REVIEW BY SIMON BUTLER
Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II
By William Blum
Zed Books 2003
469 pages, $33.95 (pb)
What is the link between an elderly peasant in Vietnam debilitated by exposure to chemical weapons, a popularly elected Congolese president deposed and then murdered in a military coup, and a homeless beggar in Montevideo force-fed vomit-inducing drugs to demonstrate CIA torture techniques to Uruguayan police? All of these people were victims of US foreign policy during the Cold War.
One of the dubious cultural legacies of the post-1945 era are the countless spy novels and movies that promoted the idea that the Cold War was a game fought between an essentially good CIA and an evil, unscrupulous Soviet KGB, each equipped with sophisticated gadgets and employing dapper double and triple agents.
William Blum's Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II reveals what the Cold War really meant for millions of people around the world, especially in those countries that attempted to chart a political and economic course independent of Washington.
Throughout the period, the US sponsored dictatorial client regimes and crushed democratic and national liberation movements — all in the name of resisting the "international communist conspiracy" and defending "democracy".
In the same way that the fraudulent "war on terror" is today being used to justify US invasions and the propping up of allied repressive regimes, "anti-communism" has been the catchcry of US administrations throughout the 20th century. As now, every government had to be either "with us or against us".
From the "red scare" of the 1920s and the McCarthyite witch-hunts in the 1950s, to US President Ronald Reagan's crusade against the "Evil Empire" of the 1980s, the US people had been subjected to relentless anti-communist indoctrination. In the early 1920s, "literally no story about the Bolsheviks was too contrived, too bizarre, too grotesque or too perverted to be printed and widely believed — from women being nationalised to babies being eaten", Blum notes.
As a result, ordinary people in the West feared the Soviet Union as a constant threat to "democracy" around the world. In reality, the Soviet Union's leaders had no consistent policy of supporting revolutionary movements in the Third World during the Cold War. The conservative bureaucrats who controlled the Soviet Union were always prepared to sacrifice Third World revolutionary movements and progressive governments if it meant keeping the peace with Washington.
Blum points out that "as commonplace as it is for American readers to speak of freedom and democracy while supporting dictatorships, so [did] Russian leaders speak of wars of liberation, anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism while doing extremely little to further these causes, American propaganda notwithstanding.
"The Soviets ... stood by doing little more than going 'tsk tsk' as progressive movements and governments, even Communist parties, in Greece, Guatemala, British Guiana, Chile, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere [went] to the wall with American complicity."
Any Third World country that tried to pursue an independent economic and foreign policies risked overt or covert military intervention from US governments determined to extend US imperialism's economic, political and military power.
In particular, the US was quick to suppress any popular movement or government that had the temerity to undermine the private-profit system or attempt to reduce the domination of their economies by US corporations. "Democracy" had to be restored. Mass slaughter, death squads, brutal torture and military coups — and outright US invasion — were the means with which US-style "democracy" was delivered.
Since 1959, the Cuban people have been on top of US imperialism's hit-list — for the crime of overthrowing a brutal US-backed dictator, and building and defending socialism just 140km from the US coastline. Blum recounts how Cuba has defied and survived a failed US-backed invasion in 1961, numerous acts of industrial sabotage and terrorism — including many attempts to assassinate Cuba's revolutionary leader Fidel Castro — and the imposition of a colonial outpost on Cuban soil at Guantanamo Bay. Washington maintains a total trade and credit embargo on Cuba.
Blum reveals how the CIA has waged biological warfare against Cuba, infecting the island with dengue fever.
Another plot to discredit Castro involved slipping him some LSD just before he was to give a public address. The CIA even tried to administer a drug to Castro that would have caused his hair and beard to fall out!
Unfortunately, US attacks on revolutionary movements were rarely so inept or comical. In the 1980s, for example, the Reagan administration waged a covert war against the revolutionary Sandinista government in Nicaragua, arming and funding reactionary counter-revolutionary gangs, known as the contras.
A survivor of a contra death squad raid in 1984 reported how another victim "had her breasts cut off. Then they cut into her chest and took out her heart. The men had their arms broken, their testicles cut off and their eyes poked out. They were killed by slitting their throats and pulling the tongue out through the slit."
Following a decade of this kind of terrorism, the Sandinistas were defeated in the 1990 elections. The US donated more than US$11 million to the contra-aligned opposition, the equivalent to spending $700 million to influence the US Congressional elections.
The left-wing government of Afghanistan, which came to power following a popular uprising in 1978, was eventually destroyed in 1992 due to the massive support Washington provided to the reactionary religious fanatics of the mujaheddin. Reagan famously described the mujaheddin as "freedom fighters" — they included Osama bin Laden and the germ of what would later become the al Qaeda network and the Taliban.
There is only one conclusion that anyone who reads Killing Hope can draw. The USA has been the biggest terrorist state on the planet, the most dangerous rogue state and the most significant threat to the world.
If Blum's book sounds like heavy reading, it is. Encyclopaedic in scope and comprehensively footnoted, Killing Hope is a weighty reference book for anti-imperialist activists. Some may find it depressing reading because it unsparingly records the victories that US imperialism has scored.
But Blum doesn't draw the conclusion that the US empire is unbeatable or that genuine socialism is a pipe dream. In the introduction to the 1995 edition of Killing Hope, Blum states that he not only believes that the struggle for a better world can be successful, but that it is a struggle that has only just begun.
"The boys of Capital", he writes, "chortle into their Martinis about the death of socialism... and they hope that no-one will notice that every socialist experiment of any significance in the 20th century — without exception — has either been crushed, overthrown, invaded, corrupted, perverted, subverted or destabilised, or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States. Not one socialist government or movement... was permitted to rise or fall solely on it own merits.
"It's as if the Wright brothers' first experiments with flying machines all failed because the automobile interests sabotaged each test flight. And then the good and god-fearing folk of the world looked upon this... nodded their collective heads wisely, and intoned solemnly: humans will never fly."
From Green Left Weekly, November 26, 2003.
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