The interview is one of the journalist’s best tools. If done right, an interview provides a considerable amount of information about the views of the interviewee and interviewer, while also informing the reader about the subjects covered. Certain journalists made the interview an art form in its own right. Relatively recent examples of this include the Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone interview with John Lennon in 1971, David Frost’s interview of Richard Nixon in 1977, Alex Haley’s interview of Malcolm X, and Ignacio Ramonet’s interview of Fidel Castro. Two of these interviews have been published in book form ( Ramonet and Castro; Wenner and Lennon, with the Lennon interview being twice made into a book); one was the related to one of the best-selling books of the 20th Century (Alex Haley’s Malcolm X); and the Frost-Nixon interviews were watched by millions on television, while also being remade into a film drama almost thirty years later.
I mention these interviews as a means of introducing the first book by the editors of the political-cultural web magazine State of Nature. This book, titled Weapon of the Strong: Conversations on State Terrorism, features thirteen interviews. The interviewees are philosophically from the left side of the political spectrum and come from five different countries. They include Noam Chomsky, attorney Marjorie Cohn, several professors and the director of Swiss Institute for Peace and Energy Research. The interviewers and editors are Chan Aksan and Jon Bailes. The conversations cover topics that include state-sponsored terrorism, the Unites States as a terrorist state, the nature of economic terrorism as facilitated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, the role of the United Nations, and the US role in the Middle East, to name but a few.
Throughout the text is an underlying question of language and its meaning. Why is one act considered terrorism while another act that is essentially the same not considered so? Is it the actor that determines whether or not an act is terroristic? Why is the US hesitant to accept the commonly held definition of terrorism? Is the reason because doing so would indict the United States as a terrorist state? These are just a small number of the questions raised and addressed in this tightly edited and intellectually stimulating collection.
Chomsky discusses pointlessness of international law given the fact that it is the most powerful nations (most specifically, the US and UK, although Russia and China have managed to counterbalance some excesses) that set up structures to implement it. Furthermore, their sheer power creates a situation where their actions define the nature of those structures, Should a group of smaller nations decide to go against that nature, the more powerful just ignore those demands.
In South African Patrick Bond’s discussion of Washington’s economic terrorism, Bond brings up the inability of Nelson Mandela to refuse the IMF structural adjustment forced on his nation after the end of apartheid. This “adjustment” included insisting that the new government pay off the prior government’s debts. Bond and the editors rightly point out that South Africa was a victim of US economic terrorism. One need look no further than Cyprus to see the latest victim of this form of terrorism. It can be argued that the terrorist regime in the case of Cyprus (and Greece, Spain and Portugal) was the European Union and Germany, but in doing so, one would have to ignore the role played by giant US-based financial houses in the manipulation of those nations’ economies the past decade.
The editors’ introduction ties the thirteen interviews together. They draw a line from Roosevelt to Obama, pointing to the continuity of policy when it comes to the pursuit of US dominance in the world. In one instance, they discuss the US support for the Suharto regime in Indonesia and the slaughter in East Timor under Nixon; in another, they discuss the US support for the Shah of Iran and Jimmy Carter’s unabashed support for the man who sat on the Peacock Throne. They tie up these and other instances of US-sponsored genocide and brutality with the knot of US imperialism, still humanity’s number one enemy.
This is a valuable text. Building on themes addressed on their State of Nature website, Aksan and Bailes have compiled an intellectually challenging and forthright collection of conversations certain to create further conversations of their own. Each interview could easily stand alone. Together, they overwhelm.
Ron Jacobs is the author of the forthcoming novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.