Thanks to Miguel De Icaza, I found an interesting speech by Harold Pinter which is reprinted in the article Art, Truth and Politics. Parts of the speech ramble at times but there is a particularly potent message which has been excerpted below

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case "innocent people" were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'

The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.

The Sandinistas weren't perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.

The United States denounced these achievements as Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of health care and education and achieve social unity and national self respect, neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.

I spoke earlier about 'a tapestry of lies' which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a 'totalitarian dungeon'. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.

But this 'policy' was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant.

The winners get to write the history books. I wonder what they'll say about this era in a hundred or a thousand years from now.


Categories: Current Affairs
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Friday, December 9, 2005 3:51:57 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Interesting post. "That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass." Is this the same killing that Joan Didion discusses in her book _Salvador_?
Friday, December 9, 2005 6:00:16 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

Dare, thanks for posting that.
Friday, December 9, 2005 2:16:22 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Yep, powerful stuff, and a point of view you don't often hear. Thanks Dare.
Friday, December 9, 2005 2:28:52 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Any word about what the Soviet Union was up to at the time? It might put this in context a little better...
Leroy Jenkins
Friday, December 9, 2005 3:22:34 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Quote - Any word about what the Soviet Union was up to at the time? It might put this in context a little better...<br /><br />It might, but, of course, the Soviet Union is no longer around to support its proxies and that is why the US is able to operate with impunity.<br />
Friday, December 9, 2005 10:06:35 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
>> It might, but, of course, the Soviet Union is no longer around to support its proxies and that is why the US is able to operate with impunity.

The point is that these Chomsky-esque opinions of the U.S. are stuck in a different era. Everything is viewed with the blinders of Colonialism.

I found this encouraging. Hopefully things will be better in Iraq soon too:

Public Attitudes in Afghanistan:

1. Current Direction

Right Direction: 77%
Wrong Direction: 6%

2. U.S.-Led Overthrow of Taliban

Good Thing: 87%
Bad Thing: 9%
Friday, December 9, 2005 11:24:28 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Who cares what the Soviets were up to? If they were doing bad things does that somehow make it ok that the U.S. armed dictators, trained death squads in our own bases, and supports injustice for DECADES in the developing world?

I don't think so.
Saturday, December 10, 2005 7:27:02 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
It's all nice and well to look back and pass judgement on Cold War strategies (and yes, we did some very bad things during that time, including installing and supporting brutual, evil dictators,) but let's not ignore the fact that the Sandanistas (and the Soviets, and Cubans, etc, who are all so usually lovingly remembered by people such as Pinter) participated in their own share of massacres, etc.
Saturday, December 10, 2005 11:18:49 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Monday, December 12, 2005 6:01:03 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Hello Dare,

I recommend my friends the book "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn. This book tells the story not from the winner perspective but from those who lost.

The book is available in audiobook format as read by Matt Damon, a long time friend of Howard Zinn.

Howard came up with a follow up book this year which is also fascinating, "Voices of a People's History". This book is a collection of essays from those who have struggled as opposed to the voice of a historian. Highly recommended.

Someone asks about what was happening in Soviet Rusia at the same time. There is a pretty detailed analysis of news coverage in the era and the involvement of the media on Noam Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent", the book looks at the number of articles and surface area for similar events at about the same time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005 6:08:02 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

I've just finished writing a comment about XSLT 2 in what is developing into a very interesting thread. You infuriate me at times, and yet when I see this, I also see someone who understands the obscenity that is going on right now in the name of American Democracy and Progress, and is willing to fight it with his words and deeds.

I'm writing this from Victoria, Canada, in great part because I, an American, have become tired of my tax dollars going to pay for one of the most brutal, corrupt, secretive and fanatical governments in history. I continue to work where I can to stem the tide, but at the same time I fear for the country of my birth, and admire you for taking such a public stand against the corruption.

-- Kurt
Wednesday, December 14, 2005 9:27:55 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
"And thanks to President Mobutu, we are nearer the goal long sought, yet long elusive: peace and opportunity in southwestern Africa."
Wednesday, December 21, 2005 6:05:58 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Thank you for this, Dare. It's refreshing to run across people in my industry who can perceive the world accurately.

You ask how the world will see us in 1000 years. You know, when I was a kid growing up in the 50ies, the big question (at least among my sector of unenlightened middle america) was "How could the Germans have done it? They were so educated, and technologically advanced?" And we pondered that one for a while. Today people are asking that question about the US. Ask yourself if you were a Central American, who would you see as the main obstacle to your country's development? Who are the bad guys?

Us americans are not used to thinking of ourselves as the bad guys, but as Martin Luther King wrote, this country was founded on slavery and genocide. Now ask yourself, is King's statement a rhetorical exageration, or a literal unvarnished statement of a truth that americans are not used to hearing or thinking much about? Was our country founded on slavery? I'd refer you to our constitution. Was it founded on genocide? Well, in the Declaration of Independence, one of the complaints against the English king is that he was obstructing settlement west of the mountains. And our track record with Native Americans certainly merits the genocide label.

On a more detailed note, I would invite the commenter who casually mentioned attrocities by the Sandinistas to actually cite some facts. The US record of attrocity and murder in Central America is pretty clear (remember reports that Bush was thinking of using "the Salvador option" in Iraq?). In terms of raw body counts, you are not going to find the Sandinistas killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Rick Saling
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