Pilger: Behind America’s façade


Richard Moore


Behind America's façade 
John Pilger 
Monday 19th September 2005 

The destruction caused by Katrina has enabled us to glimpse
realities that are usually carefully hidden away. And what we
discover is that New Orleans and Baghdad are not so far apart.
By John Pilger

When I lived in the United States in the late 1960s, my home
was often New Orleans, in a friend's rambling grey clapboard
house that stood in a section of the city where civil rights
campaigners had taken refuge from the violence of the Deep
South. New Orleans was said to be cosmopolitan; it was also
sinister and murderous. We were protected by the then district
attorney, Jim Garrison, a liberal maverick whose
investigations into the assassination of John Kennedy were to
make powerful enemies behind "the Facade".

The Facade was how we described the dividing line between the
America of real life - of a poverty so profound that slavery
was still a presence and of a rapacious state power that waged
war against its own citizens, just as it did against black and
brown-skinned people in faraway countries - and the America
that spawned the greed of corporatism and invented public
relations as a means of social control ("The American Dream"
and "The American Way of Life" began as advertising slogans).

The willful neglect by the Bush regime before and after
Hurricane Katrina offered a rare glimpse behind the Facade.
The poor were no longer invisible. The bodies floating in
contaminated water, the survivors threatened with police
shotguns, the distinct obesity of American poverty - all of it
mocked the forests of advertising billboards, relentless
television commercials and news sound bites (average length 9.9
seconds) that glorify the "dream" of wealth and power.
Reality, a word long expropriated and debased, found its true
meaning, if briefly.

As if by accident, the US media, which are the legitimising
arm of corporate public relations, reported the truth. For a
few days, a select group of liberal newspaper readers were
told that poverty had risen an amazing 17 per cent under
George W Bush; that an African American child born within a
mile of the White House had less chance of surviving its first
year than a baby in urban India. That the United States now
ranked 43rd in the world for infant mortality, 84th for
measles immunisation and 89th for polio. That the world's
largest public oil company, ExxonMobil, would make $30bn in
profits this year, having received a huge slice of the $14.5bn
in "tax breaks" that Bush's new energy bill guarantees his
elite cronies.

In his two elections, Bush has received most of his "corporate
contributions" - the euphemism for bribes totalling $61.5m -
from oil and gas companies. The bloody conquest of Iraq, the
world's second-biggest source of oil, will be their prize,
their loot.

Iraq and New Orleans are not far apart. On 13 April 2003, Matt
Frei, the BBC's Washington correspondent, reported the
bloodbath of the US invasion with these words: "There's no
doubt that the desire to bring good, to bring American values
to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle
East . . . is increasingly tied up with military power."
Frei's apologies for the Bush regime from in front of the
White House, and specifically for the architect of the
slaughter in Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz, were consistent with his
reporting from New Orleans, which was vivid. On 5 September,
he described battle-ready troops of the 82nd Airborne trudging
through the streets of New Orleans as the "heroes of Tikrit".
Most of the killing in Tikrit and elsewhere in Iraq has been
done not by "insurgents" but by such "heroes" - a fact almost
never allowed in the "coverage", whether it is on Fox or the
BBC. Shaking his head in New Orleans, Frei wondered why Bush
had done so little. Reality's intrusion was complete.

Before the moment passes, and Bush's atrocities and lies in
Iraq are again allowed to proceed, it is worth connecting his
disregard for the suffering in New Orleans with other truths
behind the Facade. The unchanging nature of the 500-year
western imperial crusade is exemplified in the unreported
suffering of people all over the world, declared enemies in
their own homes. The people of Tal Afar, a northern Iraqi town
now in the news as "an insurgent stronghold" - that is, those
who refused to be expelled from their homes - are being bombed
and shelled and strafed, just as the people of Fallujah were,
and the people of Najaf, and the people of Hongai, a
"stronghold" in Vietnam, once the most bombed place on earth,
and the people of Neak Loeung in Cambodia, one of countless
towns flattened by B-52s. The list of such places consigned to
notoriety, then oblivion, is seemingly endless. Why?

The answer largely is that so much of western scholarship has
taken the humanity out of the study of nations, of people,
congealing it with jargon and reducing it to an esotericism
called "international relations", the grand chess game of
western power which scores nations as useful or not,
expendable or not. (Listen to Jack Straw talk about "failed
nations": the pure invention of Anglo-American IR zealots.) It
is this rampant orthodoxy that determines how power speaks and
how its historians and reporters report. Such orthodoxy, says
Richard Falk, professor of international relations at
Princeton and a distinguished dissenter, "which is so widely
accepted among political scientists as to be virtually
unchallengeable in academic journals, regards law and morality
as irrelevant to the identification of rational policy". Thus,
western foreign policy is formulated "through a
self-righteous, one-way, moral/legal screen [with] positive
images of western values and innocence portrayed as
threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political
violence . . ." This is the filter through which most people
get their serious news. It is the reason why the most obvious
truths, such as the dominance of western state terrorism over
the minuscule Qaeda variety, is never reported. It is the
reason why America's destruction of 35 democracies in 30
countries (the historian William Blum's latest count) is
unknown to the American public.

More urgently, it is the reason why the historic implications
of George Bush's and Tony Blair's assaults on our most basic
freedoms, such as habeas corpus, are rarely reported. On 9
September, an American federal appeals court handed down a
judgment against Jose Padilla, an alleged witness to an
alleged "plot", allowing the US military to hold him without
charge indefinitely. Even though there is no case against him,
the Supreme Court is unlikely to overturn this travesty, which
means the end of the Bill of Rights and of the "very core of
liberty . . . freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will
of the executive", as an American jurist once famously wrote.

This was hardly news in Britain, just as Lord Hoffmann's
remarks passed most of us by. A law lord, Hoffmann said that
Blair's plans to gut our own basic rights were a greater
threat than terrorism. Indefinite imprisonment for those
innocent before the law and the intimidation of a minority
community and of dissenters: these are the goals of Blair's
"necessary measures", borrowed from Bush. Who challenges him?
His Downing Street press conference is an august sheep pen,
the baaing barely audible. In India the other day, reported
the Guardian 's political editor, "Mr Blair stood his ground
when challenged over the Iraq war" - by Indian reporters, that
is. The Guardian described neither these challenges nor
Blair's replies.

Behind the Facade, the destruction of democracy has been a
long-term project. The millions of poor, like most of the
people of New Orleans, have no place in the US system, which
is why they don't vote. The same is happening under Blair, who
has achieved the lowest voter turnouts since the franchise. As
with Bush, this is not Blair's concern, for his horizons
stretch far. Selling weapons and privatisation deals to India
one day, preparing the ground for attacking Iran the next.
Under Blair, MI6 ran Operation Mass Appeal, a campaign to
plant stories in the media about Saddam Hussein's weapons of
mass destruction. Under Blair, young Pakistanis living in
Britain were trained as jihadi fighters and recruited for the
first of his wars - the dismemberment of Yugoslavia in 1999.
According to the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation,
they joined this terrorist network "with the full knowledge
and complicity of the British and American intelligence

In his classic work The Grand Chessboard , Zbigniew
Brzezinski, the godfather of US policies and actions in
Afghanistan and Iraq, writes that, for America to dominate the
world, it cannot sustain a genuine, popular democracy, because
"the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular
passion . . . Democracy is inimical to imperial mobilisation."
He describes how he secretly persuaded President Carter in
1976 to bankroll and arm the jihadis in Pakistan and
Afghanistan as a means of ensuring US cold war dominance. When
I asked him in Washington, two years ago, if he regretted that
the consequences were al-Qaeda and the attacks of 11 September
2001, he became very angry and did not reply; and a crack in
the Facade closed. It is time that those of us paid to keep
the record straight tore it down completely.

This article first appeared in the New Statesman. For the
latest in current and cultural affairs subscribe to the New
Statesman print edition. 

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland
blog: http://harmonization.blogspot.com/

"Escaping The Matrix - 
Global Transformation: 
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