"Goodness has nothing to
do with it"
A speech by William Blum, author
of Rogue State, November 2, 2007, at the University of Vermont
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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/).
William Blum page