The acclaimed New York Times columnist
Thomas Friedman has often voiced enthusiasm for violent destruction by the U.S.
government. Hidden in plain sight, his glee about such carnage is worth pondering.
Many people view Friedman as notably articulate, while others find
him overly glib, but there's no doubt that he is an influential
commentator with inherently respectable views. When Friedman makes
his case for a shift in foreign policy, the conventional media wisdom
is that he's providing a sober assessment. Yet beneath his liberal
exterior is a penchant for remedies that rely on massive Pentagon
And so, his July
27 column in the Times after urging Americans "to thoughtfully
plan ahead and to sacrifice today for a big gain tomorrow" scolds
the commander in chief for being too much of a wimp and failing to demand enough
human sacrifice. Friedman poses a rhetorical question begging for a militaristic
answer and then dutifully supplies one:
"If you were president, would you really say to the nation, in the
face of the chaos in Iraq, 'If our commanders on the ground say we need more
troops, I will send them,' but they have not asked. It is not what the generals
are asking you, Mr. President it is what you are asking them, namely:
'What do you need to win?' Because it is clear we are not winning, and we are
not winning because we have never made Iraq a secure place where normal politics
Such a line of reasoning points to sending still more U.S. troops to
Iraq. The result, predictably, would be even more mass slaughter from
various directions. But there's no reason to believe such a result
would chasten Friedman, as long as the eminent pundit figures the
Washington-backed killing is for a righteous cause. In recent years
Friedman has expressed much enthusiasm even relish for
launching and continuing wars underwritten by U.S. taxpayers.
During the last decade of the 20th century, Friedman was a vehement
advocate of in the words of a January 1998 column "bombing
Iraq, over and over and over again." In early 1999, when he offered a
pithy list of recommendations for Washington's policymakers, it
included: "Blow up a different power station in Iraq every week, so
no one knows when the lights will go off or who's in charge." Such
disruptions of electricity would have deadly effects, from hospitals
to homes where vulnerable civilians live. Evidently, Friedman could
not let those considerations get in the way of his snappy prose.
But is it unfair to say that Friedman seems to get a charge out of
urging systematic infliction of pain and death? Well, consider his
fixation on four words in particular. During the spring of 1999, as
the U.S.-led NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia went on, Friedman
recycled his witticism "Give war a chance" from one column to
"Twelve days of surgical bombing was never going to turn Serbia
around," he wrote in early April. "Let's see what 12 weeks of less
than surgical bombing does. Give war a chance." (He used the same
motto in a Fox News interview.) Another column included this gleeful
taunt while vicariously threatening civilians in Yugoslavia with
protracted terror: "Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we
will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can
do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too." As on so many other
occasions, Friedman's pronouncements gave off more than a whiff of
pleasure at the spectacle of other people's anguish.
"NATO began its second month of bombing against Yugoslavia today with
new strikes against military targets that disrupted civilian electrical and
water supplies" the first words of the lead article on the New
York Times front page the last Sunday in April 1999 promoted the
remarkable concept that the bombing disrupted "civilian" electricity
and water yet the targets were "military." Never mind that such destruction
of infrastructure would predictably lead to outbreaks of disease and civilian
deaths. On the newspaper's op-ed page, Friedman made explicit his enthusiasm
for destroying civilian necessities: "It should be lights out in Belgrade:
Every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road, and war-related factory has to be
In autumn 2001, after the bombing of Afghanistan got underway,
Friedman dusted off one of his favorite cute phrases. "My motto is
very simple: Give war a chance," he told Diane Sawyer during an Oct.
29 interview on ABC Television. In November, his column was cracking
the same rhetorical whip. "Let's all take a deep breath," he urged,
"and repeat after me: Give war a chance."
That fall, Friedman proclaimed that he was crazy about the craziness of top
officials in Washington who were capable of going a bit berserk with the USA's
military might. During an Oct. 13 appearance on CNBC, he said:
"I was a critic of [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld before, but
there's one thing
that I do like about Rumsfeld. He's just a little bit
crazy, OK? He's just a little bit crazy, and in this kind of war, they always
count on being able to out-crazy us, and I'm glad we got some guy on our bench
that our quarterback who's just a little bit crazy, not totally, but
you never know what that guy's going to do, and I say that's my guy."
Friedman kept writing along those lines. "There is a lot about the
Bush team's foreign policy I don't like," he wrote in mid-February
2002, "but their willingness to restore our deterrence, and to be as
crazy as some of our enemies, is one thing they have right."
Last week, when Friedman's column appeared in the New York Times on
July 22, it mostly concentrated on denouncing Muslim "hate spreaders."
And the piece ended by declaring: "Words matter."
If words truly matter, then maybe it's consequential that some of Thomas Friedman's
words including his flippant and zealous endorsements of mass killing
have the odor of sadistic cruelty.
This article is adapted from Norman Solomon's new book, War
Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. For
information, go to www.WarMadeEasy.com