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Exclusive Interview with William Worthy, Dead at 92, on Reporting from Cuba, China, Iran Revolutions

Web ExclusiveMay 18, 2014
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Listen to an interview on Democracy Now! by Amy Goodman and Juan González with journalist William Worthy, a World War II conscientious objector and defiant international correspondent who traveled to Cuba, China and Iran, faced federal prosecution, and was the subject of the Phil Ochs song, “The Ballad of William Worthy,” on his 1964 album All the News That’s Fit to Sing.

Worthy recently passed away on May 4, 2014, at the age of 92.

This edition of Democracy Now! was broadcast on New Year’s Day of 1998. The segment begins with the “Ballad of William Worthy” followed by an extended interview with Worthy.

Photograph of William Worthy by Walter Lippmann.


This is a rush transcript of the first part of this interview. Copy may not be in its final form.

PHIL OCHS: [singing] Well, it’s of a bold reporter whose story I will tell
He went down to the Cuban land, the nearest place to hell
He’d been there many times before, but now the law does say
The only way to Cuba is with the CIA

William Worthy isn’t worthy to enter our door
Went down to Cuba, he’s not American anymore
But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say
You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay

Five thousand dollars or a five-year sentence may well be
For a man who had the nerve to think that travelin’ is free
Oh, why’d he waste his time to see a dictator’s reign
When he could have seen democracy by travelin’ on to Spain?

William Worthy isn’t worthy to enter our door
Went down to Cuba, he’s not American anymore
But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say
You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay

So, come all you good travelers and fellow travelers, too
Yes, and travel all around the world, see every country through
I’d surely like to come along and see what may be new
But my passport’s disappearing as I sing these words to you

Well, there really is no need to travel to these evil lands
Yes, and though the list grows larger, you must try to understand
Try hard not to worry if someday you should hear
That the whole world is off limits, visit Disneyland this year

William Worthy isn’t worthy to enter our door
Went down to Cuba, he’s not American anymore
But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say
You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay.

AMY GOODMAN: Phil Ochs singing “The Ballad of William Worthy” here on New Year’s Day on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, here with my co-host, Juan González. And our guest for this show is no other than William Worthy himself.

Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Well, I bet a lot of people have never heard this song, or perhaps some haven’t heard of you, William Worthy, a man who has been a journalist for, oh, some 55 years, more than half a century, has traveled around the world, particularly in countries the U.S. didn’t want him to, as you heard Phil Ochs singing about William Worthy traveling in Cuba. And on this New Year’s Day, which is also Cuban Independence Day, we thought it would be very interesting to bring William Worthy into the studio, currently an assistant to the dean at Howard University, formerly a stringer with CBS, did a documentary for ABC called Yankee, No, and has written extensively for The Catholic Worker, has written for The Boston Globe, for Esquire. As a CBS stringer, he worked in the Soviet Union, in China, in Africa; and has written a book called The Rape of Our Neighborhoods, actually about his time in New York and his community struggles there.

Well, why don’t we start where Phil Ochs started? And that is around your challenges in Cuba, around the fact that you lost your passport for traveling to and reporting from Cuba.

WILLIAM WORTHY: Well, I guess that was the lesser part of it. The federal indictment that followed in 1962—and the case dragged on for two years—was, of course, much more serious than losing one’s passport. But for some reason that the ACLU, which defended me, and the whole legal community could never understand, the Justice Department Internal Security Division, which was very reactionary, and if it’s still in existence, I presume it hasn’t changed, indicted me not for going to Cuba, but for coming back. And so, I was prosecuted for the novel crime of coming home. And the Fifth Circuit unanimously reversed that on the grounds that a citizen has an inherent right, an inherent constitutional right, to come home. And there’d been so much embarrassment to the Kennedy administration from the case that, althought the Internal Security Division of the Justice Department wanted to appeal to the Supreme Court, Bobby Kennedy, the attorney general, vetoed it. He was—he and his brother were sick and tired of the case. They had had enough embarrassment over it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And previously, you had had problems with visits in the late '50s to China and other places, hadn't you?


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you tell us a little bit about that?

WILLIAM WORTHY: Well, after the Chinese revolution in 1949, the official line of the State Department was that communism in China was a passing phase and that anything that indicated recognition, journalistic interest or whatever, would only delay that passing, and so there was a ban on China. In fact, there was a ban on the whole Soviet communist bloc, but particularly on China.

And I had tried for about three years before I actually got the visa to get there. I accosted Zhou Enlai, the prime minister, at the first Asian-African Congress—Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1955. But one Sunday morning at Adams House at Harvard, where I was a Nieman Fellow for the year, I came up from breakfast and saw a Western Union telegram under my door, and I immediately knew what it was, instinctively. And a week later, I was in China, to the great distress of the State Department.

The U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong went into almost a terror-stricken episode, and Scott Nearing and his wife, years later, or several years later, were in Hong Kong with no any intention of going to China. They moved from one hotel to another, not leaving a forwarding address. And suddenly a loud knock on their door, and the chief security officer of the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong wanted to—in fact, demanded to know whether they had any intention of going into China. He said, “That guy Worthy almost caused me to lose my job.” I think what probably happened was that I went in on Christmas Eve, by pure chance, and I think they were all partying and not patrolling the border. And this man caught hell.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Scott Nearing was—is that the author—

WILLIAM WORTHY: Great author.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The author of Dollar Diplomacy and—yes.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Classic work on U.S. intervention.

WILLIAM WORTHY: A little footnote to that remark. It was in my Bates College days, by pure chance, at the college library, I came across his classic book, 1925, called Dollar Diplomacy. And never have gotten over the section on Haiti, where he disclosed that when the U.S. was pressing, around 1914, for more and more concessions from the Haitian government, and they had declined to bow to that pressure, a contingent of U.S. military landed from a Navy ship and marched to the National Bank and took out, I think, about half-million dollars, which in those days, for a tiny country, was a lot of money, put it back on the ship and took it to National City Bank in New York.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right, in broad daylight, wasn’t it? It was—

WILLIAM WORTHY: Yeah, right.


WILLIAM WORTHY: And it’s known by every Haitian still as the great Yankee bank robbery.


WILLIAM WORTHY: And that, really, turned me in an anti-imperialist direction, from which I have not veered ever since. It was one of the great shocks of my life, to read that.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you go to China, and also to Cuba? Why go to these places that the U.S. government had such paroxysms about?

WILLIAM WORTHY: I think one of the most discouraging things about this country is the lack of critical thinking by Americans. The educational system fails Americans miserably in any kind of analysis of what’s going on. And any government line which is echoed daily by the mass media becomes gospel in this country. And anyone who knew anything about the abominable conditions under Chiang Kai-shek in China could understand why there was a revolution. It didn’t necessarily mean that you shared their—all their political beliefs and orientation, but that the revolution was entirely understandable and justified. And since the U.S. was in a nuclear mood and came close, in 1955, to actually using nuclear weapons on China, over those offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu, it was important to get, even on a small scale, from one person, something of a different perspective. And I think that was both a journalistic and an intellectual reason for challenging the travel ban.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what kind of dispatches or reports were you able to bring back? You did some work, as I understand it, for ABC on a documentary on Cuba.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And were yours the first reports of the—with another perspective coming out of these countries?

WILLIAM WORTHY: You know, from quick memory, I can’t say yes to that with any certainty, but if there were any dissenting views, they were very rare. And this country has a political line, which, in general, the mass media follow rather uncritically, with exceptions. You will find in any major network, newspaper, magazine that there are people who are trying to get some of the truth across on every opportunity—at every opportunity.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what you did in China. What were the news dispatches that you filed, and who did you file for?

WILLIAM WORTHY: Well, probably the most, quote-unquote, “significant” was the interview with the prime minister of China. I was at the cable office—I think it was on a Sunday—and he was getting ready to go on a trip somewhere to Europe, I think. And I, of course, had requested an interview, and the people, I guess, from his office finally tracked me down that Sunday morning at the cable office and rushed me to his residence.

And I remember his asking me, ironically, and of course satirically, how far Long Island was from New York. And the parallel was: How far is—were these two offshore islands, Quemoy and Matsu, from the Chinese mainland? The distance is approximately the same. And it pointed out the arrogance of the United States of wanting to bomb China with nuclear weapons, because they claimed that those islands belonged to the departed and discredited Chiang Kai-shek government on what we called Formosa—I shouldn’t say “we,” what the official name for it was Formosa, but the rest of the world, even then, was calling Taiwan.

Let me just interject a little story I like to think is of great historic interest. The Fellowship of Reconciliation across the river here in Nyack was—had their concerns verified when Prime Minister Nehru of India visited China in 1955 and came back and disclosed that there were areas where there was famine. It was, of course, a food—a total embargo on commerce with China at that time. And so they instituted a project asking people, their members and others, to send little rice bags with a ticket, a little tag, to President Eisenhower, with the label, “If thine enemy hunger, feed him.” And they had no idea what the reaction was. They found out later, indirectly, through—after Eisenhower went out of office, through one of his aides, that this project had been discussed at Cabinet meetings and with the U.S. military, which was pressing for a nuclear attack on China. And Eisenhower—not many people know this, but I’m pretty sure it’s true—came out of a—had a Jehovah’s Witness mother who was opposed to his military career. And he turned to the Cabinet meeting, with the military officers’ high command sitting there, and said, “How many of these bags of rice have come in?” The New York Times had run a big story, and there had been a lot of news follow-up. And when he was told, I think it was 40,000 or 45,000, plus thousands of letters, he said, “If the American people want reconciliation with China, this is no time to be bombing it.” And that was the end of that threat. A very interesting little side light to history.

AMY GOODMAN: William Worthy is our guest. We’ll continue with him in just a minute here on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest is William Worthy, a journalist for more than half a century. And on this Cuban Independence Day, we thought it would be appropriate to bring him to you, a man who lost his passport over traveling to and reporting from Cuba. But that’s not the only place he has been. He’s been all over the world—and troubled the State Department for those very reasons.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I noticed in some of the—some of the old news clips of your activities that you then had a similar problem in terms of your traveling—this is many years later—in relationship to Iran after the Iranian revolution. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

WILLIAM WORTHY: Well, you never would know it from the coverage of Iran after 1979, that the U.S. had been in bed with the vicious, corrupt, discredited Shah, who was ousted, and Khomeini, great religious leader, scholar, who had been in exile for years, came back to a triumphant return. And the U.S. seemed determined, under Carter and others, to try to restore something of the status quo. They found—don’t hold me 100 percent to this, my memory, but there was some plot afoot to restore the Shah, and Iranian students, including some who had been trained at Berkeley and others—I think it was November the 4th, 1980, '79 or ’80—went over the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. And immediately the CIA operatives inside began shredding documents, but they didn't have much time, so it was an incomplete job. And they held the embassy staff there for 444 days, which helped to lead to Carter’s defeat for re-election, because of that unresolved crisis.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And it also was the birth of Nightline as a show on television.

WILLIAM WORTHY: Right, yeah, yeah. Ted Koppel owes that to those students. So, an educator—I think he was named Norman Fora [phon.]—came to me. I think the University of Indiana organized a group of about 50 Americans to go over during the crisis to get a different perspective, and I was allowed to go along with a young woman in Boston named Randy Goodman. And we got acquainted particularly with Hossein Sheikh al-Islam, one of the Berkeley-educated students, who later became the deputy foreign minister. And some of our stories came out then. The documents later, at a time of a subsequent trip, were the shredded documents which had been restored, plus those that had not been restored, were published in Iran by the students in paperback form and sold on news stands and exported to other countries—but not to this country. And—I mean, not by their design, but by U.S. design. And so, Randy Goodman and Terri Taylor and I purchased at a news stand in one city, and some others later, these paperbacks. We had two batches in all. When we came back through—not Ottawa—JFK Airport in New York, we had one bag in our—one batch in our luggage, which—no problem. We shipped the others with camera equipment in unaccompanied baggage to Boston, and that’s where customs spotted them and turned them over to the CIA, and it resulted in the CIA and the government talking about indicting us for possession of classified documents. These were public things, distributed all over the world, nothing private about them any longer. And they seized them, and the ACLU took up the case. And over a period of a year, we got the documents back, and they dropped all talk of prosecuting us, which had been ridiculous, to begin with, and settled out of court for $16,000 in damages.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet it’s interesting how The Boston Globe played it in March of 19—

WILLIAM WORTHY: ’82, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: In March of 1982. It says, “The Justice Department has dropped plans to prosecute a freelance journalist for possession of purported copies of secret American documents stolen during the occupation of the U.S. Embassy in Iran.” And it goes on to say, “Sources said the decision to return the papers and end the criminal investigation was based on an unwillingness by government agencies to confirm the documents’ authenticity.” And it says, “Privately, officials say the documents’ release was a serious intelligence breach. And ultimately,” it says, “U.S. Customs agents seized the documents, and the Justice Department considered charging Worthy under the Threft” [sic]—


AMY GOODMAN: Under the Theft of Government Property Act.

WILLIAM WORTHY: There’s no limit to the—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: No mention that these were actually published paperbacks.

WILLIAM WORTHY: Yeah. There’s no limit to absurdity in Washington. The reason that, for one of those references, their unwillingness to prosecute, it would have meant that a CIA official would have had to testify in open court at the trial. And, of course, that would have given my ACLU lawyer a chance to cross-examine, with all kinds of embarrassment. So, some cooler heads did prevail on that. We never lost a wink of sleep over it. Even if they had prosecuted, they would have lost miserably in court, at least on appeal.

AMY GOODMAN: And what you’re saying is the CIA would have had to say openly in public court about their support of the Shah.

WILLIAM WORTHY: That these were authentic, yeah, that all these evil things that were disclosed in the documents were there.

AMY GOODMAN: And what were some of those things?

WILLIAM WORTHY: All kinds of things to bring down the Khomeini government and to create disruption, the usual counterrevolutionary policies that the U.S. carries out after a revolution that they don’t agree with.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But it’s rare that you actually get the documentation of the events.

WILLIAM WORTHY: Yeah, right. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to William Worthy, an itinerant reporter, has been around the world a number of times for more than half a century, going places the United States government is not very happy about, which has led to eight arrests, two federal indictments. And among the places he has been, Soviet Union, China, North Vietnam, Cuba. In fact, you were talking, William Worthy, about your trip—your trips to Cuba and how you got back into this country, the United States government being angry that you had come in, having gone through Cuba, and that you, at the time, needed a lawyer to go with you. This was—maybe was this the first challenge that you had had to—it was the first time your passport was taken away, and you ended up with a young, ACLU, untrained attorney named William Kunstler.

WILLIAM WORTHY: Right. My passport, by chance—let me see I get the time table correctly. Yeah, it was shortly after return from China that my passport was due routinely to expire. There had been a lot of publicity, a lot of pressure on CBS not to carry my broadcast from China, pressure on the Baltimore Afro-American to bring me home, none of which was successful. And the ACLU, which took up my case as soon as I got back, thought that it would be publicly good relation—good public relations and politically and legally strategic to apply promptly for renewal of this expiring passport. So on that particular day, the ACLU here in New York could find only one volunteer lawyer who was available, who had just recently signed up as a volunteer. So we were to meet outside the—what is it? 630 Fifth Avenue passport office. And that was my encounter with a then-unknown William Kunstler.

AMY GOODMAN: How did he describe you?

WILLIAM WORTHY: In one of his books, he mentioned that I woke him and his wife up once, I think on a Sunday morning, to call him about something. We had good relations. Of course, you become quite close to somebody with whom you work over a period of years. Competent, spent time waiting in courtrooms writing his books, he told me. And—

AMY GOODMAN: And said you were his first controversial client?

WILLIAM WORTHY: Right, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: When you came back from China, was it? That was when you were still a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, that you were met at the airport. It seems that each one of your trips became quite a celebrated case. And who were the people who met you at the airport, and why did they care about your case?

WILLIAM WORTHY: Louis Lyons was the Nieman curator at the time. He came out of The Boston Globe. And that Sunday morning, when I went up to my Adams House room and found the cable from China issuing—you know, authorizing the visa, I, of course, as a matter of courtesy, had to notify him. It was a week before Christmas. The year had—semester had come to an end, and nobody was due back, actually, until some time in January. But as a matter of courtesy, of course, I called him at home. And he kept it very quiet. You know, it was necessary if I was going to be able to leave this country, let alone get into China, to keep the trip secret until I got there. And he came under quite a bit of pressure from conservative Harvard alumni and others, and probably the government, because of my status as a Nieman Fellow. But he was a man of principle, no radical, by any means, but a man who believed in Bill of Rights and personal freedom. So he and two Niemans, Anthony Lewis of The New York Times and Hale Champion of the San Francisco Chronicle, on a cold February Sunday morning, went to Logan Airport to meet me. And it was obviously a political and a journalistic gesture, and it certainly helped to fend off those nutty people in Washington who were talking about prosecution.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You mentioned there’s also another giant of American journalism, Edward R. Murrow, who apparently came to your defense at one time. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

WILLIAM WORTHY: Well, in terms of public opinion, public relations and journalistic support, I won the China passport case, but legally lost it when a three-judge court, federal court, in Washington rejected my application for a new passport. And they called me a “blustering inquisitor” and said a few other negative things. I guess in an earlier period of American history, they wouldn’t have been so “discreet,” quote-unquote; they probably would have said “uppity nigger.” But “blustering inquisitor” was the acceptable phraseology in 1957. So, Murrow did a broadcast—every night after his news, he would devote about five minutes to commentary—did a very nice commentary and took up the phrase “blustering inquisitor,” and, in effect, said that if that decision were to be carried to its ultimate limits, everybody in the country could be locked up and not allowed to leave anywhere. Sort of an Edward R. Murrow version of what Phil Ochs was saying.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a piece you wrote for The Crisis magazine.


AMY GOODMAN: In 1954, and it was reprinted by the American Friends Service Committee, called “Our Disgrace in Indo-China.” Now, this is way back. This is 1954. And it’s interesting because you wrote a little note on it for me saying that this is what Paul Robeson was holding up at his brother’s church in Harlem, the only platform he had left to speak on, in a photograph that you have, a famous photograph of Paul Robeson holding up your piece on “Our Disgrace in Indo-China.” And, in fact, as I learned about your life, I thought a lot about Paul Robeson and also his difficulties with the U.S. government.

WILLIAM WORTHY: Yeah, he couldn’t even get into Canada. And what some of his supporters in Canada did at a famous concert, he sang on the American side of the border, and they were a few feet away on the Canadian side, which—I don’t know. I kind of understand why people in Washington don’t get upset when they’re ridiculed so effectively. He was a man famous all over the world, had been famous since at least the 1930s as an actor, a singer. And, yes, his views were leftist, but so what? Isn’t that what the Bill of Rights is supposed be all about? But he was miserably hounded.

And one of the things about middle-of-the-road people in this country I think people on the left sometimes forget is that from unexpected individuals sometimes you get principled support. The publisher of the Baltimore Afro-American was Carl Murphy, a businessman who ran a prosperous paper, but he stuck by Paul Robeson throughout, no wavering, even in the most difficult period. And in the troubled times ahead, I think it behooves those of us who want to see a less insane, less militaristic, less repressive society than this one is and is becoming have got to realize that on basic issues such as this, political differences can be and should be put aside to fend off the psychotic, right-wing forces who right now are trying to repeal the whole New Deal, go back to the 19th century, bust unions, and do everything else to suppress the rising opposition to considerably intolerable conditions.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You worked for many years and wrote for the Baltimore Afro-American. What do you see as the—how the black press is functioning today versus what it was doing, say, in the ’40s and ’50s in terms of raising issues? Do you think that the same kind of militancy exists among the black press today?

WILLIAM WORTHY: I’ll take you back to the turn of the century. A scholar—I forget what university it was, I think a Midwestern university, and I wish I could think of his name—wrote a book published in 1971 by Arno Press and The New York Times, of all things, called The Black Press Views American Imperialism (1898-1900). It’s a very revealing book, and you find these tiny papers in the Deep South, and other parts of the country, but in the repressive Deep South, with acute, intellectually acute, very well informed critiques of what the U.S. was doing in Cuba, in the Philippines, and expanding its empire. I remember one—I think it was a religious publication, maybe by A.M.E. Church or something, and the bishop who published it said, at the time of the Boxer Rebellion, “Any”—I think his phrase was, “Any Negro soldier who sails out on a U.S. ship to China to help put down this rebellion should find the bottom of the sea before he gets there”—militant, anti-imperialist orientation. That’s missing now. I don’t know how it’s dropped out of the perspective, but it very definitely has.

I found out from the vice president of economic affairs, now—he left a few years ago, in—at Howard, that the reason the name Maceo was so common in families of color in the South at the turn of the century was that they were naming their sons after General Maceo of Cuba, who was fighting both Spanish imperialism and U.S. imperialism. So, even in those benighted days, there was an awareness of what the U.S. was doing abroad, which is so sadly missing today.

A book published by the Brookings Institution in 1976—the title will come to me in a minute—in an appendix lists 215 U.S. military interventions around the world, all parts of the world, from 1946, which was the year after World War II ended, and 1975—30 years, an average of seven a year. I think any person who reads that list is going to be absolutely startled, the number of the interventions alone, let alone the vast array of countries that felt the sting of American military intervention. Yeah, Force Without War was the title of the Brookings Institution book. I would urge anybody who wants to update himself or herself on the post-war U.S. military policy around the world to get that book either from their own library, university library, or on interlibrary loan.

AMY GOODMAN: William Worthy is our guest. We’ll continue with him in just a minute here on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest is William Worthy, a journalist for more than half a century. And on this Cuban Independence Day, we thought it would be appropriate to bring him to you, a man who lost his passport over traveling to and reporting from Cuba. But that’s not the only place he has been. He’s been all over the world—and troubled the State Department for those very reasons.

What brought you both to oppose U.S. intervention before most people did—even knew where Vietnam existed? And then can you talk about your visits to North Vietnam and how the U.S. government reacted and your coverage of Ho Chi Minh?

WILLIAM WORTHY: I got a little attack of diarrhea on the wrong day, wasn’t able to go to a reception in Hanoi that Ho Chi Minh was giving, and so one of my lifetime regrets is I did not meet that remarkable man, through pure happenstance. In the lobby, I think it is, of Parker House Hotel in downtown Boston, where Charles Dickens once stayed when he was lecturing, a famous hotel, there’s a plaque which indicates that they believe that Ho Chi Minh, as an itinerant—not itinerant, but as a sailor, I think, on a French ship during his exile under the French colonial rule, stayed there—worked there, I think, as a bellboy. And also Malcolm X, where it is known, definitely, that he worked there. And I pictured in my mind, because The Boston Globe used to be right around the corner on Washington Street from the Parker House Hotel—I pictured in my mind that, let’s say, some socially conscious, Boston Brahmin type, somebody from that kind of strata, if they had gotten to know Ho Chi Minh as a bellboy at Parker House Hotel in Boston and took him around to The Boston Globe and said, “This is a man who one day is going to become prime minister or president of a country that the U.S. are going to be involved in,” he probably would have been, politely or impolitely, escorted out of the building as ridiculous. Bellboy? Going to become president? Going to win a war against the United States? You know, what kind of nonsense is this?

There’s a book by Ellen Hammer called The [Struggle] for Indochina, and she tells how after—Ho Chi Minh collaborated with the U.S. in the ouster of the Japanese from Vietnam during World War II. And then the French colonialists came back, and two planes carrying French military officers flew in, I think on the same day, to land back in this country which had freed itself from Japanese imperialism. And those were American planes. And her sentence after that paragraph introducing the book was: “The French had returned to Indochina.” So the U.S. was playing the colonial game throughout the U.S.—throughout the World War II, planning ahead, get rid of Japanese rival imperialism, get rid of German imperialism, but to restore and “improve on,” quote-unquote, the U.S. position. And they collaborated. And the American people slept for almost 20 years, until, under Johnson, the Vietnam War escalated to ground troops, and that’s when it was possible to get Americans to even think about this remote, unknown country, which brought the Johnson administration down. He didn’t run for re-election.

And Dave Dellinger—many people listening to this program know that name, a great hero of the American peace movement—went to Vietnam around 1966, after the ground troops, half a million, had landed, and met with Ho Chi Minh. And the Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, were claiming to be constantly shooting down a lot of American planes, which for a peasant country seemed highly unlikely. So Dave Dellinger, in his, I guess, usual cordial and polite way, challenged the authenticity of these official reports. And Ho Chi Minh gave him a classic answer. He said, “Look, if my people ever caught me in a single lie, I would have to surrender to Lyndon Johnson in 30 days.” Now, what if we had a president who felt that he had to tell us the truth, otherwise his government would be brought down in 30 days? Wouldn’t this country be a hell of a lot different from what it is today?

AMY GOODMAN: Your impressions of Cuba? You have closely followed Cuba since Fidel Castro led the revolution against Batista, did a documentary for ABC on Cuba. William Worthy, what are you impressions today, and what were they then? And how do they differ from most other journalists?

WILLIAM WORTHY: The U.S. basically has a counterrevolutionary policy line worldwide, and Cuba had been so much under U.S. domination for so long that there wasn’t the slightest inclination in this country to accept the reality of a revolution that did not turn around and betray its own people, as quite a few revolutions in our time have done in other parts of the world. And once it became clear, starting with the Eisenhower administration and continuing on into the other presidencies, Kennedy and others, there’s been an unrelenting attempt to discredit a government which, at least until the collapse of the Soviet Union, was really delivering for its people. I understand that even President Clinton, at a town meeting he held in Buenos Aires several months ago, did acknowledge that Cuba had a virtually ideal, free healthcare system and free educational system. And also, amazingly, Clinton referred to him recently as a highly intelligent man. It looks like some overtures are now being made, probably as a result of the impending pope’s visit January 21st to 25th. The mass media personalities and those of lesser stature, by and large, do not understand, let alone have any empathy for, revolutionary struggles.

Given the proximity of Cuba to the United States, it’s hard for me, as a result of half a dozen visits there since the revolution, to imagine that anybody else of less oratorical powers, of lesser intellectual brilliance, could have kept that country alive without bowing to American domination, with the CIA instituting all kinds of armed attacks within the country and offshore attacks. And as someone who reads Granma Internacional, the English-language paper out of Cuba, every week, there is nothing egotistical about the man, which is one of the hazards of leadership. And so, certainly for Cuba, I would dissent from the view that you just projected as a—at least a theoretical possibility. Byron—was it Byron who said power corrupts and all that? It’s true. And without a very strong degree of self-assurance, it’s a temptation for those who have led a revolution to not give up power. Nelson Mandela, who’s a very close friend of Fidel and praised him just within the last couple days, and has said that Cuba’s struggle is South Africa’s struggle, partly maybe because of health, partly because of his age, has decided to relinquish power. And I think that his successors are going to have a very hard time with that recalcitrant white minority, which he attacked in a speech last week for trying to destabilize the country, create crime and restlessness. I think his successor, with lesser stature, is going to have a much harder job.

AMY GOODMAN: William Worthy, the U.S. has often said about countries it has as its allies, “They have elections, so it’s democratic.” And we see over and over again how those elections can be shams. But in Cuba, Fidel Castro has not had elections. Why do you think—why do you think he hasn’t? If—

WILLIAM WORTHY: Well, he’s not had elections American-style. There are—there are different varieties.

AMY GOODMAN: At a more local level?


AMY GOODMAN: But what about for president of Cuba? Why do you think he wouldn’t do it? Do you think he—is he afraid he wouldn’t be re-elected?

WILLIAM WORTHY: Hell no. The man still has tremendous popularity, despite all the hardships that Cuba has gone through, particularly since 1991. James Reston, I think it was, The New York Times, was asked by Secretary of State Kissinger, because he was going to meet with and interview Fidel, to raise the possibility of at least some initial talks with the United States. And so, when he came back and reported to Kissinger what had happened, he said, “Well, Fidel’s response was: 'As soon as the U.S. lifts the embargo.'” And Kissinger said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I expected him to say.” Fidel is not about to let the U.S. determine the lines of the Cuban revolution, the terms of the Cuban revolution, its policies, its processes. And I, for one, do not fault him for that. We see this new prime minister of—or president, whatever his title is, of South Korea, who went through horrific experiences, partly due to the U.S. support of these terribly corrupt and brutal generals, one of whom had crushed the Gwangju revolution in—uprising in 1980, I guess it was—first thing he does when he gets elected last week is to reassure the Western capitalist countries that he’s going to support the IMF bailout, which, if you read between the lines, is a way of making sure that American investments are going to be protected in South Korea. That’s the danger of yielding to U.S. pressures, and Fidel is not about to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, William Worthy, I want to thank you very much for spending this program with us, this time with us.

WILLIAM WORTHY: Glad to do it. And I just hope that listeners will look to some basic works. If you read Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun, L-O-U-D-U-N, came out in 1952, I think, which deals a lot with Cardinal Richelieu, who had virtually dictatorial powers in France at the time that he was the de facto ruler of considerable parts of Europe—it’s not a political book, but it has tremendous political significance, with a great appendix. If you read New Men of Power by Columbia University Professor C. Wright Mills, came out around 1947, a study of U.S. labor leaders, you see him raising the important point, way back then: “Politically,” he asked, “who will catch the American people when the economic system fails them?” The significance of that is that there are tremendous dangers in this country from a highly well financed right. The American people have concerns about their over-extended credit cards, their mortgage payments, getting downsized, and yet they don’t take time to do any basic reading to understand what this society is really all about. There are all kinds of—we do have still free libraries. We do still have free thinkers, like Noam Chomsky and others, whose works ought to be read religiously.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you for being with us.

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