“Come Writers and Critics…”

I knew William Blum in the way a person can know someone from their writing and interactions on the Internet. We communicated from time to time and I put what I consider his seminal work on US foreign policy, Killing Hope: U.S. and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II (1995), on my back-burner of books to get to when time allowed. Then Bill died. He had worked for both IBM and the US government and his criticism of the latter put him in a precarious position and he left government service.

A few years passed and I bought Bill’s book and began reading his sweeping assessment of US interventions around the world since the end of the Second World War. I had been doing some parallel reading, as I’m a devoted fan of the lives and some policies of both Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and the parallels between Bill’s writing and the Roosevelts’ actions and points of view during the war, and for Eleanor, following the war, were striking.

Bill’s research is amazingly thorough. I had the same sense when I read his foreign policy articles at his Internet site, The Anti-Empire Report. Reading Bill’s writing was akin to the awakening of a critical mass from the baby boomer generation of the 1960s and early 1970s. You knew you were onto something earthshaking! It was like a foreign policy epiphany!

I think the major thrust of Bill’s writing in Killing Hope was not only how the U.S., through the use of its military force and spies at the C.I.A., thwarted nation after nation and political, social, and economic movements for positive change following World War II, but how his research can apply to some nations and movements that the U.S. is working to harm today. As Yogi Berra said: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

The déjà vu is apparent in Syria, Guatemala, Honduras, indeed throughout Central America, the Philippines, Iraq, Iran,  and on and on and on ad nauseam. Cuba and Venezuela stand out as long-term recipients of US antipathy, as does Nicaragua. Readers here may get the drift of US policy as it exerts its muscle through empire, wrecks nation after nation, and spends trillions on its spy agencies and the military. Yogi would not be disappointed! The social, political, and economic welfare of masses of people is much more than a disappointment.

The reason for bringing the Roosevelts into this discussion is to highlight how Bill’s unearthing of the endless march of anti-communism through his research reflects Eleanor’s lifelong dedication to anti-communism while holding onto some liberal elements of both domestic and foreign policy. Despite her reputation for liberalism, her views, especially while a US representative at the UN, were vehemently anti-communist. Indeed, Franklin had a much more pragmatic and open mind toward the former Soviet Union and could communicate with Joseph Stalin in a way that few could. Roosevelt knew the losses that the Russian people had suffered at the hands of Nazi fascism and was at odds with Winston Churchill in that respect. Had he, Roosevelt, lived, US-Soviet relations may have been much different.

What impresses most about Bill’s work is that he catalogs how anti-communism morphed seamlessly into the War on Terror after September 2001. As if by bizarre chance, Killing Hope was endorsed by Osama bin Laden and Bill took the ethical high road and condemned bin Laden while welcoming renewed attention to his book.

This narrative could end there, but there is a personal note. Bill and I wrote back and forth about a fellow writer who Bill had encountered at a reading of that author’s new book at a bookstore in the Washington, D.C. area. Bill criticized a foreign policy issue in that book and met with verbal condemnation from him. By chance, I wrote to the same author about what I considered a misstatement that author had made about the Vietnam War on a popular left program and the response I received was off-putting.

In one of our interactions via email, I wrote I was uncomfortable with the lack of availability of a place to stay during a demonstration planned in Washington, D.C. As if the 1960s were still alive and vibrant, Bill offered me a place to stay at his home and I knew that some of the zeitgeist of the 60s was alive in him along with his superb intelligence.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).