We Need To Be Told

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"The
propagandist’s purpose," wrote Aldous Huxley, "is to make
one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human."
The British, who invented modern war propaganda and inspired Joseph
Goebbels, were specialists in the field. At the height of the slaughter
known as the First World War, the prime minister, David Lloyd George,
confided to C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian:
"If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped
tomorrow. But of course they don’t know, and can’t know."

What
has changed?

"If
we had all known then what we know now," said the New York
Times on 24 August, "the invasion [of Iraq] would have
been stopped by a popular outcry." The admission was saying,
in effect, that powerful newspapers, like powerful broadcasting
organizations, had betrayed their readers and viewers and listeners
by not finding out — by amplifying the lies of Bush and Blair
instead of challenging and exposing them. The direct consequences
were a criminal invasion called "Shock and Awe" and the
dehumanizing of a whole nation.

This
remains largely an unspoken shame in Britain, especially at the
BBC, which continues to boast about its rigor and objectivity while
echoing a corrupt and lying government, as it did before the invasion.
For evidence of this, there are two academic studies available —
though the capitulation of broadcast journalism ought to be obvious
to any discerning viewer, night after night, as "embedded"
reporting justifies murderous attacks on Iraqi towns and villages
as "rooting out insurgents" and swallows British army
propaganda designed to distract from its disaster, while preparing
us for attacks on Iran and Syria. Like the New York Times and most
of the American media, had the BBC done its job, many thousands
of innocent people almost certainly would be alive today.

When
will important journalists cease to be establishment managers and
analyze and confront the critical part they play in the violence
of rapacious governments? An anniversary provides an opportunity.
Forty years ago this month, Major General Suharto began a seizure
of power in Indonesia by unleashing a wave of killings that the
CIA described as "the worst mass murders of the second half
of the 20th century." Much of this episode was never reported
and remains secret. None of the reports of recent terror attacks
against tourists in Bali mentioned the fact that near the major
hotels were the mass graves of some of an estimated 80,000 people
killed by mobs orchestrated by Suharto and backed by the American
and British governments.

Indeed,
the collaboration of western governments, together with the role
of western business, laid the pattern for subsequent Anglo-American
violence across the world: such as Chile in 1973, when Augusto Pinochet’s
bloody coup was backed in Washington and London; the arming of the
shah of Iran and the creation of his secret police; and the lavish
and meticulous backing of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, including black
propaganda by the Foreign Office which sought to discredit press
reports that he had used nerve gas against the Kurdish village of
Halabja.

In
1965, in Indonesia, the American embassy furnished General Suharto
with roughly 5,000 names. These were people for assassination, and
a senior American diplomat checked off the names as they were killed
or captured. Most were members of the PKI, the Indonesian Communist
Party. Having already armed and equipped Suharto’s army, Washington
secretly flew in state-of-the-art communication equipment whose
high frequencies were known to the CIA and the National Security
Council advising the president, Lyndon B Johnson. Not only did this
allow Suharto’s generals to coordinate the massacres, it meant that
the highest echelons of the US administration were listening in.

The
Americans worked closely with the British. The British ambassador
in Jakarta, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, cabled the Foreign Office: "I
have never concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in
Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to effective change."
The "little shooting" saw off between half a million and
a million people.

However,
it was in the field of propaganda, of "managing" the media
and eradicating the victims from people’s memory in the west, that
the British shone. British intelligence officers outlined how the
British press and the BBC could be manipulated. "Treatment
will need to be subtle," they wrote, "e.g., a) all activities
should be strictly unattributable, b) British [government] participation
or cooperation should be carefully concealed." To achieve this,
the Foreign Office opened a branch of its Information Research Department
(IRD) in Singapore.

The
IRD was a top-secret, cold war propaganda unit headed by Norman
Reddaway, one of Her Majesty’s most experienced liars. Reddaway
and his colleagues manipulated the "embedded" press and
the BBC so expertly that he boasted to Gilchrist in a secret message
that the fake story he had promoted — that a communist takeover
was imminent in Indonesia — "went all over the world and
back again." He described how an experienced Sunday newspaper
journalist agreed "to give exactly your angle on events in
his article . . . i.e., that this was a kid-glove coup without butchery."

These
lies, bragged Reddaway, could be "put almost instantly back
to Indonesia via the BBC." Prevented from entering Indonesia,
Roland Challis, the BBC’s southeast Asia correspondent, was unaware
of the slaughter. "My British sources purported not to know
what was going on," Challis told me, "but they knew what
the American plan was. There were bodies being washed up on the
lawns of the British consulate in Surabaya, and British warships
escorted a ship full of Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits
so that they could take part in this terrible holocaust. It was
only later that we learned that the American embassy was supplying
names and ticking them off as they were killed. There was a deal,
you see. In establishing the Suharto regime, the involvement of
the IMF and the World Bank was part of it . . . Suharto would bring
them back. That was the deal."

The
bloodbath was ignored almost entirely by the BBC and the rest of
the western media. The headline news was that "communism"
had been overthrown in Indonesia, which, Time reported, "is
the west’s best news in Asia." In November 1967, at a conference
in Geneva overseen by the billionaire banker David Rockefeller,
the booty was handed out. All the corporate giants were represented,
from General Motors, Chase Manhattan Bank and US Steel to ICI and
British American Tobacco. With Suharto’s connivance, the natural
riches of his country were carved up.

Suharto’s
cut was considerable. When he was finally overthrown in 1998, it
was estimated that he had up to $10bn in foreign banks, or more
than 10 per cent of Indonesia’s foreign debt. When I was last in
Jakarta, I walked to the end of his leafy street and caught sight
of the mansion where the mass murderer now lives in luxury. As Saddam
Hussein heads for his own show trial on 19 October, he must ask
himself where he went wrong. Compared with Suharto’s crimes, Saddam’s
seem second-division.

With
British-supplied Hawk jets and machine-guns, Suharto’s army went
on to crush the life out of a quarter of the population of East
Timor: 200,000 people. Using the same Hawk jets and machine-guns,
the same genocidal army is now attempting to crush the life out
of the resistance movement in West Papua and protect the Freeport
company, which is mining a mountain of copper in the province. (Henry
Kissinger is "director emeritus.") Some 100,000 Papuans,
18 per cent of the population, have been killed; yet this British-backed
"project," as new Labour likes to say, is almost never
reported.

What
happened in Indonesia, and continues to happen, is almost a mirror
image of the attack on Iraq. Both countries have riches coveted
by the west; both had dictators installed by the west to facilitate
the passage of their resources; and in both countries, blood-drenched
Anglo-American actions have been disguised by propaganda willingly
provided by journalists prepared to draw the necessary distinctions
between Saddam’s regime ("monstrous") and Suharto’s ("moderate"
and "stable").

Since
the invasion of Iraq, I have spoken to a number of principled journalists
working in the pro-war media, including the BBC, who say that they
and many others "lie awake at night" and want to speak
out and resume being real journalists. I suggest now is the time.

October
15, 2005

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. This article was first published
in the New Statesman.

©
John Pilger 2005

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Pilger Archives

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