Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda. By Edward Herman. South End, $7.50 paper.
March 1, 1982        

In 1981 Claire Sterling published “The Terror Network” in a phenomenal blaze of publicity. The book was excerpted in “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post,” serialized in “Reader’s Digest” (circ. 30 mil lion), prominently reviewed in “TV Guide” (circ. 19 million), and discussed in virtually every print and electronic media outlet. Innumerable pundits, from Foggy Bottom to the local pub, were convinced that “the Russians are at the bottom of the whole thing. Claire Sterling proved it.” (Conor Cruise O’Brien, with tongue in cheek.)

In 1982 Edward Herman published “The Real Terror Network,” which has escaped notice by the “Times”, “Post”, “Reader’s Digest”, and “TV Guide”. Herman devotes 15 pages and scant ceremony to burying Sterling’s preposterous book and its mythical Soviet-inspired conspiracy, then goes on to diagnose the nonmythical plague of terror and repression that has afflicted the under developed nations of the Free World in the last several decades. His new book refines, extends, and updates the analysis in “The Political Economy of Human Rights” (1979), which he coauthored with Noam Chomsky. Again, Herman chronicles the growth of National Security States within the American client system, details the proliferation of official torture and murder in those states, and places this repression in the context of popular resistance to control of the domestic economy by international (mainly U.S.) business.

The earlier book was carelessly or tendentiously criticized for supposedly ascribing the subservience and bias of the mass media and mainstream scholarship to a “conspiracy.” This time around Herman includes a long chapter patiently explaining the propaganda system in terms of “basic structural [economic] facts and resultant values, the internalization of these values by media personnel, the importance of government and business sources and sponsors, and the interplay of all these forces in generating systematic bias via self-censorship.”

There’s something useful on nearly every page of “The Real Terror Network”: In 1981 the CIA released a (probably inflated) estimate of 3668 deaths from “international terrorism” between 1968 and 1980 (Claire Sterling’s “Fright Decade I”); a few months later “The Economist” reported that 4000 Indians were murdered in 1981 alone by the Guatemalan government and its paramilitary affiliates (this was not considered “terrorism” by either Sterling or the CIA). Between 1949 and 1969, 46.5 per cent of the information sources appearing in “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post” were U.S. government officials and agencies. The first Latin American Congress of Relatives of the Disappeared, in January 1981, estimated that 90,000 people have been disappeared (sic: it’s a new verb form) over the last two decades. Between 1950 and 1975 the United States trained over a million foreign policemen and 500,000 foreign military personnel (including quite a few torturers). The two most serious nongovernmental acts of terrorism in the last decade were committed by right-wing groups: bombings by Italian neo-fascists (82 deaths) and Cuban exiles (73 deaths). Between 1971 and 1980, “Reader’s Digest” had more articles on Castro’s Cuba than (surprise!) on all 26 countries designated by Amnesty International as using torture on an administrative basis.

Even more useful than these and hundreds of other chilling facts is a long list of out-of-the-mainstream reports, newsletters, and bulletins relied upon by Herman and the few other brave fanatics who keep up with