The US claims to champion freedom. In fact, its long record of brutality has imperilled peace, says Harold Pinter.
POLITICIANS are interested not in truth but in power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.
The justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with al-Qaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11, 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.
The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.
Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the postwar period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.
The US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, America's actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.
The US supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of World War II. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador and Chile.
The crimes of the US have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
I put to you that the US is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, "the American people", as in the sentence, "I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people."
It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words "the American people" provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.
The US no longer bothers about low-intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it, the pathetic and supine Britain.
What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days — conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead?
Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention.
This criminal outrage is being committed by a country that declares itself to be the leader of the free world. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? They have been consigned to a no-man's-land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the US has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.
The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading — as a last resort, all other justifications having failed to justify themselves — as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.
We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it "bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East".
How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal?
Death in this context is irrelevant. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. "We don't do body counts," said general Tommy Franks.
The 2000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot.
The US is now totally frank. Its official declared policy is now defined as "full spectrum dominance". That means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources. The US now occupies 702 military installations in 132 countries. It possesses 8000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. This infantile insanity — the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons — is at the heart of American political philosophy.
Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the US itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their Government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force — yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the US is unlikely to diminish.
When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. Sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror, for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.
Despite the enormous odds that exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation that devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory. If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us — the dignity of man.
British writer Harold Pinter is winner of the 2005 Nobel prize for literature. This is part of his acceptance speech. It will be delivered tomorrow by video as the ailing Pinter has been forbidden by doctors from travelling to Stockholm.