Meat Cutter Blues: The 'Soft Totalitarianism' of the American Elite

There is a small store here in Oxford on the fringes of the Jericho area known as the Two-Pound Bookshop. There, in what we're told is a temporary establishment, you can find a remarkable and ever-changing array of books (and a handful of CDs) on a wide range of topics, all for only, yes, £2.

Many of these are out-of-print or hard to find books. In just the last few weeks, I've gone there and picked up such volumes as The Massacre at El Mozote, Mark Danner's harrowing account of an American-sponsored massacre in El Salvador in 1981; John the Painter: The First Modern Terrorist, Jessica Warner's history of James Aitken, a Scottish who engaged in arson and other acts of terror across Britain in the 1770s in support of the American Revolution, with the blessing of Silas Deane, the American envoy to Paris; Hamlet: Poem Unlimited, by Harold Bloom, a far better book than one would expect from Bloom's recent, over-effusive output; a CD of Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie singing "You Done Tore Your Pants With Me," "Meat Cutter Blues" and two dozen other songs; A Life Full of Holes, Paul Bowles' translation of a novel dictated to him by the illiterate Moghrebi Arabic author Driss ben Hamed Charhadi; and, most recently, Who Paid the Piper, Frances Stonor Saunders' 1999 history of the CIA's extensive subornation and skewing of Western culture for more than half a century.

This last book -- which I'd often heard of but never run across -- deserves a much more extensive treatment, but for now I'd like to concentrate on a short passage which I believe is highly illustrative of the mindset that has taken us into the realm of openly embraced atrocity, torture and aggression that characterizes the American state today. (For a more recent example of this hideous condition, see Arthur Silber's latest piece, "Morality, Justice and Life Destroyed: Lies and Slaughter Without End.")

Saunders writes of a seminal document produced in 1951 by the "Psychological Strategy Board," created in that year by a secret directive from President Harry Truman to coordinate the government's broad spectrum of covert "psychological warfare" operations. The creation of the PSB was part of a blizzard of secret orders by Truman that established a second, shadow government of the United States, unaccountable to the people, with a vast secret budget and deliberately vague directives encouraging the widest possible latitude of illegal action while maintaining "plausible deniability" for elected officials: the "National Security State" that supplanted the old American Republic.

As Saunders relates, the PSB was ordered to "draw up the policy blueprint" for global psy-ops. It produced a strategy paper called PSB D-33/2. Saunders:

The paper itself is still classified, but in a lengthy internal memo, a worried PSB officer, Charles Burton Marshall, quoted freely from the passages that most exercised him. "How [can] a government interpose with a wide doctrinal system of its own without taking on the color of totalitarianism?" he asked. "The paper does not indicate any. Indeed, it accepts uniformity as a substitute for diversity. It postulates a system justifying 'a particular type of social belief and structure,' providing 'a body of principles for human aspirations,' and embracing 'all fields of human thought' -- 'all fields of intellectual interest, from anthropology and artistic creations to sociology and scientific methodology.' Marshall (who was to become a staunch critic of the PSB), went on to criticize the paper's call for 'a machinery' to produce ideas to portray 'the American way of life' on a 'systematic and scientific basis.' It anticipates 'doctrinal production' under a 'coordination mechanism,'" Marshall observed. "It asserts 'a premium on swift and positive action to galvanize the creation and distribution of ideas.'".... [Marshall's] conclusion was adamant: "This is just about as totalitarian as one can get."

"Uniformity as a substitute for diversity," based on "a particular type of social belief and structure." A "machinery" for "doctrinal production." As a description of our modern-day Establishment media -- and the product of Establishment academia and "think tanks" -- this could hardly be bettered. But Marshall had even more to say about the worldview of America's ruling class:

[In the PSB vision], "individuals are relegated to tertiary importance," Marshall continuesd. "The supposed elite emerges as the only group that counts. The elite is defined [in the document] as that numerically 'limited group capable and interested in manipulating doctrinal matters,' the men of ideas who pull the intellectual strings 'in forming, or at least predisposing, the attitudes and opinions' of those who in turn lead public opinion.'

...Mr Marshall's trenchant criticisms struck right at the very fundamentals of America's secret cultural warfare programme....Commenting on [the document],  CIA agent Donald Jameson intended no irony when he said: "As far as the attitudes that the Agency wanted to inspire through these activies are concerned, clearly what they would like to have been able to produce were people, who of their own reasoning and conviction, were persuaded that everything the United States government did was right."

"The supposed elite emerges as the only group that counts." The CIA sought to produce "people who of their own reasoning and conviction were persuaded that everything the United States government did was right." These two passages describe perfectly the driving forces behind American society today. And after generations of diligent weeding and breeding, we have indeed produced generation after generation of journalists, politicians, academics, intellectuals, corporate chieftains -- the "great and good" of every description -- who, "by their own reasoning and conviction" believe that everything the U.S. government does is right. This accounts for why the brazenly deliberate and conscious crimes of the Bush Administration -- and its bipartisan predecessors -- are always written off as, at the very worst, good intentions gone awry, noble aims imperfectly executed. And this self-delusion, carefully -- and expensively -- cultivated by America's unaccountable shadow government over many decades, will, as Silber notes in his piece on the Bush Regime's judicial burial of the Haditha massacre, lead to much more atrocity and bloodshed in the decades to come.

In her introduction, Saunders says that her book

challenges what Gore Vidal has described as "those official fictions that have been agreed upon by all together too many too interested parties, each with his own thousand says in which to set up his own misleading pyramids and obelisks that purport to tell sun time.' Any history which sets out to interrogate these "agreed-upon facts" must, in Tsvetan Todorov's words, become "an act of profanity. It is not about contributing to the cult of heroes and saints. It's about coming as close as possible to the truth. It participates in what Max Weber calls the 'disenchantment of the world'; it exists at the other end of the spectrum from idolatry. It's about redeeming the truth for the truth's sake, not retrieving images that are deemed useful for the present."

Let us for God's sake have much more such profanity in these days of sacred terror and sanctified war.