(1933 – 2018)
Three Testimonies on the Life of William Blum,
Relentless Critic of US Foreign Policy
William Blum, Renowned U.S. Foreign Policy Critic, Dead at 85
by Chris Agee and Louis Wolf
William Blum died in Virginia on December 9, 2018. He was surrounded by friends and family after falling in his Washington D.C. apartment and sustaining serious wounds 65 days ago. He was 85 years old. Bill was born March 6, 1933 at Beth Moses Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. and became an American author, historian, and critic of United States foreign policy. He worked in a computer-related position at the United States Department of State in the mid-1960s. Initially an anti-communist with dreams of becoming a foreign service officer, he became disillusioned by the Vietnam War.
Blum left the State Department in 1967 and became a founder and editor of the Washington Free Press, the first “alternative” newspaper in the capital. In 1969, he wrote and published an exposé of the CIA in which were revealed the names and addresses of more than 200 CIA employees. He worked as freelance journalist in the United States, Europe and South America. In 1972–1973 Blum worked as a journalist in Chile where he reported on the Allende government’s “socialist experiment.” Its overthrow in a CIA designed coup instilled in him a personal involvement and an even more heightened interest in what his government was doing in various corners of the world.
In London in the mid-1970s, Blum collaborated with ex-CIA officer Philip Agee and his associates “on their project of exposing CIA personnel and their misdeeds.” The late 1980s found Mr. Blum living in Los Angeles pursuing a career as a screenwriter. Unfortunately, his screenplays all had two (if not three) strikes against them because they dealt with those things which makes grown men run away screaming in Hollywood: ideas and issues.
For the rest of his long life, Bill lived in Washington, D.C. ineligible to renew his lapsed security clearance because of his political views. Instead, he accepted many speaking engagements on college campuses around the world. Bill was a distinguished member of CovertAction Magazine and the Advisory Board, and worked on staff for many years with CovertAction Quarterly and CovertAction Information Bulletin. His articles can be found in our archives; See issues numbers 33, 46, 47, 51, 53, 66, and 77. Blum went on to write numerous books on U.S. foreign policy and became the go-to source on U.S. intervention.
His book Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II–first published in 1995 and updated in 2004–has received international acclaim. Noam Chomsky called it “far and away the best book on the topic.”
In 1999, he was a recipient of Project Censored’s awards for “exemplary journalism” for writing one of the top ten censored stories of 1998–an article on how, in the 1980s, the United States gave Iraq the material to develop a chemical and biological warfare capability.
Blum is also the author of America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy – The Truth About U.S. Foreign Policy and Everything Else (2013), Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (updated edition 2005), West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (2002), and Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (2004). His books have been translated into more than 15 languages.
During 2002-2003, Blum was a regular columnist for the magazine The Ecologist, which is published in London and distributed globally. In January 2006, a tape from Osama bin Laden stated that “it would be useful” for Americans to read Rogue State, apparently to gain a better understanding of the enemy. Blum found his public speaking engagements abruptly ending.
Bill is also well-known for his highly popular and well-researched blog called “The Anti-Empire Report” published from April 1 2003 to September 20, 2018.
Following his 65-day fight to live after his devastating fall in his apartment on October 4th, Bill died this morning at 2:20 a.m. When his condition worsened several days ago, he was transferred from the Virginia Hospital Center to the Caring Care Hospice about one mile from the hospital. His son, Alexander S. Blum, flew in from Germany to be alongside friends and family. His immediate cause of death was kidney failure—combined with the various wounds on his body.
His last speaking engagement was this past summer as the keynote speaker at the Left Forum panel entitled “CovertAction: Persistent U.S. Attacks Against ‘Democracy and Freedom,’ Past and Present.” Hosted by CovertAction Magazine, Bill–speaking with Louis Wolf and others–entitled his presentation “American Exceptionalism: The Naked Truth.” He started his talk by acknowledging that…
“We can all agree I think that US foreign policy must be changed and that to achieve that the mind – not to mention the heart and soul – of the American public must be changed.”
And in his iconic, wry humor—coupled with chuckles in the audience—Bill stated:
“Consciously or unconsciously, [the American people] have certain basic beliefs about the United States and its foreign policy…The most basic of these basic beliefs, I think, is a deeply-held conviction that no matter what the US does abroad, no matter how bad it may look, no matter what horror may result, the government of the United States means well.”
See the full video of the panel here. His talk starts at 44 min and 48 seconds into the video.
Bill spent his life documenting the atrocities of the U.S. government and his contributions are deeply enlightening; without a doubt Bill has offered us ever lasting resources that will continue to inform generations to come.
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
by Binoy Kampmark
In the incessant self-praise of the US imperial project, kept safe in a state of permanently enforced amnesia, occasional writings prod and puncture. Mark Twain expressed an ashamed horror at the treatment of the Philippines; Ulysses Grant, despite being a victorious general of the Union forces in the Civil War and US president, could reflect that his country might, someday, face its comeuppance from those whose lands had been pinched.
In the garrison state that emerged during the Cold War, the New Left provided antidotes of varying strength to the illusion of a good, faultless America, even if much of this was confined to university campuses. Mainstream newspaper channels remained sovereign and aloof from such debates, even if the Vietnam War did, eventually, bite.
The late William Blum, former computer programmer in the US State Department and initial enthusiast for US moral crusades, gave us various exemplars of this counter-insurgent scholarship. His compilation of foreign policy ills in Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, was written with the US as sole surveyor of the land, all powerful and dangerously uncontained. To reach that point, it mobilised such familiar instruments of influence as the National Endowment for Democracy and the School of the Americas, a learning ground for the torturers and assassins who would ply their despoiling trade in Latin America. The imperium developed an unrivalled military, infatuated with armaments, to deal with its enemies. Forget the canard, insists Blum, of humanitarian intervention, as it was espoused to justify NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.
His Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II, remains his best and potently dispiriting affair, one in which Washington and its Christian warriors sought to battle the “International Communist Conspiracy” with fanatical, God-fearing enthusiasm. In this quest, foreign and mostly democratically elected governments were given the heave-ho with the blessings of US intervention. Food supplies were poisoned; leaders were subjected to successful and failed assassinations (not so many were as lucky as Cuba’s Fidel Castro); the peasantry of countries sprayed with napalm and insecticide; fascist forces and those of reaction pressed into the service of Freedom’s Land.
The squirreling academic, ever mindful of nuts, has been less willing to embrace Blum. This has, to some extent, been aided by such curious instances as the mention, by one Osama bin Laden, of Rogue State in a recording that emerged in 2006. “If I were president I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently.” Sales surged at this endorsement from the dark inspiration behind September 11, 2001. “This is almost,” observed Blum wryly, “as good as being an Oprah book.”
Killing Hope, praised by various high priests in academe on its initial release in 1986, morphed. Various extensions and additions were not approved. Blum, considering the US in its vicious full bloom of the post-Cold War, saw the wickedness of the market in Eastern European countries, the hand of US power in sabotaging negotiations between the Muslims, Croats and Serbs in Bosnia that led to an ongoing murderous conflict, and ongoing mischief in the Middle East (the Syrian Civil War, sponsored jihadists).
Much of this, admittedly, finds an audience, if only for the fact that it excuses, to some extent, local factors and failings. Students of imperial history tend to forget the manipulations of local elites keen to ingratiate themselves and sort out problems with the aid of a foreign brute. It is worth pointing out that, in the vastness of US power, a certain incompetence in exercising it has also prevailed.
But the groves of the academy have tended to sway away from Blum for many of the usual reasons: tenure, security and treading carefully before the imperium’s minders. “It merits mention,” poses Julia Muravska, very keen to mind her P’s and Q’s before the academic establishment as a doctoral candidate, “that after the release of the last majorly revised edition in 1995, successive versions of Killing Hope have largely passed under the radar of mainstream punditry and academia, but remained stalwartly cherished not only in left-leaning circles, but also amongst conspiracy theorists and fringe commentators.”
Such is the damning strategy here: to be credible, you must wallow in mainstream acceptance and gain acknowledgment from the approving centre; to be at the fringe is to not merely to be unaccepted but unacceptable. Amnesia is a funny old thing. While Blum’s scholarship at points had the failings of overstretch, a counteracting zeal, his overall polemics, and advocacy, were part of a tradition that continues to beat in an assortment of publications that challenge the central premises of US power.
Much of Blum’s takes remain dangerously pertinent. “Fake news” has assumed a born-again relevance, when it should simply be termed measured disinformation, one that the CIA and its associates engaged in, and still do, with varying degrees of success. The Russians hardly deserve their supposed monopoly on the subject, though they are handy scapegoats.
Blum did well to note an absolute pearler by way of example: the efforts of the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination and the US Post Office to solicit a letter writing campaign in 1948 to influence the course of Italy’s 1948 elections. American Italians, or so it was thought, were mobilised to swamp the mother country with warnings of atheistic communism and the threat it posed to Catholic authority. Should Italy turn red, US largesse and aid would stop flowing to a country still suffering from the ills of war. Italians known to have voted communist would not be permitted to enter the US.
Some individuals, guided by samples run in newspapers, offered specimens, but it soon became a campaign featuring “mass-produced, pre-written, postage paid form letters, cablegrams, ‘educational circulars’ and posters, needing only an address and signature.” Italian political parties, generally those of centre, could count on the CIA for a helpful contribution.
Empire remains a terrible encumbrance, draining and ruining both the paternal centre and its patronised subjects. It is a salient reminder as to why Montesquieu insisted on the durability of small republics, warning against aggrandizement. Doing so produces the inevitable, vengeful reaction. As Blum surmised, “The thesis in my books and my writing is that anti-American terrorism arises from the behaviour of US foreign policy. It is what the US government does which angers people all over the world.” To that end, his mission, as described to the Washington Post in an interview in 2006, has been one of, if not ending the American empire, then “at least slowing down” or “injuring the beast.”
Oliver Stone Remembers Anti-Imperialist Journalist William Blum, Chronicler of CIA Crimes
Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone speaks about the life and legacy of dissident journalist and historian William Blum, who documented US war crimes and CIA interventions across the planet