American Overkill


A frequent target of antiwar protests when I lived in Frankfurt am Main, Germany was the local Amerika Haus.  These buildings existed in several European cities and were essentially outposts of the United States Information Agency, which was part of the propaganda wing of the United States government and under the aegis of the CIA.   As the US war in Vietnam grew in intensity and scope, their presence became a sore point among leftists and other war opponents in the countries that hosted them.  At the same time, the Frankfurt Amerika Haus was where I heard Kurt Vonnegut give a lecture that did not support the war in Vietnam.

In Justin Hart’s new book Empire of Ideas: The Origins of Public Diplomacy and the Transformation of U. S. Foreign Policy Amerika Haus and many other aspects of Washington’s propaganda machine are addressed.  This history of the origins of the current government propaganda machine in Washington covers the years 1936-1953 and presents the debates, uncertainties and ultimate use of that machine as an important tool in the proliferation and maintenance of US markets overseas.

After watching Michelle Obama’s presentation of the award for Best Picture to a film praising the CIA from the White House, it’s somewhat difficult to believe that there was a time when politicians and government officials questioned the usefulness of propaganda in the battle for US hegemony.  Yet, that is exactly where Hart’s tale begins.  In a rather interesting tale, he presents the beginnings of what is euphemistically called public diplomacy in Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy towards Latin America.  It represented a new understanding that spreading US culture helped open markets overseas while simultaneously justifying the growing US Empire to the domestic audience, an audience which to that point was mostly isolationist in its outlook.

This new approach was not without its detractors.  Most of them came from the extreme right, who saw propaganda as communist-inspired, given its use by the new Soviet government in Russia.  This concern was also related to the fact that cultural diplomacy (another euphemism for propaganda) was championed primarily by liberals and
empireideasprogressives with Henry Wallace leading the charge.  The presence of liberal and elements at the forefront of this movement lends further credence to the argument that it was liberals and progressives who were at the forefront of the US hegemonic endeavor.  It’s obvious from Hart’s telling that the inclusion and acceptance of propaganda as a useful tool for those interested in building the US Empire (pretty much every official in Washington) was not without its ups and downs.  However, by the time Harry Truman was president, it was clear that its role was accepted and certain to expand.

Of course, when propaganda failed, the iron fist became ungloved. By 1950, the US military was engaged in a brutal war in Korea whose aim similar to the efforts of the cultural propaganda committee.  In other words, to keep the Soviets from expanding into markets Washington had defined as its own.  Meanwhile, the Marshall Plan, hyped as bringing democracy, was underway in Europe and part of the same process.    As William Blum makes clear in his latest collection, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy – The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else, the folks that truly benefitted from the Marshall Plan were the US corporations that rebuilt Europe.  Just like the so-called reconstruction funds apportioned to Kosovo after its “liberation” and Iraq after the US invasion, the truth about those reconstructions is that they were primarily a means to move taxpayer dollars from the US treasury into the coffers of a few giant corporations.

Blum’s new book is a collection of commentary exposing the true nature of Washington’s ongoing campaign to spread its democracy around the world.  While reading it I was reminded of the t-shirt that shows a photograph of a US bomber plane dropping bombs on some city somewhere on planet earth.  Inscribed above the photograph are the words
“Democracy, We Deliver.”  America’s Deadliest Export explores the lies involved in this campaign and exposes the brutality and associated arrogance.  In his inimitable style, Blum rips into the lie of US propaganda and takes Hart’s academic discussion into the streets, simultaneously pointing out the hypocrisy of US democracy and indicting it for the fraud it is, not only abroad but at home, as well.

While Hart’s text looks primarily at the role of US propaganda overseas, Blum’s tends to focus on how it is utilized to manipulate domestic public opinion.  He takes the concept that Washington and its military act only for the good of the world and traces its history from the “Good War” to the “humanitarian” intervention in Libya, and the “liberation” of Iraq.  Along the way, he not only shows the lie behind the concept but how that concept is accepted by most US citizens in the same way Christians accept the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary.

These two books provide a complementary narrative on US foreign policy.  While Hart’s examines the development of the US imperial propaganda machine, Blum’s looks at its growth and also the brutality of the military whose operations the propaganda seeks to misconstrue.  As we move into an age where the only victims of US wars are those whom our propaganda claims to be freeing and the assumption of our national goodness is enforced and reinforced to the point of overkill, the understanding these two books provide is more crucial than ever.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.




Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

October 07, 2015
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Witness to a Troubled Saint-Making: Junipero Serra and the Theology of Failure
Luciana Bohne
The Double-Speak of American Civilian Humanitarianism
Joyce Nelson
TPP: Big Pharma’s Big Deal
Jonathan Cook
Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again
Joseph Natoli
The Wreckage in Sight We Fail To See
Piero Gleijeses
Jorge Risquet: the Brother I Never Had
Andrew Stewart
Do #BlackLivesMatter to Dunkin’ Donuts?
Rajesh Makwana
#GlobalGoals? The Truth About Poverty and How to Address It
Joan Berezin
Elections 2016: A New Opening or Business as Usual?
Dave Randle
The Man Who Sold Motown to the World
Adam Bartley
“Shameless”: Hillary Clinton, Human Rights and China
Binoy Kampmark
The Killings in Oregon: Business as Usual
Harvey Wasserman
Why Bernie and Hillary Must Address America’s Dying Nuke Reactors
Tom H. Hastings
Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence
October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria