William Blum Interview
America’s foreign policy watchdog tells it like it is.
William Blum has been one of the most literate and outspoken critics of American Foreign Policy for over 50 years. His original plans to become a Foreign Service Officer shifted direction radically during the early days of the Vietnam war, and pushed him to become one of the founders and editors of the Washington Free Press, the first alternative newspaper in Washington, D.C.
Since that time his move into freelance journalism brought him on a journey taking him to the United States, Europe and South America as he places to call ‘home’. And in the mid-1970s he did some of his earliest ground-breaking ‘behind the scenes’ journalism working with former CIA officer Philip Agee in a major expose’ of the CIA and their crimes outside of the U.S. Since then he has continued his in-depth journalism, followed by book publishing and now blogging at his website Williamblum.org. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (1995), West-bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (2002), Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the Ameri-
can Empire (2004), Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (updated edition in 2005), and America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy – The Truth About U.S. Foreign Policy and Everything Else (2013).
Trillions Magazine recently had the honor to speak with Mr. Blum at his offices in Washington, D.C. The conversation covered his career all the way from his earliest days as foreign policy activist to the current battle for the Presidency of the United States.
Trillions: As a starting point for our readers, can you tell us some about how you started this long journey of study of American democracy? You were in public service for the U.S. government in the early days, but what exactly was it that launched you on this path?
Bill Blum: I was a good, loyal American back in the 1960s. I was even employed by the State Department, hoping to become a Foreign Service Officer. That was in ’64 to ’67. Then a thing came along called Vietnam, and changed my entire thinking and my entire life.
And I –instead of becoming a Foreign Service Officer – I became an Anti-war Activist. And it’s been downhill ever since.
Trillions: It certainly did change things for a lot of us. All of us remember how Vietnam changed everything. I was a little younger than you when it all happened, but it changed everything in how I was thinking about it. I had this naïve innocence myself about it, probably like most everybody.
Bill Blum: Yes. I think if that the powers that be in the military, if they had known how many people the war in Vietnam was going to radicalize and turn into strong anti-american foreign policy advocates, if they had known that in advance they might not have waged that stupid useless war in Vietnam. Because they didn’t know and they [ended up creating] an entire generation of anti-war activists.
Trillions: That brings us into a lot of what has happened since then. Because certainly the public face of it is that we are trying to fight for democracy and human rights and all that. And you of course, in your book American’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, talk about what really was going on in considerable detail. How, in your opinion, did America get to the point that it is today? Vietnam was definitely not an isolated event.
Bill Blum: We’ve been at this for a long, long time. You can date this back to at least the 1890s, with the socalled ‘Spanish-american War’. We invaded Cuba and Guam and the Philippines and Puerto Rico, and just to push the Spaniards out of Cuba so we could take it over as the outcome. That is certainly a predecessor to what we’ve seen since then. So it’s been well over a hundred years that we have been global imperialists.
Trillions: One of the things I’ve wondered about, as a student of history myself, is whether or not this is a matter of specific policies or is it just built into the whole system? The very nature of the ‘American Experiment’ seems to have embedded in it the concept of expansionism, taking over things, always cutting a new deal by any means to find a way to get something.
Bill Blum: I think it’s in our DNA. When we crossed the continent here and [also] defeated Mexico, and took over the entire continent, that set the pattern. From that point on, there was no place to go but overseas. I think the powers that be in America for a long time have wanted ‘World Domination’. If you want to understand American Foreign Policy, you have to keep those two words in mind: World Domination. They really want to dominate the world. Partly for economic reasons, partly for ideological reasons. They really believe in the American way of life, American exceptionalism. They believe in it so much. They want the whole world to live the way we do. And we have been on this campaign, moral crusade, for a long time. So, it’s really built in right now. It’s been built in for a long time.
Trillions: And so, with Vietnam as a tripwire for you that caused you to reconsider where you were heading, how did you find yourself on this path for becoming a spokesperson for this?
Bill Blum: Well, this happened in the 60s for me, and it was very easy to get caught up in all kinds of things then. I left the State Department on a Friday, and on Monday I went to work full time for a new so-called underground newspaper, The Washington Free Press. That’s how I began writing, in fact. I’ve been writing ever since and I’ve been an activist ever since. That period, it can’t be exaggerated, it just changed so many people in so many ways, and we couldn’t go back. That was the end of my being a loyal anti-communist and everything that goes with that. That was the beginning of the end for many people I know. That’s how it all began. With every intervention the U.S. takes or has taken since then, it just increases the attitude of
people like me. You know, it just reinforces everything we came to believe about U.S. Foreign Policy [for the first time] in the 60s, just reinforced by every invasion and bombing after that.
Trillions: This is very true. And one of the interesting things is that in spite of the fact that we keep doing this, there are still a lot of people that seem to admire the United States as a model. Doesn’t that seem like a little bit of a contradiction? Or is our PR group just that good?
Bill Blum: Our PR group is very, very good. If you want to measure the brainwashing of a people by the gap between what they believe about their country and what the absolute facts are, based on that measurement, we are easily the most brainwashed people in the world. That’s why I write my books. I aim to uncover the brainwashing and to contradict the education people over this nation. I face the same ignorance and brainwashing year after year, and decade after decade. With each book of mine, with each article I write, I know exactly what people are thinking and why they say what they do. And I know what their hangups are, because they’ve all gone through the same school which I did. I mean, I was not born a so-called ‘red diaper’ baby.
Trillions: That’s not a common phrase nowadays: a ‘red diaper baby’.
Bill Blum: I was not born a red-diaper baby, which is a common expression for people whose parents were in the Communist Party, for example. I was not one of those. So I know what it feels like to be a loyal American. I know how such a person thinks, what he believes and what he doesn’t believe. And I know why he believes it. That’s a great advantage for me as writer, to be able to communicate with such people.
Trillions: With that in mind, is democracy itself flawed, is it how we practice it, or is a combination of all of that?
Bill Blum: Well the problem here with democracy is, if anything, the lack of democracy. The people are not brainwashed for the purpose of building a better democracy. They’re brainwashed to support a Foreign Policy. Democracy is not the issue here, not in that sense. I don’t see the U.S. as a democracy anyway, but as a plutocracy, which is ruled by the rich. That’s how I see it: plutocracy or sometimes using the term oligarchy. But it’s not a democracy.
Trillions: Has your voice has had an impact on others?
Bill Blum: I don’t have any power to speak of over our leaders. My writings are ignored by the mainstream media, completely. I find my audience as people who have not yet “seen the light”. I think I’ve changed many of those people, but not through the mass media. They just ignore me.
Trillions: Let me go back then to some other of your comments. One of the words that might describe you is ‘progressive’ in that you are challenging the status quo, and trying to suggest understanding it more. I was reading one of your recent posts, talking about Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton. In retrospect, I’m not surprised by some of the things you said, but a lot of people would be surprised to hear you come out with what sounds like positive words for Donald Trump, even though he does seem to have a gift for putting his foot in his mouth. Versus Hilary Clinton, who might be seen by some people to represent more of the progressive movement. I’m curious about your perspective on the candidates in the election.
Bill Blum: Hillary Clinton is literally a neo-con, a NeoConservative. The neo-cons are the first to say that and to embrace her. She’s getting all kinds of support from leading neo-cons, one after another. They will be voting for her in this election, if she’s the candidate. There’s no choice in my mind between a conservative Trump and a liberal progressive Clinton. They’re both very conservative.
My main concern is foreign policy. The U.S. foreign policy has a profound effect upon the world, peace, prosperity, and environment. And in foreign policy, Clinton is a total disaster. She is guilty of consuming Syria and Iraq and Honduras and Afghanistan and others, which puts her beyond my view of anyone I could vote for.
Trump? Who knows what the hell he believes. I think if he’s in office, we’ll first find out. But I think there’s some hope that he at least will not be a total imperialist-minded person like Clinton is. There’s some things he has said where he has questioned, like what is in NATO. That is an amazing thing for any American politician to say. Clinton would never say a thing like that.
If I was forced to choose between the two, had no other choice but to vote for one of those two, I would vote for Trump because of foreign policy. The fact that he says things like that about NATO says that he has some freedom of mind to escape the prison of
American foreign policy, that he’s willing to go beyond what we’ve all been taught as what one says and does about U.S. foreign policy versus what was does not say and do concerning U.S. foreign policy. So there’s some hope in the man. With Clinton, there’s no hope. What she says is totally predictable, totally neo-con, and so that’s where I would vote for him.
I’m still hoping that I’ll have a better choice. I mean, if it turns out it’s just those two, I would vote for the Green Party candidate for the White House. But hopefully Sanders will be a choice also. As far as Sanders is, he’s ahead of Clinton, but he’s weak on foreign policy. He doesn’t really question foreign policy the same way at all as he questions the American economic system. He sees through all the lies of capitalism, but he doesn’t seem to have quite the same view of U.S. foreign policy. But again I must say he’s better than Clinton.
Trillions: And regardless of what happens with the email mess with Hillary, barring some catastrophe it still looks like Clinton would continue the march to the election.
Bill Blum: Sanders still has the option of running as a third party candidate, as an independent. Even if he agreed to something other than that, the call for him to run as an independent would be of much greater force than any piece of paper he signed with the Democratic Party. So that’s also a possibility. And the Republicans are also now talking about having another candidate besides Trump, a leading Republican. So we could end up with four candidates, besides some minor ones. Four candidates, like Clinton and Trump and Sanders and another conservative on the right. This would be the first election in many years that I’ve found interesting.
Trillions: That’s true, but at the same time there’s not a lot of time to get on the ballots. The party has a slot, but not for a third party candidate. But as you say, lots of interesting things could happen. If there’s four candidates, with an independent candidate on both sides, suddenly it changes the rules.
Bill Blum: Yeah. Well there’s always the possibility of a write-in candidate. You have time for that, I think. The public is so pissed-off by all this, at the two major parties, that a write-in candidate could actually win. It’s going to be fascinating.
Trillions: Why do you think it is that even with we as an American population having the capability of understanding the truth about U.S. foreign policy, the truth behind plutocracy versus democracy, that it doesn’t come up in the conversation much? Is it just that people don’t stop to think?
Bill Blum: Well, if people do start thinking along those lines, they have been conditioned not to continue. We love the idea of American exceptionalism, and anything that threatens that image is very easily cast aside. People have those thoughts that you were speaking about, but they’re afraid and conditioned not to follow through on them very much. We have been conditioned from childhood on, from the comic books to the internet, to be loyal Americans and anti-communist and pro-capitalist and so on.
Trillions: After all this conversation, is there hope for the United States in the long run, or is this just the path we’re going to careen along until we find some cliff to fall off?
Bill Blum: I’m sorry to say but I don’t have too much hope myself. But it could be it’s the climate that’s going to kill us. We’re too hung up on preserving the profit of the corporations [rather than addressing the challenge of climate change]. People in Congress here are just insanely backward. They’ll see the world collapse under the horrible weather. They’ll keep insisting on it. The environment itself makes me very pessimistic. And someone like Sanders in the White House might be better for the environment, because he’s willing to question the profit motive, above everything else. So – maybe. We shall see.