A July 2003 interview with Stan Goff I first learned about Stan Goff from Alberto Giordano's Narco News website in October 2001. As Al wrote then, shortly after 9/11, his work is "'must read[ing]' for anyone attempting to understand the immediate historical situation that all the world today faces." That insightful interview, almost two years ago, is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strategy/Discussion/2001-10-10Goff.html. It was originally posted at http://www.narconews.com/goff1.html.
To Read More About Stan Goff, Click http://www.indyweek.com/durham/2001-02-14/triangles2.html
The following is from Marc Ash’s truthout website, at http://truthout.org/docs_03/073103A.shtml
TRUTHOUT Interview: Stan Goff with Jennifer Van Bergen
t r u t h o u t | Wednesday, 16 July 2003
Editor’s Note | Stan Goff is a former Sergeant with Special Forces and military instructor at West Point, among other posts. He is the author of “Hideous Dreams,” about his experience in the 1994 American incursion into Haiti. Goff’s upcoming book, "Full Spectrum Disorder," from Soft Skull Press, will be available in December. [JVB] Thank you, Stan, for taking the time to do this interview. Your extensive military background, which we'll get into in a moment, certainly qualifies you to speak on military matters. I want to remark, though, that it seems unusual for former military, especially those who were in Special Forces, to come out as strongly as you have against military measures. From your book, I sense that you are as much a social commentator and analyst as you are a former military man. Without going into your background yet, can you give truthout readers a short reason for this? How did you come to speak out as you're doing and, briefly, what is your main message?
[SG] I've always been intellectually restless, as I think anyone is who is truly interested in what is going on around them. Not interested in appearances, but interested in understanding how things work and damn the consequences. The military actually exposed me to some of the most educational experiences around, not the least of which was travel and the occasional obligation to live among and at the level of poor people in peripheral countries. Measuring my own experience against a lot of reading and studying led me to the left in a pretty gradual but inevitable way. I don't hold my views because of some religious devotion to an idea, but because leftist analysis conforms most consistently with my own experience. That doesn't mean it conforms with my comfort level. But when we stay comfortable, we quit growing. So I try to stay a little uncomfortable intellectually, an important thing for an auto-didact.
And a friend of mine who died recently said that soldiers are natural political scientists, because politics can be a matter of life or death to them. If I have a main message, it's that I'm from inside the military system, and now I am from inside the political left, and I want to build a bridge between the left and the military. Not militarism, but the people in the military.
[JVB] Tell us about your background.
[SG] My parents' families were from Arkansas and Michigan, but I moved a great deal when I was a kid. My dad followed work. I was actually born in San Diego. My family lived outside St. Louis when I joined the Army at 18. Both my parents worked at McDonnell-Douglas as riveters on center fuselage assembly of the F-4 Phantom close air support aircraft.
[JVB] How did you start out your career in the military?
[SG] I just hung around doing spot work and learning how to get into trouble right after I graduated high school in 1969. After a few months, I started to see myself stuck in St. Charles, taking a job on the assembly line at McDonnell. I believed the whole official narrative about the world communist conspiracy and in its evil, so I enlisted in the Army in January 1970.
[JVB] What conflicts did you fight in?
[SG] My first duty assignment was Vietnam. It was the 80s before I worked in any more conflict areas. I didn't fight in them all. They included Guatemala, Grenada, El Salvador, Peru, Colombia, Somalia, and Haiti.
[JVB] I realize you’ve written about Haiti in your fascinating book, “Hideous Dreams,” but could you tell us anything briefly about any of the other conflicts?
[SG] Well, there was a common denominator that it took me a couple of decades to figure out. We were engaged in conflicts against poor people. I didn’t realize it at the time – Haiti was the watershed actually – but this is the military role in an imperial state. While the national chambers of commerce in these places, with their eager compradors, assisted US corporations to drain the value out of these countries, the military’s job, often through the surrogate militaries of the host nation as we called it, is to stand guard against all those masses of people in the host nation from whom the value was being drained in labor and resources. If you steal enough from people, they hit a point where they become rebellious, and to continue stealing, you have to use people with guns.
Aside from that sort of macro-analysis, one thing that stands out in my mind is how badly many of the operations went, and how important it is for the US military to spend huge sums of money on arms and high technology. Grenada and Somalia are examples. Real emblems of stupidity in planning and execution. That’s why I tell people not to buy into the hype about US military invincibility. Person for person, and dollar for dollar, the US military is the most inefficient in the world. And the most fragile. They are fragile because of their overwhelming dependence on high technology, and fragile because the troops come out of a pampered consumer culture where real physical hardship is anecdotal. Sustained hardship, as we are seeing in Iraq now, devastates morale.
[JVB] What kind of a commander were you? What did your colleagues think of you?
[SG] I was never a “commander.” That title is reserved for commissioned officers. I was a non-commissioned officer, a sergeant. I did, however, act as the senior enlisted member of infantry and special operations units. I had a very good reputation overall. I had an aptitude for planning and operations. And while I'm pretty small, I was pretty wiry and I had very good physical endurance. I was
well-respected by my subordinates, my peers, and by officers.
[JVB] When did you get into the Special Forces?
[SG] Actually, Special Forces was a late interest for me in the military. I started out an infantryman. I gravitated into the Rangers, which is a highly disciplined force of specially trained shock infantry that is part of the Special Operations community. I worked for a year as a tactics instructor at the Jungle School in Panama, then went to try-outs for Delta Force. Delta is designated as a "special forces detachment," but it is not Special Forces, that is not part of the 18 Branch, the Green Berets everyone hears about. Delta is a very small, very specialized and highly secretive unit that does almost exclusively direct action missions that are politically sensitive. It's known as a counter-terrorist unit, a military SWAT outfit if you will. It's a unit that puts a very high premium on skills for entering man-made structures like buildings and vehicles, and a very strong emphasis on precision marksmanship. After Delta, I taught Military Science for a while at West Point. Then I had a break in service, where I went to Oak Ridge, Tennessee and trained SWAT teams at the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility.
I re-entered active duty, with a loss of rank, in 1988, working for just over a year as a platoon sergeant at 1st Ranger Battalion in Savannah. Then, at the advanced age of 38, I went through Special Forces Assessment and Selection, another torture try-out. I was the oldest guy to finish with my group, probably one of the oldest guys to ever go all the way through it. Like I said, I had a high threshold for pain. Then I went through the Special Forces Qualification Course as a Special Operations Medic. I spoke Spanish, so I was assigned to 7th Special Forces Group, who are responsible for Latin American work. I left 7th Group to be attached to 75th Ranger Regiment in 1993, and accompanied them to Somalia that year. Then I was promoted to Master Sergeant, and you can't be a medic in SF as a Master Sergeant. Your job then is to be a team sergeant in charge of an A Detachment. So I went to 3rd Special
Forces, a Sub-Saharan Africa and Caribbean Group, and went with them to Haiti in 1994. In December, 1995, I went on terminal leave, and was officially retired February 1, 1996.
There, now you have my whole career before you.
I should say that I retired under a cloud, and that whole tedious story is in my first book, "Hideous Dream."
[JVB] What do you do now?
[SG] I have been working in the non-profit sector, mostly on liberal political and social justice issues. Right now, I am the field organizer for an environmental group concerned about nuclear energy risks. I should say that I am not a liberal. I find most liberals to be conservatives who want to be forgiven.
[JVB] How do you feel about those years in the military? How do you feel about the military now?
[SG] I've written quite a bit about how I felt about various aspects of my military life. There's no one monolithic impression. Parts of it I liked very much. The travel. The economic security. The exposure to other cultures. The highly physical nature of the life. Other aspects of it I hated. Bureaucratism. Institutionalized stupidity. The hegemonic sexism and homophobia. I don't regard military people as any more or less culpable for what they are sent to do, however, than anyone else. Lots of people like to stereotype the military, like to sit up on whatever privileged hilltop they can perch on and cast little stones of sanctimony at the military. These are people who say we live in a system, but they don't really believe it. In their most secret hearts, they've bought the whole bourgeois narrative about personal responsibility, individualism, the history of kings and generals, all of it. Now once someone understands the nature of that system, and they are in the military, well, then you've got a genuine role conflict. And that's my issue with the U.S. military. It is an instrument not of defense, but of control and plunder of peripheral peoples.
[JVB] What do you think about Bush's build-up of the military?
[SG] Bush is making more politically fatal mistakes than I can count these days. His so-called build-up of the military is one of them. He is not in fact building up the military, depending on how you define that. He is building up the weapons industry, at the behest of his mad military advisor, Donald Rumsfeld - a weird man who has convinced himself without a shred of evidence to support it, that he is a military genius.
Rumsfeld has convinced himself that technology can replace human leadership and ingenuity on the battlefield, so he is prevailing on his intellectually challenged boss to buy lots of expensive toys. I write at length about this Rumsfeld Doctrine in "Full Spectrum Disorder," the book that's coming out in December from Soft Skull Press. This whole trend is being reinforced within the administration by his coterie of neo-con economists who think they can replicate the Reagan era recovery through military
Keynesianism. Like I said, the sum of these errors will be far greater than their parts. Unfortunately, other people will pay with treasure and blood, and the whole clique will retire in comfort to write their bullshit memoirs and give lectures. The military itself, if you look at the humans who populate it, is undergoing the same kind of attacks on its living standards as the whole rest of the American working class, in order to pay for Rumsfeld’s killer drones and super-subs.
[JVB] What do you think about him reducing veteran benefits? What do you think about his giving tax cuts to the rich while reducing vet benefits?
[SG] I think it will bite him in the ass at the end of the day. The problem is, they have to cut. They are trapped on the runaway train of their own economic nostrums, their own overwhelming rich-white-boy hubris, and a very real, very deep crisis of capitalism itself. In response to a column I wrote recently taking Dubya to task for his inane 'bring 'em on' comment, I was flooded with supportive emails from pissed off vets and military families. They were all talking not only about the hypocrisy of this faux-cowboy preppy daring people to attack soldiers while he sat in the air conditioned White House, they expressed a profound sense of betrayal at benefits cuts, for active duty people and veterans. Bush's entire neo-con hallucination about world domination is based on the projection of military power, yet he manages to alienate the very people who will lay it all on the line.
[JVB] What did you think about the invasion of Iraq?
[SG] I think it has turned into a tremendous tar baby. And the more he fights this tar baby, the deeper he will become stuck in it prior to 2004. People know it had something to do with oil, but they don't understand the complexities of oil.
Americans are not critical thinkers by and large. We suffer from a collective sociogenic learning disability based on the complete commodification of our consciousness by consumerism and electronic media. So we are not only bitterly unhappy and alienated, we are intensely stupid and attached to denial.
So understanding what invading Iraq had to do with oil takes a little study. They didn't just go there to steal. There was a confluence of factors that were economic, strategic, and political. People like Andrew McKillop and Michael Hudson have written at length on these points. The main point is that the US economy has been converted into a credit and debt scam aimed against the rest of the world, and backed up by military force. But the scheme is falling apart as the rest of the world is losing the ability and
willingness to pay. The US economy is dreadfully weak, with the real material economy now gutted by parasitic speculation, and the only source of strength left is the military, which they are now trying to use to gain control over the world's energy supply.
[JVB] About the fact that we now know that Bush lied about WMD's?
[SG] Every thing this administration has told the public has been a lie from the very beginning. The way you determine whether on not the Bush cabinet is lying is by whether or not their lips are moving. They started with a fraudulent election, consolidated by a right-wing judicial fiat. They had planned the invasion of Afghanistan as a first step for developing a standing military presence in the region the summer prior to 9/11. They'd even informed the Pakistanis of their intention to invade in October. Then the 9/11 hijackers fly in like a scourge against the nation, but like Santa Claus for the Bush's neo-con clique. All the plans were put on fast forward, and the pretext was now available for advancing a very aggressive domestic agenda for the development of a police state infrastructure. September 11th was a neo-con wet dream.
[JVB] What about Afghanistan?
[SG] Afghanistan and now Iraq have fore-grounded the just deserts of overweening pride and plain imperial racism. They underestimated their putative enemies, failed utterly to understand the cultures they were invading, and maintained an unshakable faith in the ability of high technology to deliver stable apolitical military victories. Now they have a dual quagmire.
[JVB] Bin Laden? About the fact that we didn't find him and now no one is even focused on him at all?
[SG] That's because he was never the issue. Controlling the region as a way to position for economic war against Europe and China was... and is.
[JVB] What about the Patriot Act? What about the Military Tribunals? The Guantanamo detainees? The "unlawful enemy combatants"? Do you think the Bush Administration is violating the Constitution? The Geneva Conventions? (Other international laws?)
[SG] This is the most lawless administration in living memory, and that's a real accomplishment given the parade of arch criminals who have occupied the Executive Branch for the last 100 years. There is a wealth of material available on the net and elsewhere warning us about the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act has one major flaw. Once the decision is made to apply it generally, instead of against scapegoat populations, the U.S. government will be faced with the most heavily armed population in the world. There's a certain grim poetic justice there. The tribunals and detentions are just plain exercises of impunity against every internationally recognized standard of legal practice in the world. This is also well known. The Geneva Conventions forbid unilateral invasions in the absence of a real and immediate threat. Period. It's unequivocal. People say we should be cautious with the term fascism. I agree. We are now faced with a wannabe fascist administration. They would do well to recount how Mussolini ended up.
[JVB] How do you feel about Bush's war on terror?
[SG] Bill Blum once said that the difference between a terrorist and a superpower is that the latter has an Air Force. This whole slogan, 'war on terror', is used to tar any government that fails to comply with the U.S. diktat. They actually allege that Cuba sponsors terrorism. That's preposterous, and everyone damn well knows it.
[JVB] You're aware of the allegations that Bush went AWOL while he was enlisted?
[SG] I've read them.
[JVB] What do you think of that?
[SG] I don't really care. I sort of avoid that whole chicken-hawk thing, even though it has wide appeal. It's pretty gendered, for one, and it tacitly endorses an ideology of militarism. What Bush is doing would be wrong and stupid even if he had a chest full of combat ribbons to rival Smedley Butler. That doesn't mean I won't out him when he sits in D.C. and says shit like "Bring 'em on."
[JVB] Do you think this war is race-based?
[SG] Politics is economics by other means, and war is politics by other means. Let's get this straight right now. Our entire system was constructed from day one on the subjugation, exploitation, or extermination of whole peoples. There has to be a cover story about that kind of practice, a justification. Racism provides that justification. Frontal racism, like slavery and Jim Crow, and implicit racism like 'white man's burden' and 'exporting democracy.' In that sense, not only this war, but this entire society is race-based.
[JVB] Is there is anything you would like to add?
[SG] Just that we need to bring all the US troops home immediately, and allow the Afghans and Iraqis to determine their own futures. And that we need to try in every way possible to politically destroy the Bush government. They are both stupid and reckless, and that is a dangerous combination.
Jennifer Van Bergen is a frequent contributor to Truthout. She holds a J.D. from Cardozo School of Law and will be teaching a course on “The Anti-Terrorism Laws, the Constitution and Civil Rights” at the New School Online University, NY, this Fall .