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Blum

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