An Accidental Primer

By Arlen Jones

Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear and the Selling of American Empire 

Edited by Sut Jhally and Jeremy Earp; Foreword by Howard Zinn 
Interlink, 2004

“Hijacking Catastrophe” is a collection of interviews conducted for a documentary film of the same name, and editors Jeremy Earp and Sut Jhally begin their book with a provocative introduction: “For most ordinary Americans, ‘empire’ remains an abstract and meaningless phrase. The interviews collected here are intended to clarify the nature and everyday effects of empire: its reliance on perpetual war; the undermining of democracy and civil rights in the name of security and safety; the rise of official secrecy, propaganda, and the glorification of war and militarism; the dismantling of the last remnants of the welfare state as the cost of war is borne by the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of American society; exploding deficits and debt to finance huge increases in defense spending and foreign military adventures; and the mounting loss of life as the young men and women of the American armed services are called to fight for a hollow cause and an agenda that have been insulated from public examination.”

The book kicks off with an interview with Tariq Ali, who views the current projection of American power within the context of its inception as a nation, against a backdrop of ethnic cleansing, slavery, and ultimately, with the Civil War, industrial consolidation. He stresses “the basic continuity in U.S. policies over the last two hundred years,” citing the outward expansion of the U.S. through the Monroe Doctrine. Ali also discusses Zalmay Khalilzad, a staffer under Bush Sr. and the current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and the one who raised the question of how the U.S. was going to maintain its hegemony in a now-predominantly capitalist world. The answer is the willingness to use force to maintain economic control at all costs. As the interview progresses, Ali speculates on possible (actual) motives behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the social and political costs of an occupation to the occupier. He discusses the factors behind military recruitment and why the Bush administration has avoided the draft: “(the notion of the draft) concentrates minds, which is why they are resisting this option and will carry on resisting it, because they know what the draft did during the Vietnam years. Bush knows what the draft did, because he avoided it.”

Another interview, from a completely different angle, is that of Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, a former Pentagon employee who “witnessed first-hand the way the rationales for the war in Iraq were constructed inside the Pentagon.” Far from left wing, Kwiatkowski asserts, “We’ve been imperialist in our past, but it has always been an aberration for this country,” chastises Bush and his advisors as “chicken hawks,” and goes even further implying that the neoconservative impetus for war with neither understanding nor praxis is not only a product of a lack of military service, but a lack of “sports experience.” Drawing on her experience with the Office of Special Plans’ notorious “talking points,” she describes the way her superiors handed her and her colleagues talking points, filled with “bits and pieces of fact throughout” but “framed, articulated, and crafted to convince someone of things that weren’t true” such as 9/11 and al-Qaeda being linked to Saddam Hussein, which even President Bush later denied. She researched the history of the people involved and came upon documents written by Richard Perle that called for regime change in Iraq as early as 1996. How dissenting generals get marginalized, the State Department gets propagandized, and a brief history of the reasons behind invading Afghanistan (as early as June 2001) are all topics in a stimulating interview.

In fact, most of the 23 other interviews are equally original and informative. From Zia Mian to Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky to Chalmers Johnson, Vananda Shiva to Norman Mailer, “Hijacking Catastrophe” presents a wide breadth of different approaches and different points of departure for anyone interested in appreciating the complexities and history of this particular global power drive. A must-read.


This review appears in Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 12, nos. 56/57 (Summer/Fall 2006)

Copyright (c) 2006 by Al Jadid