SF Sightings: Norman Solomon

Last night, at Modern Times Bookstore, Norman Solomon spoke on his new book, War Made Easy. War Made Easy is organized by chapters headlined by statements that Solomon believes the media perpetuates (sample chapters include “If This War Is Wrong, the Media Will Tell Us” and “Opposing the War Means Siding with the Enemy”) . The book delves into the last forty years of media reaction to government policy, beginning with LBJ’s 1965 oft-overlooked invasion of the Dominican Republic and extending into the present Iraq conflict, using specific statements parsed directly from politicians and framed within the context of media theorists such as Susan Sontag and I.F. Stone.

Solomon had a chiseled face, a recurrent and well-timed smile that might easily disarm small animals, and an adorable mop of curly dark hair well-streaked with flecks of gray. He was dressed in a light blue oxford shirt and dark pants, attire indicative of a suave journalist, and wore a calculator watch on his left wrist, presumably to balance his checkbook when catching a flight to Tehran.

There were roughly 35 people in the crowd, predominantly activists and, to my dismay, predominantly men, leaving me to wonder why women weren’t showing up to this. Was it because the book had the word “war” in the title? About half of them were quite gray-haired, with the remaining half inhabiting a wide swath of temporal increments under the age thirty-five.

Solomon began by evoking the anonymous graffiti spray-painted in Bogota, “LET’S LEAVE PESSIMISM FOR BETTER TIMES,” which he suggested was applicable to living under the Bush Administration. He noted that only one newspaper (the Los Angeles Times) had reviewed his book so far, but that it had been selling comparatively well for a political hardcover.

Solomon honed in on 1965 because he says that before this, the United States was not invading countries at this time.

Solomon talked about the 1965 Dominican Republic invasion, pointing out how it was comparatively obscure to other conflicts of the day (such as Vietnam). But he noted that for some people, such an invasion is not obscure at all. There remains the legacy of U.S. involvement. He noted too that when visiting Iran, he could feel the effects of what happened in 1953 — not just with the coup, but of the spirit of Mossadegh, whose ousting he viewed as a particular tragedy because he was an educated and secular leader. And that this spirit led in part to the 1979 revolution. Solomon had recently visited Iran and, in a question later asked of him, he remarked that despite the repression, he encountered more of a civil society in Iran than in Iraq.

He bemoaned the inability for Americans to see world events from someone else’s vantage point, pointing out that government is unwilling to do this. The excuses behind the Dominican invasion were largely bogus. And as Solomon began looking into other conflicts, he remarked, “I couldn’t find any war not based on deception.”

He declared Tony Blair “the smart man’s George Bush” and dwelled upon how Blair’s recent statement that “the ability to use common sense” would be used to seek detractors. Solomon remarked that he thought it was the law’s duty to protect against what some people’s notions of what common sense entails.

Solomon pointed to a Department of Defense press conference, in which “Welcome back” had been lodged inexplicably in the middle of a transcript, without any indication that a segue had occurred. He saw in this transcript all sorts of references to “a modern-day Hitler” and said that if he ever released another edition of War Made Easy, that he would likely include a chapter describing this common association.

Specifically, Solomon zeroed in on three symbols of unreality that current media engages in: (1) denial of information (and here, Solomon quoted Aldous Huxley), (2) things that are not true that are taken as truisms, and (3) the numbing anaesthetic quality of media that forces media consumers to shut down.

Questions were then asked. Strangely, Solomon was asked to weigh in on the television show, Over There, to which he didn’t offer an opinion. When pressed for a prediction about U.S. involvement in Iran, he said that he believes there will be a very good chance of an air attack on Iran in the next year. He believes the troops should get out sooner rather than later. He said he didn’t buy the rationale that dicates, “Well, I didn’t support the war, but now we have to stay.”

Solomon remarked that he viewed NPR as the biggest tool of the Bush Administration because so many people trust it. He expressed distaste for a recent interview with Laurence Korb on All Things Considered, where the idea that we should have enlisted more people in the military is now being passed off as a liberal notion.

How did War Made Easy get published? Solomon likened the ability to get his book (and other related books) published to cracks in the wall. He remarked that the corporate dominance of book publishing is understated, but didn’t really elaborate too much on this. He suggested that word of mouth and grassroots support had done more for this book than anything else.

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  1. Not invading countries before 1965? — I guess Central America and Cuba don’ count.

    Stephen Kinzer would also demur— his new book is Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii toi Iraq.

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