Imperialismus in Zeiten Obamas by John Pilger

Radio Lora on 8. Februar 2010 und Alternative Radio

Der in Australien geborene Journalist und Dokumentarfilmer, John Pilger, wurde in England bereits zweimal als ” Journalist des Jahres” ausgezeichnet. In den USA werden seine preisgekrönten, weltweit erfolgreichen Dokumentationen “Palestine is Still the Issue” und “The War on Democracy” nur selten gezeigt. Der Autor von “Hidden Agenda”(“Verdeckte Ziele”), “The New Rulers of the World” und “Freedom Next Time” warnt in seinem Vortrag vom 4. Juli 2009 in San Francisco wie viel Bush in Obama steckt. 

Von Edward Bernays, einem der Väter moderner Propaganda, die er euphemistisch als Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, als Public Relations, bezeichnete, stammt der Begriff “unsichtbare Regierung”. 1920 war dies der mächtige, meinungsbildende, gezielt Desinformation streuende Zusammenschluss aller Medien, aus Presse, Radio, Public Relations und Werbung. Heute sind der Aufstieg von Barack Obama und das Schweigen vieler Linker das Meisterwerk einer solchen “unsichtbaren Regierung”.

Das hat natürlich eine Vorgeschichte. Zum Beispiel dass in Vietnam Marines mit Uncle Ben`s Wunderreis, Hershey Schokolade, Luftballons, Zahnbürsten, knallgelben, batteriebetriebenen Toiletten und mit viel patriotischem Tamtam die Herzen der Vietnamesen erobern und ihnen die amerikanische Demokratie nahe bringen sollten. Schon als Kind, im fernen Australien, hatten mir Filme mit John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Walt Disney und Ronald Reagan beigebracht, dass die “Führungsmacht der freien Welt, die von Gott erwählte Nation Amerika” ganz allein den 2. Weltkrieg gewonnen hatte.

Im Gegensatz zu den europäischen Kolonialisten verleugneten die Amerikaner, konservative, wie liberale, rechte, wie linke, schon immer ihren Imperialismus. Es ginge ihnen nie um Ideologien, sondern immer nur um Wohltaten. Und so hält es auch Barack Obama.

Seit seiner Wahl schwärmen Liberale von “New York Times” und “San Francisco Chronicle” von der Lichtgestalt Obama, die das Leben auf diesem Planeten verändern und Amerika wieder zu einer Nation moralischer Ideale machen wird.

Das sollten sie mal einem afghanischen Kind erzählen, dessen Familie von Obamas Bomben ausgelöscht wurde oder einem pakistanischen Kind, dessen Haus Obamas Drohnen einen Besuch abgestattet haben, oder einem palästinensischen Kind, das das Blutbad in Gaza überlebt hat, das Israel mit amerikanischen Waffen und mit stillschweigender Zustimmung Obamas dort angerichtet hat. Der Mann, der zu Gaza schwieg, kritisiert jetzt Iran.

Obamas Botschaft war nicht “Change”, sondern “Power”, also Macht. Wenn er davon spricht, dass die USA die Welt anführen müssen im Kampf gegen das Böse und für das Gute, mit Waffen des 21. Jahrhunderts zum Schutz unserer Sicherheit und der aller Menschen, dann sollte man wissen, dass die USA seit 1945 50 Regierungen – darunter auch Demokratien – gestürzt, 30 Befreiungsbewegungen zerschlagen und zahllose Männer, Frauen und Kinder mit ihren Bomben getötet haben. Der 44. Präsident der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika besetzte seine Regierung mit Kriegstreibern, Betrügern und Umweltverschmutzern der Bush- und Clinton Ära und begann neben den bereits bestehenden Kriegen noch einen weiteren in Pakistan. Und wo bleibt die Friedensbewegung? Sie schaut weg und glaubt weiterhin, an Obamas Nation moralischer Ideale. Im Museum für amerikanische Geschichte des berühmten Smithsonian Institutes in Washington konnte ich kürzlich bestaunen, dass herausragende amerikanische Soldaten Millionen vietnamesischer Leben gerettet und die Ausbreitung des Kommunismus gestoppt haben und andere ebenso bewundernswerte Amerikaner im Irak nur Waffen von bis dahin unerreichter Präzision einsetzten. Welch himmelschreiende Verharmlosung und verlogene Darstellung dieser schweren Kriegsverbrechen!.

– 2 –

Wie alle US-Präsidenten haben auch Bush und Obama viel gemeinsam. Der kluge junge Mann, der es jetzt als erster Afroamerikaner ins Weiße Haus geschafft hat, ist durchaus eine Ausnahmeerscheinung, doch sollten im 21. Jahrhundert Rasse, Geschlecht und auch Klassenzugehörigkeit längst nicht mehr wahlentscheidend sein. Am wichtigsten scheint es immer noch zu sein, welche Klientel man bedient. Die Regierung Bush mit Condoleezza Rice und Colin Powell war vermutlich die multikulturellste und gleichzeitig die reaktionärste in der amerikanischen Geschichte. Der Einzug Obamas in das Weiße Haus erfüllt einen Marketingtraum und vermittelt die trügerische Illusion von Moral und Wohlgefühl.

Während seiner kurzen Amtszeit als Senator hatte Obama für die Fortsetzung der Kriege im Irak und in Afghanistan, für den Patriot Act, (ein Antiterrorgesetz, das die Bürgerrechte massiv beschneidet), gegen eine allgemeine Krankenversicherung und für die Beibehaltung der Todesstrafe gestimmt. Als Präsidentschaftskandidat der Demokraten erhielt er von der Wirtschaft mehr Spenden als der Republikaner McCain. Obama versprach zwar die Schließung von Guantanamo, aber Bushs Gulag mit Folter, Militärgerichtsbarkeit und Missachtung von Menschenrechten existiert weiter. Während Millionen von Amerikanern in der Wirtschaftskrise Job und Haus verlieren, erhöht Obama die Militärausgaben und plant im krisengeschüttelten Kolumbien einen 46 Millionen-Dollar Militärstützpunkt. In Prag versprach er eine Welt ohne Atomwaffen, während in den USA bereits neue taktische Systeme entwickelt werden, bei denen man nicht mehr unterscheiden kann, ob es sich um Atom- oder konventionelle Waffen handelt. Wie schon Bush erfindet er eine Bedrohung Europas durch Iran, um ein gegen Russland und China gerichtetes Raketensystem zu rechtfertigen. Die US-Truppen im Irak werden nicht wie versprochen schnellstmöglich nachhausekommen, sondern wahrscheinlich noch 10 oder 15 Jahre dort bleiben.

Es ist eine Tragödie, dass das Label “Obama” die Friedensbewegung ganz offensichtlich gelähmt oder mundtot gemacht hat. Nur 30 der 256 demokratischen Kongressabgeordneten stimmten gegen Obamas Kriegspolitik. Bei Demonstrationen der einst so mächtigen Bürgerbewegung “United for Peace and Justice” tauchen nur mehr ein paar Tausend Teilnehmer auf und auch um MoveOn ist es recht still geworden. Es genügt aber nicht, nur für den Wahlsieg eines Demokraten zu kämpfen und anschließend zu hoffen, dass er seine Sache schon gut machen würde. Große Teile der Linken, der Grünen, der Feministen, der Schwulen und der Gewerkschaften zögern noch immer, dem militärischen Machtgehabe Einhalt zu bieten. 

Die Finanzkrise bot der ganzen Welt die einmalige Chance, zu erkennen, dass Freiheit nicht die Freiheit der Märkte ist. In Lateinamerika sind viele Menschen bereits wieder zu ihren kulturellen und sprachlichen Wurzeln zurückgekehrt und konnten so die Kluft zwischen Armut und Freiheit überwinden. Weltweit verzichten immer mehr Regierungen auf den zerstörerischen Export billiger Nahrungsmittel in arme Länder. Der Boykott israelischer Waren und Dienstleistungen nimmt zu, israelische Schiffe dürfen in Südafrika und Westaustralien nicht anlegen, eine Eisenbahn, die Jerusalem mit illegalen Siedlungen verbinden sollte, durfte nicht gebaut werden, israelische Sportverbände und Wissenschaftler sehen sich immer mehr isoliert. So, Schritt für Schritt, wurden die Sklaverei, die Diskriminierung der Frauen und der Arbeiter, die Missachtung von Bürgerrechten und des Umweltschutzes überwunden.

Auch Millionen E-Mails von verärgerten Bürgern, zeigen, dass sich ebenfalls in den USA etwas bewegt. Die Mehrheit der US Bürger will, dass denen, die sich nicht selbst helfen können, geholfen wird, dass alle krankenversichert sind, dass die Atomwaffen abgebaut, die Gewerkschaften gestärkt und die Soldaten aus dem Irak abgezogen werden. Diese Forderungen kommen keineswegs von den Linken, sondern aus der Mitte der Gesellschaft, von klugen, informierten, kritischen Bürgern, die in den Medien nicht auftauchen und die man zu unrecht als anti-amerikanisch beschimpft.

– 3 –

Wie in Vietnam wollen die US-Marines auch die Herzen der Afghanen und Pakistaner gewinnen. Sie gehen in die Dörfer und versuchen, die Menschen vor amerikanischen Bomben und Drohnen zu schützen, die ihre Kameraden aus Las Vegas oder Black Hawks einfliegen. Und auch sie werden unverrichteter Dinge das Land verlassen, genauso wie die Briten und die Russen vor ihnen. Das Ziel dieses Krieges ist es, die Kontrolle über den Kaukasus, die Region am Kaspischen Meer und alle rohstoffreichen Gebiete sowie den Zugang zu den Pipelines Südostasiens und des Nahen Osten zu erlangen. Hinzu kommt noch der Wunsch, all die schönen Waffen, die man hat, einzusetzen und zu testen. 

In Afghanistan und nun auch in Pakistan werden Drohnen und andere unbemannte Waffen, so genannte “Hunde”, getestet, die man von jedem beliebigen Ort der USA in Marsch setzen kann. Die Grenze zwischen Israel und Gaza ist bereits mit einem derartigen elektronischen Arsenal bestückt, das sowohl von Tel Aviv wie auch von Washington aus automatisch aktiviert werden kann. 

Genauso wie Bush, behauptet auch Obama, dass dies alles ausschließlich dazu diene, al Qaida und Osama bin Laden auszuschalten und Pakistan vor dem Zugriff der Taliban zu schützen. Dabei hat er in Pakistan mutwillig in ein Hornissennest eines komplizierten Stammesgeflechts gestochen, Ich befürchte, dass dies eine äußerst gefährliche Entscheidungen war, deren Konsequenzen wir uns nicht bewusst sind oder vielleicht gar nicht bewusst sein sollen.

Was immer Sie von Präsident Johnson und seinem Vietnamkrieg halten mögen, er war es, der mit tatkräftiger Unterstützung der Bürgerrechtsbewegung zwei wichtige Bürgerrechtsgesetze durch den Kongress peitschte und der den “Krieg gegen die Armut” zu einem seiner wichtigsten politischen Ziel erklärte. Obama hingegen bescherte uns einen weiteren Krieg, noch mehr Lügen und noch mehr Geheimnistuerei. Bush zu hassen war einfach, Obama, der Heißgeliebte, ist inzwischen aber auf dem besten Weg, ebenfalls gehasst werden zu können, denn seit seiner Amtseinführung soll er laut pakistanischem Geheimdienst mit seinen Drohnen bereits 700 Menschen, darunter sehr viele Zivilisten, getötet haben. Was ist an solch einem Verbrechen progressiv und zukunftsweisend?

Natürlich ist es höchst bemerkenswert, dass im Land der Sklaverei ein Afroamerikaner Präsident werden konnte. Doch wofür steht dieser Mann, der Bushs gesamtes Verteidigungsministerium übernimmt, inklusive des Verteidigungsministers Robert Gates, dem ärgsten Finsterling, der mir je begegnet ist? Wenn in diesem Land von jedem Dollar 42 Cent für Verteidigung und Waffen ausgegeben werden, dann muss vor unseren Augen ein militärischer Umsturz stattgefunden haben und wir haben allen Grund besorgt zu sein und nicht den geringsten Anlass, diese Regierung progressiv zu nennen. 

For more info – www.johnpilger.com

Other AR John Pilger programs –

Imperialism, War, and Journalism

Lapdogs with Laptops

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© 2009



Imperialism in the Age of Obama by John Pilger

International Socialist Organization Conference, San Francisco, CA  4 July 2009

John Pilger is an internationally renowned journalist and documentary filmmaker. Born in Australia, he has been based in London for many years. He’s twice won British journalism’s highest award, that of Journalist of the Year. His award-winning documentaries such as “Palestine is Still the Issue” and “The War on Democracy” are seen all over the world but rarely in the U.S. He is the author of numerous books including “Hidden Agendas,” “The New Rulers of the World,” and “Freedom Next Time.” 

Two years ago, I spoke at your conference in Chicago about an “invisible government,” which is a term used by Edward Bernays, one of the founders of modern propaganda. It was Bernays who, in the 1920s, invented “public relations” as a euphemism for propaganda, and it was Bernays, deploying the ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, who campaigned on behalf of the tobacco industry for women to take up smoking as an act of feminist liberation, calling cigarettes “torches of freedom.” At the same time, he was involved in the disinformation that was critical in overthrowing the Arbenz government in Guatemala. So you have the association there of cigarettes and regime change. The invisible government that Bernays had in mind brought together all media: PR, the press, broadcasting, advertising, and their power of branding and image making, in other words, disinformation. I would like to talk today about this invisible government’s most recent achievement, the rise of Barack Obama and the silencing of much of the left.

But all of this has a history, of course, and I’d like to take you back some 40 years to a sultry and for me very memorable day in Vietnam. I was a young war correspondent who had just arrived in a village in the Central Highlands called Tuylon. My assignment was to write about a unit of U.S. Marines who had been sent to the village to win hearts and minds. “My orders,” said the Marine sergeant, “are to sell the American way of liberty as stated in the Pacification Handbook. This is designed to win the hearts and minds of folks as stated on page 86.” Page 86 was headed in capital letters “WHAM: Winning Hearts and Minds.” The Marine unit was a Combined Action Company which, explained the sergeant, meant, “We attack these folks on Mondays and we win their hearts and minds on Tuesdays.” He was joking, of course, but not quite.

The sergeant, who didn’t speak Vietnamese, had arrived in the village, stood up in a Jeep, and said through a bullhorn, “Come on out, everybody. We got rice and candy and toothbrushes to give you.” This was greeted by silence. “Now, listen, either you gooks come out, or we’re going to come right in there and get you.” The people of Tuylon finally came out, and they stood in line to receive packets of Uncle Ben’s Miracle Rice, Hershey bars, party balloons, and several thousand toothbrushes. Three portable, battery-operated, yellow, flush lavatories were held back for the arrival of the colonel. 

When the colonel arrived that evening, the district chief was summoned and the yellow flush lavatories unveiled. The colonel cleared his throat and took out a handwritten speech. “Mr. District Chief and all you nice people,” said the colonel, “what these gifts represent is more than the sum of their parts. They carry the spirit of America.” I promise you, I’m quoting verbatim. “Ladies and gentlemen, there is no place on earth like America. It’s the land where miracles happen. It’s a guiding light for me, and for you. In America, you see, we count ourselves as real lucky having the greatest democracy the world has ever known, and we want you nice people to share in our good fortune.” Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, even John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill” got a mention. All that was missing was the “Star Spangled Banner” playing softly in the background. Of course, the villagers had no idea what the colonel was talking about. But when the marines clapped, they clapped. And when the colonel waved, the children waved. And when he departed, the colonel shook the sergeant’s hands and said, “We’ve got plenty of hearts and minds here. Carry on, sergeant.” “Yessir.”

In Vietnam, I witnessed many scenes like that. I had grown up in far-away Australia on a cinematic diet of John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Walt Disney, and Ronald Reagan. The American way of liberty they portrayed might well have been lifted from the “WHAM” handbook. I had learned that the United States had won World War II on its own and now led the “free world” as the “chosen society.” It was only later, when I read Walter Lippmann’s book Public Opinion, a manual of the invisible government, that I began to understand the power of emotions attached to false ideas and bad histories on a grand scale.

Historians call this “exceptionalism”-the notion that the United States has a divine right to bring what it calls liberty to the rest of humanity. Of course, this is a very old refrain; the French and British created and celebrated their own “civilizing missions” while imposing colonial regimes that denied basic civil liberties. However, the power of the American message was and remains different. Whereas the Europeans were proud imperialists, Americans are trained to deny their imperialism. As Mexico was conquered and the Marines sent to Nicaragua, American textbooks referred to an “age of innocence.” American motives were always well-meaning, moral, exceptional, as the colonel said. There was no ideology, they said. And that’s still the case. Americanism is an ideology that is unique because its main feature is its denial that it is an ideology. It’s both conservative and it’s liberal, and it’s right and it’s left. 

Barack Obama is its embodiment. Since Obama was elected, leading liberals have talked about America returning to its true status as “a nation of moral ideals.” Those are the words of Paul Krugman, the liberal columnist of The New York Times. In the San Francisco Chronicle, columnist Mark Morford wrote, “Spiritually advanced people regard the new president as ‘a Lightworker’…who can help usher in a new way of being on the planet.” 

Tell that to an Afghan child whose family has been blown away by Obama’s bombs, or a Pakistani child whose house has been visited by one of Obama’s drones, or a Palestinian child surveying the carnage in Gaza caused by American smart weapons, which, disclosed Seymour Hersh, were resupplied to Israel for use in the slaughter “only after the Obama team let it be known it would not object.” The man who stayed silent on Gaza is the man who now condemns Iran.

In a sense, Obama is the myth that is America’s last taboo. His most consistent theme was never change; it was power. “The United States,” he said, “leads the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good. We must lead by building a 21th century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people.” And there is this remarkable statement: “At moments of great peril in the past century our leaders ensured that America, by deed and by example, led and lifted the world, that we stood and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond their borders.” Words like these remind me of the colonel in the village in Vietnam as he spun much the same nonsense. 

Since 1945, “by deed and by example,” to use Obama’s words, America has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, and crushed some 30 liberation movements and bombed countless men, women, and children to death. I’m grateful to Bill Blum for his cataloging of that. And yet here is the 44th president of the United States, having stacked his government with warmongers and corporate fraudsters and polluters from the Bush and Clinton eras, promising not only more of the same but a whole new war in Pakistan, justified by the murderous clichés of Hillary Clinton, clichés like “high value targets.” Within three days of his inauguration, Obama was ordering the death of people in faraway countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan. And yet the peace movement, it seems, is prepared to look the other way and believe that the cool Obama will restore, as Krugman wrote, “the nation of moral ideals.”

Not long ago, I visited the American Museum of History in the celebrated Smithsonian Institute in Washington. One of the most popular exhibitions was called “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.” It was holiday time, and lines of happy people, including many children, shuffled through a Santa’s grotto of war and conquest, where messages about their nation’s “great mission” were lit up. These included tributes to the “exceptional Americans [who] saved a million lives in Vietnam,” where they were “determined to stop Communist expansion.” In Iraq, other brave Americans “employed air strikes of unprecedented precision.” What was shocking was not so much the revisionism of two of the epic crimes of modern times but the sheer scale of omission.

Like all U.S. presidents, Bush and Obama have very much in common. The wars of both presidents, and the wars of Clinton and Reagan, Carter and Ford, Nixon and Kennedy, are justified by the enduring myth of exceptional America-a myth the late Harold Pinter described as “a brilliant, witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.” The clever young man who recently made it the White House is a very fine hypnotist, partly because it is indeed extraordinary to see an African American at the pinnacle of power in the land of slavery. However, this is the 21st century, and race-together with gender and even class-can be very seductive tools of propaganda. For what is so often overlooked, and what matters, I believe, above all is the class one serves.

George Bush’s inner circle-from the State Department to the Supreme Court-was perhaps the most multiracial in presidential history. It was PC par excellence. Think Condoleezza, Colin Powell. It was also the most reactionary. Obama’s very presence in the White House appears to reaffirm the moral nation. He’s a marketing dream. But like Calvin Klein or Benetton, he is a brand that promises something special-something exciting, almost risqué, as if he might be radical, as if he might enact change. He makes people feel good. He’s a post-modern man with no political baggage. And all that’s fake.

During his brief period in the Senate, Obama voted to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he voted for the PATRIOT Act, he refused to support a bill for single-payer health care, he supported the death penalty. As a president candidate, he received more corporate backing than John McCain. He promised to close Guantánamo as a priority, but instead he has excused torture, reinstated military commissions, kept the Bush gulag intact, and opposed habeas corpus. Daniel Ellsberg, the great whistle-blower, was right, I believe, when he said that under Bush a military coup had taken place in the United States, giving the Pentagon unprecedented powers. These powers have been reinforced by the presence of Robert Gates, a Bush family crony and George W. Bush’s powerful Secretary of Defense, and by all the Bush Pentagon officials and generals who have kept their jobs under Obama.

In the middle of a recession, with millions of Americans losing their jobs and homes, Obama has increased the military budget. In Colombia, he is planning to spend $46 million on a new military base that will support a regime backed by death squads and further the tragic history of Washington’s intervention in that region. In a pseudo-event in Prague, Obama promised a world without nuclear weapons to a global audience mostly unaware that America is building new tactical nuclear weapons designed to blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional war. Like George Bush, he used the absurdity of Europe threatened by Iran to justify building a missile system aimed at Russia and China. In another pseudo-event at the Annapolis Naval Academy, decked with flags and uniforms, Obama lied that America had gone to Iraq to bring freedom to that country. He announced that the troops were coming home. This was another deception. The head of the Army, General George Casey, says with some authority that America will be in Iraq for up to a decade. Other generals say 15 years.

Chris Hedges, a very fine author, of Empire of Illusion, puts it very well. “President Obama,” he wrote, “does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another. This is the essence of successful advertising. You buy or do what the advertiser wants because of how they make you feel.” And so you are kept in “a perpetual state of childishness.” He calls this “junk politics.”

But I think the real tragedy is that Obama the brand appears to have crippled or absorbed much of the antiwar movement, the peace movement. Out of 256 Democrats in Congress, 30, just 30, are willing to stand up against Obama’s and Nancy Pelosi’s war party. On June the 16th, they voted for $106 billion for more war. The Out of Iraq Caucus is out of action. Its members can’t even come up with a form of words of why they are silent. On March the 21st, a demonstration at the Pentagon by the once mighty United for Peace and Justice drew only a few thousand. The outgoing president of UPJ, Leslie Cagan, says her people aren’t turning up because “it’s enough for many of them that Obama has a plan to end the war and that things are moving in the right direction.” And where is the mighty MoveOn these days? Where is its campaign against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? And what exactly was said when MoveOn’s executive director, Jason Ruben, met Barack Obama at the White House in February?

Yes, a lot of good people mobilized for Obama. But what did they demand of him? Working to elect a Democratic presidential candidate may seem like activism, but it isn’t. Activism doesn’t give up. Activism doesn’t fall silent. Activism doesn’t rely on the opiate of hope. Woody Allen once said, “I felt a lot better when I gave up hope.” Real activism has little time for identity politics, which, like exceptionalism, can be fake. These are distractions that confuse and sucker good people. 

And not only in the United States, I can assure you. I write for the Italian socialist newspaper, Il Manifesto, or, rather, I used to write for it. In February, I sent the editor an article which raised questions about Obama as a progressive force. The article was rejected. Why? I asked. “For the moment,” wrote the editor, “we prefer to maintain a more ‘positive’ approach to the novelty presented by Obama…we will take on specific issues…but we would not like to say that he will make no difference.” 

In other words, an American president drafted to promote the most rapacious system in history is ordained and depoliticized by important sections of the left. It’s a remarkable situation-remarkable because those on the so-called radical left have never been more aware, more conscious of the iniquities of power. The green movement, for example, has raised the consciousness of millions, so that almost every child knows something about global warming. And yet there seems to be resistance within the green movement to the notion of power as a military force, a military project. And perhaps similar observations can also be made about sections of the feminist movement and the gay movement, and certainly the union movement.

One of my favorite quotations is from Milan Kundera: “The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” We should never forget that the primary goal of great power is to distract and limit our natural desire for social justice and equity and real democracy. Long ago, Edward Bernays’s invisible government of propaganda elevated big business from its unpopular status as a kind of Mafia to that of a patriotic driving force. “The American way of life” began as an advertising slogan. The modern image of Santa Claus was an invention of Coca-Cola.

Today, we are presented with an extraordinary opportunity, thanks to the crash of Wall Street and the revelation, for many ordinary people, that the free market has nothing to do with freedom. The opportunity within our grasp is to recognize that something is stirring in America that is unfamiliar, perhaps, to many of us on the left, but is related to a great popular movement that’s growing all over the world. 

Look at Latin America. Less than 20 years ago, there was the usual despair, the usual divisions of poverty and freedom, the usual thugs in uniforms running unspeakable regimes. Today for the first time, perhaps in 500 years, there is a people’s movement based on the revival of indigenous cultures and language, a genuine populism. The recent, amazing achievements in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, El Salvador, Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay represent a struggle for community and individual rights that is truly historic, with implications for all of us. The successes in Latin America are expressed perversely in the recent overthrow of the government of Honduras, because the smaller the country, the greater is the threat of a good example that the disease of emancipation will spread. 

Indeed, right across the world social movements and grass-roots organization have emerged to fight free-market dogma. They have educated governments in the south that food for export is a problem rather than a solution for global poverty. They politicize ordinary people to stand up for their rights, as in the Philippines and South Africa.

Look at the remarkable boycott, disinvestments, and sanctions campaign, BDS for short, aimed at Israel, that’s sweeping the world. Israeli ships have been turned away from South Africa and western Australia. A French company has been forced to abandon plans to build a railway connecting Jerusalem with illegal Israeli settlements. Israeli sporting bodies find themselves isolated. Universities in the United Kingdom have begun to sever ties with Israel. This is how apartheid South Africa was defeated, and this is how the great wind of the 1960s began to blow. This is how every gain has been won: the end of slavery, universal suffrage, workers’ rights, civil rights, environmental protection. The list goes on and on.

That brings us back here to the United States, because I believe something is stirring in this country. Are we aware that in the last eight months millions of angry emails sent by ordinary Americans have flooded Washington? And I mean millions. People are outraged that their lives are attacked. They bear no resemblance to the passive mass presented by the media. Look at the polls. More than two-thirds of Americans say the government should care for those who cannot care for themselves, 64% would pay higher taxes to guarantee health care for everyone, 60% are favorable towards unions, 70% want nuclear disarmament, 72% want the U.S. completely out of Iraq, and so on and so on.

But where is much of the left? Where is the social justice movement? Where is the peace movement? Where is the civil rights movement? Ordinary Americans for too long have been misrepresented by stereotypes that are contemptuous. Walter Lippman referred to his compatriots in the public as “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders,” and this contempt is probably as strong today among the elite as it was back then. That’s why the progressive attitudes of the public are seldom reported in the media-because they’re not ignorant, they’re subversive. They’re informed, they’re even anti-American.

I once asked a friend, the great American war correspondent and humanitarian, Martha Gellhorn, to explain the term “anti-American” to me. “I’ll tell you what anti-American is,” she said in her forceful way. “It’s what governments and their vested interests call those who honor America by objecting to war and the theft of resources and believing in all of humanity. There are millions of these anti-Americans in the United States. They are ordinary people who belong to no elite and who judge their government in moral terms, though they would call it common decency. They are not vain. They are the people with a wakeful conscience, the best of American citizens. Sure, they disappear from view now and then, but they are like seeds beneath the snow. I would say they are truly exceptional.” “Truly exceptional,” I like that.

My own guess is that a populism is growing once again in America, evoking a powerful force beneath the surface which has a proud history. From such authentic grass-roots Americanism came women’s suffrage, the 8-hour day, graduated income tax, public ownership of railways and communications, the breaking of the power of corporate lobbyists, and much more. In other words, real democracy. The American populists were far from perfect, but they often spoke for ordinary people. They were betrayed by leaders who urged them to compromise and merge with the Democratic Party. That was long ago, but how familiar it sounds. My guess is that something is coming again. The signs are there. 

Noam Chomsky is right when he says that mere sparks can ignite a popular movement that may seem dormant. No one predicted 1968. No one predicted the fall of apartheid or the Berlin Wall or the civil rights movement or the great Latino rising of a few years ago. I suggest that we take Woody Allen’s advice and give up on hope and listen instead to voices from below. What Obama and the bankers and the generals and the IMF and the CIA and CNN and BBC fear is ordinary people coming together and acting together. It’s a fear as old as democracy, a fear that suddenly people convert their anger to action, as they have done so often throughout history. “At a time of universal deceit,” wrote George Orwell, “telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Q&A

Your first question was about the parallels between what happened in Vietnam and what is now happening in, as they call it in Washington these days, AfPak, Afghanistan and Pakistan, two countries that have been relegated to a piece of jargon. I was just reading in The New York Times this morning the extraordinary parallel between the little story I told at the beginning of my address about the colonel and the sergeant giving away the electric flush lavatories and the toothbrushes and so on, and here are the Marines-it’s always the Marines-the Marines in Afghanistan. But there was a wonderful paragraph. They’re moving in next to the villages, as the sergeant did in at Tuylon in Vietnam, to win hearts and minds and to protect the villages, mostly from American bombs. This was bringing MASH and Catch 22 all together in one-and, unfortunately, I don’t repeat the dry truth of The New York Times paragraph as I should, but they’re there, as they pointed out, to really make sure that their comrades, who are flying drones starting in Las Vegas or Black Hawks or whatever, don’t bomb the people. They’re there to win their hearts and minds.

The whole thing is so absurd. It’s absurd from their point of view, because they’ll be run out of Afghanistan in the same way that the British were run out, in the same way that the Russians were run out. There are various components. I like to try and think there is a strategic reason to this, and there is. There is the control of the Caucasus, the Caspian, and all the resource-rich areas; the control of a number of pipelines and potential pipelines; there is an over-arching control of southern Asia and moving on to the Middle East. That all sort of makes sense. But there is also simply a military machine that perpetuates its own momentum, if you like, its own aggression, its own raison d’être, its own power. I interviewed an air force general during the Vietnam days, and he said this. I said, “Why do you send so many B52s? Frankly, you could kill as many people and destroy-I didn’t quite put it that way-“You could have the same destructive effect with fewer aircraft.” And he said, “We have them.” He was smiling. “We have them; we use them.” I think that is an element.

Here we have a Democratic Congress voting for $106 billion more for those two wars, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, the new war, Obama’s new war, in Pakistan. And that will include the tremendous cost of bringing the electronic battlefield to the fore. There is a great deal of experimentation going on. A great deal of experimentation happened in Vietnam. We see that again happening, like hearts and minds. We see the electronic battlefield moved into place in Pakistan. We see drones being launched like video games in Las Vegas. We see other unmanned weapons they call dogs. You don’t hear much about dogs. Dogs go on the ground and they can be operated from the United States. This electronic battlefield, incidentally, has been set up along the border of Israel and Gaza. The aim is to be able to shower the residents of Gaza with as much ammunition as possible without a single Israeli there firing them. They can be fired from Tel Aviv or Washington or wherever.

This is Pentagon playtime in a grotesque way. This is, We use it because we have it. I’m not sure what part, what component that plays in understanding the reason for these attacks, but I think it plays a significant one. Certainly the Obama and Bush rationale that it’s all about catching al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and preventing Pakistan falling to the Taliban was just absurd. What they’ve done is go in to rattle a hornet’s nest, a very complex tribal area in Pakistan. When India and Pakistan were divided by the Britain partitioned in 1947, the new Pakistan authorities did a whole series of complicated deals with the tribal people all along that border. And that has been a very, very sensitive part of that country. This is just throwing the veritable hand grenade into the middle of it. And I think Pakistan is probably the most worrying initiative, so-called, that Obama has taken.

But I think we’re being manipulated. I mentioned the work of Bernays and Lippmann. I believe that we have been so corporatized, we, all of us, and in other countries have been so corporatized, our hope has been corporatized, almost our dreams are being corporatized. Everything that we watch and see has been corporatized. That doesn’t mean to say that we ourselves have been subjugated, but we have this enemy of corporate image making, of a kind of elevation of the vacuous. It’s like a SyOps operation on a grand scale against us.

Let me just say that what you said right at the end there about lifting the confidence of people, that is so important, and I agree with you 100%. There is no question that for an African American to see an African American family in the White House doing White House things, walking along, having their picture taken, standing in front of a lot of soldiers, stopping the traffic in London as Michelle Obama goes to the theater and all that, I think that’s very important because it’s normal. So, yes, there are contradictions. Of course there are. I think we get the most if we do as you suggest and understand those contradictions and take from the symbolic presence of Obama-it doesn’t matter who he is in one sense-but then move on quickly.

You mentioned Johnson. Johnson enacted two major civil rights bills, pushed them through Congress, Johnson undoubtedly on the back of an incredible civil rights movement, but pushed them through. Obama hasn’t even suggested doing anything like that. Johnson, whatever we might think of him and his war in Vietnam and his late-night telephone conversations that make him sound like yet another member of the Mafia, Johnson made it his presidential mission, however false quite a bit of it was, but it was a civil rights and a war on poverty mission. That it didn’t achieve so much was perhaps par for the course. But I don’t think there is a comparison, really, between the two. What Obama has given us is in foreign policy a new war, more lies, greater secrecy, because secrecy becomes, I believe, greater when it’s being enforced particularly by a Democratic president who people are rather confused about, whether they want to like him or not. The great advantage of Bush, it was easy to hate him. It’s not easy to hate Obama. How can you hate the man? He’s not hateable. Although he’s on the way. And as long as he keeps killing innocent people around the world, he’s going to become eminently hateable. I think we’ve got to be hardheaded.

I did mention, you ask an Afghan child or a Pakistani child whose family has just been blown to bits, ask them what the distinction is between war criminals. Obama has committed war crimes of an epic nature. He has killed 700 people with his drones, according to Pakistani intelligence, since he was inaugurated. These are craven. If weapons can be called craven, they are. They mostly kill civilians. He is utterly determined-and you mentioned at the beginning-you said that we could hate because we had this reactionary message from Bush, now it’s a progressive. What progressive message? There is not a shred of evidence. Forgive me, there is not a shred of progressive evidence.

There is undoubtedly the sense of perhaps giving us confidence that there has been a movement, at least a movement, undoubtedly. In the land of slavery there is an African American as president. You say it to yourself, it is amazing. And that is undoubtedly giving people confidence. But beyond that, what is there? This man is a figurehead. But he seems to be more of a figurehead than Johnson, who seemed to be the marauding kind of thug at times. But this man brings the entire Department of Defense over from Bush. Gates-I’ve interviewed Gates, he’s possibly the most sinister human being I think I’ve ever met. He frightened me-Gates, and not a single senior official in the Pentagon has been moved out. When 42 cents on the dollar, I think it is, going to defense or defense-related matters and to arms in this country, this is a massive force, the Pentagon. He’s moved the lot over from Bush. That’s why I quoted Daniel Ellsberg. I believe he’s right, that a military coup did take place at some point and that the Pentagon swept in to send John Bolton into the State Department and that diplomatic enclave was colonized by the Pentagon and so on. I think there are some very serious and worrying things happening under this. Please don’t call it progressive.

I would just like to add a few thoughts on, first of all, the problem, but then strike a very positive, I hope, and optimistic note about the media. There is no doubt that the most virulent form of censorship remains omission. Yes, the media distorts, yes, it trivializes. But what it leaves out is really important. We’ve talked a lot at this conference about wars, and particularly about Iraq. One of the great successes of this form of censorship has been the almost complete silence on the human carnage in Iraq. 

I’m looking at a piece by Les Roberts, who was one of the co-authors of the Johns Hopkins study, a door-to-door study, in fact, a remarkable study. Doctors went door to door in Iraq several years ago. And it was updated, I think, last year and again updated by a highly reputable polling organization, Opinion Research Business, ORB, based in Oxford, England. Les Roberts is describing something like between 1 and 2 and 3 million people dead as a direct result of the Anglo-U.S. invasion of Iraq. And he draws the comparison-he says that what they triggered in Iraq was “an episode more deadly than the Rwandan genocide.” There is a Fordham University study of the number of people killed in Rwanda during that terrible period. They estimate 800,000 people. So that dreadful iconic episode of the late 20th century is now exceeded in Iraq.

The censorship by omission has ensured that very few people in Western countries, such as the United States and Britain and elsewhere in Europe, indeed throughout the world, but in countries where there is a great deal of media, have no sense of this carnage. I always find it extraordinary to pick up a reputable newspaper, reputable in its own terms, of course, but a reputable newspaper like The New York Times or The Guardian in London and see the space devoted, certainly, to the loss of soldiers to the political machinations of the war, that is quite obviously unpopular, but almost nothing-nothing-applied to the violent deaths of over a million people.

To put that in an even greater context, during the 1990s, Clinton and Blair between them, and Major in Britain, imposed on Iraq a medieval siege. UNICEF estimated that 500,000 infants under the age of 5 died as a direct result of that. Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponek, both of them U.N. special representatives in Iraq who both resigned rather than do the job that was expected of them, estimate that over a million people died in that period. I don’t like playing this numbers game, but I think we can get a sense, can’t we? Over 2 million people have died in that country. Over 2 million people. And thanks to the so-called free media, and in this country constitutionally the freest media on earth, most people, I believe, have no sense of what is being done in their name. I think that there have been great triumphs and achievements in the alternative media. Most people would not know about the carnage in Gaza were it not for the alternative media. And that alternative media were Palestinian cameramen and Palestinian reporters, not necessarily Al Jazeera, but people inside Gaza who were putting out their direct-feed broadcasts and also Web sites that were showing the use of white phosphorus in Gaza. They were way ahead of the mainstream media. I think that was an enormous breakthrough. The same is true in Afghanistan. We wouldn’t know about the extent of the carnage among civilians in Afghanistan were it not for, say, Mark Herold’s Web site. (http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mwherold/) He’s the New Hampshire professor who has been running this one site for years, certainly since the Afghanistan adventure started, documenting civilian deaths in that country.

For more info – www.johnpilger.com

Other AR John Pilger programs –

Imperialism, War, and Journalism

Lapdogs with Laptops

For information about obtaining CDs, MP3s, or transcripts of this or other programs, please contact:

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Alternative Radio
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info@alternativeradio.org
www.alternativeradio.org

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