excerpted from the book

The New Rulers of the World

by John Pilger

Verso, 2002, paper

When American Vice-President Dick Cheney said that the 'war on terrorism' could last for fifty years or more, his words evoked George Orwell's great prophetic work, Nineteen Eighty-four. We are to live with the threat and illusion of endless war, it seems, in order to justify increased social control and state repression, while great power pursues its goal of global supremacy. Washington is transformed into 'chief city of Airstrip One' and every problem is blamed on the 'enemy', the evil Goldstein, as Orwell called him.' He could be Osama bin Laden, or his successors, the 'axis of evil'.

In the novel [1984], three slogans dominate society: war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. Today's slogan, 'war on terrorism' also reverses meaning. The war is terrorism. The most potent weapon in this 'war' is pseudo-information, different only in form from that Orwell described, consigning to oblivion unacceptable truths and historical sense. Dissent is permissible within 'consensual' boundaries, reinforcing the illusion that information and speech are 'free'.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 did not 'change everything', but accelerated the continuity of events, providing an extraordinary pretext for destroying social democracy. The undermining of the Bill of Rights in the United States and the further dismantling of trial by jury in Britain and a plethora of related civil liberties are part of the reduction of democracy to electoral ritual: that is, competition between indistinguishable parties for the management of a single-ideology state.

Central to the growth of this 'business state' are the media conglomerates, which have unprecedented power, owning press and television, book publishing, film production and databases. They provide a virtual world of the 'eternal present', as Time magazine called it: politics by media, war by media, justice by media, even grief by media (Princess Diana).

The 'global economy' is their most important media enterprise. 'Global economy' is a modern Orwellian term. On the surface, it is instant financial trading, mobile phones, McDonald's, Starbucks, holidays booked on the net. Beneath this gloss, it is the globalisation of poverty, a world where most human beings never make a phone call and live on less than two dollars a day, where 6,000 children die every day from diarrhea because most have no access to clean water.

In this world, unseen by most of us in the global north, a sophisticated system of plunder has forced more than ninety countries into 'structural adjustment' programmes since the eighties, widening the divide between rich and poor as never before. This is known as 'nation building' and 'good governance' by the 'quad' dominating the World Trade Organisation (the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan) and the Washington triumvirate (the World Bank, the IMF and the US Treasury) that controls even minute aspects of government policy in developing countries. Their power derives largely from an unrepayable debt that forces the poorest countries to pay $100 million to western creditors every day. The result is a world where an elite of fewer than a billion people controls 80 per cent of humanity's wealth.

Promoting this are the transnational media corporations, American and European, that own or manage the world's principal sources of news and information. They have transformed much of the 'information society' into a media age where extraordinary technology allows the incessant repetition of politically 'safe' information that is acceptable to the 'nation builders' . In the West, we are trained to view other societies in terms of their usefulness or threat to 'us' and to regard 'cultural' differences as more important than the political and economic forces by which we judge ourselves. Those with unprecedented resources to understand this, including many who teach and research in the great universities, suppress their knowledge publicly; perhaps never before has there been such a silence.

Russian dissident economist Boris Kagarlitsky

'Globalisation does not mean the impotence of the state, but the rejection by the state of its social functions, in favour of repressive ones, and the ending of democratic freedoms.'

... compare the actions of politicians inn western democracies with those of criminal tyrants. In cause and effect, the crucial difference is distance from the carnage, and the dissemination of an insidious propaganda that says a crime is not a crime if we commit it. It was not a crime to murder more than half a million peasants with bombs dropped secretly and illegally on Cambodia, igniting an Asian holocaust. It was not a crime for Bill Clinton and George W Bush, Tony Blair and his Tory predecessors to have caused the deaths in Iraq of 'more people than have been killed by all weapons of mass destruction in history', to quote the conclusion of an American study.

Their medieval blockade against twenty-two million people, now in its thirteenth year ... A report by the United Nations Secretary-General in October 2001 says that the obstruction of $4 billion of humanitarian supplies by the US and British governments is by far the main cause of the extreme suffering and deaths in Iraq. The United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef, says that the death-rate for under-fives has almost trebled since 1990, before the imposition of sanctions, and every month up to 6,000 children die mostly as a result of the blockade.' This is twice the total number of deaths in the Twin Towers and another vivid reminder of the different value of different lives. The Twin Towers victims are people. The Iraqi children are unpeople.

However, the Iraqi 'threat' is central to the Bush administration's post-September 11 strategy of 'total war'. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's instructions to the Pentagon to 'think the unthinkable' may well cause non-Americans, at least, to worry that the world's only superpower has been taken over by fundamentalists whose fanaticism promises human carnage on a scale that dwarfs the non-state terrorism of those who fly aircraft into skyscrapers and plant bombs in nightclubs in Bali.

In Washington, the 'oil and gas junta' is increasingly influenced by the Defense Policy Board (DPB), a semi-official panel that advises Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. Known in Washington as the 'Wolfowitz cabal', the group draws together the extreme right of American political life and is responsible for the inspiration behind the 'war on terrorism', principally a concept of 'total war'.

One of the group's 'thinkers', Richard Perle, a cold war planner in the Reagan administration, offered this explanation. 'No stages,' he said. 'This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq, then we take a look around and see how things stand. This is entirely the wrong way to go about it . . . If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war . . . our children will sing great songs about us years from now."

I interviewed Perle in 1987 when he was an adviser to President Reagan. I thought then he was simply mad. I was mistaken; for there is a perfectly understandable logic to the American enterprise of world conquest, of which he and the other Bush-ites are merely the latest promoters and executors. The 'war on terrorism' (or, as former Python Terry Jones put it, 'the bombing of an abstract noun') is part of the logic. It is the long-sought-after replacement for the 'red scare', justifying a permanent war footing and paranoia, and construction of the greatest military machine ever: the 'National Defense Missile Programme'. This, says the US Space Command, will ensure the 'full spectrum dominance' of the world.

This means complete military mastery, which is likened in Pentagon literature to the European navies' dominance of both the northern and eastern hemispheres in the nineteenth century. It does not end there. These words are already applied in other areas, notably the control of all economic life, the composition, or 'internal wiring', as the New York Times put it, of foreign governments and the redefinition of dissent as an 'international security concern'.

This is expressed more openly and crudely than ever before, notably by a select group of literate oafs in the American press. In an article entitled 'Unilateralism is the key to our success', Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post described the world in the next fifty years as one without protection against nuclear attack or environmental damage for the citizens of any country except the United States; a world where 'democracy' means nothing if its benefits are at odds with American 'interests'; a world in which to express dissent against these 'interests' brands one a terrorist and justifies surveillance, repression and death. As Drew Whitworth pointed out, these beliefs are indistinguishable from those of Osama bin Laden, 'carried forward by a few men without a mandate'.

There is an echo of the 'Thousand Year Reich' about this, first promoted in an American context by Henry Luce's bellicose proclamation, in 1941 in Time, of an 'American Century'. In the United States, academic-populists once again dispense a Reader's Digest view of the world, such as Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilisations and, more recently, Victor Davis Hanson's Why the West Has Won, with its call to 'civic militarism'. In none of these texts, which emphasise 'cultural' supremacy, is there recognition that the imperialist imperatives of the American Century have undermined the greatest western achievement, that of secular, redistributive politics, and allowed the maelstrom stemming from American violence, along with introspective, revengeful religion, to fill the gaps.

This book argues that we urgently need antidotes to a propaganda that beckons dangers no less than those of the cold war.

We need an awareness of lethal double standards: that 'international law' and 'international community' are often merely the preserves of great power, not the expression of the majority. The United States can mount a posse with Britain and one or two bribed hangers-on and call it a 'coalition', for the purposes of a wholly piratical attack on other countries, while more than 400 United Nations resolutions calling for justice in Palestine are not worth the paper they are written on. We also need to examine the common use of 'we' and its appropriation by great power. If 'we' are to fight terrorism, then 'we' must call on the United States to end its terror in the Middle East, Colombia and elsewhere. Only then can 'we' make the world a safer place.

One of my oldest friends, Charlie Perkins, Australia's Martin Luther King, lived past the age of sixty, an amazing achievement for one whose people more often than not die in their thirties and forties. It was Charlie who led the 'freedom rides' of the sixties into Australia's equivalent of the American Deep South, chaining himself to the turnstiles of swimming pools that refused to admit black children. On our first visit to Alice Springs together, in 1969, Charlie's mother, Hetti, who was a queen of the Arrente people, suggested we gain entry to an Aboriginal 'reserve', a concentration camp in the bush, by revving the car and ramming the gate, which we did. His last, long interview with me is published here. This book is a tribute to those, like Charlie and Hetti, whose actions shame the silent and defy the myth of apathy.

They belong to what the great American reporter Martha Gellhorn called 'an old and unending worldwide company, the men and women of conscience and struggle'. Some are famous like Tom Paine and Wilberforce and Mandela, but most are little known in the West. In India, there is the 300,000-strong, all-female Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA); in Brazil the Landless People's Movement; in Mexico the Zapatistas. Their victories, usually unrecognised in the West, are often epic. Not long before I wrote this, in Bolivia's third city, Cochabamba, ordinary people took back their water from a corporate conglomerate, after the World Bank had pressurised the Bolivian government into privatising the public water supply. Having refused credit to the public water company, the bank demanded that a monopoly be given to Aguas del Tunari, part of International Water Limited, a British-based company half-owned by the American engineering giant Bechtel.

Granted a forty-year concession, the company immediately raised the price of water. In a country where the minimum wage is less than $100 a month, people faced increases in their water bills of $20 a month-more than water users pay each month in the wealthy suburbs of Washington, home to many World Bank economists. In Cochabamba, even collecting rainwater without a permit was now illegal.

So they organised. Marcelo Rojas, who became one of the leaders, said, 'I had never taken an interest in politics before. My father is a politician, and I thought it was all about cutting deals. But to see people fighting for their water, their rights. made me realise there was a common good to defend, that the country can't be left in the hands of the politicians.' He was arrested and tortured by the police, as were many young people who built barricades and protected the old when the authorities attacked. They took over their city and they won. The government tore up the contract, and the company cleared its desks.

Victories of that kind are not acknowledged in the West. Argentina is reported as chaos, not as a struggle with connections to our own lives. The epic struggle of journalists in Turkey for a free press, of trade unionists in Colombia and the new 'tiger' unions in East Asia are of no concern to 'us'. In Indonesia, the IMF may have delivered an expedient coup de grace to the genocidist Suharto, but it was brave people, like Dita Sari and Daniel Indra Kusuma ... who broke the long silence and faced guns and armoured vehicles supplied by the dictator's friends, notably the British government.

In South Africa, it was young people, like those at Soweto in 1976, who faced the 'Hippos', the hideous armoured vehicles from which the police killed and wounded indiscriminately. Study Paul Weinberg's historic photograph of a lone woman standing defiant between two of these monsters, as they rolled into her township; her arms are raised, her fists are clenched. The negotiators played a part, but it was those like her who defeated apartheid.

The list is endless. Contrary to myth, people are seldom compliant. In a survey of thirty countries, Gallup found that the majority opposed the bombing of Afghanistan and military violence as a means of bringing terrorists to justice. Most understand that the real terror is poverty, from which some 24,000 people die every day.

Following September 11, Robin Theurkauf, a lecturer in national law at Yale University, wrote, 'Terrorist impulses ferment in poverty, oppression and ignorance. The elimination of these conditions and the active promotion of a universal respect for human rights must become a priority.'

'To be corrupted by totalitarianism', warned George Orwell, | 'one does not need to live in a totalitarian country.' In the United States, where a military plutocracy rules, another generation now marches in streets that some of the most tenacious peace and democracy movements once filled. In Europe, the energy and organisation are well ahead of the 1960s, rather like the blossoming political awareness of all sorts of people, especially the young. They no longer confuse the distractions of elective oligarchies with true politics. Under many banners, this new 'endless company', drawing millions from across the world, may well be the greatest.

The New Rulers of the World

Index of Website

Home Page