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Truthdigger of the Week: Tom Engelhardt

Posted on Apr 20, 2013
David Barreda

By Alexander Reed Kelly

This month, Ronald Reagan’s former assistant Treasury secretary, Paul Craig Roberts, wrote in a piece on the virtues of truth-telling that “There has never in history been a population as unaware as Americans.” At least one Truthdig reader found that claim to be unreasonable. Slice 150,000 years of human societies up by the availability of public education to the general populace and the criticism bears weight. But consider the profound power of corporate news, advertising and political and economic propaganda to muddle Americans’ minds in a continent dotted with televisions, cellphones and personal computing devices and Roberts’ claim becomes difficult to rebut.

The post-9/11 world saw a flowering of left-wing news and opinion websites in response to the desolate path neoliberal economics and neoconservative foreign policy were tearing through the world. This site is one of them. Their purpose was to tell the American public an alternative story to the one it was hearing in the corporate-owned press, a tangle of organizations whose corruption by money and advertising was so advanced that they actually led the charge into two unjustified wars that would radically change the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe. The task facing journalists who remained committed to the truth then, was to describe the nature and ongoing operation of this empire of military, corporate, government and media interests in ways that made its fraudulence and destructiveness unfailingly clear.

In November 2001, when work crews were still sorting the rubble that remained of the World Trade Center towers in lower Manhattan, journalist, editor and author Tom Engelhardt launched an email publication that offered “commentary and collected articles from the world press.” More than a year later Engelhardt’s mailer was branded TomDispatch and rolled out as a project of The Nation Institute. Since then, it has published some of the most expert voices on war, privacy and national security, climate change, economic ruin, financial skullduggery and the straightforward corruption of politics, all in original, in-depth and meticulously researched investigative reports.

TomDispatch is “a regular antidote to the mainstream media,” exactly as its tagline says. If Engelhardt, his small editorial team and their league of contributors (which includes environmentalist Bill McKibben, political writer Rebecca Solnit and historian and national security reporter Nick Turse) were invited to explain their findings nightly on U.S. television, the public would be far better informed about its government’s role in shaping a world that Americans increasingly fear and seek protection against.

This is one of Engelhardt’s main themes. He took it up most recently in “The Enemy-Industrial Complex,” an article published on TomDispatch on April 14. If the “blowback” that is a consequence of American aggression abroad was not so reliable, it would be correct to call Engelhardt’s article uncanny. But as the journalist has made clear throughout his long body of work, there is a logic to the violence that the United States routinely suffers. It is true that there are genuine enemies abroad. But such enemies have been one of the prime manufactures of America’s antagonistic foreign and economic policies since World War II ended and the Cold War race to build more doomsday machines than the Soviet Union, our then exceedingly frail and floundering imperial bete noire, began.


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What Osama bin Laden achieved with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Engelhardt tells us, was the creation of “an instant sense of an enemy so big, so powerful, that Americans found ‘war’ a reasonable response; big enough for those who wanted an international police action against al-Qaeda to be laughed out of the room; big enough to launch an invasion of revenge against Iraq, a country unrelated to al-Qaeda; big enough, in fact, to essentially declare war on the world.”

“Without an enemy of commensurate size and threat,” Engelhardt continues, “money at ever escalating levels would never have poured into homeland security, or the Pentagon, or a growing complex of crony corporations associated with our weaponized safety. The exponential growth of the national security complex, as well as of the powers of the executive branch when it comes to national security matters, would have far been less likely.”

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