Norman Solomon in Marin IJ Interview About His Latest Book "War Made Invisible"
Q Who or what made war invisible?
A “War Made Invisible” documents and analyzes the political, economic, media and social forces that have led to the reduced — and in many respects eliminated — visibility of the wars that the U.S. military has been fighting in our names with our tax dollars.
Q Do you consider yourself a pacifist?
Q What if any U.S. military action taken since the Vietnam War would you say was justified?
A Based on the research that I did for this new book “War Made Invisible” and my previous book “War Made Easy,” I’ve concluded that every war from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq has been based on major deception from the top of the U.S. government, with terrible results for many Americans and even more terrible results for civilians overseas who’ve been affected by U.S. firepower. So, were any of those wars “justified”? I don’t think so.
Q You say in your book that Operation Desert Storm was all about the oil. Is it your opinion that most if not all of the military actions taken by the U.S. military are designed to safeguard the economic interests of U.S. corporations and business interests?
A I don’t say in my book that the 1991 Gulf War — “Operation Desert Storm” — was all about the oil or even partly about oil. The book doesn’t address oil as a factor in that war. What I actually wrote in my book regarding oil was in reference to the Iraq War that began with the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. About that war, I did not write that it was “all about the oil.” What I did do in the book was quote Gen. John Abizaid, former head of U.S. Central Command in Iraq, who said: “Of course it’s about oil, we can’t really deny that.” My book also quotes former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who said “the Iraq war is largely about oil,” and Senator (and later Defense Secretary) Chuck Hagel, who commented: “People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are.”
Q How do you disentangle the security of a nation and its economic interests? Aren’t they intricately connected?
A Yes, true security has many facets including economic ones. The book’s chapter “Costs of War” presents evidence that the vast U.S. military spending undermines the nation’s economic security and the well-being of most Americans.
Q We’re typically told that international trade lessens the chances of military conflict by binding nations together in a web of self-interest. Do you think that is true?
Q What effect do you think the elimination of the draft has had on the willingness of the nation to take military action?
A Ending the draft made it easier for presidents to begin wars and for Congress to enable their continuation.
Q What actions is the U.S. military taking at this moment that are invisible to the public? Who do you think blew up the Nord Stream pipeline? Is there any link between the civil war in Sudan and the war in the Ukraine?
A The U.S. is engaging in combat operations and attacks from the air in Syria; drone strikes and other bombing as well on-the-ground combat in Somalia and neighboring countries, as well as intensive joint military operations with government forces across Africa; secretive special ops in dozens of countries, and much more. As the Costs of War project at Brown University has documented, the U.S. is continuing with military operations “in over 80 countries,” and in fact U.S. “counterterrorism operations have become more widespread in recent years.”
Those other two questions, about Nord Stream and possible Sudan-Ukraine connections, are outside the scope of my research.
Q You write that “in his intuitively opportunistic way” Donald Trump “seemed to recognize what the decade and a half of war had meant to many Americans with few economic options.” And you suggest that Hillary Clinton’s hawkish stance “for war and more war” may have been a deciding factor in her loss to Donald Trump in 2016. Do you anticipate the war in the Ukraine being an important issue in the upcoming presidential election?
A My book cites a well-researched academic study that found working-class voters in key upper Midwest swing states that narrowly went for Donald Trump in 2016 were less inclined to vote for Hillary Clinton because of her hawkish stance. These were communities that endured the brunt of suffering the effects of supplying the U.S. military with servicemen and women who all too often came home physically injured and suffering from PTSD, or did not come home at all.
About the Ukraine war being an election factor next year — that seems likely.
Q You write of militarism and racism “fondling each other
in a death grip” and invoke a sort of foreign policy version of Black Lives
Matters in chapter seven, “The Color of War.” You talk about the role of
racism in decisions about Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama and
Iraq. What about the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo? What about the role of
religion? Isn’t it reductionist to view complex foreign conflicts through
the single lens of skin color?
A My book addresses who has been at the receiving end of U.S. firepower ever since the “war on terror” began in the autumn of 2001. Virtually all of those human beings have been people of color. The bombing of Serbia and Kosovo occurred earlier, in 1999.
The book is explicit: The U.S. does not attack a country because people of color live there. But when people of color live there, it is politically easier for U.S. leaders to subject them to warfare —because of institutional racism and often-unconscious prejudices that are common in the United States.
My book does not view foreign conflicts through any “single lens.” One of the lenses that should be included is racial reality. In the United States, it is widely acknowledged that “systemic racism” is a huge problem inside this country’s borders. My book points out a reality that is hidden in plain sight – that “systemic racism” doesn’t end with domestic policies, and we routinely blind ourselves to the racial aspects of individual and institutional biases in relation to war-related foreign policy.
Q You compare the U.S. invasion of Iraq to depose Sadam Hussein with Russia’s war with Ukraine. Is it really fair to compare military action to remove a dictator with the attack of a nation with a democratically elected leader? Isn’t that why Ukraine has been so much more successful in its resistance?
A It certainly is fair to seek to apply a single standard of international law to all countries. In 1991, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the fact that Kuwait was ruled by an oligarchic dictatorship didn’t make the invasion OK — and, in fact, President George H.W. Bush sent several hundred thousand U.S. troops into the Gulf War while citing the principle that it was absolutely unacceptable that an invasion had toppled the Kuwaiti government.
> If we want to make up our own rules as to when it’s alright for one country to invade another, that’s a prescription for convenient Orwellian doublethink and a might-makes-right world without any meaningful international law.
Actually, the Taliban in Afghanistan was quite successful in its resistance to the U.S. occupation, and it’s hard to find any virtuous democracy in the Taliban.
Q Why did you choose to end your book with a conversation with Daniel Ellsberg, who died on June 16. Was he a friend of yours? How did you meet?
A My discussion with Daniel Ellsberg that’s included in “War Made Invisible” is one of the most vital sections of the book. He compassionately and astutely talked about the refusal of U.S. mass media to convey in human terms the suffering that U.S. warfare has caused, from Afghanistan to Iraq to many other countries that are rarely even mentioned in news coverage.
I met Dan about 30 years ago as a fellow activist, and he became a dear friend.
As I wrote after Dan passed away: “He was acutely aware that while admiration for brave whistleblowers might sometimes be widespread, actual emulation is scarce. Ellsberg often heard that he was inspiring, but he was always more interested in what people would be inspired to actually do — in a world of war and on the precipice of inconceivable nuclear catastrophe. During the last decades of his life, standard assumptions and efforts by mainstream media and the political establishment aimed to consign Ellsberg to the era of the Vietnam War. But in real time, Dan Ellsberg continually inspired so many of us to be more than merely inspired. We loved him not only for what he had done but also for what he kept doing, for who he was, luminously, ongoing. The power of his vibrant example spurred us to become better than we were.”
West Marin resident Norman Solomon is a political activist and author of more than a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” and “Made Love and Got War.”