- How does thought control work in societies that call
themselves free? Why are famous journalists so eager, almost as a reflex,
to minimise the culpability of political leaders such as Bush and Blair
who share responsibility for the unprovoked attack on a defenceless 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? What does BBC reporter describe the invasion of Iraq as "a vindication
- 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
- 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 ten 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 honourable exceptions. The truth is that the longest war
of the 20th century was a war waged against Vietnam, north and south, communist
and non-communist, 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 five 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 26 July 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 per cent 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]."
- Phoney elections were arranged, hailed in the west as
"free and fair", with American officials fabricating "an
83 per cent 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
- 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"
(emphasis as in the original).
- 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-bounty ful land all but ruined.
- This revision guide reflects the bias and distortions
reflect of the official syllabuses, such as the prestiugous 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
- "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?