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John Pilger is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker and one of the truly great ones of our time. For nearly 50 years, he's courageously and brilliantly done what too few others in his profession, in fact, do - his job. John has also been a war correspondent, is the author of 10 books and is best known in his adopted country Great Britain for his investigative documentaries exposing the crimes of US and Western imperialism.
Freedom Next Time is John's newest book just published and the fifth one of his I've read. The others were magnificent, and when I learned a new one was due out, I couldn't wait to read it knowing it would be vintage Pilger and not to be missed. I wasn't disappointed and am delighted to share with readers what it's about. What else, as John himself says in his opening paragraph: "This book is about empire, its facades and the enduring struggle of people for their freedom. It offers an antidote to authorized versions of contemporary history that censor by omission and impose double standards." Indeed it does, and John devotes his book to exposing the crimes of empire in five countries. I'll cover each one in a separate section.
The Introduction - An Explanation of the Imperial Mindset
Until the fall of the Soviet Union, the notion of imperialism in the US was that it was a European, not an American tradition. It was untrue, of course, but a proper education in the US, like the one I got, never let on. It hid the true history of my country that from inception practiced a policy of imperial expansion west and south and engaged in plunder and genocide against the original inhabitants living there to make it possible. George Washington was its first practitioner, referring to the new nation as a "rising empire." He helped build it by removing and exterminating its native Indians so expansion could proceed as the Founding Fathers and those who followed them wished. Washington believed the Indian peoples were subhumans (no different from how we view Iraqis today) and compared them to wolves and "beasts of prey" who must be destroyed. And our sacred Declaration of Independence contained the language "merciless Indian savages" which left no room for their independence or any justice either.
The tradition begun at the republic's birth never changed but until the end of the "cold war" was well hidden behind a respectable democratic facade and still mostly is. Any notion of imperialism was never something taught in school at any level, discussed in polite society or acknowledged publicly. But all that changed in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. What never before could be admitted now began to be seen as something respectable and even a matter of national pride. And with the advent of the Bush administration, imperial dominance and expansion began to be portrayed as something positive and contributing to the advance of civilization. How low we've sunk in coming so far.
The British government under Tony Blair is part of the same scheme as a complicit junior partner. It sees it in its own interest to be allied with the US and Bush administration and supports its imperial policies. As a result, John explains, it's no surprise Mr. Blair has taken his nation to war more often than any British Prime Minister in modern times. For him and George Bush, international law, norms and any sense of morality are irrelevant and aren't allowed to stand in the way of their unrestricted political violence portrayed as having a democratic face and purpose. Freedom Next Time exposes this hypocrisy to show that "imperialism, in whatever guise, is the antithesis of the 'benevolent and moralistic.' " It examines the history and events in five countries John knows well as a journalist and filmmaker.
Before beginning, John first addresses the present in his introduction. He quotes those who see the seeds of fascism and disturbing similarities in the US (and UK) today to Nazi Germany and Hitler's demonic appeal to his divine mission as that country's savior that he sold to his people in Christian religious terms. He did it in a country that was the pride of Western civilization and a very model of democracy. If it can happen there, it can anywhere and will unless enough committed people work to prevent it. But John stresses he hasn't written a pessimistic book. He cites the alternate seeds of hope, rebirth of democracy, and social equity in Latin America - especially in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela and the poorest of all the continent's nations Evo Morales' Bolivia. He sees these forces as part of a "worldwide movement against poverty, war and misinformation that has arisen in less than a decade, and is more diverse, enterprising, internationalist and tolerant of difference than anything in my lifetime." John concludes his message of hope saying that the "wisest... know that just as the conquest of Iraq is unraveling, so a whole system of domination and impoverishment can unravel, too."
John's book is divided into five chapters for each nation he covers. Four are well-known, but few readers may know about the first one discussed below in the Chagos archipelago or even know where it is.
Chapter One: Stealing A Nation Called Diego Garcia
Diego Garcia is a small 84 square mile British controlled island in the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean(officially known as British Indian Ocean Territory) that lies strategically half way between Asia and Africa. It was once the home of 2,000 "gentle Creole" people who are British citizens, but between 1967 - 1973 they were tricked and expelled by the UK government so their island home could be given to the US for a military base. They were sent into exile to a very inhospitable new home in Mauritius where seven British governments watched their displaced citizens suffer and perish in the shanties they were forced to live in and the desperate poverty they were forced to endure.
This "act of mass kidnapping" was so devious and deceitful, it was carried out in secrecy, and for almost a decade was concealed from the Parliament and US Congress. The Chagossians were treated with contempt as they not only lost their homeland, they were "deemed not to exist." It was the US that made the demands and cut the deal. Washington wanted the entire population expelled and the whole dirty business covered up. Then as today, the British went along with the ugly scheme. The people had no say, and those who refused were lied to and told they had no choice because "their removal was 'legal' under the rules of the colony."
In their new home, life became a living hell. The Chagossians found themselves in a society foreign to their simple way of life, and they were unable to adjust. On Diego Garcia they had their own home, grew their own food, fished and worked on a plantation. In Mauritius they had to find jobs to survive and most couldn't. The result was by the mid-70s most of the exiles were unemployed, impoverished and began to die. The British Foreign Office and High Commission contemptuously ignored their plight saying the Chagossians should take up their problem with the Mauritian government. It hardly mattered that these people were British citizens and entitled to the same rights as all other Brits. All they got in compensation was 1,000 pounds (about $1,800) in exchange for agreeing to renounce their right ever to return to their homeland and do it on a document they couldn't read.
The history of this disgraceful episode was well hidden until the 1990s when a "treasure trove of declassified documents" was found in the National Archives at Kew in London. It proved there was a conspiracy between two governments that Article 7 of the statute of the International Criminal Court referred to as a "deportation or forcible transfer of a population (and) a crime against humanity." It also violated Article 73 of the UN Charter that obliges a colonial government like Britain to obey its "sacred trust" to protect the human rights of its people. Britain shamelessly did none of this and instead dutifully bowed to the wishes of Washington and obeyed its commands as it still does today. The two countries also engaged is a huge cover-up for a decade that went to the highest level of both governments hoping to hide the truth from ever coming out. Those involved included Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Queen Elizabeth and Presidents Johnson and Nixon among others. Everything was hidden including a secret financial kickback Washington made that was also concealed from the US Congress and British Parliament.
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