A recent poll
asked people in Britain how
many Iraqis had been killed as a result of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The answers they gave
were shocking. A majority said that fewer than 10,000 had been killed.
Scientific studies report that up to a million Iraqi men, women and children
died in an inferno lit by the British government and its ally in Washington. That's the
equivalent of the genocide in Rwanda.
And the carnage goes on. Relentlessly. What this reveals is how we in Britain have
been misled by those whose job is to keep the record straight.
writer and academic Edward Herman calls this "normalizing the unthinkable." He
describes two types of victims in the world of news -- "worthy victims" and
"unworthy victims." The "worthy victims" are those who suffer at the hands of our
enemies: the likes of Assad, Qadaffi, Saddam Hussein. "Worthy victims" qualify
for what we call "humanitarian intervention," whereas "unworthy victims" are those who
get in the way of our punitive might and that of the "good" dictators we
employ. Saddam Hussein was once a "good" dictator, but he got uppity and
disobedient and was relegated to "bad" dictator.
In Indonesia, General Suharto was a "good" dictator, regardless of his slaughter of perhaps a million people, aided by
the governments of Britain
He also wiped out a third of the population of East Timor
with the help of British fighter aircraft and British machine guns. Suharto was
even welcomed to London
by the Queen and when he died peacefully in his bed, he was lauded as
enlightened, a modernizer -- one of us. Unlike Saddam Hussein, he never got
travelled in Iraq
in the 1990s, the two principal Moslem groups, the Shia and Sunni, had their
differences but they lived side by side, even inter-married and regarded
themselves with pride as Iraqis. There was no Al Qaida, there were no
jihadists. We blew all that to bits in 2003 with "shock and awe." And today
Sunni and Shia are fighting each other right across the Middle
East. This mass murder is being funded by the regime in Saudi Arabia
which beheads people and discriminates against women. Most of the 9/11
hijackers came from Saudi
In 2010, Wikileaks released a cable
sent to US embassies by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She wrote this:
"Saudi Arabai remains a critical financial support for Al Qaeda, the Taliban,
al Nusra and other terrorist groups ... worldwide."
And yet the Saudis are our
valued allies. They're good dictators. The British royals visit them often. We
sell them all the weapons they want. I use the first
person "we" and "our" in line with newsreaders and commentators who often say
"we," preferring not to distinguish between the criminal power of our
governments and us, the public. We are all assumed to be part of a consensus:
Tory and Labour, Obama's White House too.
Mandela died, the BBC went straight to David Cameron, then to Obama. Cameron
who went to South Africa
during Mandela's 25th was tantamount to support for the apartheid regime, and it was Obama who recently shed a tear in Mandela's cell on Robben
Island -- he who presides over the
cages of Guantanamo.
What were they
really mourning about Mandela? Clearly not his extraordinary will to resist an
oppressive system whose depravity the US and British governments backed
year after year. Rather they were grateful for the crucial role Mandela had
played in quelling an uprising in black South Africa against the injustice
of white political and economic power. This was surely the only reason he was
released. Today the same ruthless economic power is apartheid in another form, making South Africa the most unequal society
on earth. Some call this "reconciliation."
We all live in
an information age -- or so we tell each other as we caress our smart phones
like rosary beads, heads down, checking, monitoring, tweeting. We're wired;
we're on message; and the dominant theme of the message is ourselves. Identity
is the zeitgeist.
A lifetime ago
in Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
predicted this as the ultimate means of social control because it was
voluntary, addictive and shrouded in illusions of personal freedom. Perhaps the
truth is that we live not in an information age but a media age. Like the
memory of Mandela, the media's wondrous technology has been hijacked. From the
BBC to CNN, the echo chamber is vast.
acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, Harold Pinter spoke about
a "manipulation of power worldwide, while masquerading as a force for universal
good, a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis." But, said
Pinter, "it never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening
it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest."
referring to the systematic crimes of the United States and to an undeclared
censorship by omission -- that is leaving out crucial information that might
help us make sense of the world.
democracy is being replaced by a system in which people are accountable to a
corporate state and not the other way around as it should be. In Britain, the
parliamentary parties are devoted to the same doctrine of care for the rich and
struggle for the poor. This denial of real democracy is an historic shift. It's
why the courage of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange is such a
threat to the powerful and unaccountable. And it's an object lesson for those
of us who are meant to keep the record straight.
The great reporter Claud Cockburn
put it well: "Never believe anything until it's officially denied." Imagine if
the lies of governments had been properly challenged and exposed as they
secretly prepared to invade Iraq
-- perhaps a million people would be alive today.
This is a transcript of John Pilger's
contribution to a special edition of BBC
Radio 4's "Today" program, on 2 January 2014, guest-edited by the artist and
John Pilger grew up in Sydney, Australia. He has been a war correspondent, author and documentary film-maker. He is one of only two to win British journalism's highest award twice, for his work all over the world. On 1 November, he was awarded (more...