The War on Truth
by John Pilger
International Socialist Review,
September / October 2003
The White House sets the tone and the
media echo a line that celebrates the victimhood of the invader
and the evil of the Iraqis. And then London takes its cue.
In Baghdad, the rise and folly of rapacious
imperial power is commemorated in a forgotten cemetery called
the North Gate. Dogs are its visitors; the rusted gates are padlocked,
and skeins of traffic fumes hang over its parade of crumbling
headstones and unchanging historical truth.
Lieutenant-General Sir Stanley Maude is
buried here, in a mausoleum befitting his station, if not the
cholera to which he succumbed. In 1917, he declared: "Our
armies do not come... as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators."
Within three years, 10,000 had died in an uprising against the
British, who gassed and bombed those they called "miscreants."
It was an adventure from which British imperialism in the Middle
East never recovered.
Every day now, in the United States, the
all-pervasive media tell Americans that their bloodletting in
Iraq is well under way, although the true scale of the attacks
is almost certainly concealed. Soon, more soldiers will have been
killed since the "liberation" than during the invasion.
Sustaining the myth of "mission" is becoming difficult,
as in Vietnam. This is not to doubt the real achievement of the
invaders' propaganda, which was the suppression of the truth that
most Iraqis opposed both the regime of Saddam Hussein and the
Anglo-American assault on their homeland. One reason the BBC's
Andrew Gilligan angered Downing Street was that he reported that,
for many Iraqis, the bloody invasion and occupation were at least
as bad as the fallen dictatorship.
This is unmentionable here in America.
The tens of thousands of Iraqi dead and maimed do not exist. When
I interviewed Douglas Feith, number three to Donald Rumsfeld at
the Pentagon, he shook his head and lectured me on the "precision"
of American weapons. His message was that war had become a bloodless
science in the service of America's unique divinity. It was like
interviewing a priest. Only American "boys" and "girls"
suffer, and at the hands of "Baathist remnants," a self-deluding
term in the spirit of General Maude's miscreants." The media
echo this, barely gesturing at the truth of a popular resistance
and publishing galleries of GI amputees, who are described with
a maudlin, down-home chauvinism which celebrates the victimhood
of the invader while casting the Vicious Imperialism that they
served as benign. At the State Department, the under-secretary
for international security, John Bolton, suggested to me that,
for questioning the fundamentalism of American policy, I was surely
a heretic, "a Communist Party member," as he Put it.
As for the great human catastrophe in
Iraq, the bereft hospitals, the children dying from thirst and
gastroenteritis at a rate greater than before the invasion, with
almost eight percent of infants suffering extreme malnutrition,
says Unicef; as for a crisis in agriculture which, says the Food
and Agriculture Organization, is on the verge of collapse: These
do not exist. Like the American -driven, medieval-type siege that
destroyed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives over 12 years,
there is no knowledge of this in America: therefore it did not
happen. The Iraqis are, at best, unpeople; at worst, tainted,
to be hunted. "For every GI killed," said a letter given
prominence in the New York Daily News late last month, "20
Iraqis must be executed." In the past week, Task Force 20,
an "elite" American unit charged with hunting evildoers,
murdered at least five people as they drove down a street in Baghdad,
and that was typical.
The august New York Times and Washington
Post are not, of course, as crude as the News and Rupert Murdoch.
However, on July 23, both papers gave front-page prominence to
the government's carefully manipulated "homecoming"
of 20-year-old Private Jessica Lynch, who was injured in a traffic
accident during the invasion and captured. She was cared for by
Iraqi doctors, who probably saved her life and who risked their
own lives in trying to return her to American forces. The official
version, that she bravely fought off Iraqi attackers, is a pack
of lies, like her 11 rescue" (from an almost deserted hospital),
which was filmed with night-vision cameras by a Hollywood director.
All this is known in Washington, and much of it has been reported.
This did not deter the best and worst
of American journalism uniting to help stage-manage her beatific
return to Elizabeth, West Virginia, with the Times reporting the
Pentagon's denial of "embellishing" and that "few
people seemed to care about the controversy." According to
the Post, the whole affair had been "muddled by conflicting
media accounts." George Orwell described this as "words
failing upon the facts like soft snow, blurring their outlines
and covering up all the details." Thanks to the freest press
on earth, most Americans according to a national poll, believe
Iraq was behind the September 11 attacks. "We have been the
victims of the biggest cover-up maneuver of all time," says
Jane Harman, a rare voice in Congress. But that, too, is an illusion.
The verboten truth is that the unprovoked
attack on Iraq and the looting of its resources is America's 73rd
colonial intervention. These, together with hundreds of bloody
covert operations, have been covered up by a system and a veritable
tradition of state-sponsored lies that reach back to the genocidal
campaigns against Native Americans and the attendant frontier
myths; and the Spanish-American War, which broke out after Spain
was falsely accused of sinking an American warship, the Maine,
and war fever was whipped up by the Hearst newspapers; and the
non-existent "missile gap" between the U.S. and the
Soviet Union, which was based on fake documents given to journalists
in 1960 and served to accelerate the nuclear arms race; and four
years later, the non-existent Vietnamese attack on two American
destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin for which the media demanded
reprisals, giving President Johnson the pretext he wanted to bomb
In the late 1970s, a silent media allowed
President Carter to arm Indonesia as it slaughtered the East Timorese,
and to begin secret support for the mujahedin, from which came
the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In the 1980s, the manufacture of an
absurdity, the "threat" to America from popular movements
in Central America, notably the Sandinistas in tiny Nicaragua,
allowed President Reagan to arm and support terrorist groups such
as the Contras, leaving an estimated 70,000 dead. That George
W. Bush's America gives refuge to hundreds of Latin American torturers,
favored murderous dictators and anti-Castro hijackers, terrorists
by any definition, is almost never reported. Neither is the work
of a "training school" at Fort Benning, Georgia, whose
graduates would be the pride of Osama bin-Laden.
Americans, says Time magazine, live in
"an eternal present." The point is, they have no choice.
The "mainstream" media are now dominated by Rupert Murdoch's
Fox television network, which had a good war. The Federal Communications
Commission, run by Colin Powell's son Michael, is finally to deregulate
television so that Fox and four other conglomerates control 90
percent of the terrestrial and cable audience. Moreover, the leading
20 Internet sites are now owned by the likes of Fox, Disney, AOL
Time Warner and a clutch of other giants. Just 14 companies attract
60 percent of the time all American web-users spend online.
The director of Le Monde Diplomatique,
Ignacio Ramonet, summed this up well: "To justify a preventive
war that the United Nations and global public opinion did not
want, a machine for propaganda and mystification, organized by
the doctrinaire sect around George Bush, produced state-sponsored
lies with a determination characteristic of the worst regimes
of the 20th century."
Most of the lies were channeled straight
to Downing Street from the 24-hour Office of Global Communications
in the White House. Many were the invention of a highly secret
unit in the Pentagon, called the Office of Special Plans, which
"sexed up" raw intelligence, much of it uttered by Tony
Blair It was here that many of the most famous lies about weapon
of mass destruction were "crafted." On July 9, Donald
Rumsfeld said, with a smile, that America never had "dramatic
new evidence" and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz earlier revealed
that the "issue of weapons of mass destruction" was
"for bureaucratic reasons" only, "because it was
the one reason [for invading Iraq] that everyone could agree on."
The Blair government's attacks on the
BBC make sense part of this. They are not only a distraction from
Blair's criminal association with the Bush gang, though for a
less than obvious reason. As the astute American media commentator
Danny Schechter points out, the BBC's revenues have grown to $5.6
billion, more Americans watch the BBC in America than watch BBC1
in Britain; and what Murdoch and the other ascendant TV conglomerates
have long wanted is the BBC "checked, broken up, even privatized....
All this money and power will likely become the target for Blair
government regulators and the merry men of Ofcom, who want to
contain public enterprises and serve those avaricious private
businesses who would love to slice off some of the BBC's market
share." As if on cue, Tessa Jowell, the British culture secretary,
questioned the renewal of the BBC's charter.
The irony of this, says Schechter, is
that the BBC was always solidly pro-war. He cites a comprehensive
study by Media Tenor, the non-partisan institute that he founded,
which analyzed the war coverage of some of the world's leading
broadcasters and found that the BBC allowed less dissent than
all of them, including the U.S. networks. A study by Cardiff University
found much the same. More often than not, the BBC amplified the
inventions of the lie machine in Washington, such as Iraq's non-existent
attack on Kuwait with scuds. And there was Andrew Marr's memorable
victory speech outside 10 Downing Street "[Tony Blair] said
that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and
that in the end the Iraqis would b celebrating. And on both those
points he has been prove conclusively right."
Almost every word of that was misleading
or nonsense Studies now put the death toll at as many as 10,000
civilian and 20,000 Iraqi troops. If this does not constitute
a "blood bath," what was the massacre of 3,000 people
at the Twin Towers?
In contrast, I was moved and almost relieved
by the description of the heroic Dr. David Kelly by his family.
"David professional life," they wrote, "was characterized
by his integrity, honor and dedication to finding the truth, often
in the most difficult circumstances. It is hard to comprehend
th enormity of this tragedy." There is little doubt that
a majority of the British people understand that David Kelly was
the antithesis of those who have shown themselves to be the agent
of a dangerous, rampant foreign power. Stopping this menac is
now more urgent than ever, for Iraqis and us.
John Pilger is a journalist and filmmaker
whose articles regularly appear in Britain's New Statesman and
Daily Mirror. His most recent film, Palestine is Still the Issue,
is currently being shown internationally. This article originally
appeared in the New Statesman and is reprinted here with the author's