I’m often asked to suggest books for radical reading purposes. “I wanna know what’s really going on,” it typically goes, “but where do I start?” My standard recommendation for your run-of-the-mill, garden variety, weaned-on-Fox American begins with a list of two: “A People’s History of the
Blum’s latest book, “Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire” (Common Courage Press), reads like a primer to his work and offers this election year nugget on the back cover:
“If I were president, I could stop terrorist attacks against the
I’ve been fortunate enough to correspond with Bill Blum for the past few years, speak at events with him, and experience his kind spirit, razor sharp intellect, and clever sense of humor. Recently, we engaged in this bit of e-mail exchange:
MZ: On the jacket of your latest book, you say: “The
WB: If they have a halfway decent knowledge of how the Taliban ran
MZ: If trying to reach the Valueites is “a waste of our time, energy, and resources,” what avenues would you suggest for the 21st century dissident?
WB: I wasn’t commenting about the methods, only the target of our methods. We have in fact reached huge numbers of people who would otherwise not have become informed dissenters. And there’s an unlimited number of more of such people out there just waiting for “enlightenment” or waiting to learn that they’re not alone in their thinking. We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing. The fact that we didn’t stop the war doesn’t mean that we haven’t been successful in recruiting. And we have to assume that this will pay off in ways that can’t be entirely foreseen, when our numbers reach a critical mass.
MZ: What role do you see your work playing in the effort to create a more just society?
WB: Only in education, per the above. I’m not about to lead a charge into the Pentagon, so I’ll stick to writing and speaking. I think because I was a “believer” for almost the first half of my life I understand what confusions and what questions are in the minds of those who are not yet with us, and so I’m able to address those concerns without even being asked.
MZ: But, do you ever feel like we just don’t have enough time to reach the number of people it would take to achieve the critical mass you mention? How can one blend patience and urgency?
WB: What is the alternative? Immediate armed revolution? I don’t know what else to do.
MZ: I’ll assume one alternative you don’t agree with is supporting candidates from the Democratic Party. Were you surprised so many high profile lefties supported the Anybody-But Bush agenda in 2004?
WB: I was surprised, but I wouldn’t say they supported any agenda other than defeating Bush. But it was not a principled support; in their statement they could not, and did not, say a word in support of Kerry.
MZ: And how do you feel about the public anointing of George W. Bush as the “worst president ever”?
WB: As I discuss in the introduction to my new book, there’s virtually nothing bad done by the Bush administration that has not been done repeatedly by previous administrations. I think Bush’s very limited appeal as a person has produced a good portion of the hatred of him.
MZ: I’m glad you mentioned your new book. In your humble opinion, why should someone buy this “Freeing the World to Death”?
WB: One reason is that I would like the money. Another is that it’s a good read for anyone interested in world affairs,
MZ: What advice would you offer someone just starting out as an activist/writer?
WB: The advice I give to any kind of writer is simply to write, write, write. If you put it off you’re doomed. When you read other people, don’t just read for entertainment and information, study the style. If it’s something you like, read it again to figure out what it is you like; same for something you don’t like. Don’t give your writing to a dozen people for their commentary; the contradictory opinions will drive you crazy and can make you feel confused and insecure. Give it to only two or three people whose opinions you respect. Don’t worry about any “rules of writing”. Be unorthodox if it fits your subject and point of view; don’t be afraid to gamble with style; you’ll learn from your errors. If you want to use your writing as a tool of activism be prepared to not be rich. I’ve been lucky enough to make a halfway decent living out of my writing and speaking, but it took me a long time to reach that point; so keep your day job for awhile. Books are a much better way to make money than journalism.
MZ: What’s it like being an elder statesman of dissent?
WB: I have no such feeling about myself. If I have any prominence in the world of dissent, it’s only been reached in the past few years. So I can’t begin to feel like Chomsky, Zinn, Parenti, or many others. That’s not false modesty speaking. But I can say that I am surprised by any indication of any prominence, including your question. I did not have my first book published until I was 53. So maybe I’m the Granma Moses of radical writing.