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Obituary: Remembering ‘Rogue State’ Scholar William Blum

by Mike Kuhlenbeck

Author William Blum shed light on the crimes of US foreign policy for five decades, first as a cog in the war machine, and then as a historian and journalist devoted to exposing the truth about American imperialism.

In the mid-1960s, Blum was a gung-ho Cold Warrior in America's crusade against “The Evil Empire.” He worked as a computer programmer for the State Department with the hope of one day becoming a Foreign Service Officer. During this time, US military escalations in Southeast Asia and the atrocities of the Vietnam War left him “disillusioned.” 

During a 2007 speech at the University of Vermont, Blum said, “I was a good, loyal anticommunist until I was past the age of thirty," that is “until a thing called Vietnam came along and changed my life.”

“It was all a con game,” Blum said. “There was never any such animal as the International Communist Conspiracy. What there was, was people all over the Third World fighting for economic and political changes that didn't coincide with the needs of the American power elite, and so the U.S. moved to crush those governments and those movements, even though the Soviet Union was playing hardly any role at all in those scenarios.”

Blum was one of the founders and editors of the Washington Free Press newspaper. First published in 1966, WFP covered the antiwar movement, civil rights, police brutality and other burning issues. Until its final edition in 1970, WFP was the capitol’s “leading underground publication” as noted by Washington City Paper

Blum’s participation in anti-war demonstrations pushed him out of the State Department in 1967. He became a freelance journalist, traveling across the US, Europe and South America. From 1972-1973, he was in Chile to witness the social uplift of democratically-elected socialist President Salvador Allende, who was eventually killed in a CIA-staged coup and replaced with fascistic dictator Augusto Pinochet.

“Washington knows no heresy in the Third World but independence,” Blum later wrote when detailing US operations against the Chilean people. 

As a journalist, Blum’s articles appeared in The Progressive, I.F. MagazineCovertAction Quarterly (now CovertAction Magazine), Z Magazine and the London-based outlet The Ecologist. In 1999, he was honored for “exemplary journalism” by Project Censored for his exposé on the US Government supplying materials to Iraq to build chemical and biological weapons during the 1980s. 

Blum’s research examining the US’s role in shaping the course of world history through armed aggression could not be confined to a series of articles, as Blum recalled in his 2004 book Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire.

In his own words, when Blum set out to “catalogue American interventions into foreign countries since World War II, I had a magazine article in mind, hoping to chronicle the 10 or 12 cases which are the most famous, and pretty much all I knew of.”

“But as I began to research the subject I soon realized that there was more to this than I had imagined, a lot more,” Blum wrote. “My government, I discovered, had easily been the intervention king of all history, a serial intervener.”

This realization led to Blum’s work as a historian, authoring several watershed titles that lay bare the dark realities surrounding the myth of “American Exceptionalism.”

Blum’s autobiographical account West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir was published by Soft Skull Press (run by future New York Megaphone founder Sander Hicks in 2001). Author Nick Mamatas was Senior Editor at Soft Skull when the manuscript arrived.

Mamatas recounts to New York Megaphone, “It was something we didn’t see every day: a personal memoir about becoming political from someone with a different mindset than many of his generation of the left. He was a government insider of sorts whose mind was changed thanks to his proximity to power.”

Another lauded title is Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (2000), written in response to the “humanitarian” bombing of what was then Yugoslavia. Rogue State is praised by Mamatas as “essential reading for understanding the 20th century and the global south; there isn't another book like it.”

From 2003-2018, Blum’s essays appeared in The Anti-Empire Report. His last online post appeared on Sept. 20, 2018. Less than a month later, tragedy struck. Blum suffered a fall in his apartment on Oct. 4. Shortly after being discovered, he was rushed to a local hospital.  65 days after Blum was admitted, he died from kidney failure and complications related to his injuries in Arlington, Virginia on Dec. 9, 2018. 

The news of Blum’s death was met with a profound sense of loss from those who knew him and those who admired his groundbreaking contributions to intellectual and moral discourse. 

Anti-war activist and author David Swanson knew Blum on a professional and personal level, telling NYM, “He looked honestly—incredibly honestly—yet with good humor at U.S. foreign policy and observed current events with deeper knowledge of the shameful patterns of the past than anyone else I knew.”

“In particular,” Swanson continued, “his understanding of U.S.-Russian relations, and his ability to explain events with biting satire was unparalleled.”

Until his final breath, Blum remained loyal in his opposition to the invasions, bombings, assassinations, coups, land grabs, torture and other shady dealings that are “business as usual” for American Empire Inc.

Back in 2002, Blum imparted the following words: “The moral of my message to you is this: If your heart and mind tell you clearly that the bombing of impoverished, hungry, innocent peasants is a terrible thing to do and will not make the American people any more secure, you should protest it in any way you can and don't be worried about being called unpatriotic.”