“There is an odor to any press headquarters that is unmistakable…the unavoidable smell of flesh burning quietly and slowly in the service of a machine.” -Norman Mailer
I keep telling myself to stop wasting time critiquing Thomas L. Friedman. No one can possibly top the self-inflicted damage he does merely by putting his laughable words on the New York Times op-ed page. But then he goes and outdoes himself…and here I am, furiously typing up an article.
In a March 28, 2004 op-ed entitled, “Awaking to a Dream,” Tommy Boy confesses that he “didn’t listen to one second of the 9/11 hearings and I didn’t read one story in the paper about them. Not one second. Not one story.” He felt the need to make this public because, as he reminds us: “I am the foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times” (that’s enough sin for any single confession, but hey).
Tommy Boy explains his motivation for ignoring the hearings. It’s not indifference, mind you, but instead: “It’s because I made up my mind about that event a long time ago: It was not a failure of intelligence, it was a failure of imagination. We could have had perfect intelligence on all the key pieces of 9/11, but the fact is we lacked – for the very best of reasons – people with evil enough imaginations to put those pieces together.” He goes on to declare that the “only people with imagination in the world right now are the bad guys.” Or as Middle East analyst Stephen P. Cohen told Tommy Boy: “That is the characteristic of our time – all the imagination is in the hands of the evildoers.”
Let’s not dwell on Cohen’s acceptance of Bush’s word. (It’s like all Fox News outlets adopting the term “homicide bomber” because Dubya asked.) Rather let’s consider the proposition that “we” lack “people with evil enough imaginations.”
Let’s also forget the word “evil” (a term best left to the realm of religion) for now and instead take a quick peek at how America stacks up on the sinner’s scoreboard.
Mr. Friedman, can you imagine a man who trained the Brazilian police force in the 1960s whose techniques involved placing the end of a reed in the anus of a naked man hanging suspended? The other end of the reed is soaked in oil and lit. Imagine that, Tommy. In Uruguay, the same American man taught techniques like electric shocks to the genitals, electric needles under the fingernails, and use of “a wire so thin that it could be fitted into the mouth between the teeth and by pressing against the gum increase the electrical charge.” Now imagine those tactics were honed in the American’s own soundproof basement room where, on one particular occasion, four street beggars were used to demonstrate the effects of different voltages on different parts of the body. All four men died. That man, Tommy Boy, was Dan Mitrione, head of Orwellian-named US Office of Public Safety. He wasn’t the exception…not by a long shot. He was the rule.
How much imagination was needed to come up with the post-Good War plot to recruit Nazi war criminals to the United States? How lacking in creativity is a nation where nuclear researchers studied the effects of plutonium on the human body by targeting some 800 African-American prisoners, mentally retarded children, and others who were induced, by money or by verbal subterfuge, to submit to irradiation? How clever were the Americans who figured out how to bomb Korean dams, defoliate Vietnam, and create a fundamentalist Muslim army of fight the Soviets?
Here’s another solid example of good old American ingenuity at work for you, Tommy Boy: Journalist Thomas J. Nagy has explained how a U.S. document, dated January 22, 1991, entitled, “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities,” spells out “how sanctions will prevent Iraq from supplying clean water to its citizens.”
“In cold language,” Nagy says, “the document spells out what is in store.” Clearly, those uninspired decision makers in the U.S. had an idea what war and sanctions could lead to. The document reads, in part:
Iraq depends on importing specialized equipment and some chemicals to purify its water supply, most of which is heavily mineralized and frequently brackish to saline. With no domestic sources of both water treatment replacement parts and some essential chemicals, Iraq will continue attempts to circumvent United Nations Sanctions to import these vital commodities. Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease. Iraq will suffer increasing shortages of purified water because of the lack of required chemicals and desalination membranes. Incidences of disease, including possible epidemics, will become probable unless the population were careful to boil water.”
Those same sanctions were killing 300 Iraqi children a day for over a decade. On the May 12, 1996 edition of 60 Minutes, then U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright had the following exchange about the effects of U.S.-enforced sanctions on Iraq:
Leslie Stahl: “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And-and you know, is the price worth it?” Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice but the price-we think the price is worth it.”
Shortly afterwards, Albright was rewarded for her imaginative style and named U.S. Secretary of State.
Whether it was the inventive scheming used to exterminate this continent’s indigenous population or the artful choice of not saying the word “genocide” until nearly a million Rwandans were dead, the U.S. has cornered the market on deception in the name of butchery. Coddled and dim-witted commissars like Tommy Boy Friedman are rewarded nicely for not only looking the other way, but for being outraged when any official enemy so much as sneers in our direction.
Will someone like Friedman ever really get it? In the words of Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Mickey Z. is the author of two upcoming books: “A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense” (Prime Books/Library Empyreal) and “Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda” (Common Courage Press). He can be reached at [email protected]