In a comment to my last entry, Victor Serge
pointed out that Free Trade Agreements are
part of American Imperialism. By a strange
coincidence, I immediately afterwards received
an email with a copy of Harold Pinter's
acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize
in Literature titled “Art, Truth & Politics”.
Pinter spends much of his speech reflecting
on how the US has maintained its international
hegemony through violence and then letting
everyone forget about it. It is, Pinter affirms,
“the greatest show on the road.”
I quote a rather large section of the speech,
and you can find the original at
As every single person here knows, the justification for
the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous
body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45
minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We wereassured that was
true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a
relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity
in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true.
It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the
world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.
The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the
United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.
But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past,
by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War.
I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of
even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.
Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe
during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities,
the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully
documented and verified.
But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been
superficially recorded,let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone
recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth
has considerable bearing on where the world stands now.Although constrained, to
a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions
throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to
do what it liked.
Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured
method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity
conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower
than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect
the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the
gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the
same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit
comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has
prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I
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
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
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 NOBEL FOUNDATION 2005