Some things you need to know before the world ends
March 5, 2007
by William Blum
Flash! This just in! The Cold War was not a struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union.
It was a struggle between the United States and the Third World. What there was, was people all over the Third World fighting for economic and political changes against US-supported repressive regimes, or setting up their own progressive governments. These acts of self-determination didn’t coincide with the needs of the American power elite, and so the United States moved to crush those governments and movements even though the Soviet Union was playing virtually no role at all in these scenarios. (It is remarkable the number of people who make fun of conspiracy theories but who accepted without question the existence of an International Communist Conspiracy.)
Washington officials of course couldn’t say that they were intervening to block economic or political change, so they called it “fighting communism”, fighting a communist conspiracy, fighting for freedom and democracy.
I’m reminded of all this because of a recent article in the Washington Post about El Salvador. It concerned two men who had been on opposite sides in the civil war of 1980-1992. One was José Salgado, who had been a government soldier, and is now the mayor of San Miguel, El Salvador’s second-largest city.
Salgado enthusiastically embraced the scorched-earth tactics of his army bosses, the Post reports, even massacres of children, the elderly, the sick — entire villages. It was all in the name of beating back communism, Salgado says he remembers being told. But he’s now haunted by doubts about what he saw, what he did, and even why he fought. A US-backed war that was defined at the time as a battle against communism is now seen by former government soldiers and former guerrillas as less a conflict about ideology and more a battle over poverty and basic human rights.
“We soldiers were tricked,” says Salgado. “They told us the threat was communism. But I look back and realize those weren’t communists out there that we were fighting — we were just poor country people killing poor country people.”
Salgado says he once thought that the guerrillas dreamed of communism, but now that those same men are his colleagues in business and politics, he is learning that they wanted what he wanted: prosperity, a chance to move up in the world, freedom from repression.
All of which makes what they see around them today even more heartbreaking and frustrating. For all their sacrifices, El Salvador is still among the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere — more than 40 percent of Salvadorans live on less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations. The country is still racked by violence, still scarred by corruption. For some the question remains: Was it all worth it?
“We gave our blood, we killed our friends and, in the end, things are still bad,” says Salgado. “Look at all this poverty, and look how the wealth is concentrated in just a few hands.”
The guerrillas Salgado once fought live with the same doubts. Former guerrilla Benito Argueta laments that the future didn’t turn out as he’d hoped. Even though some factions of the coalition of guerrilla armies that fought in the civil war were Marxist, he said, ideology had nothing to do with his decision to take up arms and leave the farm where his father earned only a few colones for backbreaking work. Nor did ideology play a role in motivating his friends in the People’s Revolutionary Army. He remembers fighting “for a piece of land, for the chance that my children might someday get to go to the university.”
The Salvadoran government could never have waged the war as destructively and for as long as it did without a massive influx of military aid and training from Washington — estimated value: six billion dollars; 75,000 Salvadorans dead; about 20 Americans killed or wounded in combat; dissidents today still have to fear right-wing death squads; scarcely any significant social change in El Salvador; the poor remain as ever; a small class of the wealthy still own the country. But never mind. “Communism” was defeated, and El Salvador remains a loyal member of the empire, sending troops to Iraq.
This is not merely of historical interest. A civil war still rages in Colombia. Government soldiers and large numbers of right-wing paramilitary forces, with indispensable and endless military support from the United States, battle “communism”, year after year, decade after decade. The casualties long ago exceeded El Salvador. The irony is monumental, for of those labeled “communist”, a handful of the older ones may have fancied themselves as heirs to Che Guevara 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, but for a long time now the primary motivation of these “left-wing” paramilitary forces has been profits from drugs and kidnapings, obtaining revenge for their comrades’ deaths, and staying alive and avoiding capture. Someday the survivors on both sides may well be expressing sentiments and regrets similar to the Salvadorans above, wondering what the hell it was all really about, or at least wondering what the United States’s obsessive interest in their country was. (For those who may have forgotten, it should be noted that the Soviet Union has not existed since 1991.)
And someday, as well, survivors on all sides of Washington’s “War on Terrorism”, may wonder who the real terrorists were.
The Germans have to learn to kill
In the September 5, 2005 edition of this report I wrote about the decades-long effort by the United States to wean Japan away from its post-WW2 pacifist constitution and foreign policy and set it back on the righteous path to again being a military power, acting in coordination with US foreign policy needs.
For some years, the United States has of course had the same goal in mind for its other major WW2 foe. But recent circumstances indicate that Washington may be losing patience with the rate of Germany’s submission to the empire’s embrace. Germany declined to send troops to Iraq and sent only non-combat forces to Afghanistan, not quite good enough for the Pentagon war lovers and their NATO allies. Germany’s leading news magazine, Der Spiegel, recently reported the following:
At a meeting in Washington, Bush administration officials, speaking in the context of Afghanistan, berated Karsten Voigt, German government representative for German-American relations: “You concentrate on rebuilding and peacekeeping, but the unpleasant things you leave to us.” … “The Germans have to learn to kill.”
A German officer at NATO headquarters was told by a British officer: “Every weekend we send home two metal coffins, while you Germans distribute crayons and woollen blankets.”
A NATO colleague from Canada remarked that it was about time that “the Germans left their sleeping quarters and learned how to kill the Taliban.”
Bruce George, the head of the British Defence Committee, said “some drink tea and beer and others risk their lives.”
And in Quebec, a Canadian official told a German official: “We have the dead, you drink beer.”
Yet, in many other contexts since the end of the war the Germans have been unable to disassociate themselves from the image of Nazi murderers and monsters.
Will there come the day when the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents will be mocked by “the Free World” for living in peace?
Should it be legal under international law to criticize the state of Israel?
“On Faith”, an Internet feature of the Washington Post and Newsweek magazine, poses questions each week to a panel of more than 50 persons from the world of religion. A recent question was “Can you be critical of Israel and not be anti-Semitic?”
Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University replied: “Much depends on the motives of the critic. The unworthy critics today are easy to find. … their shrill voices are neither moderated by love nor tinged with sadness. Their desire is to see the Jewish state destroyed. The worthy critics, by contrast, are more scarce. … their words mingle praise along with reproof. They speak directly, sadly, and always in pain.”
So there you have it. A question so ridiculous on its face that it should not even be raised by two media giants or anyone else with any intellectual pretensions, but is being raised because of the unrelenting pressure of the Israeli lobby in the United States and throughout the world. It then receives an appropriately ridiculous answer.
Can anyone express reservations about a papal decree and not be anti-Catholic? Can anyone be critical of the pilgrimages to Mecca, which often end in tragedy, and not be anti-Islam? Can anyone be critical of the African negligence on the AIDS crisis and not be racist?
For anyone in the world to criticize the US war in Iraq do they have to love the United States? To be taken seriously — to be judged a “worthy critic” — must they in the same breath offer some kind of praise for the US? Are we to judge that those who don’t do so desire to see the American state destroyed? Can those in Palestine and Lebanon, upon whose heads and homes Israeli bombs fall, be worthy critics of Israeli policies? Are they not speaking “directly, sadly, and always in pain”?
40th anniversary of the March on the Pentagon, coming up March 17; an excerpt from William Blum’s memoir.
October 21, 1967, the March on the Pentagon, surely one of the most extraordinary and imposing acts of protest and civil disobedience in history — the government hunkered down in its trenches in the face of an audacious assault upon its seat of power by its own citizens; a demonstration much bigger than the Bonus Marchers of 1932 (those depression-stricken World War One veterans demanding payment on their government bonus certificates NOW, not in some pie-in-the-sky future — the people peaceably assembled to petition the government for a redress of grievances, violently and humiliatingly squashed by federal troops under the command of a general named MacArthur, and his aide named Eisenhower, and their officer named Patton.)
After a stirring concert at the Reflecting Pool by Phil Ochs surrounded by 150,000 of his closest friends, most of the protestors marched over the Memorial Bridge to the war factory. Never to be forgotten: the roof of the Pentagon when the colossus first came into view and we marched closer and closer — soldiers standing guard, spaced across the roof from one side to the other, weapons at the ready, motionless, looking down upon us from on high with all the majesty of stone warriors or gods atop a classical Greek temple. For the first time that day I wondered — not without excitement — what I was letting myself in for.
This was wholly unlike my first protest at the Pentagon. This was not a group of Quaker pacifists sworn to non-violence, who could bring out the least macho side of even professional military men, and who would be received cordially in the Pentagon cafeteria. Today, we were as welcome and as safe as narcs at a biker rally. Our numbers included many the boys at the Pentagon must have been itching to get their hands on, like those in the Committee to Aid the National Liberation Front, with their Vietcong flags, and SDS, and other “anti-imperialist” groups, who became involved in some of the earliest confrontations that day.
In sharp contrast to the likes of these were the illuminati like Norman Mailer, Marcus Raskin, Noam Chomsky, Robert Lowell, Dwight McDonald — men in dark suits, white shirts and ties as if to ward off evil spirits with the cross of respectability.
In the vast parking lot to which we were confined, open hostility was kept in check at first, but it was clear that the peace was only an inch deep. Repeated draft-card burnings took place — a veritable performance, with flaming cards held high and flaunted square in the irises of the soldiers, whose faces were masked in studied indifference. Although this augured conflict of unpredictable dimensions, I found it exhilarating to see all those young people acting so principled and fearless. I was sorry that I was too old to have a card to burn.
Scattered pockets of mild confrontation broke out, soon unfolding into more widespread and serious clashes. At one spot a Vietnam teach-in for the troops was broken up by MPs with clubs. Later, 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers, veterans of Vietnam, entered the scene, bayonets fixed, face to face at last with these people they had been hearing about so much, the privileged little sons of bitches whose incessant crying about international law and morality and god-knows-what-else gave aid and comfort to the enemy, the cowardly little snotnosed draft-dodgers who wallowed in sex and dope while the GIs wallowed in mud and death (and dope as well).
The paratroopers proceeded to kick ass — after ‘Nam this was a church picnic — and many bruised and battered demonstrators were carried away to waiting prison busses, helping to swell the day’s total arrestees to near 700. The protestors, whose only defense was to lock arms, appealed to the soldiers to back off, to join them, to just act human, shouting through a bull horn: “The soldiers are not our enemy, the decision makers are.” Though this was a sincere declaration, its failure to sway their attackers gave way to angry, impotent curses of “bastards” and “motherfuckers”.
I had no big argument with the idea that the soldiers’ bosses were the real enemy, but I had real difficulty with the expressions of “love” for the GIs that some silly hippie types allowed to pass their lips. The soldiers, after all, had made decisions, just as others of their generation had opted for draft evasion or Canada. These soldiers, in particular, were fresh from the killing fields. The idea of “individual responsibility” is not just a conservative buzzword.
Several eyewitnesses told the Washington Free Press that in other areas of the “battlefield” they saw as many as three soldiers drop their weapons and helmets and join the crowd, and that at least one of them was seized and dragged into the Pentagon by MPs soon afterward. Later attempts to obtain information about these soldiers from the Pentagon were met with denials.
There’s no evidence like no evidence
“AIDS patients suffering from debilitating nerve pain got as much or more relief by smoking marijuana as they would typically get from prescription drugs — and with fewer side effects — according to a study conducted under rigorously controlled conditions with government-grown pot.”
So, yet another study illustrating the absurdity of marijuana use being illegal in the United States. It remains to be seen whether the anti-marijuana forces will even bother to respond with one of their fatuous arguments. My favorite one is that “marijuana use leads to heroin”. How do they know? Well, 95%, or 97%, of all heroin users first used marijuana. That’s how they know. Of course, 100% of all heroin users first used milk. Therefore, drinking milk leads to heroin?
The sins of omission are more insidious than the sins of commission
Diane Rehm has a large and loyal listenership on National Public Radio, and I think she does a pretty good job with her very wide-ranging interviews, but the woman has one deep-seated flaw: She doesn’t understand ideology very well — right from left, conservative from liberal, liberal from radical leftist, and so on. Time and time again she gathers a group to discuss some very controversial issue, and there is not amongst their number a single person of genuine leftist credentials, or even close to it; and from a number of remarks I’ve heard her make, my guess is that this is not because she has a conservative bias, but rather that she has an inadequate comprehension of what distinguishes left from right; although whoever helps her choosing guests may well be conscious of what they’re doing.
The program of February 27, with someone sitting in for Rehm, is a case in point. The topic was Iran — all the controversial issues surrounding that country were on the table. The discussants were: 1) someone from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the oldest, most traditional private institution in support of US imperialism; 2) someone from the American Enterprise Institute, which makes the CFR look positively progressive; 3) someone from the Brookings Institution, which is about on a par with CFR ideologically. The Brookings representative was Kenneth Pollack, former CIA analyst and National Security Council staffer, who will always be remembered (or at least should be) for his 2002 book: “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq”. Can we look forward to his next book, “The Case for Global Warming”?
In a society which pays so much lip service to dissent, free speech, and Town Hall “balanced” discussions, the lineup of Diane Rehm’s guests is depressingly typical in the mainstream world. Whether it’s the 9-11 Commission, the Iraq Study Group, the Congressional JFK assassination committee, or any of dozens of other congressional investigating committees over the years, the questioning, challenging, progressive point of view is almost always one that cannot be entertained in polite society.
Is capitalism past its sell-by date?
The prisoner at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, standing on a box, a pointed black hood over his face, his arms outstretched, electrical wires dangling from his fingers, leading to other parts of his cloaked body … a symbol, an iconic image of the US war against the people of Iraq.
Now we have, if a photo were available, what could be an iconic image of the US war against the people of America, or at least against their health care — a paraplegic man, no wheelchair or walker, somehow propelling himself along a street in Los Angeles, a broken colostomy bag dangling from his piteous body, clothed in a soiled hospital gown, dragging a bag of his belongings in his clenched teeth … This human being had been taken by Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center to a homeless mission, which refused to accept him; the man then hurled himself from the hospital van to the street. Witnesses said that the van driver ignored their cries for help and instead applied makeup and perfume before speeding off.
This is one of several cases in the recent past of “homeless dumping” in Los Angeles. It’s all very understandable, from a bookkeeping point of view. The homeless missions have only so many beds, the hospitals have a budget and the debits and the credits have to balance. It’s what happens when a free market in a free society guarantees access to Coca Cola but not to health care.
Has anyone noticed how Doonesbury has gone downhill during most of the past year? Not only is the strip usually not very funny, it’s very often not even political; lots of TV-sitcom-type humor. Who needs that? There are plenty of other comic strips like that to choose from. What happened to Garry Trudeau?
 Washington Post , January 29, 2007, p.1
 For further details of the civil war period see William Blum, “Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II”, chapter 54
 Der Spiegel, November 20, 2006, p.24
 Washington Post, February 24, 2007, p.B9
 “West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir”, https://members.aol.com/bblum6/mem.htm
 Washington Post, February 13, 2007, p.14
 Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2007
William Blum is the author of:
Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire
Portions of the books can be read, and copies purchased, at
Previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.
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Robert S. Rodvik
“Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth.”
George Orwell – 1984