samedi 16 août 2008

History and Memory

Class Warfare: Noam Chomsky Interviews with David Barsamian

May 9 and 12, 1995

DB: Here you are—I want you to be the first kid on your block to have the new Nixon stamp. Speaks volumes for American political culture.

The nicest comment I’ve ever gotten in the New York Times was from William Safire about Nixon, remember that?

DB: No.

I had written an article in the New York Review about Watergate. I said I thought it was sort of a tea party and didn’t mean a thing and compared it with COINTELPRO, which came out at the same time. I said, Look, if you want to talk about something really serious, talk about that. But Watergate was just marginal. So William Safire picked it up and had a column about it, saying, Finally somebody told the truth about it. Then I started getting letters from little old ladies in Ohio saying, Thank you for defending our President. It was unusual praise from the New York Times.

DB: I want to talk to you about history and memory and, if you’ll excuse the expression, how they’re constructed. The Czech writer Milan Kundera has written, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” In the context of all of these anniversaries that have been coming upon us in waves, from D-day to V-E Day, there’s one in particular that I’d like you to talk about. August 6th marks the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. I guess you were sixteen at the time. Where were you when you heard the news?

I was actually a counsellor at a summer camp up in the Poconos when the news came through by radio, I guess. We probably didn’t have any newspapers. I was pretty shocked by it. I took off by myself for a couple of hours and walked in the woods and just thought about it. I came back and never talked to anyone because nobody seemed to care.
So it was just a sort of personal reaction.
But I must say that Nagasaki strikes me as much worse. Nobody’s done much research into Nagasaki, so I can only speculate, but my impression is that the Nagasaki bomb was basically an experiment.
Somebody ought to check this out, I’m not certain, but I think that they basically wanted to discover whether a different mechanism was going to work and used a city because, I don’t know why, why not a city? If that turns out to be true, even five percent true, it’s the most grotesque event in history, probably. Certainly the most grotesque scientific experiment in history.
Whatever you think about Hiroshima, maybe you can give an argument, maybe you can’t (I don’t really think you can) but at least it’s not in outer space. I can’t conceive of any argument for Nagasaki. And then it doesn’t stop there, of course. There was that event which I wrote about thirty years ago which I never see mentioned, although it’s in the official Air Force history. It’s what the official Air Force history calls the “finale.” General Hap Arnold, who was Air Force commander, decided that to end the war it would be nice to do it with a bang, with a kind of grand finale. What he wanted to do was to see if he could organize athousand planes for a raid on Japan. Getting a thousand planes together was a big managerial achievement in those days, sort of Schwarzkopf-style. But he managed to get a thousand planes, and they bombed cities, civilian targets, on August 14. This is described in a very upbeat description in the Air Force history. It was after the surrender had been announced but before it had been officially received. Then when you move over to the Japanese side, there was Makoto Oda, a well-known Japanese novelist who was maybe fourteen or fifteen at the time, living in Osaka. He wrote an article which describes his experiences. He remembers the August 14th raid and he claims that with the bombs they were dropping leaflets saying, Japan has surrendered. That one didn’t kill as many people as the atom bombs, but in a way it’s more depraved.
In fact, speaking of memories, March 10th was a memory. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Tokyo. That passed here without a whisper. If you look at the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey after the war, it points out that more people were killed during that bombing in a six-hour period than ever in human history. The bombing of Tokyo virtually leveled the city. It was mostly wood, so therefore they started by dropping oil gel, which sets things on fire, then napalm, which was then just coming in. According to survivors, the planes were just chasing people. There was no defense. It was a defenseless city. They used napalm to block the river so people couldn’t get to it. People did try to jump into ponds, but then they just burned to death because the ponds were boiling. I don’t know what the total was. It’s estimated somewhere between 80,000 and 200,000, which puts it very much on the scale of the atom bombs, maybe bigger. They so totally destroyed Tokyo that it was taken off the atom bomb target list because it would have had no effect other than piling rubble on rubble and bodies on bodies, so it wouldn’t have shown anything. It’s just astonishing.

The Far Eastern Economic Review, which is a right-wing journal run by Dow Jones, publisher also of the Wall Street Journal, commemorated it with a detailed article and a picture of what Tokyo looked like after the firebombing. It’s unbelievable. There are two or three buildings standing. The rest is just flat.

DB: Do you recall what it was about Hiroshima that caused you so much consternation? Were you aware of the implications?

The implications were pretty obvious. Even the little bit of information that came across was that one plane had flown across to an undefended city and dropped one bomb, which they then described and the number of people they had killed. But it was obviously monstrous. That does open a new era, no question. It means the destruction of the world is well within reach, quite apart from the nature of this attack. I had had various amounts of skepticism about the war right from the beginning.
The war against Germany was one thing. But this part was quite different, in my opinion. Growing up in that period, you just couldn’t miss what John Dower wrote about recently. The treatment of the Germans and the Japanese was radically different. If you go back and look at war films—these are childhood memories, I can’t be certain—but my memories are the Germans, who were by far worse in everything they did, incomparably worse, were treated with some respect. They were blond Aryan types, whereas the Japanese were vermin to be crushed. Plus all the story of the sneak attack and the day that would live in infamy and so on, you can’t take that seriously, and I didn’t at the time. Bombing Pearl Harbor and Manila is doubtless a crime, but by the standards of the twentieth century, even by then, it’s just invisible. They bombed military bases in colonies that had been stolen from their inhabitants, in the Philippines by killing a couple hundred thousand people, and in the case of Hawaii by guile and deceit and treachery. To bomb military bases in colonies that had been stolen from the inhabitants no doubt is a crime, but pretty low down on the scale.
Incidentally, there are plenty of Japanese atrocities. Japan had carried out horrifying atrocities, but that didn’t cause all that much of a reaction. Nobody cared much.
In fact, right up to the end, there were negotiations going on between Japan and the U.S., Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, and Admiral Nomura, right up till Pearl Harbor, I think until a week before the bombing. The main issue of contention was that the U.S. insisted that the Asian system be an open one, meaning everybody had a right to participate freely. So the U.S. had to maintain its rights in China. Japan at the end finally agreed to that, but they insisted that this be worldwide so that the Western Hemisphere would be open. Cordell Hull, who was a terrible racist, considered this outrageous, as did other American commentators.
This picks up a theme that goes way back through the 1930s. The Japanese from the beginning, from the time they began to expand, this particular phase of expansion, had said that they were trying to create in Asia something comparable to the Monroe Doctrine. That touched a nerve in the U.S., because there was more than a little truth to that. And there were all kinds of efforts through the 1930s to distinguish the Monroe Doctrine from the Japanese new order in Asia. They’re worth reading. I reviewed them in an article (“The Revolutionary Pacifism of A.J. Muste: On the Backgrounds of the Pacific War”) about thirty years ago. They are amazing to read, up till the end. They end up by saying,
How can they dare make this comparison? When we exert our power in the Caribbean and the Philippines it’s for the benefit of people. It’s to improve them and uplift them and help them, whereas when the Japanese do it, it’s aggression and atrocities.
If you look closely, one of the things I wrote about—I was just rereading that article, wondering whether to reprint it, there’s a lot of new scholarship, but as far as I know it changes nothing—was to review recently released Rand Corporation studies of Japanese counter-insurgency documents in Manchuria. They had carried out a campaign in Manchuria and they described it in some detail and the Rand Corporation released it. They’re quite fascinating reading. It was very close to what the U.S. was doing in Vietnam at the same time. They professed no interest in any gain for Japan. The Kwantung Army, which was running it, had a kind of social democratic rhetoric, in a sense. They wanted to create an earthly paradise for the people of Asia, wanted to save the people of Manchuria, what they called Manchukuo, like we called our client state South Vietnam. They wanted to save the people of Manchukuo from Chinese bandits and fascists and communists (the Russians were right there) and give them a chance to develop independently in cooperation with Japan. The same in China, where they established a puppet regime, but under the control of a well-known
Chinese nationalist, certainly with all the credentials of the people we were supporting in South Vietnam. And full of love for the people and high ideals and anti-communism. I just compared it point by point with what Dean Rusk and other people were saying about Vietnam at the time. Aside from a stylistic difference, it wasn’t very different. It translated very closely.
It’s kind of interesting. This article of mine has occasionally been mentioned in the U.S., and it’s regarded as an exculpation of Japan. It’s regarded as justifying the Japanese, comparing them to what we were doing in Vietnam, which tells you something about the American psyche. If you compare something to the horrifying atrocities that the U.S. was conducting in Vietnam, then that shows that you’re an apologist for them. How can anybody criticize us? What we’re doing must be magnificent.
Which raises another slight memory. We also just passed the twentieth anniversary of the departure of U.S. troops from Vietnam. It was interesting to see how that passed. Unfortunately, it’s just a broken record, so I don’t even have to repeat it. But the complete incapacity of anyone in the spectrum here, across the spectrum, of seeing that there was anything more involved than a failed endeavor, that’s pretty amazing. It happened to coincide with McNamara’s memoirs. That’s a story, too.

DB: I want to talk to you about McNamara in just a second. But was that article in American Power and the New Mandarins?

It was reprinted there. It was originally in Liberation, the anarchist journal. A.J. Muste had just died, and Nat Hentoff was putting together a volume of essays for him. A.J. Muste was a revolutionary pacifist. The framework of the article was, Let’s test his thesis in the hardest case, when the country is attacked. Technically the country wasn’t attacked, but let’s say the U.S. was attacked. In that case, does it make sense to be a pacifist? He was. He thought we should not fight that war. Then I said, How can we evaluate that position? I went on in some detail into the background of these things.
The background is quite interesting. August 6th will be coming along, and there is going to be endless discussion about the war in Asia. We’ll just look and see what is said. For example, what is going to be said about the comparison to the Monroe Doctrine? What’s going to be said about the fact that the U.S. was pretty supportive of Japan right through the 1930s? As late as 1939, Ambassador Grew, who was the leading specialist on Japan, was defending the Japanese conquest in China. In fact, the big debate then was, Are they going to cut off our access to China? What is going to be said about the 1932 Ottawa Conference, where Britain, at that point unable to compete with much more efficient, not cheaper labor, but more efficient Japanese production, simply abandoned the laissez-faire doctrine, free trade, which they had instituted when they figured they were going to win the game because they were richer than anyone else? They couldn’t compete any longer, so they abandoned it and closed off the Empire. For a country like Japan, without resources, dependent on trade, for the British to close off the Empire, meaning at that time India, Australia, New Zealand, Borneo, Malaya—it was not technically closed off but they raised tariffs so high that Japan couldn’t get in. The Dutch did the same in the East Indies, what’s now Indonesia. The U.S. did the same. We were a much smaller power then, but in the Philippines and Cuba, that was closed off, in effect. And here is Japan saying, We’re latecomers in the game, admittedly, but we want to play the game the same way you guys do. If you block trade, we’ll just have to use force, the same way you did in the first place. They specifically compared it with the Monroe Doctrine.
You can have any view you like about this, but to discuss the Second World War without discussing these things doesn’t even reach the level of idiocy. So we’ll know in a couple of months how much of this was discussed. I think we can make a pretty fair guess.

DB: It’s amazing to see how fifty years later Hiroshima is still such a contentious issue. Recently there was a huge ado about the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum exhibit on the atomic bombing.
Subsequently the director resigned under fire from Congressmen and veterans’ groups and other monitors of history. What is it that makes this such a passionate issue?

I was involved in that. As you know, I’m a neurotic letter writer. I’m one of those people who signed that statement of historians saying, This ought to be opened up to discussion. It can’t just be closed. It said, Maybe the exhibit has to be criticized, but let’s have a serious exhibit and look at the history. The Smithsonian backed off from that under pressure from the American Legion and some veterans’ groups and so on and political pressure, including by the Washington Post, which went berserk over this issue. How dare you raise this question? Any question that might indicate that we’re not perfect and they’re not devils? My favorite article is by Charles Krauthammer. I hate to quote from memory, but my recollection is that he said something about how what we should have is the Enola Gay and it should be an object of reverence. In other words, we should pray to this idol and revere it because it succeeded in massacring people, and since that’s our job, we should not only accept it but revere it, like a god. That’s the extreme.
After I signed that statement, there were about fifteen hundred people who signed it, I started getting letters from outraged people. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was the only person who ever answered the letters. But I did answer them, because I’m always intrigued. And besides, I feel you ought to answer letters. So I answered them and got into some interesting correspondence, which varied. At one point a piece of one of my letters was published in some Air Force journal, with a violent diatribe about these anti-American fanatics. The letters ranged. There were people with whom I had a perfectly serious correspondence, for example, veterans who said, I was out there at the time and I just wanted to get home alive and I didn’t care what they did. Okay, that’s understandable. I don’t agree, but we’re sort of in the same moral universe.
But others were insane. There were people who sent me articles written saying, History should be nothing more than a record of data.
You should show the Enola Gay, you should show August 6, period.

Anything that goes beyond data is political correctness taking over. Of course, they don’t believe that of anything else, but on this one they do.
And basically the theme was, We’ve got to worship the Enola Gay. There is a history here, too. For years—I don’t know if it’s still true—at air shows, the regular Texas air shows, every year the pilot of the Enola Gay would fly a replica of it and thousands of people would cheer. There aren’t many countries that celebrate atrocities like that.
It was rather intriguing to compare. The anniversary of the fire-bombing of Tokyo was on March 10th. That was about three weeks after the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Dresden, which was mid-February some time. The bombing of Dresden was pretty bad. Nobody knows, but I think numbers like maybe 30,000 or 40,000 people killed are used. They destroyed a civilian city. They originally thought it was a military target, but they apparently knew in advance that it wasn’t. That was the British and the American Air Forces, under British command.
The British press had quite a lot of soul-searching about this. I haven’t seen anything here. Britain was under attack at that time. That’s when V-2 rockets were coming. Britain had, first of all, suffered, was threatened, and was still under attack. They didn’t know until the last minute how that war was going to end. If the Germans had been a little bit more advanced with jet planes and V-2 rockets it could have gone their way. The U.S. was never attacked. I think a couple of balloons flew over Oregon or something, but the British are able to reconsider whether the destruction of Dresden was legitimate, and we can’t. Because we are perfect. We are holy. We revere our murderers because they are gods, and the more people they kill the more godly they are. That’s our history. One example is Theodore Roosevelt’s Winning the West, which ought to be read by every student in every college. It’s just proto-Nazi.

DB: Getting back to Hiroshima again, there are just a couple more things I want to touch on with you about that. You’ve heard the traditional rationalizations for it. I’m sure they’re going to be repeated ad nauseam in August. The bombing was a military necessity. Had the U.S. invaded there would have been one million casualties.

I don’t think any serious historian even takes that seriously at all any more. One can argue about whether it was worth doing or not. It’s not an open-and-shut case. On the other hand, there is pretty strong evidence now that they never considered anything like that level of casualties. That’s a number that Truman threw around once in his diary, but the actual numbers estimated (Barton Bernstein at Stanford has probably done the most detailed work on this from the documentary record) are, I think, about 50,000 or 60,000. Aside from that, there’s no reason to believe there ever would have been an invasion. The invasion was planned for November, and another one for the next May or some months afterwards. But there was pretty good reason to think that Japan would have surrendered by then. In fact, again, the Strategic Bombing Survey said that Japan couldn’t have held out that long, atom bombing or not.
Quite apart from that, there’s a question about the legitimacy of an invasion. Why did we have to occupy Japan? Maybe it was right, maybe it was wrong, but it’s not obvious. For example, the fact that Japan had attacked two military bases in two U.S. colonies hardly gives us a justification for occupying it. Of course, Japan had carried out plenty of atrocities. But we didn’t care about the worst ones in the 1930s. We paid very little attention. There was some criticism, some embargoes, this and that. But they were mostly not because of the atrocities. During the war Japan carried out tons of atrocities. The Bataan Death March, the treatment of prisoners, and so on. But that’s in the context of the war, and we weren’t too pretty either if you look at what was happening.

So there is a question about the invasion of Japan. You can give an argument for that, too, even from the Japanese side. There were plenty of Japanese who, I think, wanted that invasion. It’s a complicated story.
One thing that the invasion did was it restored the imperial system.
MacArthur and the Americans purposely covered up Emperor Hirohito’s crucial role in the war and the atrocities because they wanted to keep the imperial system as a way of controlling Japan. And they did cover it up. It’s a pretty horrible story.
But nevertheless, the invasion did undermine to some extent the legitimacy of the imperial system. Therefore it created an opening for Japanese democrats that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. So that’s a factor. You can debate that. I should say that the net effect of the invasion is a complicated story. Overall, it probably undermined
Japanese fascism and left some kind of opening for Japanese democracy. On the other hand, it was a very mixed bag.
By 1947, the U.S. had undertaken what it called the “reverse course,” which meant in effect restoring the old fascist structures, the zaibatsu, the conglomerates. They smashed up the labor unions, pretty much what the U.S. did around the world. It started in Japan around 1947. George Kennan was once again instrumental in that reversal, a nice record all across the board. But it’s a mixed story. If you want to look at the invasion, there are many facets, including the question, Why invade? But if it was agreed that we should have invaded, there is strong reason to believe that the invasion would have been just an occupation of a country that had surrendered, atom bomb or not.
Aside from that, there’s the question of the Russians. The Russians came in, I think, around August 8. That was a terrible blow to the Japanese. They could not withstand a Russian land invasion, and they knew it. It’s very likely that a large part of the motive in the atom bombing was to cut off the possibility of Russian participation in control over East Asia. The U.S. took a very strong line on that. We not only kept the Russians out, we kept the British and the French and the Dutch and everyone out. The Far Eastern Commission, which was supposed to oversee Japanese affairs, the U.S. ruled with an iron hand. They wouldn’t let anyone in. Kind of like the Monroe Doctrine. In the Middle East at least the U.S. let the British in. But in Japan, nothing. There are good studies of this. So this is going to be our show. And certainly not the Russians. You can debate exactly the extent to which the atom bomb was motivated by those considerations, but it was certainly not trivial.

DB: I was talking to Michio Kaku some weeks ago. He told me a really interesting story. His parents were interned, as were tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans. He said that the motive behind the internment had to do with the rich agricultural lands that the Japanese farmers had, particularly in California, and that these were confiscated by the government and then handed over to agribusiness. Have you heard that?

I’ve heard that. I’ve never researched it, so I can’t say, but I’ve certainly heard it. I think that was the outcome. How much it was the motive I don’t know.

DB: I come from the Upper East Side of New York. There were a lot of Germans there. The Bund was marching-around in the 1930s, in fact, right up until the war, but one didn’t hear any calls for internment of German-Americans.

I was in Philadelphia in a German and Irish Catholic neighborhood.
We were the only Jewish family there. The neighborhood was very anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi. I remember beer parties when Paris fell, and it lasted up until December 7, 1941. In fact some of my dramatic childhood memories are watching the guys who were cheering for the Nazis one day come around with little tin hats and telling everybody to pull down their shades the next day, a very sudden transition. But there was no internment of Germans. It’s not that they were treated nicely.
The German POWs were sent to re-education camps, as were the Italians, which was completely illegal. The U.S. had to keep it secret because they were afraid the Germans would retaliate with the U.S. prisoners. So they were renamed. At first they were called re-education camps. Then they were called some other fake name. The idea was to brainwash them, what’s called “teaching them democracy.” They were kept in the U.S. until about mid-1946. They were used for forced labor.
Some were killed. They were kept in England several years later. Did you know Peggy Duff? She was the main person in the international peace movement for years. Her first activity was exposing the British re-education camps for German and Italian prisoners. We actually know a lot about the German side of it, because the Germans keep very good records. The Italians, nobody knows a thing. They were probably treated much worse, because they didn’t keep any records. But you’re absolutely right, there were no German-Americans interned.

DB: Michio told me another thing in terms of duration. Some Japanese-Americans, including his parents, were kept in the internment camps almost a year after the war ended. There was compensation much later, after many of the people had died. Again with this issue, the question of memory: Politicians and pundits today often cite World War II and that era as not only just the good war, but there were no moral ambiguities. Right was right. Wrong was wrong.
Americans were united. There was great cooperation. People were making sacrifices. Is that how you remember it?

There is a lot of truth to that. During the war there was tremendous unity. People were making, not sacrifices of the kind that the Russians made, but you weren’t driving as much as you used to, and you wouldn’t buy a new refrigerator, those kinds of sacrifices. And of course
American soldiers fought.
But there were plenty of moral ambiguities. The moral ambiguities went before and started during the war again. So the U.S. and Britain were very pro-Mussolini. Even after the invasion of Ethiopia the U.S. accelerated its sale of oil to Italy in violation of the embargo. Italy was loved. Mussolini was that “admirable Italian gentleman,” as Roosevelt called him. After the March on Rome in 1922 and the establishment of Italian fascism and the smashing of the Parliament, the destruction of the trade unions, the torture chambers, and so on, American investment boomed. Mussolini was very much admired across the board, including by the left, I should say. In the 1930s U.S. investment shifted mostly to Germany. Germany became after Britain the leading recipient of U.S. investment. There were very close relations between German and American firms. American firms were participating in the Aryanization program, the robbery of Jewish properties. The U.S. government, the State Department, for example, was taking quite a favorable attitude toward the Nazis at least until 1937. The line was that Hitler was a moderate and we have to support him because he’s standing between the extremes of left and right and unless we support him there will be a rise of the masses. The British were even more favorable to Hitler. Lord Halifax went to Germany in 1937 or 1938 and told Hitler how much the British admired him. This continued almost until the war. Then, as soon as the war got started, the first thing the U.S. and Britain did as they started liberating the Continent was restoring the fascist structures, very openly.

DB: Christopher Hitchens had a brilliant essay, in a recent Monthly Review, on Munich. It’s always talked of as “appeasement.” He said it wasn’t appeasement. It was collaboration.

I wrote him a letter after that mentioning to him some additional documentation. It was as you say an excellent essay, but the truth is even worse than he says. The documents are very explicit. They say, We must support Hitler. It’s the same kind of thing they say about every
Third World gangster they support these days. It’s the only barrier against the masses, who will otherwise rise up and take away everything from the people of property. So of course we have to support Hitler. This goes right through to 1937 and 1938. The same was going on in Spain.
Basically the U.S. and Britain were kind of supporting Franco. They didn’t openly support him, but the policies that they adopted were pretty much pro-Franco. For example, there was an embargo, but Franco was getting everything except oil. That’s the one problem he had. He managed to get oil. How? From Texaco Oil Co., which happened to be run by an open Nazi. The Texaco Oil Co. had contracts with the Republic. It broke them. The ships that were out at sea were rediverted to Franco. This continued right through the war. The State Department always claimed it couldn’t find it, didn’t know anything about it. I even read it at the time. The little left-wing press could find it. They were reporting it. But the State Department couldn’t find it. Later of course they conceded that it was happening. Meanwhile, some American businessman tried to send pistols from Mexico to the Republic.
Roosevelt gave a press conference in which he bitterly denounced him.
He said, Of course it’s not technically illegal, but some people just have no patriotism at all. On the other hand, Texaco selling oil to Franco was just fine. We just had a repeat of that in Haiti, which the press is still sitting on. Texaco also sent oil to the Cédras junta with the agreement of the Bush and Clinton administrations.

DB: Let’s keep on this theme of history and memory. Robert McNamara is perhaps the epitome of “the best and the brightest”. He has the number one bestseller in the country today: In Retrospect. He writes, “We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation. We made our decisions in light of those values. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong.
We owe it to future generations to explain why. I truly believe that we made an error not of values and intentions, but of judgment and capabilities.”

Actually, he’s correct about the values. If somebody tries to disobey us, our values are that they have to be crushed and massacred. Those are our values. They go back hundreds of years, and those are exactly the values that they acted upon. His belief that it was a mistake—personally I agree with the hawks on this. He’s been criticized by the doves who say, You came around too late, and by the hawks who say,
Well, it was a victory. And the hawks are right. It was a victory. So it wasn’t a mistake. He doesn’t understand that. He doesn’t understand very much, incidentally. The one interesting aspect of the book is how little he understood about what was going on or understands today. He doesn’t even understand what he was involved in.
I assume he’s telling the truth. The book has a kind of ring of honesty about it. What it reads like is an extremely narrow technocrat, a small-time engineer who was given a particular job to do and just tried to do that job efficiently, didn’t understand anything that was going on, including what he himself was doing.
But you’re right. There’s only one criticism that he sees, or that any of his critics see, or even his supporters, the whole range of discussion, including people who were very active in the peace movement, I should say. I’ve been shocked by this, the people who are active in the peace movement who are saying, We’re vindicated because he finally recognized that we were right. It was an unwinnable war.
What about the maybe, if you count them up, four million Indochinese that died, something on that order. What about them?
Actually, he has a sentence or two about them, and even that sentence is interesting. He talks about the North Vietnamese who were killed. An interesting fact about the book—and you can’t blame him for this, because he’s just adopting the conventions of the culture that he comes from, he’s completely uncritical and couldn’t think of questioning it—throughout the book the “South Vietnamese” are the collaborators whom we installed and supported. He recognizes that the population was mostly on the other side, but they’re not “South Vietnamese.” The attack on them doesn’t appear.
The most interesting part of the book, in my opinion, the first thing I looked at when I read it, is what he would say about the two major decisions that he was involved in. He was involved in two basic decisions. He implemented orders, of course. One was in November and December 1961, when the internal resistance was overthrowing the U.S. client regime after it had already killed probably 80,000 people, eliciting internal resistance which Washington’s terror state couldn’t withstand. Kennedy just turned from straight terror, which it had been before, to outright aggression. They unleashed the American air force against Vietnamese villagers, authorized napalm, started crop destruction. They also started attacks against the North, which was not involved seriously at the time. That was the first big decision. He doesn’t even mention it. I don’t think he’s concealing anything. I don’t think he thought of it as a decision. Because after all, we’re just slaughtering South Vietnamese, and that doesn’t harm us at all. So why shouldn’t we do it? Nobody’s going to get angry. Nobody’s going to harm us if we kill South Vietnamese. So when we send U.S. planes to napalm Vietnamese villages, what could be the problem? So that’s not even mentioned.
The second one is even more interesting. In January 1965 they made the decision to escalate radically the bombing of South Vietnam. They also started bombing North Vietnam at the time, February 1965. But the bombing of South Vietnam was tripled in scale, and much more devastating. That was known. In fact, one person who describes that right at the time—and this is a very interesting aspect of McNamara’s book and of the commentary on it—was Bernard Fall, a French military historian and Indochina specialist. A big hawk, incidentally. It’s “we” and “them.” He was on “our side” and that sort of thing. But he happened to have a missing gene or something. He cared about the people of Vietnam, although he was a hawk and a military historian who supported the French and then the Americans. He didn’t want to see the place destroyed. In 1965, he wrote that the biggest decision of the war was not the bombing of North Vietnam, not the sending of American troops a couple of months later, but the decision to bomb South Vietnam at a far greater scale than anything else and to smash the place to bits. He had also pointed out in the preceding couple of years that the U.S. had been destroying the so-called Viet Cong with napalm and vomiting gases and massive bombardment and it was a massacre. He said in 1965 they escalated it to a much higher attack, and that was a big change. He was an American advisor. He describes how he flew with the American planes when they napalmed villages, destroyed hospitals. He described it very graphically. He was infuriated about it, but he describes it.

McNamara refers to those articles. He says, Fall’s reports were “encouraging” and justified the U.S. escalation. McNamara didn’t mention the decision to vastly increase the bombing of South Vietnam.
That’s just passed over. Nor is there discussion of the bombing of South Vietnam in general. He just passes over it without comment. He cites Fall’s articles and says, Part of the reason that we were encouraged to proceed was that Fall was a fine analyst and knowledgeable person and was very impressed with what we were doing and thought it was going to work. There’s a certain truth to that. Fall was saying, Yes, these guys are such murderous maniacs that they may succeed in destroying the country. In that sense, he thought it was going to work.
Then McNamara has a footnote in his book. He says two years later, Fall had changed his mind about the efficacy of American actions and took a more pessimistic view about the prospects for American victory.
That was 1967. Look at what he wrote in 1967. He said this just before he died. He said Vietnam is literally dying under the worst attack that any country has ever suffered and it was very likely that Vietnam as a cultural and historical entity was going to become extinct under the American attack. And McNamara reads this and says he changed his mind about the efficacy of what we were doing. Not only did he write that, but every reviewer read it. Nobody comments on it. Nobody sees anything funny about it. Because if we want to destroy a country and extinguish it as a cultural and historical entity, who could object? Fall was talking about South Vietnam, notice, not North Vietnam. The killing was mostly in South Vietnam. The attack was mostly against South Vietnam.
In fact, there’s an interesting aspect of the Pentagon Papers, too. The Pentagon Papers were not very revealing, contrary to what people say. I had advance access to them, since I had been helping Dan Ellsberg in releasing them, so I wrote about them in a lot of detail and very fast because I had already read them. But one of the very few interesting things about the Pentagon Papers which I wrote about at the time was the disparity between the planning for the bombing of the North and the planning for the bombing of the South. On the bombing of the North, there was meticulous, detailed planning. How far should we go? At what rate? What targets? The bombing of the South, at three times the rate and with far more vicious consequences, was unplanned. There’s no discussion about it. Why? Very simple. The bombing of the North might cause us problems. When we started bombing the North, we were bombing, for example, Chinese railroads, which happened to go right through North Vietnam. We were going to hit Russian ships, as they did.
And there could be a reaction somewhere in the world which might harm us. So therefore that you have to plan for. But massacring people in South Vietnam, nothing. B-52 bombing of the Mekong Delta, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, destroying hospitals and dams, nobody’s going to bother us about that. So that doesn’t require any planning or evaluation.
Not only is it interesting that this happened, but also interesting is the fact that no one noticed it. I wrote about it, but I have yet to find any commentator, scholar, or anyone else, who noticed this fact about the Pentagon Papers. And you see that in the contemporary discussion. We were “defending” South Vietnam, namely the country that we were destroying. The very fact McNamara can say that and quote Bernard Fall, who was the most knowledgeable person, who was utterly infuriated and outraged over this assault against South Vietnam, even though he was a hawk, who thought Saigon ought to rule the whole country—you can quote him and not see that that’s what he’s saying—that reveals a degree of moral blindness, not just in McNamara, but in the whole culture, that surpasses comment.

DB: Just a couple more things on McNamara and his mea culpa.
He’s sort of taken the Nazi Nuremberg defense, following orders, allegiance to the Führer, that’s why he didn’t speak out while he was Secretary of Defense.

I don’t agree. He does not recognize that anything wrong was done.
So there’s no question of a defense.

DB: On MacNeil-Lehrer, he now says he had misgivings about the policies.

What were the misgivings? The misgivings were that it might not succeed. Suppose that some Nazi general came around after Stalingrad and said, I realized after Stalingrad it was a mistake to fight a two-front war, but I did it anyway. That’s not the Nuremberg defense. That’s not even recognizing that a crime was committed. You’ve got to recognize that a crime was committed before you give a defense. McNamara can’t perceive that. Furthermore, I don’t say that as a criticism of McNamara.
He is a dull, narrow technocrat who questioned nothing. He simply accepted the framework of beliefs of the people around him and that’s their framework. That’s the Kennedy liberals. We cannot commit a crime. It’s a contradiction in terms. Anything we do is by necessity not only right, but noble. Therefore there can’t be a crime.
If you look at his mea culpa, he’s apologizing to the American people.
He sent American soldiers to fight an unwinnable war, which he thought early on was unwinnable. The cost was to the U.S. It tore the country apart. It left people disillusioned and skeptical of the government. That’s the cost. Yes, there were those 3 million or more Vietnamese who got killed. The Cambodians and Laotians are totally missing from his story.
There were a million or so of them. There’s no apology to them.
It’s dramatic to see how this is paired once again—I’ve been writing about this for years—with discussions of the inability of the Japanese to give a fully adequate apology for what they did during the Second World War. The Prime Minister of Japan has just been in China, where he apologized profusely for the atrocities that Japan carried out and the suffering of the people of Asia caused by Japanese aggression. That’s been discussed in the New York Times, critically. Because, well, yeah, sure, he said it, but there are some Japanese parliamentarians who think he shouldn’t have said it, so that the Japanese are still unwilling to face up to what they did. Next column over, we’re facing up to the fact that we harmed the U.S. by destroying three countries and killing millions of people. It’s pretty interesting. I don’t think any country in history could have exhibited this shocking force on the front page without comment. Incidentally, there’s no comment in the whole West.
It’s not just the U.S. In the British and the European press, to the extent I read it, it’s exactly the same. This is part of Western culture. It’s what Adam Smith called the “savage injustice of the Europeans,” which already in his day was destroying much of the world.

DB: Long before McNamara wrote this book you had compared him to Lenin. What did you mean by that?

I compared some passages of articles of his in the late 1960s, speeches, on management and the necessity of management, how a well-managed society controlled from above was the ultimate in freedom. The reason is if you have really good management and everything’s under control and people are told what to do, under those conditions, he said, man can maximize his potential. I just compared that with standard Leninist views on vanguard parties, which are about the same. About the only difference is that McNamara brought God in, and I suppose Lenin didn’t bring God in. He brought Marx in.

DB: The Times the day before yesterday had a front-page story: “The Radical Right Has an Unlikely Soulmate In the Leftist Politics of the Sixties.” It states: “There is a sense that the Vietnam era war turmoil tore a hole in the post-World War II social fabric and that although it was the left that opened the rift, it was the right that has driven a truck through it.” What do you think the newspaper of record has in mind in comparing the sixties with what’s happening in the nineties?

That makes perfect sense from their point of view. Since everything the U.S. does is by necessity correct, except maybe it fails, or maybe it costs us too much, but otherwise it is by necessity correct, therefore the Vietnam War was of necessity correct and legitimate, except maybe for its failures, and the left was criticizing and therefore opened up this rift.
I doubt if Pravda would have gotten to this level, but maybe it would have. Suppose you had read Pravda about the invasion of Afghanistan, which was criticized. They say, You’ve got these critics, like Sakharov and these people, who are tearing a hole in the body politic by undermining Russian authority by saying we shouldn’t defend the people of Afghanistan from terror. I suppose you can imagine that appearing in Pravda. I don’t know for certain that it did. If so, Pravda would have descended to the level of the New York Times, which sees it exactly that way. They saw it that way at the time, as did the leading doves, who questioned the war because of its apparent failures and its costs, primarily its costs to us. By those standards, no one had a right to criticize the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia: it worked, and casualties were very few. Virtually no one in the mainstream was capable of even imagining the position that everyone took in the case of Czechoslovakia: aggression is wrong, even if it succeeds and at a small cost. The criticisms were so tepid they were embarrassing. Almost nobody, including me, dared to criticize the U.S. attack on South Vietnam. That’s like talking Hittite. Nobody even understood the words. They still don’t.
But from their point of view it’s true. Actions taken to try to stop a murderous aggressive war that was massacring people and destroying three countries—that’s tearing wide the body politic, and now the right can drive a truck through it. So, yes, that’s the picture.

DB: You usually have the last word, but I’m going to say something here at the end. I want to just read you this quote. “During these last three decades, all my thoughts and actions in my entire life have been moved solely by the love and fidelity I feel for my people. This has given me the strength to make the most difficult of decisions, the like of which no mortal has ever made before.” Have a sense of where that comes from?


DB: It’s Hitler.

May 12, 1995

DB: I’m going to pick up the thread from the other day. We talked about history and memory. I just want to get a little closure to that. In general, who are the gatekeepers of history?

Historians, of course. The educated classes in general. Part of their task is to shape our picture of the past in a way which is supportive of power interests in the present. If they don’t do that, they probably will get marginalized in one way or another.

DB: How about some suggestions for people in terms of decoding and deciphering the propaganda? Are there any kinds of practical techniques? It’s a tough question.

I actually think it’s a simple question. Use your common sense. You can point to examples. When you read a headline in the Wall Street Journal that says “American Oil Companies Fear Loss of Jobs in the Middle East,” it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that “jobs” is being used to mean “profits.” When you read the account of the New York tax system which says they’re cutting down subsidies to mass transit, you can quickly understand that subsidies means gifts from people to themselves. What they’re doing is increasing taxes. You can go on and on, case by case. But there’s no trick other than just using your sense.

DB: Can you recommend some basic books for people?

There are things that are helpful, like Howard Zinn’s People’s History, for example. It’s a good start to give you a picture of the world that’s different from the one you learned at school. It’s very accurate.
And then it’s on from there. I hate to give suggestions. You just have to do what’s called “triangulating.” You try to look at the world from different perspectives. You’re getting one perspective drilled into your head all the time, so you don’t need any more of that one. But look at other ones. There are others. There are independent journals, dissident scholarly literature, all sorts of things. One of the reasons I give rich footnotes is to answer that question, because a lot of people want to know. There are things I think are instructive, but you have to decide for yourself what’s interesting for you.

DB: Jumping into the present and the political climate, you have likened it to Germany and Iran. What do you mean by that?

I was referring to a specific phenomenon that’s becoming visible.
How important it is not entirely clear. But if you look at Germany in the late 1930s, or Iran around 1980, which is what I was talking about, there were big centers of power. In Germany it was the big industrialists.
In Iran it was the bazaaris, the merchant class. They had an enemy in both cases. In the case of the big industrialists in Germany, it was the working class. They wanted to destroy the working class organizations.
In the case of Iran, it was the Shah. They had helped in the organization of popular forces to overcome their enemies. In Germany it was the Nazi party. In Iran it was the fundamentalists. Then they both discovered something. The guys they had organized had ideas of their own, as did their leaders, and they weren’t necessarily their ideas. So by the late 1930s, a lot of German industrialists were quite worried that they had a tiger by the tail in the case of Hitler. In Iran, they just lost. The fundamentalists took over and booted them out.
If you look at the U.S. now, the Fortune 500, the real big business, they are just euphoric. Social policy has been designed to enrich them beyond their wildest dreams. The annual issue of Fortune devoted to the Fortune 500, which just came out this week, reports profits up 54% over last year on barely rising sales and virtually flat employment. This is the fourth straight year of double-digit profit growth, which is just unheard of. They expect it to continue. So they’re euphoric. They like a lot of this stuff. Most of what’s going on in Congress they just love. It’s all putting money in their pockets and smashing everyone else.
But they’re also worried. They can read the headlines, which tell them that these Gingrich freshmen congressmen are anti-big business, which is true. They don’t like big business. They like what they call “small business,” which is not so small. The big plutocrats are what they don’t like, because they don’t distinguish them from big bureaucrats. A lot of their policies are of a kind which real corporate power is not very happy about. In part that’s true of what they call the “cultural scene.” The only way they could mobilize their troops—you can’t organize people if you say, Join me, I’m going to smash you in the face. So the way you do it is say, Join me, and because you can hate your neighbor, put black teenagers in jail, or you’ll have religion, you organize people on the basis of fanaticism and extremism and hysteria and fear and then those people have their own ideas. There’s no question that there is a lot of concern about this. You can see it again in places like Fortune magazine.

DB Let’s look at just some of the rhetoric today. These are quotes: “jackbooted government thugs,” “The final war has begun,” “Death to the new world order,” “feminazis,” and “environmental wackos.” People like G. Gordon Liddy on his radio talk show are advising listeners on how to kill federal agents: “Head shots, head shots, . . . kill the sons of bitches.”
And Newt Gingrich saying that Democrats are “the enemy of normal Americans.”

That’s the kind of talk that does trouble the CEOs. George Bush wrote a very angry letter resigning from the NRA for that kind of reason. He’s an old-fashioned sort of Eisenhower Republican, a corporate flack, and he doesn’t think they should be going around talking about killing federal agents. But more important than that, these people are worried. Right now Newt Gingrich can say anything he likes about Democrats as long as he maintains funding for the Pentagon, which is the big cash cow for a large part of corporate America, including Newt Gingrich. But you can never tell when it’s going to get out of hand. And I suppose Newt Gingrich is worried that it’s going to get out of hand. He’s enough of a slave to big business to worry about the fact that the guys that he’s organizing can go off half-cocked from his point of view.
There’s an interesting story about that in this morning’s Globe. Take a look at it before you leave. They have a columnist called David Shribman, who’s their rising hotshot. He just won a Pulitzer Prize. He’s their political columnist now, to the left-liberal side by American standards. He has an article about Newt Gingrich. He says, We liberals have been misunderstanding him. He’s not anti-government the way these fruitcakes are. He is in favor of government. But he wants government to do the right thing. So he wants government to be around to give laptop computers to the poor and all sorts of nice stuff. He just doesn’t want a lot of crazy bureaucrats hampering initiatives. So he’s really on our side. He quotes Michael Kazin, a left writer, saying that Gingrich is our kind of guy, a populist. He says that Gingrich is in favor of independence and entrepreneurial values and wants the government to stimulate that. The only thing he doesn’t mention is that Gingrich insists that the government fund private enterprise. He himself represents Cobb County, which gets more federal subsidies than all but two suburban counties in the U.S. That’s not mentioned. The reason is the class interest of suppressing the role of the government in funneling funds from the poor to the rich. That has to be suppressed, even at the left-liberal side. But meanwhile they do recognize that Gingrich is more committed to rational corporate power than a lot of the people that he’s organized, who are dangerous and who could destroy things that they care about.

DB: Anthony Lewis, today or yesterday in the Times, got it wrong,though. He said that Cobb County in Georgia receives more federal funding than any other county in the country.

That’s incorrect. But finally they’re sort of noticing. However, what’s interesting is that this is suppression of the fact. To be able to suppress this all this time is astonishing. The suppression reflects the class interests. What Shribman’s article indicates is that they recognize that they want to support what they see as a Gingrich-style Republicanism, which will indeed rely on huge state power to fund the rich, but not destroy the instruments of that power.

DB: Getting back to history and memory and the consequences of vitriolic speech, there was some notice of the Kent State killings after twenty-five years. Incidentally, no mention of Jackson State, in Mississippi, where two African-Americans were killed. If you recall the atmosphere, Nixon calling students “bums” and the Governor of Ohio, James Rhodes, the day before the shootings at Kent State, said, “We are going to eradicate the problem. These people just move from one campus to another and paralyze the community. They are worse than brownshirts, and also they’re worse than the night riders and vigilantes.” The next day were the killings.

That’s true, and I’d worry about the kind of quotes you talk about, but I think that that’s barely the icing on the cake. The quadrennial analysis of public attitudes by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations just came out. Among other things, they investigate what people think is the most serious problem facing the country. By a long shot, it’s crime.
Where did that come from? What does crime mean? And drugs are way high up. The OECD just did a study of drug money, about half a trillion dollars profit a year, they estimate. Over half of that passes through U.S. banks. Is that what they’re talking about? Is that the crime and drugs people worry about? No. It’s like you say, the black teenager. Has that kind of crime gone up? No, as far as we can tell. In fact, most of what they’re calling crime is a kid caught with a joint in his pocket. Why do people think of that as the problem? That’s not because of Rush Limbaugh. That’s because of the mainstream commentary, which has stimulated fear of crime and shaped it in a very special sense to mean those superfluous people out there who are the wrong color and have the wrong genes. That’s what you’ve got to be afraid of. That’s a lot more important than Rush Limbaugh saying “feminazis.”

DB: Conspiracy theories are nothing new in American history.
Richard Hofstadter has written about The Paranoid style in American Politics. But there seems to me to be a difference now in terms of the instruments of purveying these theories. They have media. They have radio. People listen to it.

That’s true, but I still feel that I’m more worried about the New York Times and the Boston Globe than I am about Rush Limbaugh. So I think that with all the crazed lunacy about black helicopters, the U.N., and the Council on Foreign Relations, it doesn’t begin to have the damaging effect of the way they shape public perceptions on issues like crime or like alleged free-market programs or welfare. That’s far more dangerous.
For example, Americans feel that they’re being over-taxed to pay black mothers. In fact, our welfare system is miserly. It’s gone down very sharply in the last twenty years. We’re undertaxed. Those are things that really matter.

DB: In Language and Responsibility, in a discussion about FBI COINTELPRO operations and Watergate, you say that “one of the keys to the whole thing (is that) everyone is led to think that what he knows represents a local exception. But the overall pattern remains hidden.”
Is there a subtext to the Oklahoma City bombing there?

I’m not sure exactly what you had in mind. In what sense?

DB: What’s going on underneath?

The U.S. wants to be able to carry out Oklahoma City bombings in other countries, as we do, but they don’t want them to happen here.
You’re not supposed to blow up federal buildings here. That’s something we do, not something that’s done to us. Sure, they don’t like that. But as for subtext, they don’t like the fact that paramilitaries are out of control, that’s for sure. There have been fifty years of propaganda stimulating anti-government feeling. Here’s where I again don’t care so much about Rush Limbaugh as I do about the mainstream. There have been fifty years of propaganda which suppresses the fact that the government reflects powerful, private interests, and they’re the real source of power.
So take the angry white males who are maybe joining what they mistakenly call militias, paramilitary forces. These people are angry.
Most of them are high school graduates. They’re people whose incomes have dropped maybe 20% over the last fifteen years or so. They can no longer do what they think is the right thing for them to do, provide for their families. Maybe their wives have to go out and work. And maybe make more money than they do. Maybe the kids are running crazy because nobody’s paying attention to them. Their lives are falling apart.
They’re angry. Who are they supposed to blame? You’re not supposed to blame the Fortune 500, because they’re invisible. They have been taught for fifty years now by intense propaganda, everything from the entertainment media to school books, that all there is around is the government. If there’s anything going wrong, it’s the government’s fault.
The government is somehow something that’s independent of external powers. So if your life is falling apart, blame the government.
There are plenty of things wrong with the government. But what’s harmful to people about the government is that it’s a reflection of something else. And that other thing you don’t see. Why don’t you see that other thing? Because it’s been made invisible. So when you read
Clinton campaign propaganda you’ve got workers and their firms but not owners and investors. That’s just the end result of fifty years of this stuff.
Talking about your subtext, if people are angry and frightened, they will naturally turn to what they see. And what they’ve been taught to see is the government.
There’s a reason why attention is focused on the government as the source of problems. It has a defect. It’s potentially democratic. Private corporations are not potentially democratic. The propaganda system does not want to get people to think, The government is something we can take over and we can use as our instrument of public power. They don’t want people to think that. And since you can’t think that, you get what’s called populism, but is not populism at all. It’s not the kind of populism that says, Fine, let’s take over the government and use it as an instrument to undermine and destroy private power, which has no right to exist. Nobody is saying that. All that you’re hearing is that there’s something bad about government, so let’s blow up the federal building.

DB: I think the most interesting commentary on Oklahoma City was actually on CNN on April 25. They were interviewing Stanley Bedlington, who was identified as an ex-CIA counterterrorism specialist. He said, right after the bombing, that there was a potential for more violence. Why? Bedlington said, Because of “the deteriorating economic situation in rural America.” I was stunned to hear that.

It’s not just rural America. These people that he’s talking about happen to come from rural America. And it’s true that out in rural America, where there are fewer controls, you may tend to get paramilitaries forming more than in the slums. But the problems are in New York City and in Boston and right throughout the whole mainstream of the country. The problems simply reflect very objective facts. Real wages have in fact been declining for fifteen years and profits are zooming. The country is splitting in a noticeably Third World pattern.
There’s a big superfluous population that nobody knows what to do with. So they toss them in jail. They want to make people afraid of them, so they’re building up fear of crime and craziness about welfare.
That’s a real problem. Maybe in the rural counties is where they’re going to form paramilitary groups, but this is going to be everywhere. He’s right. It’s a very big problem. It’s a problem they face in every Third World country. That’s why they have death squads and security forces.
They have to face that problem of all those people they are just crushing under foot.

DB: Let’s talk a little bit about conspiracy theories, because they’re quite prevalent. In a curious way, your work and Holly Sklar’s book on trilateralism are cited as evidence of conspiracy, somehow integrated with Freemasons and the Bilderbergers who all meet in the Bohemian Grove and the like. But it seems that if rhetoric is anti-regime, then there’s just a suspension of critical inquiry. There’s no insistence on evidence. Opinion is cited as proof. Then the chief arbiter or verifier is radio. “I heard it on the radio, therefore it’s true.”

You’re right. It’s like that. I can see when I talk on right-wing radio that there’s some degree of resonance of a kind to what I’m saying that I don’t like. Bilderberg I’ve never mentioned. Bohemian Grove I don’t care about. The Trilateral Commission I’ve mentioned a few times. I read their stuff all the time. It’s so boring it’s not worth looking at.

DB: But you talk about the de facto world government. That’s what they talk about.

I didn’t talk about the de facto world government. I quoted it from the Financial Times. I said, the Financial Times, the world’s leading business journal, is noticing that there is a de facto world government not of Freemasons, but of transnational corporations and institutions that they are spawning. So take a look at real centralized power, transnational corporations, who own most of the world. The Fortune 500 now has 63% of U.S. gross domestic product, and the trans-nationals have a huge proportion of world trade and investment in their hands. They are spawning a set of quasi-governmental institutions. The Financial Times lists them: the World Bank, the IMF, then it was the GATT Council, now it’s the World Trade Organization. Sure, that’s their picture, and it’s a pretty accurate one. But that’s not a conspiracy, any more than corporate boardrooms are a conspiracy.

DB: The left has certainly not been free from this. The Christic Institute theories about secret teams running around, and the numerous JFK assassination theories. I wonder what the left has to offer people like Timothy McVeigh and Mark Koernke. They are certainly not listening to Alternative Radio and not reading your books.
How can we reach them?

I think the left has to reach them by doing what the left failed to do the other night at the meeting we went to, when Decatur workers were coming here and asking for solidarity and support. That’s where the left ought to be. I don’t know Timothy McVeigh, but I think the left ought to be out there getting those guys to join unions and form grassroots organizations and take over their local governments. If the left can’t do that, it doesn’t deserve to exist.

DB: Just to explain, there was a Jobs with Justice meeting at MIT on
May 9. Striking and locked-out workers from Decatur (there are three actions going on there) were there to bring this to the attention of people. There were only about 75 people in the hall. It was kind of distressing. In the same hall, in the last couple of months, when you gave talks on East Timor and Colombia and the drug war there were very large turnouts. What do you attribute the low attendance to?

It could be technical things, like maybe there wasn’t good publicity. I should say that this is the first talk that I’ve given in that big hall for probably twenty years which hasn’t been virtually overflowing. This is also the first talk that happened to involve solidarity with working people. I doubt that that’s a pure accident. I think that tells you something about where the left isn’t and where it ought to be. There was one other meeting that was less well attended than I expected. It was on the Contract with America, which again involved welfare mothers and poor people.

DB: It’s kind of hard to predict what’s going to happen. There’s that Yeats poem “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world . . . W.hat rough beast . . .
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” But in terms of Oklahoma City and now the call for a draconian increase in FBI powers of surveillance, infiltration, and the like, what do you think is coming up?

Before Oklahoma City, Congress had already rescinded the Fourth Amendment, the elimination of the exclusionary law, allowing basically illegal search. That was prior to Oklahoma City. So Oklahoma City may somewhat extend FBI powers. I don’t think it’s going to have a big effect. I think the things that are happening lie elsewhere. The so-called conservatives want a powerful, violent state, and they want it to have a powerful security system. So during the 1980s, the U.S. prison population more than tripled. It’s going up more. Under Clinton’s crime bill it’s going to go way up. The U.S. is virtually the only country—maybe Iraq, Iran, a few others—to let children be killed by the state, to have the death penalty for minors. The U.S. rarely signs international human rights conventions. We have a rotten record on that. But we just signed the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. We’re the 177th country to sign it, which shows you how that goes. One of the provisions of that says that minors, meaning people under 19, cannot receive life imprisonment or the death penalty. We’ve got juveniles sitting on death row, so we’re in straight violation of what we just signed. We’re one of the very few countries that does that. This attack on the judicial system and the system of rights has nothing to do with Oklahoma City. It has to do with creating a much more punitive society which will deal somehow with the fact that an awful lot of people are useless for the one human value that still matters, namely, making profits. That’s way more important than whatever further rights the FBI may get as a result of Oklahoma City, in my opinion. These things are bad, like Rush Limbaugh is bad. But there are much more central things that are happening.

DB: Earlier I said you had compared the current situation with Germany and Iran. What are your views on arguing by analogy? A lot of people all over the country were quick to bring up the Weimar Republic and even the Reichstag fire. Do you think that’s a good way to understand things, to talk about analogies?

Analogies can be helpful. You don’t want to push them too hard. It’s worth noticing that the kinds of circumstances that we see are not without historical precedent. It’s not like they’re coming from Mars. So there have been situations that are not identical. You can look crucially at the differences. But you can learn something from looking at history.

DB: What about the political uses of Islam and Muslims and Arabs in terms of what happened right after the Oklahoma City bombing?

Take my “friend” A.M. Rosenthal. I’m surprised the Times is willing to let him loose. He gives you such an insight into how that newspaper was running for years when he was in charge of it. He writes a regular column. The day after Oklahoma City he had a column basically saying,
This just shows that we’re not dealing properly with Middle East terrorism. Let’s bomb them all over the place. He said, We don’t know yet who did it, but let’s bomb the Middle East anyway. Not in those words, that was the message, to borrow your term, the “subtext.” It wasn’t very “sub,” either. A couple of days later it turned out it was right-wing paramilitaries here. He wrote another column saying, This really shows that we’re not dealing with terrorism from the Middle East properly, so let’s be serious about it and deal with Middle East terrorism.
They mean a very special kind of Middle East terrorism. They don’t mean the kind, for example, when Israeli planes bomb villages in Lebanon and murder people. That’s not terrorism they’re talking about.

DB: Or the 1985 ClA bombing.

They’re not talking about the CIA bombing in Beirut, which is the one really close analog to Oklahoma City. The discipline of the media in “forgetting” the 1985 Beirut car bombing, the worst in history, specially targeting civilians, was pretty impressive, particularly with all the laments about how middle America was coming to look like Beirut and the hysterical threats to bomb anyone thought to be responsible—for Oklahoma City, not Beirut. The analogy was repeatedly brought to the attention of the press. That I know just from personal experience. But ears mysteriously closed. For those interested, I wrote about it in a book edited by Alex George called Western State Terrorism, a book unmentionable and unreviewable in the U.S., as one could predict from the title.
But they were nor talking about the Beirut bombing that was virtually duplicated in Oklahoma City. Not even contemporary ones. Israel regularly bombs civilian targets in Lebanon. They don’t pay attention to it. Occasionally you get a mention in the paper. Israel had Lebanon under blockade for a month. They wouldn’t let fishermen out.
Blockading a country is an act of aggression. In fact, Israel has a permanent blockade on Lebanon, from Tyre to the south. But nobody talks about that. It’s all in violation of unanimous U.N. Security Council resolutions which now are almost twenty years old that the U.S. signed.
That’s not terrorism. In fact, they’re not even talking about Turkey. First of all invading Iraq, but in its own southeast corner it’s been carrying out murderous terrorism for years. It’s getting worse and worse. They are not even talking about the actual terrorism that they’re worried about.
Take Pan Am 103. Take a look at Iran. Iran is now supposed to be the center of international terrorism. Any time any act takes place, it’s Iran. You don’t even wait for evidence. With one extremely interesting exception: Pan Am 103 is not blamed on Iran. Why is that? How come that one example is not blamed on Iran? That’s the one example which very likely Iran is involved in. So how come the one where Iran is most likely involved is not blamed on it? It’s blamed on Libya, on very shaky grounds. I don’t think it takes very long to figure that one out. It’s very likely that the bombing of Pan Am 103 was a retaliatory bombing for the shooting down of an Iranian Airbus by the American naval vessel USS Vincennes in the Persian Gulf, which was a straight act of murder.
There have already been several articles in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. The most recent one was by a retired Marine lieutenant colonel describing in detail what happened there. The commander of the Vincennes got the Legion of Merit for it. The ship just focused its high-tech weaponry on a commercial airliner, knowing it was a commercial airliner, right in commercial air space, and shot it down, killing 290 people. That was part of the U.S. tilt towards its friend Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran war. That’s not the kind of story that you want all over the front pages, so for that one act, Pan Am 103, Iran is not responsible, probably the one for which it is responsible.
So the concern over Middle East terrorism is highly selective in all sorts of ways, just like the concern over Islamic fundamentalism. The most fundamentalist state in the world is Saudi Arabia. I don’t see a lot about that. Why? They do the job. They make sure the profits from oil come to the U.S., so they can be as fundamentalist as they like. This is the most shoddy and shallow propaganda. It’s amazing they can get away with it.

DB: I’ve always wondered where you got access to the U.S. Naval
Institute Proceedings. Is that sent to you? Do you subscribe to it?

I look for it. I must have seen a reference somewhere and then went and looked. This story actually even finally made the mainstream press.
Newsweek had a cover story on it two or three years ago. The first thing that I saw was something in the L.A. Times. The commander of the vessel next to the Vincennes, David Carlson, had an op-ed where he said, We were standing and watching in amazement. It happened to mention that he had an article in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, so I looked it up. Then I started keeping my eyes on it and found this much more recent one on the Navy cover-up. This article goes through the cover-up. It even ends up quoting some high Army officer saying,
The U.S. Navy shouldn’t be allowed out on the high seas, they’re too dangerous. That’s not the kind of stuff you really want all over the place.
It’s kind of amazing that with all of the talk about Iran, right now we’re embargoing Iran because they’re involved in terrorism. It’s a rogue state.
Everybody’s wild about Pan Am 103, and somehow you can’t notice that that’s the one thing that’s not attributed to them and which they probably did.
Also quite interesting is the fact that the U.S. has charged several Libyans, but is making sure they don’t go to trial. Libya has offered to have them tried in a neutral venue, like the Hague, but the U.S. and U.K. refuse—meaning they don’t want them tried unless they can control the trial. The British committee of families of the victims has been militantly critical of this refusal. The U.S. committee just goes along with Washington propaganda, as does the U.S. press. A documentary about all this was played in the British Parliament and on BBC TV. Here, PBS refused to run it, and commercial TV isn’t worth approaching. Try to find something about any of this in the media.

DB: You mentioned A.M. Rosenthal and his biases at the Times. But you don’t have to go that far. Right here in Boston you have a talk show host, Howie Carr, who said that the Oklahoma City bombing was done by “a bunch of towelheads.” There was a little story, though, in Oklahoma City involving an Iraqi woman, a refugee. Did you hear about that?

I don’t recall.

DB: Christopher Hitchens wrote about it in The Nation. It’s one of the very few references I’ve seen. Saher Al-Saidi was seven months pregnant. Her house was attacked by a mob of rednecks screaming insults about Islam and Muslims. Windows were broken. She ran from room to room in fear and suffered a miscarriage.

But that’s not from Howie Carr. That’s from years and years of perfectly mainstream publications presenting an image of Arab terrorists, Islamic fundamentalist crazies either attacking Israel or attacking us.
The U.S. is in a state of national emergency now. President Clinton has declared a state of national emergency, because of the grave threat to our national security and national interest posed by Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the occupied territories. That’s not Howie Carr.

DB: To continue with the political uses of Islam, Willy Claes, the NATO Secretary General in Brussels, in February said, “Islamic fundamentalism is just as dangerous as communism.

Is he referring to Saudi Arabia? No. It’s just like liberation theology.
Anything that’s out of control is dangerous. If there’s some brand of Islamic fundamentalism that’s out of control, that’s dangerous. If there’s some brand of the Catholic church that’s out of control, that’s dangerous. If it’s a democratic politician in Guatemala who’s out of control, that’s dangerous. If you’re out of control you’re dangerous.

Islamic fundamentalism is one of the ways in which a very repressed part of the world is beginning to organize itself independently. So naturally that’s unacceptable. And it’s not Islamic fundamentalism. You can tell that right off. The leading Islamic fundamentalist state is Saudi Arabia. Let’s go away from states. Take non-state actors. Who are the most extreme Islamic fundamentalists in the world? The ones who the U.S. supported in Afghanistan for ten years. They would beat anybody.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. You can’t get beyond that. He makes Saudi Arabia look mild. He got $6 billion of aid from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Right now he has been tearing the country apart. This isn’t Pol
Pot. You don’t get any points for talking about the atrocities after the Americans pulled out. Here the Russians pulled out, and as soon as the Russians pulled out they started destroying the place. But it’s our guys destroying it. So therefore you have to look pretty hard to find it. Kabul has been wrecked. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people have been killed. Maybe hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Mostly guys like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, our man, bombarding the place. Afghanistan has become one of the major centers of drug production. Our guys, they are fanatic Islamic fundamentalists, but we certainly weren’t worrying about them when we were pouring money into their pockets.

DB: And that CIA operation in Afghanistan has spilled over into Pakistan, where there’s severe drug addiction. You’ve written about this. Benazir Bhutto is now asking the U.S. to help with Pakistan’s terrorist problem.

One thing I would mention is that when it’s a CIA operation, that means it’s a White House operation. It’s not CIA. They don’t do things on their own.

DB: That’s a point you made about the recent disclosures about Guatemala.

Let’s be serious about it. Maybe you’ll find a rogue operation now and then, but as far as I’m aware, overwhelmingly the CIA does what it’s told by the White House. So its role is to provide plausible denial for the White House, and people shouldn’t fall for that game. If it’s a CIA operation it’s because they were ordered to do it. They’re only part of the operation.

DB: I’ve got a flight in less than an hour. My mind is going to the airport, so I’m not all here, but let’s just continue this for a few minutes longer. I want to ask you about the selective use of memory. I remember my mother telling me about her village in Turkish Armenia.
It was paradise. I never heard a negative thing said about anything.
Everyone was living in a sort of Edenesque country there. But thinking about you in the 1940s in Philadelphia with your family, what kind of information were you getting about what the Nazis were up to in Europe? Did you have a sense of what was unfolding there?

You mean in the 1930s?

DB: Not just in the 1930s, but the genocide.

Everybody knew more or less what was going on. By 1943 at the latest it was pretty well known what was happening, and there was at least the beginning of a public outcry. Even before the war, the sense of growing terror was palpable in my parents’ circles. But take the 1930s, speaking of memories. The other night in the meeting on Decatur they showed a video on police violence. I remember that very well from 1934-1935, with much worse scenes of police attacking. I remember I was with my mother on a trolley car. I must have been five years old.
There was a textile strike. Women workers were picketing. We just passed by and saw a very violent police attack on women strikers, picketers outside, much worse than what we saw the other night in the video on Decatur, which was bad enough. So idyllic memories of childhood, I think one has to ask some questions about. In the 1930s it was pretty clear that the Nazis were a very ominous and dangerous force that was like a dark cloud over everything throughout my whole childhood. By the early 1940s, around the middle of the war, it was pretty obvious, maybe you didn’t know the details about Auschwitz, but the general picture was pretty clear.

DB: You were reading voraciously in those days. I think there’s a comment in the film Manufacturing Consent where you used to check out ten, twelve, fourteen books at a time from the library.

Remember, in those days there were good library systems. That was one of the reasons you could survive the Depression. But I spent a lot of time at the downtown Philadelphia public library. It was the big public library that had everything. You couldn’t check books out from there because they didn’t allow it. But I was reading plenty of stuff, a lot of odd dissident journals, some of them crackpot, some of them interesting. All sorts of material.

DB: Again, bringing it to today, you encourage people to be skeptical. You often end a talk, Don’t believe anything I say. Go and find out for yourself. When does that skepticism, which I suggest is happening with some of these paramilitaries, switch into paranoia?

Skepticism can lead to paranoia, but it certainly doesn’t have to. Any good scientist is skeptical all the time. Every time a professional journal comes in, the students read it with skepticism, if they’re any good, at least, because they know you’ve got to question and evaluate. But when you read a technical journal with skepticism, that doesn’t mean you assume it’s being prepared by the Bilderberg conference to undermine your mind. That’s quite a gap. The difference is that skepticism against a background of understanding and rationality is a very healthy attitude.
Skepticism against a vacuum is extremely dangerous. The educational system and the doctrinal system have created vacuums. People’s minds are empty and confused because everything’s been driven out of them.
In that case skepticism can quickly turn into paranoia.

DB: But there is a drumbeat of propaganda constantly going on. You sort of dismissed Limbaugh and what he represents, but he reaches twenty million listeners. We don’t have that kind of audience.

We don’t, but commercial television and Hollywood have a much bigger audience. I’m not dismissing Limbaugh. I’m saying that that’s a peripheral phenomenon. Let’s take the kind of things, when I was a young adult, I was seeing in the movies, like On the Waterfront, a big, famous movie. That was typical of a genre. Tens of millions of dollars were put into making films like that, all of them with the same message.
The message is, Unions are the enemy of the working man. The theme of that movie is MarIon Brando, upstanding, courageous young guy, throws union boss into the ocean and stands up for his rights. That was the key picture of very self-conscious propaganda running through the entertainment industry, the schools, the newspapers, everything else, saying, We are on one side, “we” being the working folks, like the guy who happens to sit in the executive office and the guy on the assembly line, we’re all on one side. Then there are the really bad guys trying to destroy our lives, namely, the outsiders, the unions. We’ve got to defend ourselves from them. That has worked. That has led to the present situation.
Take a look at popular attitudes. I think about 80% of the population think that working people don’t have enough influence. A substantial number think that unions have too much influence. After NAFTA, the opinions were opposed to NAFTA on the same grounds that the labor unions opposed it, but they were opposed to the labor unions for having involved themselves in that dispute, namely, in advocating the positions that most of the population supported. That wasn’t Rush Limbaugh.
That’s the result of decades—it goes back to the nineteenth century, but
I mean in the modern period—of very intensive propaganda designed to make people lose the sense of solidarity and sympathy and mutual support and help for one another and democratization that unions stand for. When you wipe that degree of understanding and sympathy and support out of people’s heads, then you go right to paranoia. It’s that kind of thing that a demagogue like Limbaugh can exploit, but I think we should recognize where the problem lies. Not there. Much deeper. He wouldn’t get anywhere if he didn’t have this basis prepared for it.

DB: I’m not going to say “subtext,” but another theme, I wonder if you’re aware of this. The director of On the Waterfront was Elia Kazan.
He sang to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Marlon Brando plays a character who is encouraged to and is justified in cooperating with the authorities.

Elia Kazan was one of the people who was subjected to the McCarthyite routine, and yes, he sang to the House Un-American Activities Committee. I don’t have any comment on that. You don’t blame people for not being heroes, for just being ordinary people. So I think he could have been more courageous than that, like, say, Lillian Hellman, but that’s easy for me to say. So, yes, he did. And it’s true that’s what happened. But that was just the most successful of a genre.
It was kind of interesting. I think that movie came out the same year as Salt of the Earth, which is a very serious, low-budget but excellently done film. It’s a thousand times as good as On the Waterfront from any esthetic or other criteria, except it happened to be pro-union. It showed in a few small theaters around. That’s not the message that the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry was being organized to put across at that time. That’s a dramatic contrast, and it’s by no means the only one.
That’s just typical of decades of propaganda.

DB: What do you have coming up in terms of trips and books? I know you have a new linguistics book that MIT is putting out. Any political books coming out?

I hope so. I promised a couple, anyway. I was in Australia for a week and I promised them that I would write up the talks and they’ll publish it and maybe somebody will here. It’s on a lot of different things. Then I also promised South End that I would try to write up and expand this series of articles on “Rollback” that’s been running in Z magazine.

DB: How about your book on the Middle East, Fateful Triangle?
You’ve been talking about revising that as well.

There have been many requests to update and revise it. Actually, the third chapter of the book of mine that just came out (World Orders Old and New), about a third of that book is kind of an updating. But I might want to do that. There’s a lot to say about the region.

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