Norman Solomon interview,

Greg Speeter interview

Jody Williams interview,

Max Wolff interview

[January 2, 2004]

from the book

Hijacking Catastrophe

9/11, Fear and the Selling of American Empire

edited by Sut Jhally and Jeremy Earp

Olive Branch Press, 2004, paper


Norman Solomon, October 2003

You don't need to be a rocket scientist or a social scientist to know that if you're Tom Brokaw, and you're working for General Electric when you work for NBC, and General Electric is a military contractor, that if you launch an investigative series about war profiteering in the United States, it's not exactly going to enhance your career in that network. But Brokaw is not as good an example as many others who are not famous, or who have less income and less job security.

If you're going to have US journalists embedded with the American troops, then you should also have journalists embedded with the Iraqi civilians. If you had had just as many American reporters embedded with the families in Iraq who were dealing with 2,000-pound bombs and cruise missiles exploding in their neighborhoods, then you might have had a much more balanced perspective as a TV viewer or reader or listener.

... propaganda is about repetition ...

Terror is an emotion, an experience; it is a human disaster at an experiential level. It's not something that you can make war on. That is like saying we're going to have a war on fear. Calling this a "War on Terror" ...

... we're in a realm where in the name of waging war against terror, the US government terrorizes, and it does so against civilians on a very large scale.

There was an idolatry there (Iraq war), a kind of gods of metal worship that ... is an extreme perversion in human terms. It's not enough for us to be told to accept this war; we're really encouraged to gain some kind of vicarious pleasure from it.

If you look at the history of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's a kind of Reagan on steroids, it is at first incomprehensible that these people could be governor of California, let alone president of the United States. But we're acculturated to accept this. These folks are truly figureheads. They have a personal role that they play, but they're serving a function and there's that interplay between personalities. They're really products and they're obviously serving huge multibillion-dollar corporate agendas. So it's fascinating to talk about the persona and the individual of George W. Bush. Yet at the end of the very dire day that we find ourselves in the midst of, we're really talking about an entire system that's cranked up for war and profiteering. That's our challenge: to go beyond the personalities and see that we have Reaganism without Reagan and Bushism without Bush when he goes on his merry way. I think of it as a symbolic Mr. McGoo presidency. It's the happy face put on the death machine, the smiley sticker that is plastered onto the missiles and the bombs, as the American flag was used.

There are elements of near-fascism in the first George W. Bush administration. Some of the policies, such as the Patriot Act, the suspension of habeas corpus, the kind of confluence of militarism and corporatism and jingoism, the erosion of civil liberties and so forth, the idea that it's okay to attack basically any country in the world at the say-so of the US president-there are some policies with proximity to elements of fascism already in place. I don't think we should wait to see how fascist a second term of George W. Bush could turn out to be.


Greg Speeter, December 2003

Throughout history there's been tension between the amount of( money that countries are willing to spend on social programs versus what they spend on the military, and so people have traditionally considered guns versus butter one of the big debates in economic and social policy making. Certainly it's been a central issue for us over the last 30 to 40 years. In the '60s, the Vietnam War substantially cut back our ability to address the war on poverty. In the '80s, the Reagan military budget led to significant cutbacks in social spending. Really, when you look at the numbers, you see that over the past 20 years we have cut back a trillion dollars in housing, in education, in job training, in many other kinds of spending. People felt that once the cold war was over, we'd be able to put more money into butter, into social services and programs. In fact, mayors throughout the country have asked for an economic Marshall Plan, a peace dividend, to address our community needs. That really never happened. We cut back a little bit in military spending, but really ended up putting that money into dealing with the national debt. Then came the Bush budget. George W. Bush increased military spending from about 312 billion dollars to 400 billion dollars in roughly three years. That immediately began once again to make it very difficult to put any money into social spending, because we were putting all of our money into the Pentagon and preparing for war. So the big argument has always been guns versus butter, and at this point, given the amount of money that the Bush administration wants to spend on the military, there's really no money that we can spend to address some of our most pressing needs. Take health insurance, for example. In the '90s, people were talking about providing health insurance for everybody, but the fact is that 43 million people are now uninsured. We've already gone from 41 million people to 43 million people uninsured in just the last two years. At the same time, poverty's increased, and talking about providing health insurance or addressing educational needs is now really off the radar screen. 'What people are now talking about is addressing terrorism or addressing war.

... Grover Norquist, one of the most prominent of the neoconservative tax policy experts, has said that he'd like to see the federal government shrink to the size where he could flush it down the toilet. Well, I think that's what's beginning to happen. We aren't able to address health care, we aren't able to address education, we aren't able to address many of these needs because the money just isn't there. We're increasing a deficit that's already out of sight, even though we managed to get it under control throughout the '90s. Now we're seeing that deficit go to levels we've never seen been before, and we know what the result will be. The federal government will say we just don't have the money to deal with some of our basic needs.

This country ... is facing severe economic needs. Cities and towns just don't have the money that they used to have. State governments have said that they are in the worst fiscal crisis that they've experienced in the last 50 years. So the entities that are really receiving the brunt of these economic policies are our communities. You're seeing in city after city; local governments cutting back in fire and police, basic security; cutting back in education, cutting back in other basic services that we used to take for granted. What's really big government is then military. Just look at where our tax dollar really goes. Forty-nine cents out of every tax dollar is either going to the Pentagon or to interest on the debt. Very little money is really going back into our communities, much less than what was going back in the '60s and the '70s.

The Project for the New American Century is clearly focused on military spending and foreign policy, but it's part of a much larger attempt by neoconservatives to take over and attempt to decimate the role of government for most people. There are some very real implications when we increase military spending, which is precisely what they called for prior to September 11. In the most general terms, it means we have fewer dollars to address other needs. I think it's important for people to understand just how big our military budget is, to make that the context for understanding their demand for increasing it further. One indicator of the size of our military budget is to compare it to what other countries spend. The United States spends, at $400 billion this year, about as much as much as the rest of the world combined. There is no doubt that we have the most fire-power, our soldiers are far superior to any other soldiers, our military is far more sophisticated than any other in the world. This was true in 2000, when the Project for the New American Century called for increasing defense spending by $20 billion a year. Well, we've done that. We've done better than that, so they've done very well in seeing their vision realized as the military budget has gone up almost $100 billion in three years. But it's important to take a look at how much we spend on the military compared to other things. In fact, if you add up the amount that the federal government is now spending on education, how much we spend on job training, food and nutrition programs, a variety of other

The [Iraq] war effort is another $141 billion just in the year 2003 alone. The military budget is one tiling, that's the Pentagon, but we have to pay extra to pay for a war. So in fact we've had two payments for this war so far that have added up to $141 billion, and that's an incredible amount of money. We could provide health insurance for each of the 12 million children that don't have health insurance for the next seven years with that $141 billion. We could provide 1.4 million affordable housing units and totally address our affordable housing crisis. We could provide 3 million jobs with that kind of money, rebuild every school in this country that needs to be rebuilt, and provide jobs for 60,000 teachers for the next four years.

The neoconservative movement really represents a very radical approach to the role of the federal government. It's basically trying to cut back the ability of the federal government to address many of its community needs by increasing the military budget. When you look at their policy proposals, I think it's clear they want to cut back on the very positive things that have happened since the '30s, since FDR and the New Deal.


Jody Williams, January 2004

Why aren't we invading Burma? It has been controlled by a military dictatorship since the late '80s. Why aren't we overthrowing Musharraf in Pakistan, who took over the country by coup, who refuses to give the democracy that he said he was going to give to the government? Why are we in bed with all of the -stans, you know, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, our latest new friends, who are horrific dictators that do not allow freedom of expression, human rights, etc., etc., in their countries?

We support democracy when it is convenient to the interests of the United States. Maybe I'm an idealist to believe that there should be some sort of standard for determining how we conduct our foreign policy, but I believe there should be a standard. We are seen in the world as hypocrites, we are seen as liars, we are seen as an imperialist power. It is tragic that Americans for the most part don't really understand how much the United States government is hated around the world.

They don't have to do anything. If they scare you so much you don't dare say what you think... that's the beginning of totalitarianism ...

It's human nature to want to believe our leaders. You want to believe all the mythologies that you're taught. I'm actually working on a book right now that has come out of two years of listening to people express their ignorance about American foreign policy. Trying to give people just a basic primer to understand the huge gap between the mythology of American values and how the values really play out in foreign policy. It's that gap in the foreign policy that makes the rest of the world hate us and see us as imperialist hypocrites. But Americans are just fairly ignorant of the history of this country and so they are unaware. They want to believe that we really stand for democracy everywhere. That we really stand for freedom of expression and a strong, viable free press and the right to dissent, and it's ridiculous. Sometimes we do; often we don't.


Max Wolff, April 2003

We have the most unequal distribution of wealth in the developed world ...

[There is] ... purposeful upward wealth redistribution. There is no serious economic debate on what this is and has been producing-rising inequality. There's been intentional reduction in the equity of the system. In other words, we're rewarding the highest income groups more than ever before in terms of our tax models, at least more than since the era of managed capitalism began in the '30s. State finances are squeezed and services are cut-redistributing wealth from the many to the few. You target the highest income people for the largest tax cuts for one of two reasons: either you are corrupt and paying back people who donated to your campaign, or you honestly believe that trickledown works. Assuming you are not corrupt, you would seek to return wealth disproportionately to the wealthiest people hoping they spend it, creating an economy built around meeting elite needs and desires. A vast service class catering to whims for luxury goods, private professional services, vacations homes, resorts and spas, and private doctors will be built up around private decisions to spend. Sound familiar?

In addition you need to crush union movements, limit corporate oversight and the ability to file lawsuits. You would want to limit environmental standards, state regulatory authority, and corporate taxation. Much of this has been done, and so attention is coming to center on directly subsidizing private firms with public monies. Cost plus contracting and privatizing would then be favored. Wars are a popular way to transfer wealth and silence criticism at the same time. I would assume you'd have to believe the trickle-down theory, or that its just a smash-and-grab gangsterism.

... corporations and the Administration are essentially one and the same.

The idea that runs throughout the Bush Departments of State and Defense is that this is a new economic period; it is not one of corporate battles, although that's the rhetoric. It's one in which the power of the US central state will be systematically brought to bear at great cost in lives, both American and foreign, at great cost in resources, both American and foreign, to secure for American firms, and for America, a dominant position in the next century.

Increased military spending benefits the economy because any spending would. If the government bought textbooks, that would also benefit the economy, only we'd be left with more kids with high school and college degrees instead of more unexploded ordinances in Third World countries. Both are spending; they both inject money into the economy. All expenditures fund the purchase and sale of goods and services that benefit the overall economy. But if you build up a giant arsenal, the temptation to use it is higher and it means that money is channeled to contractors who reap the profits.

Hijacking Catastrophe

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