Power, Propaganda and Conscience in The War On Terror

Email Print

would like to thank The University of Western Australia for inviting
me here today, and especially Nigel Dolan for his warm welcome and
smooth organisation.

am a reporter, who values bearing witness. That is to say, I place
paramount importance in the evidence of what I see, and hear, and
sense to be the truth, or as close to the truth as possible. By
comparing this evidence with the statements, and actions of those
with power, I believe it's possible to assess fairly how our world
is controlled and divided, and manipulated — and how language and
debate are distorted and a false consciousness developed.

we speak of this in regard to totalitarian societies and dictatorships,
we call it brainwashing: the conquest of minds. It's a notion we
almost never apply to our own societies. Let me give you an example.
During the height of the cold war, a group of Soviet journalists
were taken on an official tour of the United States. They watched
TV; they read the newspapers; they listened to debates in Congress.
To their astonishment, everything they heard was more or less the
same. The news was the same. The opinions were the same, more or
less. "How do you do it?" they asked their hosts. "In
our country, to achieve this, we throw people in prison; we tear
out their fingernails. Here, there's none of that? What's your secret?"

secret is that the question is almost never raised. Or if it is
raised, it's more than likely dismissed as coming from the margins:
from voices far outside the boundaries of what I would call our
u2018metropolitan conversation', whose terms of reference, and limits,
are fixed by the media at one level, and by the discourse or silence
of scholarship at another level. Behind both is a presiding corporate
and political power.

dozen years ago, I reported from East Timor, which was then occupied
by the Indonesian dictatorship of General Suharto. I had to go there
under cover, as reporters were not welcome — my informants were
brave, ordinary people who confirmed, with their evidence and experience,
that genocide had taken place in their country. I brought out meticulously
hand-written documents, evidence that whole communities had been
slaughtered — all of which we now know to
be true.

also know that vital material backing for a crime proportionally
greater than the killing in Cambodia under Pol Pot had come from
the West: principally the United States, Britain and Australia.
On my return to London, and then to this country, I encountered
a very different version. The media version was that General Suharto
was a benign leader, who ran a sound economy and was a close ally.
Indeed, prime minister Keating was said to regard him as a father

and Foreign Minister Gareth Evans made many laudatory speeches about
Suharto, never mentioning — not once — that he had seized power
as a result of what the CIA called "one of the worst massacres
of the twentieth century." Nor did they mention that his special
forces, known as Kopassus, were responsible for the terror and deaths
of a quarter of the East Timorese population — 200,000 people, a
figure confirmed in a study commissioned by the Foreign Affairs
Committee of Federal Parliament.

did they mention that these killers were trained by the Australian
SAS not far from this auditorium, and that the Australian military
establishment was integrated into Suharto's violent campaign against
the people of East Timor.

evidence of atrocities, which I reported in my film Death of
a Nation was heard and accepted by the Human Rights Commission
of the United Nations, but not by those with power in Australia.
When I showed evidence of a second massacre near the Santa Cruz
cemetery in November 1991, the foreign editor of the only national
newspaper in this country, The Australian, mocked the eyewitnesses.

truth," wrote Greg Sheridan, "is that even genuine victims
frequently concoct stories.” The paper's Jakarta correspondent,
Patrick Walters, wrote that "no one is arrested [by Suharto]
without proper legal procedures." The editor-in-chief, Paul
Kelly, declared Suharto a "moderate" and that there was
no alternative to his benign rule.

Kelly sat on the board of the Australia-Indonesia Institute, a body
funded by the Australian government. Not long before Suharto was
overthrown by his own people, Kelly was in Jakarta, standing at
Suharto's side, introducing the mass murderer to a line of Australian
editors. To his great credit, the then editor of the West Australian,
Paul Murray, refused to join this obsequious group.

long ago, Paul Kelly was given a special award in the annual Walkley
Awards for journalism — the kind they give to elder statesmen. And
no one said anything about Indonesia and Suharto. Imagine a similar
award going to Geoffrey Dawson, editor of the London Times in
the 1930s. Like Kelly, he appeased a genocidal dictator, calling
him a "moderate."

episode is a metaphor for what I'd like to touch upon tonight.

15 years, a silence was maintained by the Australian government,
the Australian media and Australian academics on the great crime
and tragedy of East Timor. Moreover, this was an extension of the
silence about the true circumstances of Suharto's bloody ascent
to power in the mid-sixties. It was not unlike the official silence
in the Soviet Union on the bloody invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

media's silence I'll discuss in a while. Let's look now at the academic
silence. One of the greatest acts of genocide in the second half
of the twentieth century apparently did not warrant a single substantial
academic case study, based on primary sources. Why? We have to go
back to the years immediately after world war two when the study
of post-war international politics, known as "liberal realism,"
was invented in the United States, largely with the sponsorship
of those who designed American global economic power. They include
the Ford, Carnegie and Rockeller Foundations, the OSS, the forerunner
of the CIA, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

in the great American universities, scholars generally served to
justify the cold war — which, we now know from declassified files,
not only brought us closer to nuclear war than we thought, but was
itself largely bogus. As the British files now make clear, there
was no Soviet threat to the world. The threat was to Russia's satellites,
just as the United States threatened, invaded and controlled its
satellites in Latin America.

realism" — in America, Britain, Australia — meant taking the
humanity out of the study of nations and viewing the world in terms
of its usefulness to western power. This was presented in a self-serving
jargon: a Masonic-like language in thrall to the dominant power.
Typical of the jargon were labels.

all the labels applied to me, the most interesting is that I am
u2018neo-idealist'. The u2018neo' but has yet to be explained. I should
add here that the most hilarious label is the creation of the foreign
editor of The Australian who took a whole page in his newspaper
to say that a subversive movement called Chomskyist-Pilgerism was
inspiring would-be terrorists throughout the world.

the 1990s, whole societies were laid out for autopsy and identified
as "failed states" and "rogue states," requiring
"humanitarian intervention." Other euphemisms became fashionable
— "good governance" and "third way" were adopted
by the liberal realist school, which handed out labels to its heroes.
Bill Clinton, the president who destroyed the last of the Roosevelt
reforms, was labelled "left of centre."

words like democracy, freedom, independence, reform were emptied
of their meaning and taken into the service of the World Bank, the
IMF and that amorphous thing called "The West" — in other
words, imperialism.

course, imperialism was the word the realists dared not write or
speak, almost as if it had been struck from the dictionary. And
yet imperialism was the ideology behind their euphemisms. And need
I remind you of the fate of people under imperialism. Throughout
20th century imperialism, the authorities of Britain,
Belgium and France gassed, bombed and massacred indigenous populations
from Sudan to Iraq, Nigeria to Palestine, India to Malaya, Algeria
to the Congo. And yet imperialism only got its bad name when Hitler
decided he, too, was an imperialist.

after the war, new concepts had to be invented, indeed a whole lexicon
and discourse created, as the new imperial superpower, the United
States, didn't wish to be associated with the bad old days of European
power. The American cult of anti-communism filled this void most
effectively; however, when the Soviet Union suddenly collapsed and
the cold war was over, a new threat had to be found.

first, there was the "war on drugs" — and the Bogeyman
Theory of History is still popular. But neither can compare with
the "war on terror" which arrived with September 11, 2001.
Last year, I reported the "war on terror" from Afghanistan.
Like East Timor, events I witnessed bore almost no relation to the
way they were represented in free societies, especially Australia.

American attack on Afghanistan in 2001 was reported as a liberation.
But the evidence on the ground is that, for 95 per cent of the people,
there is no liberation. The Taliban have been merely exchanged for
a group of American funded warlords, rapists, murderers and war
criminals — terrorists by any measure: the very people whom President
Carter secretly armed and the CIA trained for almost 20 years.

of the most powerful warlords is General Rashid Dostum. General
Dostum was visited by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary,
who came to express his gratitude. He called the general a "thoughtful"
man and congratulated him on his part in the war on terror. This
is the same General Dostum in whose custody 4,000 prisoners died
terrible deaths just over two years ago — the allegations are that
wounded men were left to suffocate and bleed to death in containers.
Mary Robinson, when she was the UN's senior humanitarian representative,
called for an inquiry; but there was none for this kind of acceptable
terrorism. The general is the face of the new Afghanistan you don't
see in the media.

you see is the urbane Harmid Karzai, whose writ barely extends beyond
his 42 American bodyguards. Only the Taliban seem to excite the
indignation of our political leaders and media. Yet under the new,
approved regime, women still wear the burqua, largely because they
fear to walk down the street. Girls are routinely abducted, raped,

the Suharto dictatorship, these warlords are our official friends,
whereas the Taliban were our official enemies. The distinction is
important, because the victims of our official friends are worthy
of our care and concern, whereas the victims of our official enemies
are not. That is the principle upon which totalitarian regimes run
their domestic propaganda. And that, basically, is how western democracies,
like Australia, run theirs.

difference is that in totalitarian societies, people take for granted
that their governments lie to them: that their journalists are mere
functionaries, that their academics are quiet and complicit. So
people in these countries adjust accordingly. They learn to read
between the lines. They rely on a flourishing underground. Their
writers and playwrights write coded works, as in Poland and Czechoslovakia
during the cold war.

Czech friend, a novelist, told me; "You in the West are disadvantaged.
You have your myths about freedom of information, but you have yet
to acquire the skill of deciphering: of reading between the lines.
One day, you will need it."

day has come. The so-called war on terror is the greatest threat
to all of us since the most dangerous years of the cold war.
Rapacious, imperial America has found its new "red scare."
Every day now, officially manipulated fear and paranoia are exported
to our shores — air marshals, finger printing, a directive on how
many people can queue for the toilet on a Qantas jet flying to Los

totalitarian impulses that have long existed in America are now
in full cry. Go back to the 1950s, the McCarthy years, and the echoes
today are all too familiar — the hysteria; the assault on the Bill
of Rights; a war based on lies and deception. Just as in the 1950s,
the virus has spread to America's intellectual satellites, notably

week, the Howard government announced it would implement US-style
immigration procedures, fingerprinting people when they arrived.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported this as government measures
to "tighten its anti-terrorism net." No challenge there;
no scepticism. News as propaganda.

convenient it all is. The White Australia Policy is back as "homeland
security" — yet another American term that institutionalises
both paranoia and its bed-fellow, racism. Put simply, we are being
brainwashed to believe that Al-Qaida, or any such group, is the
real threat. And it isn't. By a simple mathematical comparison
of American terror and Al-Qaida terror, the latter is a lethal flea.
In my lifetime, the United States has supported and trained and
directed terrorists in Latin America, Africa, Asia. The toll of
their victims is in the millions.

the days before September 11, 2001, when America routinely attacked
and terrorised weak states, and the victims were black and brown-skinned
people in faraway places like Zaire and Guatemala, there were no
headlines saying terrorism. But when the weak attacked the powerful,
spectacularly on September 11, suddenly, there was terrorism.

is not to say that the threat from al-Qaida is not real — It is
very real now, thanks to American and British actions in Iraq, and
the almost infantile support given by the Howard government. But
the most pervasive, clear and present danger is that of which we
are told nothing.

is the danger posed by "our" governments — a danger suppressed
by propaganda that casts "the West" as always benign:
capable of misjudgment and blunder, yes, but never of high crime.
The judgement at Nuremberg takes another view. This is what the
judgement says; and remember, these words are the basis for almost
60 years of international law: "To initiate a war of aggression,
it is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international
crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within
itself the accumulated evil of the whole"

other words, there is no difference, in the principle of the law,
between the action of the German regime in the late 1930s and the
Americans in 2003. Fuelled by religious fanaticism, a corrupt Americanism
and corporate greed, the Bush cabal is pursuing what the military
historian Anatol Lieven calls "the classic modern strategy
of an endangered right-wing oligarchy, which is to divert discontent
into nationalism." Bush's America, he warns, "has become
a menace to itself and to mankind."

are rare words. I know of no Australian historian or any other so-called
expert to have uttered such a truth. I know of no Australian media
organisation that would allow its journalists to speak or write
such a truth. My friends in Australian journalism whisper it, always
in private. They even encourage outsiders, like myself, to say it
publicly, as I am doing now.

Well, a career, security — even fame and fortune — await those who
propagate the crimes of official enemies. But a very different treatment
awaits those who turn the mirror around. I've often wondered if
George Orwell, in his great prophetic work 1984, about thought
control in totalitarian states … I've often wondered what the reaction
would have been had he addressed the more interesting question of
thought control in relatively free societies. Would he have been
appreciated and celebrated? Or would he have faced silence, even

all the western democracies, Australia is the most derivative and
the most silent. Those who hold up a mirror are not welcome in the
media. My work is syndicated and read widely around the world, but
not in Australia, where I come from. However, I am mentioned
in the Australian press quite frequently. The official commentators,
who dominate the press, will refer critically to an article of mine
they may have read in the Guardian or New Statesman in
London. But Australian readers are not allowed to read the original,
which must be filtered through the official commentators. But I
do appear regularly in one Australian paper: the Hinterland Voice
— a tiny free sheet, whose address is Post Office Kin Kin in Queensland.
It's a fine local paper. It has stories about garage sales and horses
and the local scouts, and I'm proud to be part of it.

the only paper in Australia in which I've been able to report
the evidence of the disaster in Iraq — for example, that the attack
on Iraq was planned from September 11; that only a few months earlier,
Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, had stated that Saddam Hussein
was disarmed and no threat to anyone.

the United States is currently training a Gestapo of 10,000 agents,
commanded by the most ruthless, senior elements of Saddam Hussein's
secret police. The aim is to run the new puppet regime behind a
pseudo-democratic façade — and to defeat the resistance.
That information is vital to us, because the fate of the resistance
in Iraq is vital to all our futures. For if the resistance fails,
the Bush cabal will almost certainly attack another country — possibly
North Korea, which is nuclear armed.

over a month ago, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a
range of resolutions on disarmament of weapons of mass destruction.
Remember the charade of Iraq's WMDs? Remember John Howard in Parliament
last February, saying that Saddam Hussein, "will emerge with
his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons intact," and
that it was "a massive programme."

a speech lasting 30 minutes, Howard referred more than 30 times
to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
And it was all a deception, wasn't it, a lie, a terrible
joke on the public, and it was channelled and amplified by an obedient
media. And who in the universities, our power-houses of knowledge
and criticism and debate — who stood up and objected? I can think
of just two.

can I find any report in the media of the United Nations General
Assembly resolutions on 8th December. The outcome was
remarkable, if not surprising. The United States opposed all the
most important resolutions, including those dealing with nuclear
weapons. In its secret Nuclear Posture Review for 2002, the Bush
administration outlines contingency plans to use nuclear weapons
against North Korea, and Syria, and Iran and China.

suit, a British government has announced for the first time that
Britain will attack non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons "if
necessary." Who among you is aware of these ambitions, and
yet American and British intelligence facilities in this country
are crucial to their implementation.

is there no public discussion about this? The answer is that Australia
has become a microcosm of the self-censored society. In its current
index of press freedom, the international monitoring organisation
Reporters Without Borders lists Australian press freedom in 50th
place, ahead only of autocracies and dictatorships. How did
this come about?

the nineteenth century, Australia had a press more fiercely independent
than most countries. In 1880, in New South Wales alone, there were
143 independent titles, many of them with a campaigning style and
editors who believed it was their duty to be the voice of the people.
Today, of twelve principal newspapers in the capital cities, one
man, Rupert Murdoch, controls seven. Of the ten Sunday newspapers,
Murdoch has seven. In Adelaide and Brisbane, he has effectively
a complete monopoly. He controls almost 70 per cent of capital city
circulation. Perth has only one newspaper.

the largest city, is dominated by Murdoch and by the Sydney Morning
Herald, whose current editor in chief Mark Scott told a marketing
conference in 2002 that journalism no longer needed smart and clever
people. "They are not the answer," he said. The answer
is people who can execute corporate strategy. In other words, mediocre
minds, obedient minds.

great American journalist Martha Gellhorn once stood up at a press
conference and said: "Listen, we're only real journalists when
we're not doing as we're told. How else can we ever keep the record
straight?" The late Alex Carey, the great Australian social
scientist who pioneered the study of corporatism and propaganda,
wrote that the three most significant political developments of
the twentieth century were, "the growth of democracy, the growth
of corporate power and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means
of protecting corporate power against democracy."

was describing the propaganda of 20th century imperialism,
which is the propaganda of the corporate state. And contrary to
myth, the state has not withered away; indeed, it has never been
stronger. General Suharto was a corporate man — good for business.
So his crimes were irrelevant, and the massacres of his own people
and of the East Timorese were consigned to an Orwellian black hole.
So effective is this historical censorship by omission that
Suharto is currently being rehabilitated. In The Australian
last October, Owen Harries described the Suharto period as a "golden
era" and urged Australia to once again embrace the genocidal
military of Indonesia.

Owen Harries gave the Boyer Lectures on the ABC. This is an extraordinary
platform: in six episodes broadcast on Radio National, Harries asked
whether the United States was benign or imperial. After some minor
criticisms of American power, he described the foreign policy of
the most dangerous administration in modern times as "utopian."

is Owen Harries? He was an adviser to the government of Malcolm
Fraser. But in none of the publicity about his lectures have I read
that Harries was also involved with a CIA-front propaganda organisation,
the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its Australian offshoot. For
years, Harries was an apologist for the cold war and the initial
CIA-run attack on Vietnam. In Washington, he was editor of an extreme
right wing journal called The National Interest.

one would deny Owen Harries his voice in any democracy. But we should
know who his former sponsors were. Moreover, it is his extreme view
that is the one that dominates.
That the ABC should provide him with such a platform tells us a
great deal about the effects of the long-running political intimidation
of our national broadcaster.

on the other hand, the ABC's treatment of Richard Flanagan, one
of our finest novelists. Last year, Flanagan was asked to read a
favourite piece of fiction on a Radio National programme and explain
his reasons for the choice. He decided on one of his favourite writers
of fiction: John Howard. He listed Howard's most famous fictions
— that desperate refugees had willfully thrown their children overboard,
and that Australia was endangered by Saddam Hussein's weapons of
mass destruction.

followed this with Molly Bloom's soliloquy from Joyce's Ulysses,
because, he explained, "in our time of lies and hate it seems
appropriate to be reminded of the beauty of saying yes to the chaos
of truth." Well, all of this was duly recorded. But when the
programme was broadcast, all references to the prime minister had
been cut out. Flanagan accused the ABC of rank censorship. No, was
the response. They just didn't want "anything political."
And this is the same ABC that has just given Owen Harries, the voice
of George W Bush's utopia, six one-hour broadcasts.

for Richard Flanagan, that wasn't the end of it. The ABC producer
who had censored him asked if he would be interested in coming on
a programme to discuss, "disillusionment in contemporary Australia."
In a society that once prided itself on its laconic sense of irony,
there was not even a hint of irony, just an obedient, managerial
silence. "All around me," wrote Flanagan, "I see
avenues for expression closing, and odd collusion of an ever-more
cowed media and the way in which the powerful seek to dictate what
is and what is not read and heard."

believe those words speak for many Australians. Half a million of
them converged on the centre of Sydney on February 16th, and this
was repeated proportionally across the country. Ten Million marched
across the world. People who had never protested before protested
the fiction of Howard and of Bush and Blair.

Australia is the microcosm, consider the destruction of free speech
in the United States, which constitutionally has the freest press
in the world. In 1983, the principal media in America was owned
by fifty corporations. In 2002, this had fallen to just nine companies.
Today, Murdoch's Fox Television and four other conglomerates are
on the verge of controlling 90 per cent of the terrestrial and cable
audience. Even on the Internet, the leading twenty websites are
now owned by Fox, Disney, AOL, Time Warner, Viacom and other giants.
Just fourteen companies attract 60 per cent of all the time Americans
spend online. And these companies control, or influence most of
the world's visual media, the principal source of information for
most people.

are beginning to learn," wrote Edward Said in his book Culture
and Imperialism
, "that de-colonisation was not the
termination of imperial relationships but merely the extending of
a geo-political web that has been spinning since the Renaissance.
The new media have the media to penetrate more deeply into a receiving
culture than any previous manifestation of Western technology."
Compared with a century ago, when "European culture was associated
with a white man's presence, we now have in addition an international
media presence that insinuates itself over a fantastically wide

was referring not only to news. Right across the media, children
are remorselessly targeted by big business propaganda, commonly
known as advertising. In the United States, some 30,000 commercial
messages are targeted at children every year. The chief executive
of one leading advertising company explained: "They aren't
children so much as evolving consumers." Public relations is
the twin of advertising. In the last twenty years, the whole concept
of PR has changed dramatically and is now an enormous propaganda
industry. In the United Kingdom, it's estimated that pre-packaged
PR now accounts for half of the content of some major newspapers.
The idea of "embedding" journalists with the US military
during the invasion of Iraq came from public relations experts in
the Pentagon, whose current strategic-planning literature describes
journalism as part of psychological operations, or "psyops."
Journalism as psyops.

aim, says the Pentagon, is to achieve "information dominance"
— which, in turn, is part of "full spectrum dominance"
— the stated policy of the United States to control land, sea, space
and information. They make no secret of it. It's in the public domain.

journalists who go their own way, those like Martha Gellhorn and
Robert Fisk, beware. The independent Arab TV organisation,
Al-Jazeera, was bombed by the Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In the invasion of Iraq, more journalists were killed than ever
before — by the Americans. The message could not be clearer. The
aim, eventually, is that there'll be no distinction between information
control and media. That's to say: you won't know the difference.

alone is worthy of reflection by journalists: those who still believe,
like Martha Gellhorn, that their duty is to keep the record straight.
The choice is actually quite simple: they are truth-tellers, or,
in the words of Edward Herman, they merely "normalise the unthinkable."

Australia, so much of the unthinkable has already been normalised.
Almost twelve years after Mabo, the basic rights of the first Australians,
known as native title, have become ensnared in legal structures.
The Aboriginal people now fight not just to survive. They face a
constant war of legal attrition, fought by lawyers. The legal bill
and associated costs in native title administration alone now runs
into hundreds of million of dollars. Puggy Hunter, a West Australian
Aboriginal leader, told me: "Fighting the lawyers for our birthright,
fighting them every inch of the way, will kill me." He died
soon afterwards, in his forties.

High Court of Australia, once regarded as the last hope for the
First Australians, now refers to native title as having a "bundle
of rights" — as if Aboriginal rights can be sorted and graded
— and downgraded.

unthinkable is the way we allow the government to treat refugees,
against whom our brave military is dispatched. In camps so bad that
the United Nations inspector said he had never seen anything like
them, we allow what amounts to child abuse.

October 19th 2001, a boat carrying 397 people sank on
its way to Australia. 353 drowned, many of them children. Were it
not for a single individual, Tony Kevin, a retired Australian diplomat,
this tragedy would have been consigned to oblivion. Thanks to him,
we now know the Australian and military intelligence knew the boat
was in grave danger of sinking, and did nothing. Is that surprising
when the prime minister of Australia and the responsible minister
have created such an atmosphere of hostility towards these defenceless
people — a hostility designed, I believe, to tap the seam of racism
that runs right through our history.

the culpable loss of those lives against the pompous statements
of Australian defence experts about our "sphere of influence"
in Asia and the Pacific — that allows the Australian military to
invade the Solomon's, but not to save 353 lives.

Let's talk about threats from asylum-seekers in leaking boats, from
Al-Qaida. In its annual report for 1990, the Australian Security
and Intelligence Organisation, ASIO, stated: "The only discernible
threat of politically motivated violence comes from the racist right."
I believe, regardless of subsequent events, nothing has changed.

these matters are connected. They represent, at the very least,
an assault on our intellect and our morality, yet even in our cultural
life, we seem to turn away, as if frightened. Last week, I attended
the opening of a new play in Sydney called "Harbour."
It’s about the great struggle on the waterfront in 1998 which
attracted extraordinary public support. The play is an act of neutering,
its stereotypes and sentimentality make history acceptable. Those
who can afford the $60-odd for a ticket will not be disappointed.
The sponsors, Jaguar and Fairfax and a huge law firm, will not be

must reclaim our history from corporatism; for our history is rich
and painful and, yes, proud. We should reclaim it from the John
Howards and the Keith Windshuttles, who deny it, and from the polite
people and their sponsors who neuter it. You will hear them say
that Joe Blow doesn't care — that as a people, we are apathetic
and indifferent.

was the thousands of Australians who went into the streets
in 1999, in city after city, town after town, who decisively helped
the people of East Timor — not John Howard, not General Cosgrove.
And those Australians were not indifferent. It was the thousands
of Australians and New Zealanders who stopped the French exploding
their nuclear bombs in the Pacific. And they were not indifferent.
It was the young people who travelled to Woomera and forced the
closure of that disgraceful camp. And they were not indifferent.

tragedy for many Australians seeking pride in the achievements of
our nation is the suppression or the neutering, in popular culture,
of a politically distinctive past, of which there is much to be
proud. In the lead and silver mines of Broken Hill, the miners won
the world's first 35-hour a week, half a century ahead of Europe
and America. Long before most of the world, Australia had a minimum
wage, child benefits, pensions and the vote for women. By the 1960s,
Australia could boast the most equitable spread of income in the
western world. In spite of Howard and Ruddock, in my lifetime, Australia
has been transformed from a second-hand Anglo-Irish society to one
of the most culturally diverse and attractive on earth, and almost
all of it has happened peacefully. Indifference had nothing to do
with it.

can almost hear a few of you saying, "OK, then what should
we do?"

Noam Chomsky recently pointed out, you almost never hear that question
in the so-called developing world, where most of humanity struggles
to live day by day. There, they'll tell you what they
are doing.

have none of the life-and-death problems faced by, say, intellectuals
in Turkey or campesinos in Brazil or Aboriginal people in our own
third world. Perhaps too many of us believe that if we take action,
then the solution will happen almost overnight. It will be easy
and fast. Alas, it doesn't work that way.

you want to take direct action — and I believe we don't have a choice
now: such is the danger facing all of us — then it means hard work,
dedication, commitment, just like those people in countries on the
front line, who ought to be our inspiration. The people of Bolivia
recently reclaimed their country from water and gas multinationals,
and threw out the president who abused their trust. The people of
Venezuela have, time and again, defended their democratically elected
president against a ferocious campaign by an American-backed elite
and the media it controls. In Brazil and Argentina, popular movements
have made extraordinary progress — so much so that Latin America
is no longer the vassal continent of Washington.

in Colombia, into which the United States has poured a fortune in
order to shore up a vicious oligarchy, ordinary people — trade unionists,
peasants, young people have fought back.

are epic struggles you don't read much about here. Then there's
what we call the anti-globalisation movement. Oh, I detest that
word, because it's much more than that. It's is a remarkable response
to poverty and injustice and war. It's more diverse, more enterprising,
more internationalist and more tolerant of difference than anything
in the past, and it's growing faster than ever.

fact, it is now the democratic opposition in many countries. That
is the very good news. For in spite of the propaganda campaign
I have outlined, never in my lifetime have people all over the world
demonstrated greater awareness of the political forces ranged against
them and the possibilities of countering them. The notion of a representative
democracy controlled from below where the representatives are not
only elected but can be called truly to account, is as relevant
today as it was when first put into practice in the Paris Commune
133 years ago. As for voting, yes, that's a hard won gain. But the
Chartists, who probably invented voting as we know it today, made
clear that it was gain only when there was a clear, democratic choice.
And there's no clear, democratic choice now. We live in a single-ideology
state in which two almost identical factions compete for our attention
while promoting the fiction of their difference.

writer Arundhati Roy described the outpouring of anti-war anger
last year as "the most spectacular display of public morality
the world has ever seen." That was just a beginning and a cause
for optimism.

Because I think a great many people are beginning to listen to that
quality of humanity that is the antidote to rampant power and its
bedfellow: racism. It's called conscience. We all have it, and some
are always moved to act upon it. Franz Kafka wrote: "You
can hold back from the suffering of the world, you have free permission
to do so and it is in accordance with your nature, but perhaps this
very holding back is the one suffering that you could have avoided."

doubt there are those who believe they can remain aloof — acclaimed
writers who write only style, successful academics who remain quiet,
respected jurists who retreat into arcane law and famous journalists
who protest: "No one has ever told me what to say."
George Orwell wrote: "Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks
the whip. But the really well-trained dog is the one that turns
somersaults when there is no whip.”

those members of our small, privileged and powerful elite, I recommend
the words of Flaubert. "I have always tried to live in an ivory
tower," he said, "but a tide of s__t is beating its walls,
threatening to undermine it." For the rest of us, I offer these
words of Mahatma Gandhi: "First, they ignore," he said.
"Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."

23, 2004

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, film-maker 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.


Email Print