February 18, 2005
The New Statesman

First, They Attack the Past

How does thought control work in societies that call themselves free?

by John Pilger

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? Why does a 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 10 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 noncommunist, 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 5 million Vietnamese are consigned to oblivion.

. . . 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?


[CNN's Eason Jordan, was brought down after he spoke out of school during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in January. In a rare moment of candor, Jordan reportedly said that the US military had targeted a dozen journalists who had been killed in Iraq. . . .

The controversy ought to be over the unconscionable silence in the United States about the military's repeated killing of journalists in Iraq.--Jeremy Scahill, "Shooting the Messenger," The Nation, February 17, 2005]

[. . . with an estimated 500,000 objects in the museum and thieves having the run of the place for 36 hours, the wonder is the loss was not far closer to the original, inaccurate, reports of 170,000 items. And the efforts of Iraqi, US and Italian officials, plus police and customs worldwide, have so far led to the recovery of 5,400 items, nearly 700 from inside the US and Britain.--David Randall, "How the US army's Indiana Jones went after Baghdad's raiders of the antiquities," Independent, November 13, 2005]

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