The Christian Science Monitor
Hidden Agendasby John Pilger
In this powerful book, journalist and film maker John Pilger strips away the layers of deception, dissembling language and omission that prevent us from understanding how the world really works.
From the invisible corners of Tony Blair's Britain to Burma, Vietnam, Australia, South Africa and the illusions of the 'media age', power, he argues, has its own
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In this powerful book, journalist and film maker John Pilger strips away the layers of deception, dissembling language and omission that prevent us from understanding how the world really works.
From the invisible corners of Tony Blair's Britain to Burma, Vietnam, Australia, South Africa and the illusions of the 'media age', power, he argues, has its own agenda. Unchallenged, it operates to protect its interests with a cynical disregard for people - shaping, and often devastating, millions of lives.
By unravelling the hidden histories of contemporary events, Pilger allows us to read between the lines. He also celebrates the eloquent defiance and courage of those who resist oppression and give us hope for the future. Tenaciously researched and written with passion and wit, Hidden Agendas will change the way you see the world.
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I use very big money. I use guns, too. The bums who insist on double-crossing me know what they are up against. City Hall understands what I'm saying. At least I hope they do.
Al Capone, American Mafia gangster
You just give me the word and I'll turn that fucking little island into a parking lot.
Al Haig, American Secretary of State
Diego Garcia is a British colony in the Indian Ocean, from which American bombers patrol the Middle East. There are few places as important to American military planners as this refuelling base between two continents. Who lives there? During President Clinton's attack on Iraq in 1996 a BBC commentator referred to the island as 'uninhabited' and gave no hint of its past. This was understandable, as the true story of Diego Garcia is instructive of times past and of the times we now live in.
Diego Garcia is part of the Chagos Archipelago, which ought to have been granted independence from Britain in 1965 along with Mauritius. However, at the insistence of the United States, the Government of Harold Wilson told the Mauritians they could have their freedom only if they gave up the island. Ignoring a United Nations resolution that called on the British 'to take no action which would dismember the territory of Mauritius and violate its territorial integrity', the British Government did just that, and in the process formed a new colony, the British Indian Overseas Territories. The reason and itshidden agenda soon became clear.
In high secrecy, the Foreign Office leased the island to Washington for fifty years, with the option of a twenty-year extension. The British prefer to deny this now, referring to a 'joint defence arrangement'. This is sophistry; today Diego Garcia serves as an American refuelling base and an American nuclear weapons dump. In 1991, President Bush used the island as a base from which to carpet-bomb Iraq. In the same year the Foreign Office told an aggrieved Mauritian government that the island's sovereignty was 'no longer negotiable'.
Until 1965, the Ilois people were indigenous to Diego Garcia. With the militarisation of their island they were given a status rather like that of Australia's Aborigines in the nineteenth century: they were deemed not to exist. Between 1965 and 1973 they were 'removed' from their homes, loaded on to ships and planes and dumped in Mauritius. In 1972, the American Defense Department assured Congress that 'the islands are virtually uninhabited and the erection of the base will cause no indigenous political problems'. When asked about the whereabouts of the native population, a British Ministry of Defence official lied, 'There is nothing in our files about inhabitants or about an evacuation.'
A Minority Rights Group study, which received almost no publicity when it was published in 1985, concluded that Britain expelled the native population 'without any workable re-settlement scheme; left them in poverty; gave them a tiny amount of compensation and later offered more on condition that the islanders renounced their rights ever to return home'. The Ilois were allowed to take with them 'minimum personal possessions, packed into a small crate'. Most ended up in the slums of the Mauritian capital, leading wretched, disaffected lives; the number who have since died from starvation and disease is unknown.
This terror violated Articles 9 and 13 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which states that 'no one should be subjected to arbitrary exile' and 'everybody has the right to return to his country'. The Labour Foreign Secretary, Michael Stewart, told the US Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, 'The question of detaching bits of territory from colonies that were advancing towards self-government requires careful handling.' He later boasted to a Cabinet colleague, 'I think we have much to gain by proceeding with this project in association with the Americans.'
No one caused a fuss. The islanders had no voice in London. 'Britain's treatment of the Ilois people', wrote John Madeley, author of the Minority Rights Group report, 'stands in eloquent and stark contrast with the way the people of the Falkland Islands were treated in 1982. The invasion of the Falklands was furiously resisted by British forces travelling 8,000 miles at a cost of more than a thousand million pounds and many British and Argentinian lives. Diego Garcia was handed over without its inhabitants far from being defended -- even being consulted before being removed.'
While there was silence in the media on the British atrocity in Diego Garcia, there was resounding condemnation of the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands. Both were British territories; the difference was between a brown-skinned indigenous nation and white settlers. The Financial Times called the Falklands invasion an 'illegal and immoral means to make good territorial claims', as well as an 'outrage' that should not be allowed to 'pass over the wishes of the Falkland Islanders'. Echoing Prime Minister Thatcher, the Daily Telegraph said 'the wishes of the [Falkland] islanders were paramount', that 'these islanders' must not be 'betrayed' and that 'principle dictates' that the British and American governments could not possibly 'be indifferent to the imposition of foreign rule on people who have no desire for it'.
Diego Garcia is a microcosm of empire and of the Cold War, old and new. The unchanging nature of the 500-year Western imperial crusade is exemplified in the suffering of the forgotten Ilois people, whose story has been consigned to oblivion, routinely, by the reporters and historians of power. To my knowledge, the shocking detail has been recorded by no one, with the honourable exception of Mark Curtis. This is hardly surprising, as much of mainstream Western scholarship has taken humanity out of the study of nations, congealing it with jargon and reducing it to an esotericism called 'international relations', the chess game of Western power. Such orthodoxy, observed Richard Falk, Professor of International Relations at Princeton and a distinguished dissenter, 'which is so widely accepted among political scientists as to be virtually unchallengeable in academic journals, regards law and morality as irrelevant to the identification of rational policy'. Thus, Western foreign policy is formulated almost exclusively 'through a self-righteous, one-way moral/legal screen [with] positive images of Western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence ...' In contemporary historiography, a similar discipline applies. In serious journalism, the 'self-righteous, one-way moral screen' is such a time-honoured tradition that the most important terrorists are rarely seen.
At times, orthodox opinion finds respectability and violence a difficult union to celebrate. 'We must recognise', wrote Michael Stohl, in Current Perspectives on International Terrorism, 'that by convention and it must be emphasised only by convention great power use and the threat of the use of force is normally described as coercive diplomacy and not as a form of terrorism', though it involves 'the threat and often the use of violence for what would be described as terroristic purposes were it not great powers who were pursuing the very same tactic'. (By 'great power', he meant exclusively Western power.) 'From Machiavelli to Niebuhr, Moorgenthau and Kissinger', wrote Falk, 'there has been inculcated in public consciousness an ethos of violence that is regulated, if at all, only by perceptions of effectiveness. A weapon or tactic is acceptable, and generally beyond scrutiny, if it works in the sense of bringing the goals of the state more closely toward realisation ... Considerations of innocence, of human suffering, of limits on the pursuit of state policy are treated as irrelevant, [and to be] scorned.'
In other words, the Henry Kissingers rule. The 'statecraft' that Kissinger personified in the 1970s is widely appreciated in circles of 'post-modern' expertise. Presidents and governments consult him. Douglas Hurd, when Foreign Secretary, arranged an honorary knighthood for him. The BBC pays him $3,000 for less than a minute's wisdom. That he secretly and illegally bombed a neutral country, Cambodia, causing tens of thousands of deaths, is immaterial. That he worked to overthrow the elected government in Chile is irrelevant. That he defied Congress and clandestinely supplied the Indonesian dictators with weapons with which they pursued the genocide in East Timor is of no consequence. That he encouraged the Kurds to fight for nationhood, then betrayed them, is by the way.
Illusion is all-important. Leaving aside its declared 'mistakes', Western colonialism is benevolent, the Cold War was rational. Countries are 'protected' from or 'defended' against 'insurgents' whom the former US Secretary of State George Shultz described as 'the depraved opponents of civilisation itself'. The West itself is never terrorist. That it has invaded, stolen land and resources, subverted local culture and abused and enslaved indigenous populations is beyond comparison with terrorism: that was divine work. The distrust and fear of colonialism felt by societies all over the world is easily explained. According to the Foreign Office, it is 'often strictly psychopathic' as colonised peoples 'have practically no social consciousness'.
Critical to our understanding of current world events is the way we view imperial machinations of the recent past. Malaya is a case in point. To the celebrated historian Lord Hailey, Malaya was 'ceded by local Sultans' and 'voluntarily applied for British protection'. There was no invasion; the people were not subjugated. When British military forces attacked Malaya between 1948 and 1960, this benign view prevailed. There was no attack; the British establishment was 'defending' Malaya against a 'counter-insurgency campaign'. British companies then controlled most of the Malayan 'prize', as Lord Milverton described the country's natural resources, notably its wealth of rubber and tin.
There was never an external threat to Malaya; the 'emergency' was purely an internal affair. Yet the accredited propaganda was that the 'free world' was defending Malaya from Soviet/Chinese-backed aggression: a theme embraced by academics and journalists alike. Malaya was a 'good war'. Only in its secret documents did the British Foreign Office admit that the war 'is very much in defence of [the] rubber industry'.
British behaviour in Malaya in essence was no different from the American record in Vietnam, for which it proved inspirational. Collective punishment was official policy; food was withheld from villages judged guilty of sheltering 'insurgents'; other villages were turned into concentration camps and more than half a million people were forcibly dispossessed. This 'resettlement' was described by the Colonial Office in London as 'a great piece of social development'. Predating the American chemical assault on the Vietnamese countryside, which destroyed half the forests and caused widespread genetic damage, the British secretly dropped defoliants and crop destroyers on Malaya from the early 1950s. The chemicals, according to the Colonial Office, provided 'a lucrative field for experiment'.
The pattern was the same in Kenya, where another 'good war' was waged against amoral 'insurgents'. The approved version is still cherished by the media, having been popularised in numerous novels and feature films. In fact, it was a skilfully promoted lie. 'The task to which we have set our minds', declared the Governor of Kenya in 1955, 'is to civilise a great mass of human beings who are in a very primitive moral and social state.' The reality was a kind of colonial fascism. The slaughter of thousands of nationalists was British Government policy the British policy in Ireland of 'shoot to kill' practised on a massive scale.
The murder of one 'insurgent' was worth £5 to the killer. A British Army 'counter-insurgency' expert later commented, 'Three Africans appeared walking down the track towards us: a perfect target. Unfortunately, they were policemen.' In fact, the myth of the Kenyan uprising was that the Mau Mau brought 'demonic terror' to the heroic white settlers. The Mau Mau killed thirty-two Europeans, compared with an estimated 10,000 Africans who were killed by the British colonial authority.
The British ran concentration camps in Kenya in which the conditions were so harsh that 402 inmates died in just one month, June 1954. Torture, flogging, forced labour, the denial of rations and the abuse of women and children were commonplace. 'The special prisons', wrote the imperial historian V. G. Kieman, 'were probably as bad as any similar Nazi or Japanese establishments.' A former rehabilitation officer noted that 'Japanese methods of torture' were practised by one British camp commandant. This terror was enshrined in colonial law, which was maintained and rigidly enforced by the post-colonial regimes of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi in their dual roles as opponents of popular democracy and 'friends of the West'. The Registration of Natives Ordinance, similar to apartheid South Africa's infamous pass laws, was strengthened. The Masters and Servants Ordinance became the Masters and Servants Act; the draconian Emergency Powers Order became the Preservation of Public Security Act. Today, Kenya is in a turmoil because its democracy movement is still, in effect, fighting colonialism.
When post-colonial regimes took the wrong political turn they generally did not last long. Official records from 1953 show that in British Guiana, the elected socialist government was overthrown by British and CIA terrorism in order to secure the flow of cheap sugar and bauxite. That was a busy year. The elected nationalist government in Iran met the same fate; claiming ownership of the nation's own oil resources was beyond the pale. British governments supported repression and killing in Uganda, Chile and South Africa. In Vietnam in the 1960s, unknown to Parliament and the public, British SAS troops fought alongside American 'special forces'.
The American invasion of Vietnam was supported by Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, just as his government and its successors supported the American-fuelled genocide in Indonesia when General Suharto took over in the mid-1960s. British approval of the Indonesian killings, which in 1965 passed half a million, is expressed in a secret Foreign Office file, declaring that 'while the present confusion continues, we can hardly go wrong by tacitly backing the Generals'.
The transition from a British to an American world led to internal complaints in the Foreign Office, apparently bereft of irony, about 'American imperialism ... seeking to determine the future of Asia'. But generally the handover was smooth, as demonstrated by the gift of Diego Garcia. Thereafter, British support for the new order was universal and steadfast. In the 1980s, Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe declared that Britain 'absolutely endorsed' American 'objectives' in Central America.
Reporting from that region in the early 1980s, I saw the evidence of these objectives. Between 1981 and 1985, an American terrorist army, the Contra, trained, armed and funded by the CIA, murdered 3,346 Nicaraguan children and teenagers and killed one or both parents of 6,236 children. On the day I arrived at El Regadio, a town near the border with Honduras, Celestina Ugarto had been kidnapped and had her throat slit by an American-directed death squad. Hers was a typical case; recently qualified as a midwife, she had been given new skills in her fifties, such as reading and writing, and she was loved and respected in her community. She was the fifth midwife in the valley to be murdered by the Contra.
The American objectives for which Geoffrey Howe pledged British support were outlined by former CIA analyst David MacMichael in evidence he gave to the International Court of Justice. The American terror, he said, was designed to 'provoke cross-border attacks by Nicaraguan forces and thus serve to demonstrate Nicaragua's aggressive nature', to pressure the Nicaraguan Government to 'clamp down on civil liberties within Nicaragua itself, arresting its opposition, demonstrating its allegedly inherent totalitarian nature and thus increasing domestic dissent within the country'. The aim was to destroy the Nicaraguan economy. In 1986, the World Court condemned the United States for its 'unlawful use of force' and illegal economic warfare against Nicaragua. Undeterred, American representatives on the United Nations Security Council vetoed a resolution calling on all governments to observe international law.
The 'coercive diplomacy' and 'terroristic purposes', described by Michael Stohl, were Western specialities in Latin America. In 1996, an activist group obtained secret Pentagon files which confirmed that the US Army's academy for Latin American military and police officers in Georgia 'recommended' the torture of dissidents, threats, bribery and blackmail. Manuals written in Spanish advocated 'motivation by fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum'.
In El Salvador in the 1980s, I befriended two of six Jesuit priests who, with their cook and her teenage daughter, were murdered by army officers in 1989; nineteen of the twenty-seven assassins were trained at the 'School of the Americas'. Other graduates included General Galtieri, former head of the Argentinian junta, under whose regime 30,000 people 'disappeared'; former President Suarez of Bolivia, whose paramilitary forces brutally suppressed the country's tin miners; more than 100 of the 246 Colombian officers cited for war crimes by a 1993 international human rights tribunal; Manuel Callejas, chief of Guatemalan intelligence in the 1970s and 1980s, an organisation of notoriety even by local standards; and Roberto d'Aubuisson, the Salvadorean death squad leader who planned the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 shortly after Romero had pleaded with Washington not to support the killers of his people.
According to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, in a fifteen-month period, more than 20,000 civilians in El Salvador were murdered by death squads related to or part of the 'security forces' trained by the United States and funded with $523 million in American 'aid'. When I reported from El Salvador following Archbishop Romero's murder, I interviewed many among the 600 frightened people who had taken refuge in the garden of the Archbishop's palace. They were unarmed and all that separated them from the black helmets and black boots of the American-trained National Guard were two rickety gates of corrugated iron. Not knowing when the Guard would strike was a familiar symptom of the terror.
A twelve-year-old boy, Domingo Garcia, whose job was to open and shut the gates quickly, told me how guardsmen had killed his father for belonging to an agricultural workers' union. 'They killed my three brothers and they thought I was dead, too,' he said. He had scars on his scalp, neck and arms, caused by a machete. Archbishop Romero's successor, Archbishop Rivera y Damas, described the American-run terror as 'a war of extermination and genocide against a defenceless civilian population'.
When Gore Vidal described the Cold War with the Soviet Union as 'an American fiction', he exaggerated, though not by much. Western orthodoxy says it was a war of attrition between the two superpowers, between the Stalinist Soviet Union and the democratic West when, in fact, there was broad agreement between them on strategic boundaries and 'spheres of influence'. The United States had no intention of rescuing the Hungarians when Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest in 1956 or the Czechoslovaks when they were invaded in 1968. For its parts, the Soviet Union showed no desire to join the Vietnamese in expelling the American invader, or to fight alongside nationalist guerrillas in Latin America. Periods of tension came and went between the two superpowers, but mostly their 'war' was rhetorical theatre.
This is made quite clear in secret British planning documents, which dismiss the 'Soviet threat' as non-existent in most of the Third World, even in the Middle East, a Cold War 'flashpoint'. And yet it was in the arena of the Third World that the real Cold War was fought by the Western powers not against Russians, but against expendable brown- and black-skinned people, often in places of great poverty. It was not so much a war between East and West as between North and South, rich and poor, big and small. Indeed, the smaller the adversary, the greater the threat, because triumph by the weak might produce such a successful example as to be contagious 'the threat of a good example', Oxfam once called it. Thus the weak are the true enemy, and they still are.
The end of the old Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union have removed the most important restraint on Western terrorism. 'Never before in history has one nation had more power over more people in more spheres of life than does the United States,' wrote the Nicaraguan scholar Alejandro Bendana. 'For us in Central America, the new looks pretty much like the old, as the United States has been the dominant power in our region for the past century and a half. Maybe we can now speak of the Central Americanisation of the world [for] what we are witnessing today is far more serious as it consists of a fully fledged attempt by the United States to rebuild the international political and economic system ... to ensure an open door for its goods, services and capital.'
Shortly after he invaded Panama in the valedictory year of 1989, George Bush declared a 'new world order' that would provide a post-Cold War 'peace dividend'. Fellow travellers became almost lyrical. 'Like King Lear', wrote Adrian Hamilton in the Observer, 'the US seems intent on dividing up the world in a rush of magnanimous gestures ... No one should complain of the effort or question the sincerity of the gestures. In Angola and Ethiopia as much as the Middle East and the Gulf and even Vietnam and Cambodia, Washington seems intent on clearing the stage of past disputes and ushering in a new order in which it can retire to a carefree life.' Moreover, implored Hamilton, sceptics should leave the retired old gent alone and 'welcome the signs that the US no longer wishes to be the policeman of the world, at least with its own troops' (my italics).
Such a noble concept ran into promotional difficulties beyond the usual propaganda network, for it was obvious to all that the new 'order' was more violent than the old. 'The global number of conflicts', reported World Military and Social Expenditures, 'rose rapidly in 1991 and 1992 ... War deaths were the highest in 17 years.' Most of these deaths occurred when the United States, Britain and their allies attacked Iraq in January 1991. The most reliable estimate is that a quarter of a million people died.
Another 6,000 died when American troops invaded Somalia the following year. During the same period, American arms sales rose by 64 per cent, the greatest increase ever; and the Pentagon's war budget increased accordingly. In Britain, by 1994 a revitalised arms industry employed one worker in ten and accounted for 20 per cent of the world market.
Bereft of the 'Soviet threat', the West's challenge was to find a suitable public rationale for the new state of war. An intense period of market testing followed; and the 'War on Drugs' was invented.
Colombia was deluged with more American military 'assistance' than any other country in the world, and a new enemy was identified: the 'narcoguerrilla'. Lumping together drug traffickers and nationalist guerrillas, Washington dispatched Special Forces on the pretext of fighting the one and imprisoning the other. (Britain helped out by secretly sending the Strategic Air Services.) Drugs, wrote Gabriel García Márquez, were 'a most convenient Satan for US national security policies', which allowed yet another invasion of Latin America.
With the Americans came the familiar money, 'market opportunities', corruption and eventually a full-scale war. Meanwhile the United States remained the largest consumer of illegal drugs in the world, with some twenty million addicts, and no equivalent domestic campaign against corrupt American authorities and leading traffickers.
The War on Drugs took bleak irony beyond Orwell. While Nancy Reagan, wife of the President, promoted a 'Just Say No to Drugs' campaign, the secret agencies of her husband's government were saying yes. As the landmark work of Alfred McCoy has shown, a longstanding hidden agenda of American intelligence has been drug trafficking, which those who work with addicts and the AIDS epidemic regard as an insidious and especially effective form of terrorism. 'Under the cover of anti-communism,' wrote Clarence Lusane, of the US Center for Drug Abuse Research, 'every US administration from Truman to Bush justified global covert operations that led directly to the opening and expansion of trafficking routes for illegal narcotics. Operatives associated with US intelligence ... supported the flow of drugs that predictably followed.'
In the Indo-China wars, the CIA was deeply involved in drugs: its 'secret army' in Laos was run by General Vang Pao, the famous drug lord, entirely with money from drug trafficking. In Central America in the 1980s, after Congress had denied it funding, the CIA's 'secret war' against the Sandinistas was substantially funded by drugs. The congressional hearings conducted by Senator John Kerry's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Relations found that 'on the basis of the evidence, it is clear that [the Contras] knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers ... In each case, one or another agency of the US government had information about the involvement ... Indeed, US policy-makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems.'
In 1997, Le Monde diplomatique disclosed that after the military coup in Bolivia in 1980, 'the CIA had its hands free to finance its Central American operations thanks to cocaine produced in a secret workshop in Huanchaca [Bolivia] ... The US Drug Enforcement Agency knew about the drugs factory and said nothing about it. When a Bolivian Congressman was about to demand the expulsion of the DEA's agents from Bolivia, he was assassinated shortly after making his charges.'
After years of reviewing classified files, the chief investigator to the Kerry Committee, Jack Blum, concluded: 'If you ask: in the process of fighting a war against the Sandinistas, did people connected with the US Government open channels which allowed drug traffickers to move drugs to the United States, did they know the drug traffickers were doing it and did they protect them from law enforcement? The answer to all those questions is yes.'
The War on Drugs was followed by the War on Demons. Demons are those who stand in the way of what was known in the nineteenth century as 'America's manifest destiny'. Demons can be entire religions like Islam, entire nations like Iran, or individuals like Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Colonel Muammar al Gaddafi.
The kidnapping of a lesser demon, General Noriega, an old pal of George Bush when Bush was director of the CIA, required the killing of some 2,000 Panamanians as part of a full-scale invasion of their country. Noriega was duly satanised as a drug-pusher and child pornography collector. His graduation from the 'School of the Americas' and his long relationship with the CIA, and Bush, were deemed immaterial. The subsequent restoration of Panama and its canal to unfettered American sovereignty, managed by more reliable Noriegas, which was the reason for the invasion, created little interest.
One of the most successful demons of all, Saddam Hussein, was another former pal of George Bush and also of the American and British arms industries, which supplied him during the 1980s in his war against those early model Ultra Demons, the Iranian mullahs. About a million people died in that decade-long Western-sponsored slaughter. When Saddam got uppity in 1990 and invaded Kuwait over the disputed ownership of oil fields, his former pal described him as 'another Adolf Hitler'. Within a few months another quarter of a million people had lost their lives, in the American-led slaughter in Iraq.
A demon who never lost his usefulness is the Cambodian genocidist Pol Pot. Before his death in 1998, Pol Pot was promoted as a unique monster who single-handedly brought untold suffering to his people. That now is the historical received wisdom, there is no mention of the monster's Faustian partners in the West, without whom he would never have seized power and who later restored and sustained him in exile, in the service of their own imperial imperatives.
The Western version is that Cambodia's nightmare began in 1975, 'Year Zero', when the Khmer Rouge took power. In fact, 'Year Zero' was 1969, when President Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, launched their secret and illegal bombing of neutral Cambodia, with American pilots' logs being falsified to conceal the crime. Between 1969 and 1973, American bombers killed three-quarters of a million Cambodian peasants in an attempt to destroy North Vietnamese supply bases, many of which did not exist. During one six-month period in 1973, B-52 aircraft dropped more bombs on Cambodians, living mostly in straw huts, than were dropped on Japan during all of the Second World War: the equivalent of five Hiroshimas.
Evidence from US official documents, declassified in 1987, leaves little doubt that this American terror provided the catalyst for a revolution which, until then, had had no popular base among the Cambodian people. 'They are using [the bombing] as the main theme of their propaganda,' reported the CIA Director of Operations on May 2, 1973. 'This approach has resulted in the successful recruitment of a number of young men [and] the propaganda has been most effective among refugees subjected to to B-52 strikes.'
What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot completed. And when the Khmer Rouge were finally driven into Thailand by the Vietnamese on Christmas Day, 1978, they were received and welcomed into border camps by American covert operations officials, including the same Defence Intelligence Agency colonel who had planned the secret bombing that had helped bring them to power. Headquartered in the American Embassy in Bangkok, the Kampuchea Emergency Group set about restoring the Khmer Rouge as the 'resistance' to the Vietnamese-backed regime in Phnom Penh. Two American relief aid workers, Linda Mason and Roger Brown, later wrote, 'The US Government insisted that the Khmer Rouge be fed ... the US preferred that the Khmer Rouge operation benefit from the credibility of an internationally known relief operation.' Under American pressure, the World Food Programme handed over $12 millions' worth of food to the Thai Army to pass on to the Khmer Rouge. '20,000 to 40,000 Pol Pot guerrillas benefited,' according to former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke.
In 1980, I travelled in a UN convoy of forty trucks, seventeen of them loaded with food, seventeen with seed and the rest with what the UN people called 'goodies'. We headed for Phnom Chat, a Khmer Rouge operations base set in forest just inside Cambodia and bunkered with land-mines. The UN official leading the convoy, an American, Phyllis Gestrin, said, 'I don't know what this aid is doing [but] I don't trust these blackshirts.' After her trucks had dropped off their 'goodies', she solicited the signature of a man who had watched in bemused silence from a thatched shelter. 'Well, I guess what I got here is a receipt,' she said. 'Not bad, from a butcher like him.' The 'butcher's' military alias was Nam Phann, also known as 'Pol Pot's Himmler', a man wanted for the murder of thousands of people in Siem Reap province.
Five months later, Dr Ray Cline, a former deputy director of the CIA and a foreign-policy adviser to President-elect Ronald Reagan, made a secret visit to a near-by Khmer Rouge operations base, where he conferred with senior Khmer Rouge officials. American satellite intelligence and money followed. By 1983, Pol Pot's American allies were joined by a contingent from Britain's SAS, who taught the Khmer Rouge-led 'resistance' the technology of land-mines and how to lay them. When the British returned to Cambodia eight years later as members of a UN 'peace-keeping' force, they were greeted as old comrades by Pol Pot's senior commanders.
How is it that Western establishments can invert the public truth of their own power and terrorism? The answer is that it is apostasy in Britain and the United States to describe the democracies as terrorist states. That distinction is reserved for the likes of Libya and Iran, which of course are pipsqueak terrorists. Stereotypes are much preferred, such as the 'Muslim fanatic'. In fact, not only have Muslims been responsible for a tiny proportion of deaths caused by terrorism, but in recent years it is they who have been the greatest sufferers from state terrorism: in Palestine, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechenya and Somalia. The omission from public debate of these truths is given respectability by a legion of Western academics, think tanks, 'defence' correspondents and popular Western culture. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his successful film True Lies, kills eighty terrorists, all of them Arab Muslims.
'Terrorists', wrote the historian Frank Furedi, 'become any foreign people you don't like. Moreover, terrorism is redefined to serve as an all-purpose metaphor for the Third World, demanding concerted action from the West.' He cited a report by the Trilateral Commission, warning that international migration, with its connections to such issues as environmental degradation, drugs and terrorism, is a 'new fact of national and international life that requires co-operation of all kinds among all nations'. The emphasis on demographic themes, he noted, 'creates a situation in which the West, rather than being the aggressive invader in the Third World, becomes the target of alien invasion.' A prominent British terrorism 'expert', Professor Paul Wilkinson, wrote, presumably with a straight face, that terrorism presented a 'threat to the US' and other 'powerless Western governments'.
The Malthusian spectre is once again popular. A leading American defence journal has identified the new enemy as 'that swirling pot of poison made up of zealots, crazies, drugrunners and terrorists'. Not only was the United States threatened, warned a writer in International Affairs, but 'Europe is increasingly confronted with ... AIDS, drugs, pollution and the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons in the Third World'.
Serious blueprints are at hand to deal with this nightmare. The most famous is the work of Professor Samuel Huntington, Director of Harvard's Institute of Strategic Studies. Called The Clash of Civilisations, it has been hailed as a 1990s equivalent to George F. Kennan's historic essay on 'containment', which rationalised American imperial supremacy following the Second World War. Huntington's argument is that Western culture must be preserved in splendid isolation from the rest of humanity in order to 'generate a third Euro-American phase of Western affluence'. 'The leaders of Western countries', he wrote, 'have instituted patterns of trust and co-operation among themselves that, with rare exceptions, they do not have with the leaders of other societies.' He described NATO as 'the security organisation of Western civilisation [whose] primary purpose is to defend and preserve that civilisation'. NATO membership should be closed to 'countries that have historically been primarily Muslim or Orthodox' or in any way non-Western 'in their religion and culture'.
Huntington's language relies upon racial stereotypes and a veiled social Darwinism that is the staple of fascism. It is a vision of global apartheid. Of course, the responsibility to police this Western laager 'falls overwhelmingly on the most powerful Western country, the United States'. Huntington's call for a new Mandate from Heaven has been endorsed by Henry Kissinger as 'the most important since the Cold War'.
Everybody will know their place in the global apartheid system. The European Union has shown the way. Anti-refugee and asylum-seeker laws now ensure that people are sent back to regimes that want to imprison or kill them. In 1997, refugees escaping from Albania drowned after an Italian naval ship deliberately rammed their boat. One of the first acts of the Blair Government was to speed up the deportation of 'failed' asylum seekers, removing a 'backlog' of reportedly 50,000 people.
However, as the drawbridges are pulled up and the refugees are sent packing, the Third World Nuclear Threat is revealed. There are the 'Atomic Ayatollahs' in Iran; and Saddam Hussein has been long suspected of 'going nuclear'. That the International Atomic Energy Agency has dismissed the former as nonsense, and the Stockholm Research Institute for Studies of Conflict and Terrorism, a respected body, found the latter unsupported by any evidence, is beside the point. Like 'drug barons' in Latin America, 'nuclear terrorists' require a response from the civilised West.
Among a number of proposals is a Nuclear Expeditionary Force, 'primarily for use against Third World targets'. In 1997, six new radar-evading Stealth bombers were commissioned into the US nuclear strike force. They will carry a new type of bomb, the B61-11, or 'penetrator nuclear weapon'. Designed to drill deep into the earth before exploding in a blast whose shockwaves can destroy 'command bunkers' thousands of feet below, these low-yield 'mini-nukes' can also be delivered by F-16 fighter planes.
No fuss is made about the Middle East's only genuine nuclear-armed power, whose murderous invasions of a neighbouring country, all of them in violation of at least six UN resolutions and overwhelmingly condemned by the UN General Assembly, have been carried out with impunity. This is Israel, whose terrorism, known as 'self-defence', is underwritten by the United States. In 1982, the Israelis invaded Lebanon and killed some 20,000 people. Israeli fighter aircraft bombed refugee camps; death squads of Shin Beth, the Israeli secret police, kidnapped and murdered at will. The unstated reason for this barbarism was, wrote Noam Chomsky, 'to overcome the threat of PLO diplomacy'.
In 1996, the Israelis massacred 102 refugees, including women and children, in the United Nations' base at Qana in southern Lebanon. 'The shelling had been aimed at a Hizbollah base near by, they insisted: a claim quickly discredited by UN observers. The press coverage in Britain and the United States was instructive. The headline in The Times was 'CLINTON LEADS CALL FOR PEACE AFTER 97 DIE', followed by 'Attack on Lebanon will go on unless Hizbollah calls cease-fire'. The Daily Telegraph juxtaposed a banner headline, 'ISRAELI SHELLS KILL 94 REFUGEES' with a quote in bold type from Shimon Peres, the Israeli Prime Minister: 'We had no choice but to defend our people and soldiers.' Newsweek said the victims had died 'in the crossfire'.
In Palestine, as elsewhere, the victims, not the oppressors, are the terrorists: a perception widely held, according to Richard Falk, because of 'the domination of fact by image in shaping and shading the dissemination of images that control the public perception of reality ... even left critics generally start from the prefabricated association of terrorism with the politics of the dispossessed, and try from that vantage point to explain and argue why such patterns of violence have emerged ...' That all but a few members of the UN General Assembly vote year upon year for a resolution calling on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories is, like so much else, irrelevant. What matters is that Israel represents Western, mostly American, power.
Today, an American-sponsored 'peace process' means the opposite. It is a war process that has corralled the Palestinians between Israeli military forces and foreign invaders, known as 'settlers', who are sponsored and armed by the Israeli government and subsidised by the United States. It is entirely appropriate, if heartbreaking, that the beleaguered cantons that comprise 3 per cent of the West Bank, which the 'peace process' has allotted the Palestinians in their own country, resemble the impoverished Bantustans or 'homelands' of apartheid South Africa. In the meantime, the Palestinians must put up with clichés about Islamic terrorism when almost nothing is said about the dehumanising terror of Jewish and Western fundamentalism. Although failing to achieve the ideal of pacifying the indigenous population, the 'peace process' has petrified them, muting their hopes and dreams, while the Western powers go about their task of exploiting a region long recognised by the United States as 'a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history'.
One of the striking features of the new Cold War is the rehabilitation of the concept of imperialism. Like Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in the 1950s, the Samuel Huntingtons in the 1990s grieve the 'loss of white prestige' that was imperialism. 'It is easy to forget', wrote Frank Furedi in The New Ideology of Imperialism, 'that until the 1930s the moral claims of imperialism were seldom questioned in the West. Imperialism and the global expansion of the Western powers were represented in unambiguously positive terms as a major contributor to human civilisation ... To be an imperialist was considered a respectable, political badge.' Future Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who described himself as a socialist, argued in 1949 that 'no party can or should claim for itself the exclusive use of the title Imperialist, in the best sense of the word'.
As the United States emerged from the Second World War and shed what 'Atlanticists' like to call its 'age of innocence' (forgetting the slaughter of the American Indians, slavery, the theft of Texas from Mexico, the subjugation of Central America, Cuba and the Philippines, the Monroe Doctrine and other innocent pursuits), 'imperialism' was dropped from American textbooks and declared a European affair. One of the difficulties for proud imperialists in the post-war period was that Hitler and fascism, and all their ideas of racial and cultural superiority, had left a legacy of guilt by association.
'The discovery that imperialism was immoral', wrote Furedi, 'took some time to sink in [and] strongly disoriented the British ruling class.' A serious, if farcical, campaign to expunge the word from the language followed, 'on the grounds that it falsely attributed immoral motives to Western foreign policy'. The term was deemed no longer to have 'relevance'. Those who persisted in using it as a pejorative term were 'disreputable' and 'sinister'. They were, wrote one American historian, 'inspired by Communist doctrine' or they were 'Negro intellectuals who had grievances of their own against white capitalism'.
In the best Stalinist tradition, imperialism no longer existed. There followed a historical sleight of hand. 'The Cold War intelligentsia', wrote Furedi, 'by denying the centrality of the imperial identity to Western society, were denying their own past. They did not deny that imperialism was something to be ashamed of, they merely denied all association with it.'
With the end of the old Cold War, a new opportunity arose. The economic and political crises in the Third World could now serve as retrospective justification for imperialism. Although the word remained unspeakable, imperialism's return journey to respectability had begun. For the first time in half a century the past was openly celebrated. The Wall Street Journal described American opposition to the Franco-British invasion of Suez in 1956 as 'perhaps the biggest strategic mistake in the post-war era'. Shortly before the American attack on Iraq in 1991, the right-wing Cambridge academic John Casey announced that the Western powers 'can now do what they like [in the Third World]'.
And he was right. Today, with the expansion of NATO, the American legitimisation of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, the 'containment' of the Middle East, and the restoration of American influence throughout Africa and in the Central American 'backyard', the retired Douglas Hurd can understandably sigh with relief when he says that 'we are slowly putting behind us a period of history when the West was unable to express a legitimate interest in the developing world without being accused of "neo-colonialism".'
New brand names come and go: 'preventative diplomacy' and 'humanitarian intervention', the latter a veteran of the Gulf slaughter. Although satisfying the criterion of doing what you like where you like, as long as you're strong enough, they have yet to capture the popular imagination; 'United Nations peacekeeping' and 'peace operations' are current favourites.
'Like its role in the Gulf War', wrote Phyllis Bennis in her 1996 study of the United Nations, 'the UN's function in the years since has increasingly become one of authorising and facilitating the unilateral interventionist policies of its most powerful member states especially those of the US', while its own power remains 'contingent on the scraps and dregs of resources bestowed on or denied it by Washington ...' The UN Security Council was still meeting on January 16, 1991, debating whether to authorise the attack on Iraq, when a reporter came into the chamber and said, 'They're bombing Baghdad. It's on CNN.'
Since 1996, 'peace operations' have passed quietly from the United Nations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), originally set up in Washington to fight the Russians. The policing of Bosnia, which effectively legitimised 'ethnic cleansing' in the Balkans, was handed over to NATO forces and is seen as a model for policing the world. In preparation for this new role, NATO has reorganised and reequipped itself with 'crisis reaction forces', which are capable of intervening anywhere. A new command, known as the 'combined joint task forces', will allow the use of NATO weapons and intelligence without consultation with members who have 'insufficient interest in a particular region'. Of course, Washington retains a veto.
Those who predicted that NATO's function in Europe would pass into history with the fall of the Berlin Wall were mistaken. NATO has expanded rapidly into Eastern Europe, right up to the borders of Russia. The Russian response is hardly known in the West, being the slowest of news. 'The Defence Ministry in Moscow', wrote Andreas Zumach, a German journalist specialising in the UN, 'has already announced plans to deploy new tactical nuclear weapons near Russia's western border. Russia's National Security Council also intends to drop Moscow's longstanding doctrine of "no first use" nuclear weapons. The claustrophobic encroachment on Russia's borders has strengthened the influence of nationalistic forces in the Russian parliament [which] will not ratify the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the US ... Rather than provide "more stability and security for Europe", as its proponents promise, NATO's expansion east will be a cause of possible open crises on the Eurasian continent for years to come.'
Since the re-invasion of Russia by the forces of globalisation, Russia's economy has halved and its Gross Domestic product has been reduced to that of the Netherlands. The availability of food has again become desperate and unemployment is at its highest for sixty years. With male life expectancy down to fifty-eight, Russia is the first country in history to experience such a sharp fall in life expectancy. (It was sixty-nine in the late 1950s.) 'Under the masque of liberal democracy,' wrote Michel Chossudovsky, 'the totalitarian state remained unscathed: a careful blend of Stalinism and the "free" market with the IMF and the other instruments of the triumphant imperialism [intent] on neutralising a former enemy and forestalling the development of Russia as a major capitalist power.'
This is not the way Russia is reported in Britain and the United States. There is no public debate about the wilful destruction of a vast human community in the name of a specious 'democracy.' Imperialism may be rehabilitated, but its consequences remain unspeakable. Throughout the world people are still paraded on television as the victims of their own misfortune. No matter that their predicament has causes rooted in the imperial past, in shifting imperial alliances and 'spheres of influence', as in Rwanda. When the cameras move on, as sure as the seasons, the people no longer exist.
Cambodia is a vivid example. In 1992, when the Western powers returned to Cambodia, they came under the United Nations' flag. This time, they imposed a 'peace plan' devised by US Congressman Stephen Solarz, a leading Cold War warrior. Under the Solarz Plan, Cambodia would be opened to the 'global market', indebted, and expunged of the influence of its liberators, the Vietnamese.
In order to undermine the Vietnamese-supported Hun Sen Government, the United Nations welcomed back to Phnom Penh the exiled politicians and generals of the 'Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea', which was an invention of the United States and dominated by the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot's guerrillas were handed a quarter of the Cambodian countryside, where, contrary to propaganda that they are 'finished', they continue to operate with impunity and in their 'thousands', according to US State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns. This is not surprising; in 1992, Eric Falt, the UN spokesman in Phnom Penh, told me, 'The peace process was aimed at allowing [the Khmer Rouge] to gain respectability.'
Thanks to the United Nations' 'peace operation', with its by-products of corruption and an AIDS epidemic, Cambodia was left with a government impossibly divided between Hun Sen, an opponent of the Khmer Rouge, and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, a Khmer Rouge ally. It was Ranariddh's eagerness to bring the Khmer Rouge into the government as a means of boosting his own power that led to Hun Sen's so-called 'coup' in 1997 and the subsequent sideshow of Pol Pot's public 'trial', staged by the Khmer Rouge for the Western media. This allowed them once again to step back into the shadows. Ranariddh's royalists are once again their allies. 'The most successful UN peace operation in history' merely reinforced the status quo, denying Cambodia opportunities for an authentic peace.
A runner-up for the mantle of the UN's 'greatest success' is George Bush's 'humanitarian intervention' in Somalia in 1992, in the midst of his re-election campaign. Here it was generally agreed that the US Marines were finally doing what Bush called 'God's work ... saving thousands of innocents'. This was 'Operation Restore Hope', which, like the assault on Iraq the previous year, had UN 'legality'. The American TV crews were waiting as the Marines landed in a beautiful African pre-dawn: 'prime time' at home. From the Somalian side there was perpetual darkness: 'chaos' and 'tribalism' and 'warlords'. When the American warlords had completed their adventure in Somalia and taken the media home with them, the story died, as they say. The Marines had left 7,000-10,000 people dead. This was not news.
'The objective in Somalia was noble,' wrote Henry Kissinger. 'In fact, moral purpose has motivated every American war this century ... The new approach [in Somalia] claims an extension in the reach of morality ... "Humanitarian intervention" asserts that moral and humane concerns are so much part of American life that not only treasure but lives must be risked to vindicate them; in their absence, American life would have lost some meaning. No other nation has ever put forward such a set of propositions."
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Meet the Author
John Pilger grew up in Sydney, Australia. He has been a war correspondent, author and film-maker. He has twice won British journalism's highest award, that of Journalist of the Year, for his work all over the world, notably in Cambodia and Vietnam. He has been International Reporter of the Year and winner of the United Nations Associated Peace Prize and Gold Medal. For his broadcasting, he has won France's Reporter Sans Frontières, an American television Academy Award, an Emmy, and the Richard Dimbleby Award, given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. In 2003, he received the Sophie Prize for 'thirty years of exposing deception and improving human rights'.
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