Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
E. Wayne Ross
War & Peace
Slippin' & Slidin'
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Common Courage Press, 2000, 308 pp.
Review by Ted Dace
I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don't care what the facts are.” Though he was speaking in reference to the shooting down of an Iranian passenger jet by an American warship in 1988, then Vice President George Bush could just as easily have been referring to the bombing of Iran the previous year or the supply of weapons to Apartheid South Africa or the arming of terrorists in Afghanistan or the proxy war against Nicaragua or the CIA-funded counterinsurgency campaigns in El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Philippines, all of which were going on at about the same time and all of which are covered in William Blum's latest book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower.
Blum is the author of the definitive book on American military and CIA interventions in foreign countries, Killing Hope. In his new book, he includes a condensed version of the earlier, encyclopedic work, with brief discussions of illegal interventions in over 60 countries. More importantly, he's brought this appalling story into greater focus by organizing it according to its central themes, including torture and assassinations, war crimes, bombings, chemical and biological attacks, subversion of elections, and opposition to humane UN resolutions.
But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this book is the psychological portrait of America that emerges. In Killing Hope, he argued that anti-communism began in the 1920s as propaganda but that by the 1950s its spokespeople had internalized their message to the point where they fully believed their own lies. As he argues in Rogue State, “based on the objective facts of what Washington has inflicted upon the world...for more than half a century American foreign policy has, in actuality, been clinically mad.” Indeed, this book can be viewed as a compendium of the symptoms of a national mental illness.
Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski recently admitted that U.S. military aid began flowing to Afghanistan in the summer of 1979, six months before war broke out, so as “to induce a Soviet military intervention.” Even U.S. officials have described the fruits of his efforts as “indescribable horror.” Yet, when he was asked if he felt any regrets, Brzezinski seemed puzzled. “Regret what? The 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?” As Blum notes, the kindest thing we could say about him, “as about a sociopath,” is that he's amoral. He seems to feel no empathy for the victims of his policy.
The sociopathic attitude pops up throughout this book. Take, for instance, Colin Powell's statement after being asked how many Iraqis were killed in the Gulf War: “It's really not a number I'm terribly interested in.” Lawrence Summers famously argued that low wages in Africa made it an ideal place for increased mortality due to elevated levels of pollution, since the losses in earned wages would be lower than in richer places. Instead of heartlessness, all he could see in this analysis was “impeccable logic.” When CIA agent Dan Mitrione tortured to death four homeless men in Montevideo as a demonstration of proper technique to Bolivian police, the emotion he felt was not horror but only pride at his “scientific” efficiency.
If it had been Americans instead of Iraqis, Africans, or Bolivians, no doubt the reaction would have been different. The sociopathic tendency is bound up with a malignant form of narcissism, in which self and other serves as the dividing line between valuable and worthless. Only this kind of attitude can explain Jimmy Carter's assertion, regarding the Vietnam War, that “the destruction was mutual.” If an American life is worth 50 Vietnamese lives (not to mention ecological devastation), then perhaps it was. When US News & World Report editor David Lawrence assessed the war in 1966, he was so conditioned to the idea of innate American goodness that he saw in it “the most significant example of philanthropy extended by one people to another that we have witnessed in our times.”
To the national narcissist, it's incomprehensible as to why certain people oppose us. The only possible explanation is that our virtue drives them crazy. As Bill Clinton put it, terrorists hate us, “because we advance peace and democracy.” It never enters our minds that there might be a rational basis for a terrorist act against the United States. Though the downing of Pan Am 103 was clearly in retaliation for the destruction of the Iranian passenger liner in 1988, the charade of pinning the blame on Libyans was necessary to remove any possible link between our evil and theirs.
The FBI need not be concerned over the fact that its definition of terrorism applies to countless American actions, so long as we unconsciously equate “terrorism” with “anti-Americanism.” Though Cuba is deemed a terrorist state by virtue of the fact that it harbors terrorists, the presence of murderous Cuban exiles in the U.S. does not in any way make America a terrorist state. Despite the fact that the U.S. supplied Iraq with its chemical and biological weapons, Clinton still felt he had the moral authority to castigate Iraq on this matter. It's as if the weapons were “good” when we first manufactured them, but once they were the property of Iraq, they became “bad.”
Blum points out that the Doolittle Report of 1954, which asserted that the sole objective of the USSR was world domination at any cost, may have been an example of what psychologists call, “projection.” Clearly, it was the U.S. that was obsessed with world domination. To avoid acknowledging it, we projected it onto the Soviets, whose own designs had always been far more modest.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, one of the characteristics of “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” is that the afflicted individual's sense of grandeur extends to his associates. Thus the allies of the U.S. are automatically democratic, while our enemies, by definition, are brutal dictatorships.
When the Office of Public Safety was caught teaching foreign military students how to make bombs, its spokesperson explained that it was actually teaching them how to destroy bombs. This sort of explanation is so off-the-wall that it tends to short-circuit people's critical faculties altogether. The perfect inversion of reality, which arises spontaneously and unconsciously from the disturbed ego, is often revealed in U.S. Policy.
For instance, it wasn't enough for the U.S. to refuse to follow through on promised war reparations to Vietnam. We stood reality on its head by insisting that Vietnam owed us for debts incurred by the American puppet regime of South Vietnam during the war. In 1997 this was reported in the U.S. press as if it made perfect sense.
Of course, it's inconceivable that every government agency from the Office of Public Safety to the Treasury Department is staffed by individuals diagnosable with a personality disorder. Blum points out that Brzezinski's sociopathic tendencies could have been confined to his role as a public official. Are Colin Powell, Lawrence Summers, and Jimmy Carter all certifiable? While it's true that the system selects for cruelty among leaders, there's just no way all these people could be “psycho.” More likely, they've been caught up in a collective pathology.
The core attitude is expressed in the term, “National Security.” Notice that security applies only to the group, not its citizens. So it's okay to test chemical and biological weapons in the U.S. with no warning or protection for its inhabitants. It's okay to control people by monitoring their electronic communications through a secret program, “ECHELON,” with no official oversight or even acknowledgement of its existence. It's okay to prevent sick workers at top-secret “Area 51” from obtaining information on the chemicals that have ruined their health.
The last 30 years have seen the rise of what Blum refers to as the “Authority Juggernaut,” a self- perpetuating program of imprisonment and erosion of constitutional rights more commonly known as the “Drug War.” This institutionalized obsession with the purity of our bodily fluids is best represented by little armies of occupation, called “SWAT” units, that have sprouted up in hundreds of cities across the country.
Every cult has an initiation right, as Mexican immigrants discover when INS and Border Patrol agents force them to engage in humiliating actions, such as kneeling naked and chanting, “America is Number One.”
In his chilling, final chapter, Blum brings together into a comprehensive, 25-page list the outlines of our newly-emerging police state. It's not just the machinations of a power-hungry elite. Like the will to dominate the world, it's got a life of its own. Z