“The Dark Side”?

With the American journalist Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (Doubleday, 2008) receiving considerable attention (as it most certainly should), PBS – TV’s Bill Moyers had Mayer as a guest on his weekly program Friday evening.  

I strongly urge everyone concerned about the centrality of violence to the American way of life — but especially U.S. state-sanctioned violence against people of color — to take a look at Mayer’s book as well as the discussions that it has provoked.  Including, therefore, the Mayer interview.  (See "Jane Mayer on Torture," Bill Moyers’ Journal, PBS – TV, July 25, 2008.)

But I urge this upon you for one critical reason above all: After watching the interview, I now know that Jane Mayer is nowhere near as sharp as I had thought beforehand.

Thus, for example, the phrase "War on American Ideals" from the subtitle of her book very well may betray nothing more than the sales-pitch of her publisher.

But in her discussions of her work, Mayer routinely descends into usage of the terms of propaganda ‘terrorist‘ and, even worse, ‘war on terror‘.  

And Mayer’s usage of these terms of propaganda is indistinguishable from what we might expect to hear in the Oval Office during one of the Commander-in-Chief’s many torture-vetting sessions. 

Thus, in Mayer’s usage, ‘terrorist‘ and ‘war on terror‘ designate entities that she clearly believes are real (i.e., one being the kind of enemy that the American state or free world now confronts, the other some kind of campaign in which the American state or global humanity happens to be engaged), and that Mayer believes exist outside the system of false beliefs that the serially criminal state which is the ostensible focus of her new book adopts to justify its own violence on a grand scale.  

Here is Mayer responding to one of Moyers’ questions about why she undertook this particular project:

I was actually in Beirut in on October 23, 1983, when the U.S. Marine barracks was blown up by terrorists. So, I was kind of there when America started dealing with this issue. And it was the most horrific thing I’d ever seen. I wondered, "Well, what mindset makes a terrorist like this? And how do you deal with this?" And, but I knew enough about the Middle East when I saw, for instance, the Abu Ghraib pictures, to know if you’re going to humiliate people like this, you’re going to have a powerful backlash in the Middle East. And many people I interviewed said the war on terror is a war on hearts and minds. We’ve got to win over the next generation of young Muslims. And if you start torturing their relatives, it’s gonna be pretty hard.

Now.  Reading this, I don’t believe that a gloss on what Mayer’s comments betray about her own beliefs about American Power is necessary.


Evidently, an awful lot of Americans who should know better still soak-up material such as this like a sponge.


You don’t suppose that what this all really means is that these Americans believe there is such a thing as a bright side to American Power.  Do you?

And that there are even deeper, darker sides to American life than most of its critics care to face?


The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, Jane Mayer (Doubleday, 2008)

"Jane Mayer on Torture," Bill Moyers’ Journal, PBS – TV, July 25, 2008


"Psychologists and Interrogations — Key Articles" (Archive), Psyche, Science, and Society 
"Posts Filed under ‘Torture’," Psyche, Science, and Society 


"There Is No ‘War on Terror’," Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, Electric Politics, January 20, 2008

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