“The secret to understanding U.S. foreign policy is that there is no secret. Principally, one must come to the realization that the U.S. strives to dominate the world, for which it is prepared to use any means necessary.”
There are times when issues, such as US foreign policy, human rights, economics, and so on should be discussed calmly and coolly, with the focus on carefully reasoned arguments and hard data.
There are other times, however, when you need someone to grab you by the collar, sit you down, and tell you how shit works, no punches pulled.
Historian, former State Department employee, and fierce critic of American foreign policy Bill Blum takes the latter approach in his most recent work, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy.
After leaving the State Department in 1967 “because of his opposition to what the United States was doing in Vietnam,” Blum set out to expose the inner-workings of American foreign policy and what America is really doing abroad; you know, the stuff that you rarely hear about on the evening news.
America’s Deadliest Export is a collection of essays on just about every topic that should concern thinking citizens: from torture to Cuba to Wikileaks to Iran to capitalism to activism.
The theme throughout the book, and the myth that Blum is dead-set on thoroughly debunking, is the idea that American foreign policy means well: The comforting idea that, while the U.S. makes some mistakes from time to time, the land of the free has noblest of intentions.
Far and away the most important lesson to impart to the American mind and soul: regardless of our lifetime of education to the contrary, US foreign policy does not ‘mean well.’
The facts presented in this book should leave no doubt of that thesis, but the progress political activist must be conscious of it at all times.
But, of course, most prefer to remain in their comfort zones, so they stay away from any information that could challenge their conception of the country which they have been taught, from childhood on, to love and praise.
As long as people believe that their elected leaders are well intentioned, the leaders can, and do, get away with murder. Literally.
Blum compares much of the American population to “children of a Mafia boss”:
[They] do not know what their father does for a living, and don’t want to know, but then wonder why someone just threw a firebomb through the living room window.
“Why do they hate us?” is a question frequently asked by those who are unaware of America’s behavior overseas.
It would indeed seem to be an irrational hatred if one accepts the established dogma that America is a noble and righteous nation which has set out, against its own self-interest, to deliver freedom and peace to the world.
But, if one takes an honest look at American foreign policy in the post-WWII era, the answer to the above question becomes quite clear.
From overthrowing democratically-elected governments to supporting brutal dictators, from lying its way into war to relentlessly bombing defenseless countries, America has a lot to answer for.
The U.S. is an equal-opportunity bomber. The only qualifications for a country to become a target are: (a) it poses an obstacle…to a particular desire of the American Empire; (b) it is virtually defenseless against aerial attack; (c) it does not possess nuclear weapons.
Take Iraq as a case in point:
Bush was determined to vanquish Iraq, for the sake of Israel, for control of oil, and for expanding the empire with new bases, though in the end most of this didn’t work out as the empire expected; for some odd reason, it seems that the Iraqi people resented being bombed, invaded, occupied, demolished, and tortured.
As we now know (and as many knew at the time), the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with fighting terrorism; in fact, the invasion has increased terrorism and sectarian violence in the region, and has “created thousands of new anti-American terrorists. We’ll be hearing from them for a long time.”
But the media and our highest-ranking politicians make it clear that it will not do to investigate our own crimes.
We must ignore those, while ruthlessly condemning the crimes of others, claiming, as former Secretary of State George Shultz did, that they are simply “depraved opponents of civilization itself.”
The American media’s gravest shortcoming is much more their errors of omission than their errors of commission. It’s what they leave out, or seriously underemphasize, that distorts the news more than any factual errors or out-and-out lies.
One can take H.W. Bush’s famous line as an example of the indoctrination the American people are subjected to:
I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are.
This comment was made after the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian commercial airline, killing 290 civilians. So it goes.
With power comes responsibility; the U.S., being the most powerful nation in the world, must either begin taking account of its actions around the world and the impact that these actions are having on the lives of millions of innocent people, or the cycle of violence, torture, corruption, and endless war is going to continue, and the human species is going to move ever-closer to extinction.
Of course, none of this is to say that the United States is the only country in the world that is committing atrocities; that is far from the case.
However, the U.S. is, once again, the most powerful nation in the world, and American citizens have the privilege of being able to influence the actions of their government through abundant freedoms of speech.
While we (the American population) can’t control the actions of other countries, we can, to some extent, influence our own.
But we have to take an honest and sincere look in the mirror, first, and Bill Blum’s book undoubtedly helps in this regard.
Although Blum is primarily focused on the problems with American policies, foreign and domestic (and there are countless problems…), he isn’t merely a curmudgeon who is satisfied by pointing out the brutal and horrifying facts. He thinks we can do something about it; he wouldn’t be writing if he didn’t, of course.
The fact is that many are aware of America’s actions abroad; the torture, the wanton killing of civilians, the use of chemical weapons, the overthrowing of democratically-elected governments, the support for brutal dictatorships.
But, there is a sense of hopelessness. The problems are so massive and so widespread that it seems impossible that we could make a difference.
Blum doesn’t share this hopelessness, however, even though he acknowledges that it can be quite an easy trap to fall into.
…I’m blessed/cursed with a social conscience that assails my tranquility. Reading the fifty varieties of daily horrors in my morning newspaper – the cruelty of man, the cruelty of nature, the cruelty of chance – I’m frequently frozen in despair and anger.
Blum uses this despair and anger to his advantage in his writing, which is doing a great deal to help educate and inspire.
One could easily come away from Blum’s books feeling pessimistic about current affairs. He relentlessly tears away the notions of American exceptionalism that hide the reality behind America’s foreign policy goals (hint: they are not freedom and democracy, as we are so often led to believe).
But, in spite of the negative, gut-wrenching, blood-boiling information Blum reports, there still remains a glimmer of hope.
The people can rise up and resist unnecessary and unjust wars, they can display their love for the troops by not sending them to battle for reasons other than the most noble and the most dire circumstances, as they have throughout history.
Blum admits that the process is not particularly exciting, and that it takes serious time and persistence to see any reward. But ultimately, the time is going to pass anyway, so we might as well do something, anything we can, to spark change.
Usually when I’m asked ‘But what can we do?’, my reply is something along the lines of…educating yourself and as many others as you can until your numbers reach a critical mass: see it as the planting of seeds, to provide the raw sprouts that can grow into direct action.
I’m afraid that this advice, whatever historical correctness it may embody, is not terribly inspiring. However, I’ve assembled four wise men to add their thoughts, hopefully raising the inspiration level a little. Let’s call them the ‘patron saints of lost causes.’
Here are the messages from the ‘patron saints of lost causes.’
The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing – for the sheer fun and joy of it – to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it.
People think there must be some magical tactic, beyond the traditional ones – protests, demonstrations, vigils, civil disobedience – but there’s no magical panacea, only persistence.
There are no magic answers, no miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the familiar ones: honest search for understanding, education, organization, action that raises the cost of state violence for its perpetrators or that lays the basis for institutional change – and the kind of commitment that will persist despite the temptations of disillusionment, despite many failures and only limited successes, inspired by the hope of a brighter future.
And, Sam Smith:
Those who think history has left us helpless should recall the abolitionist of 1830, the feminist of 1870, the labor organizer of 1890, and the gay or lesbian writer of 1910. They, like us, did not get to choose their time in history but they, like us, did get to choose what they did with it. Knowing what we know now about how these things turned out, but also knowing how long it took, would we have been abolitionists in 1830, or feminists in 1870, and so on?
While America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy is overflowing with information that will enrage you and make you question everything you have been told about America’s role in the world, it will also provide you with a glimmer of hope.
Education, as all of the individuals above would acknowledge, is the first step.