There is a surreal quality about visiting the United States in the last days of the presidential campaign. If George W Bush wins, according to a scientist I met, who escaped Nazi-dominated Europe, America will surrender many of its democratic trappings and succumb to its totalitarian impulses. If John Kerry wins, according to most Democrat voters, the only mandate he will have is that he is not Bush.
Never have so many liberal hands been wrung over a candidate whose only memorable statements seek to out-Bush Bush. Take Iran. One of Kerry’s national security advisers, Susan Rice, has accused Bush of u2018standing on the sidelines while Iran’s nuclear programme has been advanced’. There is not a shred of evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, yet Kerry is joining in the same orchestrated frenzy that led to the invasion of Iraq. Having begun his campaign by promising another 40,000 troops for Iraq, he is said to have a u2018secret plan to end the war’ which foresees a withdrawal in four years. This is an echo of Richard Nixon, who in the 1968 presidential campaign promised a u2018secret plan’ to end the war in Vietnam. Once in office, he accelerated the slaughter and the war dragged on for six and a half years. For Kerry, like Nixon, the message is that he is not a wimp. Nothing in his campaign or his career suggests he will not continue, even escalate, the u2018war on terror’, which is now sanctified as a crusade of Americanism like that against communism. No Democratic president has shirked such a task: John Kennedy on the cold war, Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam.
This presents great danger for all of us, but none of it is allowed to intrude upon the campaign or the media u2018coverage’. In a supposedly free and open society, the degree of censorship by omission is staggering. The New York Times, the country’s liberal standard-bearer, having recovered from a mild bout of contrition over its abject failure to challenge Bush’s lies about Iraq, has been running tombstones of column inches about what-went-wrong in the u2018liberation’ of that country. It blames mistakes: tactical oversights, faulty intelligence. Not a word suggests that the invasion was a colonial conquest, deliberate like any other, and that 60 years of international law make it u2018the paramount war crime,’ to quote the Nuremberg judges. Not a word suggests that the American onslaught on the population of Iraq was and is systematically atrocious, of which the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was merely a glimpse.
The coming atrocity in the city of Fallujah, in which British troops, against the wishes of the British people, are to be accessories, is a case in point. For American politicians and journalists — there are a few honourable exceptions — the US marines are preparing for another of their "battles." Their last attack on Fallujah, in April, provides a preview. Forty-ton battle tanks and helicopter gunships were used against slums. Aircraft dropped 500lb bombs: marine snipers killed old people, women and children; ambulances were shot at. The marines closed the only hospital in a city of 300,000 for more than two weeks, so they could use it as a military position. When it was estimated they had slaughtered 600 people, there was no denial. This was more than all the victims of the suicide bombs the previous year. Neither did they deny that their barbarity was in revenge for the killing of four American mercenaries in the city; led by avowed cowboys, they are specialists in revenge. John Kerry said nothing; the media reported the atrocity as u2018a military operation’, against u2018foreign militants’ and u2018insurgents’, never against civilians and Iraqis defending their homes and homeland. Moreover, the American people are almost totally unaware that the marines were driven out of Fallujah by heroic street fighting. Americans remain unaware, too, of the piracy that comes with their government’s murderous adventure. Who in public life asks the whereabouts of the 18.46 bn dollars which the US Congress approved for reconstruction and humanitarian aid in Iraq? As Unicef reports, most hospitals are bereft even of pain-killers, and acute malnutrition among children has doubled since the u2018liberation’. In fact, less than 29m dollars has been allocated, most of it on British security firms, with their ex-SAS thugs and veterans of South African apartheid. Where is the rest of this money that should be helping to save lives? Non-wimp Kerry dares not ask. Neither does he nor anybody else with a public profile ask why the people of Iraq have been forced to pay, since the fall of Saddam, almost 80m dollars to America and Britain as u2018reparations’. Even Israel has received an untold fortune in Iraqi oil money as compensation for its u2018loss of tourism’ in the Golan Heights — part of Syria it occupies illegally. As for oil, the u2018o-word’ is unmentionable in the contest for the world’s most powerful job. So successful is the resistance in its campaign of economic sabotage that the vital pipeline carrying oil to the Turkish Mediterranean has been blown up 37 times. Terminals in the south are under constant attack, effectively shutting down all exports of crude oil and threatening national economies. That the world may have lost Iraqi oil is enveloped by the same silence that ensures Americans have little idea of the nature and scale of the blood-letting conducted in their name.
The most enduring silence is that which guards the system that has produced these catastrophic events. This is Americanism, though it dares not speak its name, which is strange, as its opposite, anti-Americanism, has long been successfully deployed as a pejorative, catch-all response to critical analysis of an imperial system and its myths. Americanism, the ideology, has meant democracy at home, for some, and a war on democracy abroad. From Guatemala to Iran, from Chile to Nicaragua, to the struggle for freedom in South Africa, to present-day Venezuela, American state terrorism, licensed by both Republican and Democrat administrations, has fought democrats and sponsored totalitarians. Most societies attacked or otherwise subverted by American power are weak and defenceless, and there is a logic to this. Should a small country succeed in breaking free and establish its own way of developing, then its good example to others becomes a threat to Washington. And the serious purpose behind this? Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, once told the United Nations that America had the right to u2018unilateral use of power’ to ensure u2018uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources.’ Or as Colin Powell, the Bush-ite laughably promoted by the media as a liberal, put it more than a decade ago: "I want to be the bully on the block." Britain’s imperialists believed exactly that, and still do; only the language is discreet.
That is why people all over the world, whose consciousness about these matters has risen sharply in the past few years, are u2018anti-American’. It has nothing to do with the ordinary people of the United States, who now watch a Darwinian capitalism consume their real and fabled freedoms and reduce the u2018free market’ to a fire-sale of public assets. It is remarkable, if not inspiring, that so many reject the class and race based brainwashing, begun in childhood, that such a class and race based system is called u2018the American dream’. What will happen if the nightmare in Iraq goes on? Perhaps those millions of worried Americans, who are currently paralysed by wanting to get rid of Bush at any price, will shake off their ambivalence, regardless of who wins on 2 November. Then, will a giant awaken, as it did during the civil rights campaign and the Vietnam war and the great movement to freeze nuclear weapons? One must trust so; the alternative is a war on the world.
October 27, 2004
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.