many thousands, and seriously and illegally intervened in one way or another in virtually every country on the planet, in the process of which the U.S. has caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair.

I repeat the question: What are we to make of all this? 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 they feed us all. 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 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 an arm or a leg as punishment for theft. We know that that's horrible. We're too civilized for that. But people named George and Dick and Donald go around the world dropping 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 that actually explode do their own kind of horror.

And our noble leaders use another weapon much worse than cluster bombs-depleted uranium, which goes into the tips of shells and missiles. And when these weapons hit a target, radioactive dust fills the air, to be breathed in by anyone nearby and for some distance, including American soldiers. Depleted uranium poisons the air, the soil, the water, the lungs, the blood, and the genes. It has been associated with a long list of rare and terrible illnesses and birth defects. The widespread dissemination of depleted uranium by American warfare-from Serbia to Afghanistan to Iraq-is clearly a crime against humanity and should be an international scandal and crisis, like AIDS, and would be in a world not so intimidated by the United States. If this is sort of news to you, do a Google search for depleted uranium and be ready to be shocked and infuriated.

So when American officials say or imply benevolent motivations behind their foreign policy, that is their main defense for their war crimes, and we should not let them get away with claiming such intentions. Supporters of U.S. policies have that rationale profoundly embedded in their thinking, and I find it very useful in discussions or arguments with such people to raise moral questions about the government's motivations. These people are not used to hearing such an argument. The media almost never mentions it. It's almost disorienting for Americans. Or I sometimes ask them what the United States would have to do abroad to lose their support? What for them would be too much? I never get a clear answer for that one. Some of them perhaps sense that no matter what they named as being too much, it is something that the U.S. has already done.

You should also question the idea that the United States is concerned with this thing called "democracy," no matter how many times George W. uses the word each time he opens his mouth. In the past sixty years, the U.S. has attempted to overthrow dozens of democratically elected governments, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, and we've grossly interfered in about thirty democratic elections in every corner of the world. At the same time it would be difficult to find a single brutal dictatorship of the second half of the twentieth century that the United States did not support-not only supported, but often put in power and kept in power against the wishes of the people.

In light of this, the question is: What do the Busheviks mean by the "democracy" they're always talking about? I must say that the last thing they have in mind is any kind of economic democracy, the closing of the gap between the desperate poor and those for whom too much is not enough. The first thing they have in mind is making sure the country in question is hospitable to corporate globalization and American military bases.

A few weeks ago, Brigadier General John Bednarek, commander of forces in Diyala province in Iraq, told CNN that, "Democratic institutions are not necessarily the way ahead in the long-term future." So it sounds like our dear leaders are preparing to abandon even the excuse of fighting for democracy, one in a long line of pretenses about why we're in Iraq.

Another point to keep in mind when arguing about Iraq is that the biggest lie is not whether Iraq had all those terrible weapons, but that if they had the weapons, would they have been a great danger to the United States? Think about that. What possible reason could Saddam Hussein have had for attacking the United States other than an irresistible desire for mass national suicide?

Afghanistan__Oddly enough, many, if not most, Americans who are opposed to the war in Iraq, including many on the left, think that what the U.S. has done in Afghanistan is just fine-getting revenge for 9-11, what could be simpler? Of course-in a rational world-revenge should be taken against those responsible for what happened on that infamous date, but of the many thousands dead in Afghanistan from U.S. bombings and guns, how many, can it be said with any certainty, had played a role in 9-11? I'd be surprised if there was one. So what kind of revenge is that?

Whatever one thinks of the appalling society the Taliban created, they had not really been associated with terrorist acts, and the masses of Taliban supporters shouldn't have been held responsible if their leader, Mohammed Omar, one person, allowed foreign terrorists into the country, any more than I would want to be held responsible for all the Cuban terrorists in Miami. Most of the foreigners had probably come to Afghanistan in the 1990s to help the Taliban in their civil war-a religious act for them-nothing the U.S. government should have been concerned about.

So on what basis can one support what the United States has done to Afghanistan the past six years?

If Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the terrible bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, had not been quickly caught, would the United States have bombed the state of Michigan or any of the other places he called home? No, they would have instituted a mammoth manhunt until they found him and punished him in a legal manner. But in Afghanistan, the United States proceeded as if they believed that everyone who supported the Taliban government, native or foreigner, was (1) a "terrorist" and (2) morally, if not legally, stained with the blood of September 11. And so they deserved to die.... And so they died. And Americans cheered.

Now NATO is playing a major role in the killing fields.... NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-Does anyone here have a map of the world? It's not simply that NATO doesn't belong in South Asia; NATO has no reason to exist even in Europe. It was formed to prevent a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. The Soviet Union no longer exists. The Russians abolished the Warsaw Pact with the reasonable expectation that the U.S. would do the same with NATO. But Washington has found NATO very valuable in extending the empire's reach. So it continues, carving out a purpose for [NATO].

Afghanistan and Iraq were bombed and invaded with seemingly no concern in Washington that this could well create many new anti-American terrorists. Yet, since the first bombs fell on Afghanistan in October 2001 there have been scores of terrorist attacks against American institutions in the Middle East, South Asia, and the Pacific-military, civilian, Christian, and other targets associated with the United States, including two very major attacks in Indonesia with large loss of life.

So keep that in mind the next time you hear a government official here proclaim that the War on Terror has been a success because there hasn't been a repeat of 9-11. They boast that there hasn't been a terrorist attack in the U.S. in the six years since 9-11. Well, there wasn't a terrorist attack in the U.S. in the six years before 9-11 either.

American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, including torture, have created thousands of new anti-American terrorists. We'll be hearing from them for a terribly long time.


Sometimes, when I have a discussion with a person who supports the war in Iraq, and the person has no other argument left to defend U.S. policy there, at least at the moment, he may say something like: "Just tell me one thing, are you glad that Saddam Hussein was overthrown?"

And I say "No."

And he says "No?"

And I say: 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 asked you afterward: Well, aren't 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 daily horror of the past four and a half years has been a terrible price to pay for the removal of Hussein, whom many Iraqis actually supported anyhow. In general, the great majority of Iraqis had a much better life under Saddam Hussein than they've had under U.S. occupation.


Let me take you back a bit now. If you think what you have now is government lying and deceit, let me tell you that in my day, during the Cold War, the big lie, the big huge lie they pounded into our heads from childhood on was that there was something out there called the International Communist Conspiracy, headquarters in Moscow, and active in every country of the world, looking to subvert everything that was decent and holy, looking to enslave us all. That's what they taught us, in our schools, our churches, on radio, TV, newspapers, in our comic books-the Communist Menace, the Red Menace, more dangerous than Osama bin Laden is presented to us today.

It was international; you couldn't escape it. And almost every American believed this message unquestioningly. I was a good, loyal anticommunist until I was past the age of thirty. In fact, in the 1960s I was working at the State Department planning on becoming a Foreign Service officer so I could join the battle against communism, until a thing called Vietnam came along and changed my mind, and my life.

It was all a con game. There was never any such animal as the International Communist Conspiracy. What there was, was people all over the Third World fighting for economic and political changes that didn't coincide with the needs of the American power elite, and so the U.S. moved to crush those governments and those movements, even though the Soviet Union was playing hardly any role at all in those scenarios.

Remember: The Cold War ended in 1991... the international communist conspiracy was no more... no more red threat... and nothing changed in American foreign policy. Since that time, the U.S. has been intervening, bombing, and overthrowing governments just as often as during the Cold War. What does that tell you? It tells me that the so-called "communist threat" was just a ploy, an excuse for American imperialism.

During the Cold War, Washington officials of course couldn't say that they were intervening to block social change, so they called it fighting communism, fighting a communist conspiracy, and of course fighting for freedom and democracy. Just like now the White House can't say that it invaded Iraq to expand the empire, or for the oil, or for the corporations, or for Israel, so it says it's fighting terrorism.

The word "communist" was used exceptionally loosely during the Cold War, just as the word "terrorist" is used these days; or "al-Qaeda"-almost every individual or group that Washington wants to stigmatize is charged with being a member of al-Qaeda, as if there's a precise and meaningful distinction between people retaliating against American imperialism while being a member of al-Qaeda and people retaliating against American imperialism while not being a member of al-Qaeda; as if al-Qaeda gives out membership cards to fit into your wallet, as if there are chapters of al-Qaeda that put out a weekly newsletter, and hold a potluck on the first Monday of each month.

U.S. policies keep creating new anti-American terrorists, whom Washington calls al-Qaeda, which justifies continuing the same policies to fight the new al-Qaeda terrorists.

They're just more word games to dazzle you and throw you off the scent._And the scent leads to the American Empire. Keep this in mind: Following its bombing of Iraq in 1991, 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 in 1999, the United States wound up with military bases in Kosovo, Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Hungary, Bosnia, and Croatia.

Following its bombing of Afghanistan in 2001-02, the United States wound up with military bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Yemen, and Djibouti. Following its bombing and invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States wound up with Iraq.

This is not very subtle foreign policy. Certainly not covert. The men who run the American Empire are not easily embarrassed.

And that's the way the empire grows-a base in every region, ready to be mobilized to put down any threat to imperial rule, real or imagined. Sixty-two years after World War Two ended, the United States still has major bases in Germany and Japan; fifty-four years after the end of the Korean War, tens of thousands of American armed forces continue to be stationed in South Korea.


Let me turn now from all these depressing foreign issues to some matters here at home, not quite as depressing. I'm glad the Democrats hold majorities in Congress, although many of the newest Democrats are hardly even liberal, never mind progressive or radical leftist. And that's not by chance; they were chosen by the party last year because of their moderate views, about Iraq and Israel, for example. The person in charge of choosing and supporting candidates for the Democrats was Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel, a man who served with the Israeli Army.

The war in Iraq was begun in part because Israel viewed Iraq under Saddam Hussein as a threat. They view Iran as even more of a threat. If the U.S. invades Iran it will be mainly because of the wishes of Israel. (I guess I'll be called anti-Semitic now, and if I were a professor, I'd be denied tenure.)

A while ago the Democrats inserted into a military funding bill the provision that the United States cannot attack Iran without informing Congress first. It's not clear whether that meant getting the approval of Congress before launching such an attack. But in any event, the Democrats removed that provision before the bill came up for a vote. It was made very clear that the pressure to do so came from the Israeli lobby.

And what kind of threat can Iran be to Israel or to the United States? Iran, since its 1979 Islamic revolution, has not started a war with anyone. In any war with the U.S. or Israel, Iran would be facing hundreds of nuclear weapons. So let me ask the same question I asked before about Iraq: What possible reason would the Iranians have for attacking either the U.S. or Israel other than an irresistible desire for mass national suicide?

But by removing that provision, the Democrats have made it a lot easier for the Bush imperial mafia to attack Iran. Yet the Republicans would have Americans believe that the Democrats are so far to the left that they're "extremists."

Ideology is a very important concept and I think that most people are rather confused by it, which is due in no small measure to the fact that the media are confused by it, or they at least pretend to be confused. The official ideology of the American media is that they don't have any ideology. Take the talk shows where they present someone on the "left" versus someone on the "right." Nice and balanced that is, right? But typically, the person on the right is a neoconservative, which means very far to the right on the political spectrum, while the person on the left is a liberal, which usually means ever so slightly to the left of center. These two people are not ideological polar opposites. So you're not necessarily getting a "balanced" point of view, especially on foreign policy.

A more appropriate balance to a conservative would be a radical leftist, or progressive, or Marxist. American liberals are typically closer to conservatives on foreign policy than they are to those on the left, and so the educational value of the so-called "balanced" programs can be more harmful than beneficial because the listener thinks he's getting a wide range of views when what he's actually getting is a discussion on which is the best way to help the empire achieve its goals-the conservative way of bomb 'em to hell, or the liberal way of imperialism with maybe a bit of a human face. Neither seriously questions whether the American people or the world needs the American Empire. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama love the idea of the empire. Each of them looks forward to being the new emperor.

The fundamental political difference between liberalism and Marxism is that liberalism sees a problem-such as America's role as the world's bully-simply as bad policy, while the Marxist sees it as something that flows out logically from U.S. economic and military interests.

When a liberal sees a beggar, he says the system isn't working. When a Marxist sees a beggar, he says the system is working.


Believe it or not, I do find things to be encouraged about. For one, I think that the American people today are seeing through the lies much more; skepticism and cynicism-good ol' healthy cynicism-is very widespread, even in the media. Reporters at White House press conferences ask much tougher questions than I've ever heard them ask. And if they get a bullshit answer, they often persist in their questioning. Some of them simply don't like being lied to so often and so shamelessly. And it's about time.

And there's the very active antiwar movement, the peace and justice movement, and the antiglobalization and environmental movements, a lot to be optimistic about insofar as raising people's consciousness, which is what I emphasize when I'm asked the question about what can be done to change any of the terrible things I write about. All I can ever suggest is education. Educate yourself and as many others as you can. I write my books and give public talks with that in mind, giving activists talking points to help them to convince others, giving newcomers new food for thought, planting seeds. Our numbers are indeed growing and I can only hope that at some point it will reach a critical mass and "explode." I can't predict what form that explosion will take, but I can't offer more than that.

And I can't predict whether all this will put a brake on the empire. But it's not like the 1960s where once the war in Vietnam ended, most protestors figured their job was done and they went back to the pursuit of careers and money; the activists today have a higher political consciousness and are not going to go away so easily even when the U.S. leaves Iraq.

I urge all of you, if you haven't already done so, to become active in one of the movements I mentioned. It's vital. It's easy. And it can be fun, except when a cop is massaging your head with his club.


I'd like to close now with the two laws of politics that 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.

I thank you.



William Blum is the author of Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (Common Courage Press, 2000) and Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Common Courage Press, 2003). This is the text of a presentation given by Blum on November 2, 2007, as part of the Will Miller Social Justice Lecture Series at the University of Vermont in Burlington (http://www.willmiller.org/).

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