Empire of the Senseless: A Review of Bill Blum's Freeing The World to Death

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Bill
Blum, one of the great American historians of the post WWII period,
surely one of the boldest and most interesting, has his work cut
out for him. From 1946 until now, this moment, and in the foreseeable
future, the U.S. Empire’s record of invasions, interventions and
general malicious meddling in the governments, societies and “freedoms”
of foreign peoples is virtually unparalleled in the history of meddlesome
Empires. Never have so many been made so miserable so often by so
few. And it’s all on the public record, or enough of it to
fill volumes denser by orders of magnitude than the two previous
volumes, Killing
Hope
and Rogue
State
,
both sizeable books Bill Blum has already written (he also wrote
a fascinating autobiography, West
Bloc Dissident
, regarding the pursuit of a life of intellectual
liberty in the totalitarian mindscape of the “free world”).

Unlike
most “academic” historians, Blum’s style is to rely not on obscure
scholarly journals or information grudgingly released by the government
under the Freedom of Information Act, but on everyday newspapers
accessible to all: the bulk of his citations come from dailies such
as the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times,
the London Guardian, The Observer and others, both full-size
and tabloid, that millions read regularly as hard-copy or on the
web but do not penetrate. Unlike Blum, they/we do not read between
the lines, but accept the relentless propaganda churned out by Washington
and Wall Street and dutifully “reported” by the nations “most respected”
papers as truth. Hence the charade of “objective journalism”
in which every uncomfortable fact or point of view is “balanced”
by a cheerful explanation of “what’s really going on” by a government
official or hack journalist/lobbyist whose job it is to help the
public “understand” the news.

It’s
not that Blum “trusts” the mainstream newspapers more than the “alternative”
journals and websites he himself writes for, or that he hasn’t waited
years for various tidbits to be released under the FIOA. Rather,
it is his method to record and comment upon events that are exposed
to all, accessible to all, even read by quite a few, but seldom
really seen for what it is and, on such rare occasions, never believed.
To believe the truth about U.S. Foreign policy would be to fight
against it with every fiber of one’s being, or live a quiet, desperate
lie. Fortunately, Blum has chosen the former, for if we assume
that what has taken place since the end of WWII has actually taken
place, that it is not the result of a conspiracy to fool us into
thinking the world is bad or worse, America is bad, "We the
People" don’t know anything. Or worse. We don’t care.

But
what about Bill Blum, author of the essays collected in Freeing
the World to Death
? Well, he’s an historian, he’s supposed
to know stuff. Does that excuse us from not knowing? Or allow
us to deliberately tell ourselves childish lies, such as we’re
“liberating” the people of Iraq by slaughtering 100,000 of them,
not to mention the 100,000 we slaughtered in Persian Gulf I and
the several hundred thousand, perhaps a million, we killed
after that through sanctions. Well, if Uncle Sam did it, it
must have been the right thing. Even Madeleine Albright, who
not only had a job, but who rose to the position of Secretary of
State, said all the living people who became dead ones during the
sanctions were "worth it." That is, worth more to The
Empire dead than alive.   In America, and perhaps
beyond, that is the conventional wisdom, “all that goes without
saying,” to paraphrase Nietzsche, who noticed some troubling trends
in German culture that were later to manifest themselves in the
ugliness, barbarism, mass murder and plain old tackiness that was Nazism.
What Bloom argues is not so much the hypocrisy of the
American government, but the gullibility or "willful ignorance"
of the American people. Blum takes his citations from some
of the most popular news sources of our time. The facts are
there for everyone to see. Yet we don’t see, or we gaze with
eyes wide shut. 

The
United States, “leader of the free world” has spent over 50 years
harassing over 100 countries world-wide, compiling a nearly spotless
record of always supporting the most brutal, corrupt, and murderous
dictators, even schooling these exotic beasts in the American way
of torture and murder at the infamous School of the Americas, whose
graduates rank among the vilest representatives of our species. 

Freeing
the World to Death cites sources that are familiar to many of
us as the daily paper on the street or the URL that’s so commonplace
it’s often pre-packaged as a “News Site” bookmark that comes with
new internet browsers (though since 9/11, U.S. Journalism has become
such an obvious public relations arms of Washington and Wall Street
that Blum has turned to the Guardian and the Observer,
both British papers, to find out what’s actually happening as a
result of U.S. Foreign Policy). In his previous books,
Killing Hope, and Rogue State, Blum demonstrated that
today’s journalism is tomorrow’s history, culling the most outrageous
transgressions of the U.S. against the rest of the planet (and its
own citizens, who end up fighting its wars or taking the hit
come “blowback” time i.e. September 11, 2001). But what if
the corruption of American journalism, the reconstruction of the
"fourth Estate" into an out-house, is so pervasive that
there will be nothing left but lies for future historians to sort
through? 

Well,
there’s always the victims. The many millions who did not have
to "bear witness" or even get a job with a big corporate
news outlet to experience U.S.-sponsored violence first-hand. By
being born in the wrong place at the wrong time and daring to "say
no to America," they became "the news" and consequently,
"history." 

Freeing
the World to Death is history as most of us U.S. Citizens have
“lived” it, via CNN or Fox News flashing and spewing in the background,
or the daily reporting, corrections, and re-reporting of “the
morning paper.” The daily violations of human dignity that is the
media background to our day-to-day lives. I guess it’s better than
being the focus of attention la the "victims," but there
is a relationship, however distant, between the rebel fighting the
Empire’s G.I.s or local proxies, and the U.S. Citizens whose tax
dollars foot the bill. 

Blum
writes, “An Empire can be defined as a state that has overwhelming
superiority in military, economic and political power, and uses
those powers to influence the internal and external behavior of
other states to accommodate the empire’s needs. This imperial power
intrinsically includes the ability to overthrow or otherwise punish
those governments which seek to thwart the empire’s desires.” (Freeing
the World to Death, pg 8). 

We
must pause just to address the invasions/interventions that have
occurred since 1987, the year after the first edition of Killing
Hope was published: did the people of Panama WANT the U.S. Marines
to “oust” Noriega, causing massive damage to lives and property? Do
the people of Cuba, who are no more responsible for what their allegedly
“Communist” government does than the people of China, living under
an even more repressive “Communist” system, WANT to be punished
by U.S. Sanctions? Did
the people of Nicaragua, having survived a revolution against the
U.S.-sponsored Samoza dictatorship and a relentless “covert” war
against U.S.-backed “contras,” want to cede to U.S. demands that
the Sandinistas be removed from power? Did the people of the
Sudan want the U.S. to destroy the country’s largest pharmaceutical
plant because the U.S. “mistook” it for a chemical weapons factory
and, since a mistake has been made, don’t they deserve reparations? Did
the people of Serbia want the U.S. and it’s NATO “allies” to
bomb it into the stone age for “humanitarian reasons?” Do the
people of Iraq think it’s “worth it” (declared in 1996 – a
whole lotta blood under the blown-up bridges since then) that 100,000
people died in the first “Gulf War” in 1991, followed by a conservatively
estimated million deaths due to 12 years of sanctions, followed
by an again conservatively estimated 100,000 deaths, again mostly
civilian women and children, since the April, 2003 invasion, to
get rid of Saddam Hussein, the man the U.S. armed and supported
when he “bombed his own people,” as well as when he pursued a bitter
internecine war with Iran which resulted in another million deaths
on both sides (hooray, cried Uncle Sam, "got rid of two birds
with one stone and didn’t have to waste a shot")?

Oh,
I didn’t mention the ouster of Aristide in Haiti, or the absolute
destruction of what was left of Afghanistan, or the U.S.’s $3-5
billion/year support of Israel while upbraiding the Palestinians
as an “equal partner” in both peace and war. Blum covers these
topics and other "diplomatic" sleights-of-hand in Freeing
the World to Death. (“Interventions: The Unending List;” “Debate
in Dublin” and other chapters).

Ask
most Americans what “wars” the U.S. has been involved in before
1991, and you’ll probably hear “WW1 and WWII – the ‘good’ wars
– Korea, and Vietnam.” But according to Blum there were
at least 50 “attempts to overthrow foreign governments; unprovoked
military invasion of some 20 sovereign nations; 25 countries who
suffered the onslaught of U.S. bombing campaigns, including 40 consecutive
days and nights in Iraq in 1991, 78 days and nights in Yugoslavia
in 1999, and the subsequent destruction, post-9/11 of Afghanistan
and Iraq. Depleted Uranium (DU), “one of the most despicable
weapons ever designed by mankind” (Blum, pg 129) was and is still
being used with increased frequency and intensity, turning the areas
we bombed into nuclear wastelands and poisoning the people exposed
to DU, including U.S. troops, dooming them to a future of illness,
deformed children, and other maladies experienced by the survivors
of the world’s two other nuclear Petri dishes, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The
U.S. has used its massive but ever-expanding “defense” budget to
finance the oppression of the planet, either through open invasions,
like the ones we’re witnessing today in Afghanistan and Iraq, or
“covert” operations as we saw – if we caught the movie, “Missing”
– in Chile, in which the CIA, (with a little help from the NSA
and other branches of the military, not to mention the storm troopers
of whatever lucky tyrant we happen to be supporting in the name
of "freedom," in this case Pinochet), staged and supported
a coup by a ruthless dictator and the inevitable “purging” of “radicals
or extremists” (anyone who made the mistake of fighting back, like
the Iraqis of today, in defense of his/her country’s independence
from U.S. domination – "Foolish mortals! Resistance is futile!"
said the Bad Guy from Planet X).

We
saw it all in Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Central America. We watched
the Empire grind up thousands if not millions worldwide, day to
day, thwarting human desire and fulfillment of the basic necessities
of life, never mind liberty and the almost unthinkable “pursuit
of happiness” (can you imagine that once some poor idealist considered
that a “human right?”), yet we did and continue to do nothing. Well,
not absolutely nothing: many of us voted for a cleaner, more efficient
war in Iraq run by Kerry. Surely we realize some connection
between the suffering of millions across the globe and the excessive,
wasteful, much ballyhooed “life style” that more and more Americans
cannot afford.

Our
recent “great struggles” between Democrats, so called, and Republicans,
so called, in light of bi-partisan support for Bush’s invasion of
both Afghanistan and Iraq, the absence of any real investigation
into the affairs of 9/11, and Kerry’s graceful acceptance of defeat
as if, like Gore, he at least acknowledges that sometimes the “good”
guys win, and sometimes the “bad” guys win, but no one ever cries
“fix” or “foul”
in Pro Wrestling. 

We
were an empire when Kennedy invaded Cuba as surely as we were an
empire when both Johnson and Nixon showered South East Asia with
ordnance. We were an empire under the “human rights” champion, Jimmy
Carter, whose regime trained Al Quaeda and began the U.S.’s covert
economic and military offensive against Nicaragua, just as we were
an empire under Ronald Reagan who, perhaps falling back on his old
tricks as a Hollywood snitch and back-stabber during the McCarthy
Inquisitions, supported both sides with guns and butter during the
Iraq/Iran war. We were an empire under Bush I, who as CIA Chief,
Vice-President and President helped arm and create the tyrant, Saddam,
even as the latter “gassed his own people” with chemicals manufactured
by American and European companies.

Reagan
and Bush armed, trained, and supported a fanatic fundamentalist
named Osama Bin Laden (whose family goes back a long way with the
Bushes) and his fellow Mujhadeen. 

When
I first read Killing Hope ten years ago, then Rogue
State a few years after that, I pushed them on friends and family
alike, saying “read this, you’re not gonna believe ninety percent
of this stuff, but it’s been there all along, right there in the
newspapers in front of our faces.” The newspapers we skimmed daily
without actually reading “between the lines.” The dull block-paragraphs
we failed to compare to similar paragraphs relating the same events
months, weeks, perhaps days earlier with a “different” skew or spin
according to what the powers in D.C. willed us to believe.

We’d
already tossed the newspapers in piles for recycling or weaned
puppies on them without questioning the “revisions” these proudly
“objective” journals placed on events, without reading between
the lines.

The
newspapers purported to “balance” unpleasant facts with avuncular,
“expert” opinion provided by corporate and government PR flacks
who washed from our brains the vague suspicion that the U.S. was not
acting with the best of intentions for all the good, hard-working
people who didn’t take drugs and "played by the rules"
or some other such nonsense.  

“The
main shortcoming of the establishment media lies in errors of omission,
much more than errors of commission. It’s not that they tell bald
lies so much as it is that they leave out parts of stories, or entire
stories, or historical reminders, which if included might put the
issue in a whole new light, in a way not compatible with their political
biases. Or they might include all the facts, leading to an obvious
interpretation, but leave out suggesting an alternative interpretation
of the same facts which stands the first interpretation on its head.
But the information they do report is often quite usable for my
purposes.” (Blum, pg 233.)

More
than any particular “fact” or omission, reading Bill Blum and others
like him teaches us not what to read so much as HOW to read. How
to read between the lines; how to recognize government double-speak
from facts reported by "renowned" journalists or even
burped up by accident – then quickly retracted – from
our "leaders’" own mouths. Such "accidents"
and misstatements have kept George Bush’s press handlers and
their willfully gullible audience of mainstream reporters busy explaining
what the president didn’t say when he said whatever offensive thing
he said the previous day, but what he meant to say, which was [fill
in the blank and wish upon a star].

Though
Blum’s specialty is American Foreign Policy, also included in this
collection, destined to provide fodder for future historians of
our era, are essays regarding our domestic illusions or rather,
the kind of domestic policy which one would expect to complement
a foreign policy which puts us at endless war with everyone always:
The War Against Drugs (but not Drug Companies), The War Against
Crime (and Free Speech), The War Against Cholesterol (but not Fast
Food conglomerates), The War Against The Philistines (or Palestinians,
as Israel’s all-powerful persecutors are known as today), The War
Against Hugo Chavez (and any other defiant Latin American leader
who might threaten the U.S. by setting a good example). The War
Against Communism (or selective memories of it: sanctions against
Cuba, but free trade with China), and of course, Son of the War
Against Communism, the War Against Terror ("we have nothing
to fear but fear itself?"), which is the toughest one of all.
Freud, Jung, and countless others before and after them have devoted
their lives to fighting Terror and the best anyone is yet to come
up with is Oxycontin, to name only one of the legal chemicals, besides
alcohol, in our vast armory of WMDs (gallant Republican Warrior,
Rush Limbaugh, used Oxycontin to fight terror for over five
years!)

Finally,
Blum’s book leaves one with a queasy feeling not only about the
government created, ostensibly, "of the people, by the people
and for the people," but…the people.  Either “we”
are extraordinarily ignorant and nave, believing what “our” government
tells us no matter what facts, opinions, or international outcry
appears on the scene to nudge us awake, or we are not a very kind
people at all. True, if one looks at Blum’s citations one would
see that virtually all of them are from nationally famous, “main
stream” newspapers, television news shows, and magazines, but not
all of us have the skill of a historian for weeding out public information
from Public Relations. 

Blum
points out that “in the absence of European and Arab governments
showing a lot more courage to stand up to the empire, it’s
the American people we have to turn to, for no one has the
potential leverage over the monster than the monster’s own
children have. And that’s the problem, for the American people
are…well…how can one put this delicately?…like one in
every 50 adult Americans claims a UFO abduction experience;
a National Science Board survey found that 27 percent of adults
believe the sun revolves around the earth; according to a Gallup
poll 68 percent believe in the devil (12 percent are unsure);
and most Americans believe that God created evolution…There
are all kinds of intelligence in this world: musical, scientific,
mathematical, artistic, academic, literary, and so on. Then
there’s political intelligence, which might be defined as the
ability to see through the bulls**t which every society, past,
present and future, feeds its citizens from birth on to assure
the continuance of prevailing ideology.” ("Winning Hearts
and Mindless" pg 265–267)

Is
Blum saying that a citizenry 42% of whom believed (according to
June, 2003 polls) that Iraq had a direct involvement with 9/11, most
being certain that Iraqis were among the 19 hijackers and 55% of
whom believed that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Quaeda,
(pg 265) aren’t up to the task of being responsible citizens of
a working democracy?” One can only wonder what, besides a crowbar,
it would take to pry such people away from their total support
of what The Empire does to the world,” writes Blum (pg 266).

Freeing
the World to Death is an invaluable contribution to understanding
(or attempting to understand) why contemporary Americans behave
the way they do. The strongest point of this book, among many strong
points, lies in its re-evaluation, from the side of rationality,
not "gut feeling" or "faith," of all the
“news” we’ve been exposed to since the “humanitarian” war in Bosnia
ushered in the age of Bush. It was Democrat Bill Clinton, after
all, who signed the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
well before 9/11; Clinton who liquidated hundreds of thousands of
Iraqis with sanctions; Clinton who said he would refuse to lift
the sanctions, which amounted to a siege that hurt the Iraqi
people, not Saddam, so long as Hussein remained in power; Clinton
who oversaw the Empire between Bushes
I and II. Kerry, it should be noted, debated Bush not on whether
the U.S. Military should be in Iraq, but how it can be used most
effectively while in Iraq. 

Every
American old enough to remember the enormous amount of government
time, citizens’ tax-money and creepy, voyeuristic wind, the foul
air of a moral scold’s "secret" perversions, blown
across the “Lewinsky Scandal” should read this book. The news
events are the stories they heard, or read, as they were being
made, but with the difference that Blum puts it into the necessary
context of an Empire at war – covert or overt – with much of the
planet, including its own pathetically loyal and unquestioning citizen/consumers
("We want to feel needed. What can we do to help?" asked
the Citizen/Consumers. "Shop," said the Retailer-in-Chief). 

 Blum
writes of “people who get virtually all their news from the
shock-and-awe tabloid weeklies, AM-radio talk shows, and television
news programs which, because of market-place pressure, aim
low in order to reach the widest possible audience, resulting
in short programs with lots of commercials, weather, sports
and entertainment. These news sources don’t necessarily have
to explicitly state the above falsehoods to produce such distorted
views; they need only channel to their audience a continuous
stream of statements from the government and conservative ‘experts’
justifying the war and demonizing Saddam Hussein as if they
were neutral observers; ignore contrary views except when an
expert is on hand to ridicule them and label them ‘conspiracy
theories;’ and never put it all together in an enlightening
manner. This constant drip-drip of one-sided information, from sources
who can be described as stenographers for the powers-that-be,
can produce any benighted variety of the human species.” (pg 267).

 Ultimately,
after reading a book such as Freeing the World to Death, we
are faced with the question we ourselves put to Nazi Germany:
to what extent are "the people" responsible? It is
difficult, almost impossible, to finish this book, to “re-live”
the events written about (often at the time they were happening
at the end of the nineties and first years of this decade
up to June, 2004, but with the perpetually happy talking heads
excised, commercials lifted, man behind the curtain exposed),
without asking oneself the question that was asked again and again
of the citizens as well as the leadership of Nazi Germany: what
kind of people would let this happen?

Bill
Blum’s updated commentary on the affairs of The Empire can be viewed
on his website.

November
15, 2004

Adam
Engel [send him mail]
is a disloyal, disobedient, disgruntled and disillusioned
citizen-by-circumstance of The Empire. He has seen crowds of up
to 100,000 people at open air music and sports events, but he has
never met 100,000 people, or even counted sheep past a few hundred,
yet as a tax-payer, he has participated in the killing of 100,000
Afghans and Iraqis and over 1000 Americans, mostly since President-elect
George Bush posed in a flight suit on May 1, 2004 and declared victory
over…what?

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