This study, consisting of two related volumes, deals with relations between the United States and the Third World. It has a dual focus: on facts and on beliefs. The basic fact is that the United States has organized under its sponsorship and protection a neo-colonial system of client states ruled mainly by terror and serving the interests of a small local and foreign business and military elite. The fundamental belief, or ideological pretense, is that the United States is dedicated to furthering the cause of democracy and human rights throughout the world, though it may occasionally err in the pursuit of this objective.
Since 1960 over 18 Latin America regimes have been subjected to military takeovers – a “domino effect” neglected in the West. U.S. influence has been crucial in this process, in some cases by means of deliberate subversion or even direct aggression, but invariably important given the substantial economic and military penetration and presence of the superpower. The phenomenon itself is neither new nor confined to Latin America. The fate of Guatemalan democracy, subverted by the CIA in 1954 in favor of a regime of torture and oppression, can be matched with that of Iran a year earlier; and the Philippines, brutally subjugated at the turn of the century has now been stripped of its short-lived democratic facade without a word of protest by the United States. This, and the subsequent sharp increases in economic and military aid to the martial law government of Marcos, not only reflect a familiar and traditional pattern, they are also compelling evidence of approval and support.
The ugly proclivities of the U.S. clients, including the systematic use of torture, are functionally related to the needs of U.S. (and other) business interests, helping to stifle unions and contain reformist threats that might interfere with business freedom of action. The proof of the pudding is that U.S. bankers and industrialists have consistently welcomed the “stability” of the new client fascist order, whose governments, while savage in their treatment of dissidents, priests, labor leaders, peasant organizers or others who threaten the “order,” and at best indifferent to the mass of the population, have been most accommodating to large external interests. In an important sense, therefore, the torturers in the client states are functionaries of IBM, Citibank, Allis Chalmers and the U.S. government, playing their assigned roles in a system that has worked according to choice and plan.
With the spread and huge dimensions of the empire of Third World fascism, complete with death squads, torture and repression, the gap between the fact and belief has become a yawning chasm. The ideological institutions – the press, schools and universities – thus face a growing challenge. It is, one might have thought, a formidable task to transmute increasing numbers of fascist thugs into respectable “leaders” worthy of our subsidies and active support. Equally serious is the problem of depicting the United States itself as fit to judge and assess the human rights record of other states, in this context of sponsorship of an international mafia, and immediately after its prolonged and brutal assault on the peasant societies of Indochina. Nevertheless, these formidable tasks have been accomplished without notable difficulty, and the credibility gap has been successfully bridged by a very effective system of rewriting recent history and selecting, processing and creating current “information”. As we describe in detail throughout this work, on fundamental issues the mass media in the United States – what we will refer to as the “Free Press” – function very much in the manner of a system of state-controlled propaganda, and their achievements are, in fact, quite awesome.
The first volume is devoted to analyzing the forces that have shaped the U.S.-sponsored neo-colonial world, the nature of the client states, and the processes and rationales that the ideological institutions have employed to defend and justify the proliferating terror. The coverage is far from exhaustive; we have selected only a few instances to explore in varying degrees of detail. Our primary few instances to explore in varying degrees of detail. Our primary concern is the United States: its global policies, their institutional basis in the domestic society and its mechanisms of propaganda. We do not discuss at all the important matter of relations among the powers within the First World of industrial capitalism, or relations between these powers and the Soviet Bloc or China. We also will not consider the background and nature of the movements called “socialist” or “Communist” in the Third World. Nor do we discuss the Soviet empire and the characteristics and effects of that lesser system of Sun and Planets.
Volume II, entitled After the Cataclysm, is devoted to “postwar Indochina and the reconstruction of imperial ideology” (the subtitle). It deals with the postwar condition of Indochina, the sources of its problems, Western responses to the travail of its populations emerging from the wreckage. In addition to considering each of the three Indochinese states, we look at the question of refugees and postwar retribution in historical context and give considerable attention to the Western media’s use and misuse of the Indochinese experience to rehabilitate the bruised doctrinal system of the imperial powers.
The picture that emerges from this inquiry seems to us a very grim one, both at the level of fact and with regard to the capacity of Western ideological institutions to falsify, obscure and reinterpret the facts in the interest of those who dominate the economy and political system. But this system is not all-powerful, as millions of people learned from their own experience during the U.S. war in Indochina. Until 1965, it was virtually impossible to gain a hearing for any principled opposition to the U.S. military intervention in Indochina, already well-advanced by that time. By “principled opposition” we mean opposition based not on an estimate of national costs and benefits but on the view that the United States has no unique right to exercise force and violence to gain its objectives. Later, a hearing of sorts did become possible, partly through organizations and publications associated with the peace movement itself, and partly as a result of the news value of peace activism as it assumed mass proportions. The Free Press remained largely closed to direct access by the movement throughout the war. The peace movement also had to overcome the obstacle of active state hostility of its efforts. It is now well known that the U.S. government deployed its national political police in a major efforts to undermine and destroy the mass movements of the 1960s. Nevertheless, they continued to grow and undoubtedly had an impact on the decisions ultimately taken at the center, without, however, modifying the structure of domestic power in any meaningful way.
This experience shows that even the effective system of ideological controls of the United States has its limitations. It is not impossible for substantial groups to gain some real understanding of social and political reality and to organize and act to modify state policy. The large interests of the country dominate foreign policy, which cannot be altered in its essentials without a change in the internal structure of power or the external environment. But while far-reaching internal changes are not likely in the short-run, organized opposition at home can sometimes make enough of a difference to allow struggling peoples a little breathing space. U.S. failures in Indochina and the 1978 upheavals in Iran are two examples out of many showing the very real possibilities of loss of control in the outer reaches of the empire.
While the U.S. and its allies have armed the neo-fascist elites of the Third World to the teeth, and saturated them with counterinsurgency weaponry and training, long-term elite control of the underlying populations is by no means assured. The abuse of Third World majorities in the empire is so flagrant, and their leaderships are so corrupt, inept and visionless, that explosions and loss of control are highly likely in many states over the next several decades. The voiceless majorities can be helped by outsiders in many ways: among them, maximum world-wide exposure of the actual impact of the West on these peoples; strenuous efforts to stem the huge flow of aid and support to official terrorists; and helping to create an ideological and political environment that will make open intervention difficult when explosions do occur.
It is possible that developments in the United States and other industrialized states might alter the present pattern of sponsorship and support for Third World tyrannies. The arms race and the struggle to control Third World countries are contrary to the interests of the majorities of the developed countries, and while the system of indoctrination makes it difficult for them to break out of the machine’s ideological control, the growing irrationalities and problems of the West, including the extravagant use of energy, the difficulty of controlling externalities, inflation, inadequate work opportunities for increasing numbers, and the enormous waste on arms may create pressures that will increase awareness or cause systemic shocks that may bring real issues to the fore. It is most probable, unfortunately, that a real crisis would result in a shift toward rightist totalitarianism, a “Brazilianization” of the home country. But prediction in this dynamic era has not been notable for its successes. Educational efforts on the true workings of the machine, and organizational actions that build toward altering its basic mechanisms, may yet yield their benefits, even without the major structural changes required to establish democratic control over the basic social and economic institutions, a prerequisite to a truly democratic politics.
The post-Vietnam war collapse of the movement has relieved U.S. imperial authorities of much of the earlier constraining pressure, and they have been able to continue the enlargement and protection of the neo-fascist empire without significant internal impediment. This can only be changed by a renewal of active involvement of large numbers. It is hoped that this book will show that serious concern is urgently demanded by the facts of the situation.
This book is a major revision of a small monograph written in 1972-73 and then suppressed by the corporation that owned the publisher, as described in the Prefatory Note that follows. Many friends and associates have read parts of earlier drafts of the manuscript and have provided information and critical comment that have helped us immeasurably. We will refer to some of them, quite inadequately, in separate sections that follow. Special mention should be made of Josh Markel for his research assistance and Bonnie Wilker for both research and general help in preparation of the manuscript. Finally we would like to express our thanks to the South End Press collective for their assistance throughout, and in particular, for their care, efficiency, and dedication in producing these books under unusually difficult conditions.
A Prefatory Note by the Authors on the History of the Suppression of the First Edition of This Book
An earlier version of this volume was originally contracted for and produced as a monograph by Warner Modular Publications, Inc., a subsidiary member of the Warner communications and entertainment conglomerate. The publishing house had run a relatively independent operation up to the time of the controversy over this document. The editors and publisher were enthusiastic about the monograph and committed themselves to put it out quickly and to promote it with vigor. But just prior to publication, in the fall if 1973, officials of the parent company got wind of it, looked at it, and were horrified at its “unpatriotic” contents. (1) Mr. William Sarnoff, a high officer of the parent company, for example, was deeply pained by our statement on page 7 of the original that “the leadership in the United States, as a result of its dominant position and wide-ranging counterrevolutionary efforts, has been the most important single instigator, administrator, and moral and material sustainer of serious bloodbaths in the years that followed World War II.” So pained were Sarnoff and his business associates, in fact, that they were quite prepared to violate a contractual obligation in order to assure that no such material would see the light of day.
Although 20,000 copies of the monograph were printed, and one (and the last) ad was placed in the New York Review of Books, Warner Publishing refused to allow distribution of the monograph at its scheduled publication date. Media advertising for the volume was cancelled and printed flyers that listed the monograph as one of the titles were destroyed. The officers of Warner Modular were warned that distribution of the document would result in their immediate dismissal.
The publisher struggled to keep open the possibility of distributing the monograph. Since one ostensible reason for suppression was the “one-sideness” of the document, a compromise was worked out for its release upon roughly concurrent publication of a work that supports the counterrevolutionary violence of the United States; in this case a printing of a series of articles by Ithiel de Sola Pool. The concept of a publishing house not being permitted to publish something without either the work itself, or the publisher’s list, meeting somebody’s notion of “balance,” is an extraordinary one. Needless to say it is never applied in the case of pro-establishment productions or potential big money-makers, and the application of the “balance” approach in this case was hardly designed to encourage the free flow of ideas. It was, on the contrary, a means of cutting off one side that has great difficulty in gaining a hearing in the United States.
The officers of the parent corporation had regarded the “absence of balance” argument as a reason for refusal to permit distribution of our monograph, rather than as calling urgently for publication of material offering a version of the facts more compatible with their needs and perceptions. The idea of a “balancing publication” was reluctantly accepted by the officers of Warner Modular, the publisher, only as a last resort, a means to salvage a monograph to which they were committed and to meet their moral and legal obligations to the authors. The officers of the parent corporation initially went along with this proposal, presumably because the outright suppression of the monograph would have been a little too blatant, and, of course, in violation of the legally binding contract. But they accepted the compromise without enthusiasm, and before it could be implemented, they decided to close down the publishing house and sell its stocks of publications and contracts to a small and quite unknown company loosely affiliated with the parent conglomerate, MSS Information Corporation. This company is not a commercial publisher and lacked distribution facilities. It did not promote its list and at first did not even list the monograph, adding it only after a considerable period on an additions sheet. The monograph could be purchased by someone with prior knowledge of its existence and of the fact that MSS had taken over the rights to it, or by readers of Radical America, a small left-wing publication that distributed some copies that they had obtained.
The monograph had a remarkably different history abroad. While unadvertised, unsold, unreviewed, and unnoticed in the U.S., it was translated into French and several other European languages. The French edition appeared with an introduction by Jean-Pierre Faye which discussed the issue of suppression and put the material discussed in the monograph in the context of a Western “Gulag Archipelago” of extensive proportions. In France it went into a second printing and the suppression in the U.S. became a minor cause celèbre. The establishment media in France claimed that the monograph was not sold simply because Warner Modular went into bankruptcy, a complete fabrication. To our knowledge, the only notice of the monograph in the English language can be found in the English translation of Jean-François Revel’s book The Totalitarian Temptation (Penguin, 1977). Here, in the course of a denunciation of the French left for its alleged carelessness with regard to fact, Revel presents an entirely fanciful account of the publishing history, based on his own telephone call to an unidentified friend in the United States.
Despite the substantial interest abroad, it has so far been impossible to provoke any discussion in the country where it was written and to whose population it was addressed either on the merits of the case presented in the monograph or the matter of its effective suppression by the parent corporation. Well-known advocates of freedom of expression who were apprised of the matter have regarded it as insignificant, presumably on the grounds that there is no issue of state censorship but only of corporate censorship. This reflects, we believe, a characteristic underestimation of the importance of the selective policing of the flow of ideas by means of private structures and constrained access, while all the legal forms of freedom are in place. At a given level of quality, the more critical the message the smaller the proportion of the population that will have an opportunity to consider it at all, and there will be no exposure to such messages day after day (as there is, say, to the merits of a new automobile or low tar cigarette, or to the inflationary effects of government regulation, or to the allegations that North Vietnam committed “aggression” in Vietnam or that a bloodbath would follow the “loss” of Vietnam). (2)
The history of the suppressed monograph is an authentic instance of private censorship of ideas per se. The uniqueness the episode lies only in the manner of suppression. Usually, private intervention in the book market is anticipatory, with regrets that the manuscript is unacceptable, perhaps “unmarketable”. (3) Sometimes the latter contention is only an excuse for unwillingness to market, although it may sometimes reflect an accurate assessment of how the media and journals will receive books that are strongly critical of the established order. With rare exceptions (e.g., C. Wright Mills’ Power Elite or Seymour Hersh’s books on the My Lai massacre and cover up), such works are ignored and allowed to fall still-born from the press, or if reviewed, are dismissed with contempt. In the case of the first edition of this work, events showed that there was an international market, even if the parent corporation was able to prevent a test of the domestic market. But the details of the publication history show that the suppression was strictly a function of the contents of the monograph, not of potential profitability.
By coincidence, the parent corporation that was the agency of the suppression is the publisher (through an affiliate) of the paperback edition of Richard M. Nixon’s memoirs. Both Warner and the hardback publisher of the memoirs, Grosset & Dunlap, have been criticized for their payment of $2 million for rights to publish and market aggressively the work of a self-confessed prevaricator. The president of Grosset & Dunlap denounced such criticisms in vigorous terms:
I find it difficult to understand such sentiments. It is incredible that anyone should suggest that a book not be published. If we abridge the freedom of any one writer or publisher, we effectively abridge the freedom of all.
The New York Times reported that “also in the audience, but not commenting, was William Sarnoff, chairman of Warner Books...” (4)
1. The principal sources for this account of the suppression are affidavits supplied to the authors by the publisher and associate publisher of Warner Modular Publications, Inc.
2. See Chapter 2, section 2.2, and Volume II, Chapter 4.
3. For a more general discussion of mass media choices and bases of selection see chapter 2, section 2.0.
4. Herbert Mitgang, “Nixon Book Dispute Erupts at Meeting,” New York Times (28 May 1978) p.16.