FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

First, They Attack the Past

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.

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 July 26, 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 percent 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 the media].”

Phony elections were arranged, hailed in the West as “free and fair,” with American officials fabricating “an 83 percent 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.” 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 of the official syllabi, 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 untutored minds.

“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 was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London, he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s highest award, that of “Journalist of the Year,” for his work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs, is published by Jonathan Cape next month. He can be reached through his website: http://www.johnpilger.com/
© JOHN PILGER 2004

John Pilger can be reached through his website: www.johnpilger.com

Weekend Edition
April 29-31, 2016
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail