by John Pilger
February 17, 2005
First Published in The New Statesman
How does thought control work in societies that call themselves
free? Why are famous journalists so eager, almost as a reflex, to minimize
the culpability of political leaders such as Bush and Blair who share responsibility
for the unprovoked attack on a defenseless people, for laying to waste their
land and for killing at least 100,000 people, most of them civilians, having
sought to justify this epic crime with demonstrable lies? What does BBC
reporter describe the invasion of Iraq as “a vindication for Blair”?
Why have broadcasters never associated the British or American state with
terrorism? Why have such privileged communicators, with unlimited access
to the facts, lined up to describe an unobserved, unverified, illegitimate,
cynically manipulated election, held under a brutal occupation, as “democratic”
with the pristine aim of being “free and fair”?
Do they not read history? Or is the history they know, or
choose to know, subject to such amnesia and omission that it produces a
world view as seen only through a one-way moral mirror? There is no suggestion
of conspiracy. This one-way mirror ensures that most of humanity is regarded
in terms of its usefulness to “us”, its desirability or expendability,
its worthiness or unworthiness: for example, the notion of "good"
Kurds in Iraq and “bad” Kurds in Turkey. The unerring assumption
is that “we” in the dominant west have moral standards superior
to “them”. One of "their" dictators (often a former
client of ours, like Saddam Hussein) kills thousands of people and he is
declared a monster, a second Hitler. When one of our leaders does the same,
he is viewed, at worst like Blair, in Shakespearean terms. Those who kill
people with car bombs are “terrorists”; those who kill far more
people with cluster bombs are the noble occupants of a “quagmire”.
Historical amnesia can spread quickly. Only ten years after
the Vietnam war, which I reported, an opinion poll in the United States
found that a third of Americans could not remember which side their government
had supported. This demonstrated the insidious power of the dominant propaganda,
that the war was essentially a conflict of “good” Vietnamese
against “bad” Vietnamese, in which the Americans became “involved”,
bringing democracy to the people of southern Vietnam faced with a “communist
threat.” Such a false and dishonest assumption permeated the media
coverage, with honorable exceptions. The truth is that the longest war of
the 20th century was a war waged against Vietnam, north and south, communist
and non-communist, by America. It was an unprovoked invasion of their homeland
and their lives, just like the invasion of Iraq. Amnesia ensures that, while
the relatively few deaths of the invaders are constantly acknowledged, the
deaths of up to five million Vietnamese are consigned to oblivion.
What are the roots of this? Certainly, “popular culture”,
especially Hollywood movies, can decide what and how little we remember.
Selective education at a tender age performs the same task. I have been
sent a widely used revision guide for students of modern world history,
on Vietnam and the cold war. This is learned by 14 to 16-year-olds in British
schools, sitting for the critical GCSE exam. It informs their understanding
of a pivotal historical period, which must influence how they make sense
of today's news from Iraq and elsewhere.
It is shocking. It says that under the 1954 Geneva agreement:
“Vietnam was partitioned into communist north and democratic south.”
In one sentence, truth is dispatched. The final declaration of the Geneva
conference divided Vietnam “temporarily” until free national
elections were held on 26 July 1956. There was little doubt that Ho Chi
Minh would win and form Vietnam's first democratically elected government.
Certainly, President Eisenhower was in no doubt of this. “I have never
talked with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs,” he wrote,
“who did not agree that... 80 per cent of the population would have
voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader.”
Not only did the United States refuse to allow the UN to administer
the agreed elections two years later, but the “democratic” regime
in the south was an invention. One of the inventors, the CIA official Ralph
McGehee, describes in his masterly book Deadly Deceits how a brutal expatriate
mandarin, Ngo Dinh Diem, was imported from New Jersey to be “president”
and a fake government was put in place. “The CIA,” he wrote,
“was ordered to sustain that illusion through propaganda [placed in
Phoney elections were arranged, hailed in the west as “free
and fair,” with American officials fabricating “an 83 per cent
turnout despite Vietcong terror.” The guide alludes to none of this,
nor that “the terrorists,” whom the Americans called the Vietcong,
were also southern Vietnamese defending their homeland against the American
invasion and whose resistance was popular. For Vietnam, read Iraq.
The tone of this tract is from the point of view of “us”.
There is no sense that a national liberation movement existed in Vietnam,
merely “a communist threat,” merely the propaganda that “the
USA was terrified that many other countries might become communist and help
the USSR -- they didn’t want to be outnumbered,” merely that
President Johnson "was determined to keep South Vietnam communist-free"
(emphasis as in the original). This proceeds quickly to the Tet Offensive
in 1968, which “ended in the loss of thousands of American lives --
14,000 in 1969 -- most were young men.” There is no mention of the
millions of Vietnamese lives also lost in the offensive. And America merely
began “a bombing campaign”: there is no mention of the greatest
tonnage of bombs dropped in the history of warfare, of a military strategy
that was deliberately designed to force millions of people to abandon their
homes, and of chemicals used in a manner that profoundly changed the environment
and the genetic order, leaving a once-bountiful land all but ruined.
This revision guide reflects the bias and distortions reflect
of the official syllabuses, such as the prestigious syllabus from Oxford
and Cambridge, used all over the world as a model. Its cold war section
refers to Soviet “expansionism” and the "spread" of
communism; there is not a word about the “spread” of rapacious
America. One of its “key questions” is: “How effectively
did the USA contain the spread of communism?” Good versus evil for
“Phew, loads for you to learn here...” say the
authors of the revision guide, “so get it learned right now.”
Phew, the British empire did not happen; there is nothing about the atrocious
colonial wars that were models for the successor power, America, in Indonesia,
Vietnam, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, to name but a few along modern history's
imperial trail of blood, of which Iraq is the latest.
And now Iran? The drumbeat has already begun. How many more
innocent people have to die before those who filter the past and the present
wake up to their moral responsibility to protect our memory and the lives
of human beings?
John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist
and documentary filmmaker. He is currently a visiting professor at Cornell
University, New York. His latest book is Tell Me No Lies: Investigative
Journalism and its Triumphs (Jonathan Cape, 2004). This article first appeared
in The New Statesman. Visit John Pilger's website: http://www.johnpilger.com.
Thanks to Michelle Hunt at Carlton Interactive.
* Australia: The Sickening of Democracy
* The Other Man-Made Tsunami
* How Silent are the “Humanitarian” Invaders of Kosovo
* Will There Be a War Against the World After November 2?
* The Liberal Warriors And Airbrushers
* Torture Is News But It's Not New
* The Unmentionable Source of Terrorism
* Bush or Kerry? Look Closely and the Danger is the Same
* Recalling Pol Pot's Terror, But Forgetting His Backers
* Power, Propaganda and Conscience in the War on Terror
* What They Don't Want You To Know
* Bush and Blair Are in Trouble
* The Silence of the Writers
* The Fall and Rise of Liberal England
* The Big Lie: WMDs Were Just a Pretext for Planned War on Iraq
* What Good Friends Left Behind in Afghanistan
* Iraq's Epic Suffering Is Made Invisible
* Who Are the Extremists?
* The War on Truth
* How Britain Exports Weapons of Mass Destruction
* Bush’s Vietnam
* Journalism is Rotting Away
* The Unthinkable is Becoming Normal
* Tender Murderers
All information posted on this web site is
the opinion of the author and is provided for educational purposes only.
It is not to be construed as medical advice. Only a licensed medical doctor
can legally offer medical advice in the United States. Consult the healer
of your choice for medical care and advice.