The Washington Connection and
Third World Fascism
an excerpt from the 1979 classic
book by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman
www.zmag.org, April 2006
The Washington Connection and Third World
Fascism was originally written in 1972-1973 as a monograph for
Warner Modular Publications. It was then suppressed by the corporation
that owned the publisher after 20,000 copies were printed. It
was subsequently expanded and published by South End Press in
1979. It is amazing to read, just in this short excerpt (from
the introduction), how much of what the left is still trying to
explain about current U.S. foreign policy was in place over 30
years ago, including use of the same terminology and tactics to
subdue any effective resistance. That the U.S. government continues
to violate international law, to commit mass murder, to use torture
as state policy, and to snub its nose at human rights is outrageous.
We hope that rereading this classic by Chomsky and Herman will
inspire peace and justice actions planned throughtout 2006.-Eds
Freedom, Aggression and Human Rights
The common view that internal freedom
makes for humane and moral international behavior is supported
neither by historical evidence nor by reason. The United States
itself has a long history of imposing oppressive and terrorist
regimes in regions of the world within the reach of its power,
such as the Caribbean and Central American sugar and banana republics
(Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and the Somozas in Nicaragua
were long-lived progeny of U.S. intervention and selection). Since
World War II, with the great extension of U.S. power, it has borne
a heavy responsibility for the spread of a plague of neofascism,
state terrorism, torture and repression throughout large parts
of the underdeveloped world. The United States has globalized
the "banana republic." This has occurred despite some
modest ideological strain because these developments serve the
needs of powerful and dominant interests, state and private, within
the United States itself.
The Vietnam War experience is often cited
to prove the importance of freedom and dissent in constraining
state violence. This assessment seriously misreads the facts of
the case. Peace movement activism, growing from and contributing
to the popular movements for equality, freedom, and social change
within the United States, did succeed in raising the domestic
costs of the U.S. assault, thus helping to limit in some degree
its scope and severity and contributing to the eventual decision
that the game was not worth the candle. It did so, of course,
mainly by employing modalities that were outside the framework
of existing institutions: demonstrations, nonviolent resistance,
grass roots organizing, and wide-ranging educational efforts needed
to counter the deep commitment of existing institutions to the
protection and furthering of the interests of state and private
power. The established "free" institutions supported
the war, for the most part enthusiastically and uncritically,
occasionally with minor and qualified reservations. The principled
opposition, based on grounds other than cost-ineffectiveness,
functioned outside the major institutional structures. It is,
of course, an important fact that a movement was allowed to organize
with relatively modest state harassment and violence, and that
this movement could make some impact on the course of events.
Such developments and the costs of overcoming these and other
forms of resistance that impede the actions of national elites
are also problems in totalitarian societies, though the toll imposed
on protestors in Iran, Argentina, and the Soviet Union is often
far more severe. The value of being allowed to protest relatively
unmolested is certainly real, but it should not lead to a disregard
of the fact that established institutions, with overwhelmingly
dominant power, tend to line up in goose-step fashion in support
of any state foreign venture, no matter how immoral (until the
cost becomes too high).
The peace movement frightened Western
elites. The response of the U.S. (indeed Free World) leadership
to the politicization of large parts of the population during
the 1960s provides a revealing indication of their concept of
"democracy" and of the role of the public in the "democratic
process." In 1975, the Trilateral Commission, representing
the more liberal elements of ruling groups in the industrial democracies,
published a study entitled The Crisis of Democracy, which interprets
public participation in decision-making as a threat to democracy,
one that must be contained if elite domination is to persist unhindered
by popular demands. The population must be reduced to apathy and
conformism if "democracy," as interpreted by this liberal
contingent, is to be kept workable and allowed to survive.
The most crucial fact relating freedom
to the Vietnam War experience is that, despite its free institutions,
for over two decades (1949-1975) the United States attempted to
subjugate Vietnam by force and subversion, in the process violating
the UN Charter, the Geneva Accords of 1954, the Nuremberg Code,
the Hague Convention, the Geneva Protocol of 1925, and finally
the Paris agreements of 1973. For almost a decade the peasants
of Indochina served as experimental animals for an evolving military
technology-cluster bombs, rockets designed to enter caves where
people hid to escape saturation bombing, a fiendish array of antipersonnel
weapons; new versions of the long-outlawed "dum-dum"
bullet were among the more modest weapons employed. The population
was driven into urban slums by bombing, artillery, and ground
attacks that often degenerated into mass murder, in an expanding
effort to destroy the social structures in which resistance was
rooted. Defenseless peasant societies in Laos and Cambodia were
savagely bombed in "secret"-the "secrecy"
resulting from the refusal of the mass media to make public facts
for which they had ample evidence. Freedom was consistent not
only with this expanding savagery, but also with interventions
explicitly designed to preserve non-freedom from the threat of
freedom (e.g., the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965)
and to displace democratic with totalitarian regimes (e.g., the
open subversion of Guatemala in 1954; the slightly more sub rosa
subversion of democracy in Brazil in 1964 and Chile in 1973).
Free institutions were able to accept, indeed quietly approve
of huge massacres in the name of "freedom," as in Indonesia
in 1965-1966-interpreted by U.S. liberals as evidence for the
far-sightedness of U.S. intervention in Vietnam. Massive atrocities
committed by U.S. client regimes against their own populations
or against foreign populations they hope to subdue (e.g., the
Indonesian massacres in East Timor) have also proven compatible
with freedom and are regularly disguised or ignored by the Free
Whatever the attitudes of the U.S. leadership
toward freedom at home-and as noted, this is highly ambiguous-systematic
policies toward Third World countries make it evident that the
alleged commitment to democracy and human rights is mere rhetoric,
directly contrary to actual policy. The operative principle has
been and remains economic freedom-meaning freedom for U.S. business
to invest, sell, and repatriate profits-and its two basic requisites,
a favorable investment climate and a specific form of stability.
Since the primary values are disturbed by unruly students, democratic
processes, peasant organizations, a free press, and free labor
unions, "economic freedom" has often required political
servitude. Respect for the rights of the individual, also alleged
to be one of the cardinal values of the West, has had little place
in the operating procedures applied to the Third World. Since
a favorable investment climate and stability quite often require
repression, the United States has supplied the tools and training
for interrogation and torture and is thoroughly implicated in
the vast expansion of torture during the past decade.
Within the United States itself, the intelligence
services were "running torture camps," as were their
Brazilian associates, who "set up a camp modeled after that
of the boinas verdes, the Green Berets." And there is evidence
that U.S. advisors took an active part in torture, not contenting
themselves with supplying training and material means." During
the Vietnam War, the United States employed on a massive scale
"improved" napalm, phosphorus, and fragmentation bombs,
and a wide range of other "anti-personnel" weapons that
had a devastating effect on civilians. The steady development
of weaponry and methods of "interrogation" that inflict
enormous pain on the human body and spirit, and the expansion
of use of ts technology in U.S.sponsored counterinsurgency warfare
and "stabilization" throughout the U.S. sphere of influence,
is further evidence that the "sacredness of the individual"
is hardly a primary value in the West, at least in its application
beyond an elite in-group.
The rationale given for the U.S. buildup
of Third World police and military establishments and regular
"tilt" toward repressive regimes is the demands of "security."
This is a wonderfully elastic concept with a virtuous ring that
can validate open-ended arms expenditures, as well as support
for neo-fascism. When it is said that we must oppose Goulart in
Brazil or the NLF in South Vietnam for reasons of security, this
obviously does not mean that they threaten our survival; it means
that their success would be disadvantageous to U.S. interests,
and not primarily military interests. It is possible that "security"
for a great power and its client government corresponds to heightened
insecurity for large numbers within the dominated "secure"
state. This seems to be very much the case for the majorities
in Brazil, Chile, and Paraguay, for example.
This flows from the fact of inordinate
power and is the propaganda counterpart of the imperial leader's
assumption of the natural right to intervene to keep its subordinates
in line. It has the great public relations advantage, also, of
built-in self-justification. Who could object to the pitiful giant's
efforts to protect its own security?
The Semantics of "Terror"
Among the many symbols used to frighten
and manipulate the populace of the democratic states, few have
been more important than "terror" and "terrorism."
These terms have generally been confined to the use of violence
by individuals and marginal groups. Official violence, which is
far more extensive in both scale and destructiveness, is placed
in a different category altogether. This usage has nothing to
do with justice, causal sequence, or numbers abused. Whatever
the actual sequence of cause and effect, official violence is
described as responsive or provoked ("retaliation,"
"protective reaction," etc.), not as the active and
initiating source of abuse. Similarly, the massive long-term violence
inherent in the oppressive social structures that U.S. power has
supported or imposed is typically disregarded. The numbers tormented
and killed by official violence-wholesale as opposed to retail
terror-during recent decades have exceeded those of unofficial
terrorists by a factor running into the thousands. But this is
not "terror," although one terminological exception
mayrgentinian "security forces" only retaliate and engage
in "police action," violence carried out by unfriendly
states (Cuba, Cambodia) may be designated "terroristic."
The question of proper usage is settled not merely by the official
or unofficial status of the perpetrators of violence, but also
by their political affiliations.
These terminological devices serve important
functions. They help to justify the far more extensive violence
of (friendly) state authorities by interpreting them as "reactive"
and they implicitly sanction the suppression of information on
the methods and scale of official violence by removing it from
the category of "terrorism." Thus in Latin America,
"left-wing terrorism is quiescent after a decade and a half
of turmoil," the New York Times explains in a summary article
on the state of terrorism; it does not discuss any other kind
of violence in Latin America-CIA, Argentinian and Brazilian death
squads, DINA, etc. Their actions are excluded by definition, and
nothing is said about the nature and causes of the "turmo."
Thus the language is well-designed for apologetics for wholesale
This language is also useful in its connotation
of irrational evil, which can be exterminated with no questions
asked. The criminally insane have no just grievance that we need
trouble to comprehend. On the current scene, for example, the
New York Times refers to the "cold-blooded and mysterious"
Carlos; the South African government, on the other hand, whose
single raid on the Namibian refugee camp of Kassinga on May 4,
1978 wiped out a far larger total (more than 600) than the combined
victims of Carlos, the Baader-Meinhof gang, and the Italian Red
Brigades, is not referred to in such invidious terms. Retail terror
is "the crime of our times" in the current picture of
reality conveyed by the media; and friendly governments are portrayed
as the reassuring protectors of the public, striving courageously
to cope with "terror."
The limited concept of "terror"
also serves as a lightning rod to distract attention from substantive
issues, and helps to create a sensibility and a frame of mind
that allows greater freedom of action by the state. During the
Vietnam War, students were the terrorists, and the government
and mass media devoted great attention (and much outrage) to their
frightful depredations (one person killed, many windows broken).
The device was used effectively to discredit the antiwar movement
as violence-prone and destructive-the motive, of course, for the
infiltration of the movement by government provocateurs-and it
helped to divert attention from the official violence that was
far more extensive even on the home front, not to speak of Vietnam,
the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere. The ploy was amazingly
successful in light of the facts, now documented beyond serious
question, even though it did not succeed in destroying the antiwar
movement. The terrorism of the Vietnamese enemy was also used
effectively in mobilizing public opinion, again a tremendous testimonial
to the power of brainwashing under freedom, given the real facts
of the matter.
Shift in the Balance of Terror
Over the past 25 years at least, not only
has official terror been responsible for torture and killing on
a vastly greater scale than its retail counterpart, but, furthermore,
the balance of terror appears to have shifted to the West and
its clients, with the United States setting the pace as sponsor
and supplier. The old colonial world was shattered during World
War II, and the resultant nationalist-radical upsurge threatened
traditional Western hegemony and the economic interests of Western
business. To contain this threat the United States has aligned
itself with elite and military elements in the Third World whose
function has been to contain the tides of change. This role was
played by Diem and Thieu in South Vietnam and is currently served
by allies such as Mobutu in Zaire, Pinochet in Chile, and Suharto
in Indonesia. Under frequent U.S. sponsorship the neo-fascist
National Security State and other forms of authoritarian rule
have become the dominant mode of government in the Third World.
Heavily armed by the West (mainly the United States) and selected
for amenability to foreign domination and zealous anti-communism,
counterrevolutionary regimes ha been highly tortureand bloodshed-prone.
In the Soviet sphere of influence, torture
appears to have been on the decline since the death of Stalin.
In its 1974 Report on Torture, Amnesty International (AI) notes:
"Though prison conditions and the rights of the prisoners
detained on political charges in Eastern Europe and the Soviet
Union may still be in many cases unsatisfactory, torture as a
government-sanctioned, Stalinist practice has ceased. With a few
exceptions no reports on the use of torture in Eastern Europe
have been reaching the outside world in the past decade."
In sharp contrast, torture, which "for
the last two or three hundred years has been no more than a historical
curiosity has suddenly developed a life of its own and become
a social cancer." Since it has declined in the Soviet sphere
since the death of Stalin, it would appear that this cancerous
growth is largely a Free World phenomenon. It has shown phenomenal
growth in Latin America, where, as AI points out: "There
is a marked difference between traditional brutality, stemming
from historical conditions, and the systematic torture which has
spread to many Latin American countries within the past decade."
Amnesty International also notes that
in some of the Latin American countries "the institutional
violence and high incidence of political assassinations has tended
to overshadow the problem of torture." The numbers involved
in these official (wholesale) murders have been large: for example,
AI estimates 15,000 death squad victims in the small country of
Guatemala between 1970 and 1975, a thousand in Argentina in 1975
before the military coup and the unleashing of a true reign of
The AI Annual Report for 1975-1976 also
notes that "more than 80%" of the urgent appeals and
actions for victims of human torture have been coming from Latin
America. One reason for the urgency of these appeals is the nature
of this expanding empire of violence, which bears comparison with
some of the worst excrescences of European fascism. Hideous torture
has become standard practice in the U.S. client fascist states.
In the new Chile, to savor the results of the narrow escape of
that country from Communist tyranny: "Many people were tortured
to death [after the military coup of 1973] by means of endless
whipping as well as beating with fists, feet and rifle butts.
Prisoners were beaten on all parts of the body, including the
head and sexual organs. The bodies of prisoners were found in
the Rio Mapocho, sometimes disfigured beyond recognition. Two
well-known cases in Santiago are those of Litre Quiroga, the ex-director
of prisons under the Allende government, and Victor Jara, Chile's
most popular folk-singer. Both were detained in the Estadio Chile
and died as a result of the torture received there. According
to a recurrent report, the body of Victor Jara was found outside
the Estadio Chile, his hands broken and his body badly mutilated.
Litre Quiroga had been kicked and beaten in front of other prisoners
for approximately 40 hours before he was removed to a special
interrogation room where he met his death under unknown circumstances."
Such horrendous details could be repeated
for many thousands of human beings in Argentina, Brazil, Chile,
Uruguay, Paraguay, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Indonesia, U.S.-occupied
South Vietnam up to 1975, Iran, and in quite a few other U.S.
client states. They clearly reflect state policy over a wide segment
of the U.S. sphere of influence. As already noted, much of the
electronic and other torture gear is U.S. supplied, and great
numbers of client state police and military interrogators are
Latin America has also become the locus
of a major diaspora, with hundreds of thousands of academics,
journalists, scientists, and other professionals, as well as liberals
and radicals of all social classes, driven into exile. This has
been a deliberate policy of the military juntas, which one distinguished
Latin America journalist calls a "lobotomization" of
intellect and the "cultural genocide of our time," with
the purpose of removing any source of social criticism or intellectual
or leadership base for the general population. Another aspect
of the same strategy is, of course, the widespread use of torture
and political assassinations to create "a climate of fear
and uncertainty to discourage any form of opposition to the ruling
elite." To find comparable flights into exile on a continental
scale, one would have to go back to the experience of fascist
Europe, 1933-1940, which provides numerous parallels.
How the Media Cope with Client Fascist
Since the installation and support of
military juntas, with their sadistic tortures and bloodbaths,
are hardly compatible with human rights, democracy, and other
alleged Western values, the media and intellectuals in the United
States and Western urope have been hardpressed to rationalize
state policy. The primary solution has been massive suppression,
averting the eyes from the unpleasant facts concerning the extensive
torture and killing, the diaspora, the major shift to authoritarian
government and its systematic character, and the U.S. role in
introducing and protecting the leadership of this client fascist
empire. When the Latin American system of torture and exile is
mentioned at all, it is done with brevity and "balance."
The latter consists of two elements: one is the regular pretense
that the terror is a response to "left-wing guerilla"
terror and that the killings on each side are in some kind of
rough equivalence. The second is the generous and preponderant
attention given to the rationales, explanations and claims of
regret and imminent reform on the part of the official terrorists.
When elements of the mass media go a little beyond this pattern,
as they do on occasion, their efforts are not well-received by
other members of the establishment. Thus, an unusually frank ABC
documentary on "The Politics of Torture" was greeted
by the New York Times with petulance and hostility for failing
to see the problems posed by "security and economic interests"
and/or neglecting the abuses of the Communists.
The mass media also feature heavily the
positives of our military juntas, especially any alleged "improvements"-a
release of political prisoners, an increase in GNP, an announced
election to be held in 1984, or a slowing up in the rate of inflation-typically
offered without reference to a base from which the alleged improvement
started. The parlous state of affairs that made the military takeover
a regrettable necessity is also frequently emphasized, in preference
to any discussion of the needs and interests of international
capital. The military juntas and dictators in the U.S. sphere
of influence have become quite adept at making the appropriate
gestures, timed to coincide with visits of U.S. dignitaries or
congressional consideration of budget appropriations. By these
tokenistic and public relations devices the dictators demonstrate
improvement, our leaders show that we are a force for liberty
and possibly a small number of prisoners may be freed, all this
without seriously disturbing the status quo. Client fascist tokenism
is often a collaborative effort of dictator and U.S. sponsor,
both concerned with improving an image without changing anything
fundamental. The Free Press can be counted on to accept these
tokens at face value and without analysis or protest.
A striking example of these procedures
is the case of Iran, where a brief experiment with democracy and
independence was terminated by a CIA-sponsored coup in 1953, leading
to the imposition of a regime that became one of the terror centers
of the world. According to a report of the International Commission
of Jurists: "The tremendous power wielded by the SAVAK [secret
police] is reflected in the fact that the chief is given the title
of Deputy Prime Minister. The SAVAK permeates Iranian society
and is reported to have agents in the political parties, labor
unions, industry, tribal societies, as well as abroad-especially
where there are concentrated numbers of Iranian students."
The number of officially acknowledged
executions of political prisoners in the three years prior to
1977 was some 300; and estimates of the total number of political
prisoners run from 25,000 to 100,000. They are not well-treated.
Martin Ennals, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, noted
that Iran has the "highest rate of death penalties in the
world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture,
which is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record
in human rights than Iran."
The Iranian secret police has received
generous training and support from the United States, which has
deluged its Iranian client with arms, "priming" it,
as a Senate report noted, to serve as the gendarme for U.S. interests
throughout the crucial oil-producing regions of the Middle East.
When the Iranian people rose in an astonishing and completely
unexpected demonstration of mass popular opposition to the terror
and corruption of the Shah, the Free Press obediently described
this bloody tyrant as a great "liberalizer" who was
attempting to bring to his backward country the benefits of modernization,
opposed by religious fanatics and left-wing students. Newsweek
described the demonstrators as "an unlikely coalition of
Muslim fundamentalists and leftist activists" (22 May 1978)
while Time added that "the Shah also has a broad base of
popular support" (5 June 1978). Citing these and many other
examples in a review of press coverage, William A. Dorman and
Ehsan Omad write that "We have been unable to find a single
example of a news or feature story in the mainstream American
press that uses the label 'dictator' to describe the Shah."
There is barely a mention in the media of the facts on the magnitude
of corruption, the scale of police terror and torture, the significance
of the fantastic expenditures for arms-the police and military
establishments are probably the only elements of Iranian society
that could be described as fully "modernized"-and the
devastating effects on the majority of the population of the agricultural
reforms and urban priorities.
As the Shah's U.S.-armed troops murdered
hundreds of demonstrators in the streets, President Carter sent
his support, reaffirming the message he had delivered in Teheran
several months earlier, when he stated at a banquet: "Iran
under the great leadership of the Shah is an island of stability
in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great
tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership, and to the
respect, admiration and love which your people give to you."
Meanwhile, the Pentagon dispatched arms
and counterinsurgency technology, while the press deplored the
failure of the Iranian people to comprehend the Shah's beneficence
or described him as "not repressive enough"-the "saddest
aspect of developments in Iran," according to the liberal
New Republic. Much emphasis was placed, as usual, on his promises
of reform. The servility of the media could hardly have been more
The annual survey of human rights put out by the U.S. State Department
has this primary characteristic: it strives consistently without
intellectual scruple to put a good face on totalitarian states
within our sphere of influence. The bias is so great, the willingness
to accept factual claims and verbal promises of military juntas
is so blatant, the down-playing of the claims and pain of victims
of official terror is so obvious, that these reports are themselves
solid evidence of the primary official commitment to the dispensers
of terror rather than its victims. They constitute a defense of
client fascism, not of human rights. The highly touted "human
rights program" must be understood in this context.
The technique of "emphasizing the
positive" is also used in other ways to whitewash the behavior
of the prime sponsor of Third World fascism. A familiar device
is the self-congratulation that regularly attends any decrement
in barbarism or aggression. For example, the regular Washington
correspondent of the New Yorker, regarded as a leading liberal
commentator, wrote in 1974 that "we have brought ourselves
satisfaction and at least a modicum of self-respect by withdrawing
our combat troops from Indo-China." The Washington Post also
assures us, in an editorial retrospective on the "good impulses"
that led to such tragic error in Vietnam, that the United States
"in the last days, made what seems to us an entirely genuine
and selfless attempt to facilitate a political solution that would
spare the Vietnamese further suffering"-very touching, after
a quarter-century of brutality and terror, and also untrue.
The Washington Connection and Third World
Fascism is volume 1 of The Political Economy of Human Rights.
Volume 2 is titled After the Cataclysm and mainly covers the mideast.
Both were first published in 1979 and are still available from
South End Press.