John Pilger on Washington's war crimes
December 7, 2001 | Pages 6 and 7
"GEORGE BUSH is the president," CBS anchor Dan Rather said shortly after the September 11 attacks. "Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where."
Little did we know. Since September 11, the U.S. mainstream media has been saturated with pro-war propaganda straight out of the Pentagon and the State Department.
Not a hint of an antiwar opposition has been allowed to leak in, even on editorial pages. Opponents of the war who want to know the facts have had to search for alternatives--often in the media of other countries, via the Internet.
One journalist who has stood out is JOHN PILGER, whose articles in Britain's Mirror newspaper and New Statesman magazine have dismantled the U.S. case for war.
Pilger is a veteran antiwar correspondent who, during the past three decades, has reported from the scenes of one U.S. war crime after another--in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, to the frontline states attacked by apartheid South Africa, to Palestine and Iraq in the Middle East.
Pilger talked to ALAN MAASS about the reality behind Washington's war rhetoric--and how opponents of the slaughter can resist.
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THE BUSH administration and its allies claim that they're waging a "war against terrorism." What's your response?
IT'S JUST crude propaganda. The former Pakistani prime minister has disclosed that he was told by U.S. officials in July that there was going to be an attack on Afghanistan in October.
There's now plenty of evidence to suggest that there was going to be an attack on Afghanistan. The September 11 events have simply been a trigger to what would have happened anyway.
And that's the tragedy of September 11. Apart from the terrible loss of life, it has been a provocation to probably the most rapacious bunch of terrorists in my lifetime to go ahead and pursue their project--and I'm talking about the present gang in Washington.
I think it's right to call them a gang. I don't usually like that kind of rhetoric, but they're a gang. They're a gang straight out of the oil industry, with all its connections with imperialism, going right back to the Ottoman Empire.
They're a gang that has thrown up very primitive people like Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary who wants to kill prisoners of war. They're a gang whose hypocrisy has at least been illuminated by events. Here's Dick Cheney, who was an adviser to Central Asian republics on running a pipeline through Afghanistan, and George Bush Sr., who was a consultant with the Carlyle Group.
This is a gang who has been handed a really extraordinary opportunity to pursue the most extreme ambitions of the United States, with very few constraints on them.
SUPPORTERS IN the U.S. of the war--including a number of liberal figures--are crowing now that "the bombing worked."
IT DID work. It killed a lot of people. Bombing usually does work. It's meant to kill people and maim people and devastate countries and communities, and it works. I've seen it work in a number places. I saw it work in Indochina. In Cambodia, it killed about 600,000 people. The kind of long-stick bombing that the B-52s were doing in Afghanistan works very well.
I don't think there's any doubt that Afghanistan would be subjugated by the bombing. How could it not be? Although it's not proving quite as smooth as they would have hoped.
As for the so-called liberal commentary on the bombing, in my lifetime and during my career as a war correspondent, I've known no basic difference between the views of those proclaiming themselves liberals and those proclaiming themselves conservatives. In fact, I think you're more likely to get the truth--or at least a degree of honesty--from conservatives that you don't get from liberals.
It's a kind of liberal thinking that wants it both ways. They'd like to drop bombs on people, but they don't want anyone hurt.
Steve Biko used to talk about liberals very well. I wish I could quote him directly, but he used to describe how the liberal view of South Africa during the apartheid period saw--beyond the atrocities being committed by the so-called conservatives--only a benign landscape of liberal opportunities.
We've surely reached the stage where we don't have to put up with this nonsense any more. There's one central truth that is neither liberal nor conservative nor anything really. It's just right and humane. And that's that there was no justification for the killing of innocent people in New York, and there is no justification for the killing of innocent people anywhere.
The attack on Afghanistan is entirely racist because it's saying that only the deaths of one set of civilians are abhorrent. The deaths of other civilians are acceptable. That's the double standard that we've had to take as long as I can remember.
And I don't think that people are taking it anymore. I think that throughout the world--though it may not look like this in the United States--the double standard is now being exposed.
HOW DOES the war on Afghanistan fit in with the record of U.S. imperialism that you've been reporting on for the last three decades?
IT FITS perfectly. It's just the latest example. But this war has a greater significance in that it now carries a kind of justification for imperialism that has clearly swayed a large number of people in the United States to go along with it--because of what happened on September 11.
For the United States, there's been a search for a kind of justification to replace the Cold War against Russia. First, we had the war against drugs, and they went off and kidnapped Noriega. And they've had a number of other demons in the world. But now the Cold War syndrome has finally been put to rest, and you now have the Terrorism syndrome.
If you look back, though, the historical record is clear ever since the United States took over from Britain as the major Western imperial power--the undermining of governments, the overthrowing of governments, support for tyrannies, the assassinations. We'd be here all night describing them, from the original act of terrorism, which was the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to single, horrific events, like the shooting down of an Iranian passenger airliner, to the support for the apartheid regime in South Africa and especially its attack on its neighbors, which killed about a million and a half people.
There's no hiding it. It's in the public domain, and it's about people making the connections. And the public media--in the United States, above all--has been devoted to ensuring that those connections are not made. The minimizing of culpability has been a project. It's almost an act of faith.
And that's been the problem, because most people don't have time to go down to the library or look it up on the Net, so they do depend on the mass media. And this has been the achievement of the mass media--to blur the connections between all these events.
Even the word "imperialism" has been relegated to a sort of agit-prop word. You're not meant to say it, or you end up being seen as some sort of Marxist agitator.
The danger is what this gang in Washington will do. And as we speak, I think they're on the verge of maybe attacking Iraq, which would just be horrific. I can tell you, having been to Iraq, that the suffering this would cause will just be epic.
They're dangerous, and they're out of control.
WHAT DO you think opponents of the war can do to organize resistance?
I THINK the first step is making people aware. That's now critical--making people aware of just the sheer absurdity of what they're doing. A number of the loved ones of those who died in the Twin Towers have spoken out very courageously against Bush. They've really spoken sense.
I think that what can be done is to appeal to people's sense of humanity--and give them the opportunity to reject the connection between the atrocity done in New York and repeating that atrocity elsewhere in the world.
That's difficult, because the government has promoted a whole revenge campaign. But it always astonishes me that people emerge from a kind of avalanche of propaganda over an issue that the establishment wants to promote, and they still have a questioning intelligence.
I think it's significant that in most of the world, according to Gallup International, public opinion is, and has been, against the attack on Afghanistan. I'm pretty confident that, as this campaign of accelerating U.S. hegemony in the world goes on, people will speak out.
That doesn't appear to be the case in the U.S. at the moment. But I think there's a large body of people that's questioning all this, but is afraid to do so publicly.
I think encouraging those people to speak out--breaking the silence--is the urgent task right now.
Who are the real terrorists?
[W]HEN the Taliban came to power in 1996, not only were they welcomed by Washington, their leaders were flown to Texas, then governed by George W. Bush, and entertained by executives of the Unocal oil company
The Taliban [have now] duly moved to the top of the media's league table of demons, where the normal exemptions apply.
For example, Vladimir Putin's regime in Moscow, the killers of at least 20,000 people in Chechnya, is exempt. Last week, Putin was entertained by his new "close friend," George W. Bush, at Bush's Texas ranch.
Bush and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair are permanently exempt--even though more Iraqi children die every month, mostly as a result of the Anglo-American embargo, than the total number of dead in the Twin Towers, a truth that is not allowed to enter public consciousness.
The killing of Iraqi infants, like the killing of Chechens, like the killing of Afghan civilians, is rated less morally abhorrent than the killing of Americans.