Propaganda And Conscience
In The War On Terror
By John Pilger
January 26, 2004
would like to thank The University of Western Australia for inviting
me here today, and especially Nigel Dolan for his warm welcome and smooth
I am a reporter,
who values bearing witness. That is to say, I place paramount importance
in the evidence of what I see, and hear, and sense to be the truth,
or as close to the truth as possible. By comparing this evidence with
the statements, and actions of those with power, I believe its
possible to assess fairly how our world is controlled and divided, and
manipulated - and how language and debate are distorted and a false
When we speak of
this in regard to totalitarian societies and dictatorships, we call
it brainwashing: the conquest of minds. Its a notion we almost
never apply to our own societies. Let me give you an example. During
the height of the cold war, a group of Soviet journalists were taken
on an official tour of the United States. They watched TV; they read
the newspapers; they listened to debates in Congress. To their astonishment,
everything they heard was more or less the same. The news was the same.
The opinions were the same, more or less. "How do you do it?"
they asked their hosts. "In our country, to achieve this, we throw
people in prison; we tear out their fingernails. Here, theres
none of that? Whats your secret?"
The secret is that
the question is almost never raised. Or if it is raised, its more
than likely dismissed as coming from the margins: from voices far outside
the boundaries of what I would call our metropolitan conversation,
whose terms of reference, and limits, are fixed by the media at one
level, and by the discourse or silence of scholarship at another level.
Behind both is a presiding corporate and political power.
A dozen years ago,
I reported from East Timor, which was then occupied by the Indonesian
dictatorship of General Suharto. I had to go there under cover, as reporters
were not welcome - my informants were brave, ordinary people who confirmed,
with their evidence and experience, that genocide had taken place in
their country. I brought out meticulously hand-written documents, evidence
that whole communities had been slaughtered - all of which we now know
to be true.
We also know that
vital material backing for a crime proportionally greater than the killing
in Cambodia under Pol Pot had come from the West: principally the United
States, Britain and Australia. On my return to London, and then to this
country, I encountered a very different version. The media version was
that General Suharto was a benign leader, who ran a sound economy and
was a close ally. Indeed, prime minister Keating was said to regard
him as a father figure.
He and Foreign Minister
Gareth Evans made many laudatory speeches about Suharto, never mentioning
- not once - that he had seized power as a result of what the CIA called
"one of the worst massacres of the twentieth century." Nor
did they mention that his special forces, known as Kopassus, were responsible
for the terror and deaths of a quarter of the East Timorese population
- 200,000 people, a figure confirmed in a study commissioned by the
Foreign Affairs Committee of Federal Parliament.
Nor did they mention
that these killers were trained by the Australian SAS not far from this
auditorium, and that the Australian military establishment was integrated
into Suhartos violent campaign against the people of East Timor.
The evidence of
atrocities, which I reported in my film Death of a Nation was heard
and accepted by the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, but
not by those with power in Australia. When I showed evidence of a second
massacre near the Santa Cruz cemetery in November 1991, the foreign
editor of the only national newspaper in this country, The Australian,
mocked the eyewitnesses.
wrote Greg Sheridan, "is that even genuine victims frequently concoct
stories." The papers Jakarata correspondent, Patrick Walters,
wrote that "no one is arrested [by Suharto] without proper legal
procedures". The editor-in-chief, Paul Kelly, declared Suharto
a "moderate" and that there was no alternative to his benign
Paul Kelly sat on
the board of the Australia-Indonesia Institute, a body funded by the
Australian government. Not long before Suharto was overthrown by his
own people, Kelly was in Jakarta, standing at Suhartos side, introducing
the mass murderer to a line of Australian editors. To his great credit,
the then editor of the West Australian, Paul Murray, refused to join
this obsequious group.
Not long ago, Paul
Kelly was given a special award in the annual Walkley Awards for journalism
- the kind they give to elder statesmen. And no one said anything about
Indonesia and Suharto. Imagine a similar award going to Geoffrey Dawson,
editor of the London Times in the 1930s. Like Kelly, he appeased a genocidal
dictator, calling him a "moderate".
This episode is
a metaphor for what Id like to touch upon tonight.
For 15 years, a
silence was maintained by the Australian government, the Australian
media and Australian academics on the great crime and tragedy of East
Timor. Moreover, this was an extension of the silence about the true
circumstances of Suhartos bloody ascent to power in the mid-sixties.
It was not unlike the official silence in the Soviet Union on the bloody
invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
silence Ill discuss in a while. Lets look now at the academic
silence. One of the greatest acts of genocide in the second half of
the twentieth century apparently did not warrant a single substantial
academic case study, based on primary sources. Why? We have to go back
to the years immediately after world war two when the study of post-war
international politics, known as "liberal realism", was invented
in the United States, largely with the sponsorship of those who designed
American global economic power. They include the Ford, Carnegie and
Rockeller Foundations, the OSS, the foreunner of the CIA, and the Council
on Foreign Relations.
Thus, in the great
American universities, scholars generally served to justify the cold
war - which, we now know from declassified files, not only brought us
closer to nuclear war than we thought, but was itself largely bogus.
As the British files now make clear, there was no Soviet threat to the
world. The threat was to Russias satellites, just as the United
States threatened, invaded and controlled its satellites in Latin America.
- in America, Britain, Australia - meant taking the humanity out of
the study of nations and viewing the world in terms of its usefulness
to western power. This was presented in a self-serving jargon: a masonic-like
language in thrall to the dominant power. Typical of the jargon were
Of all the labels
applied to me, the most interesting is that I am neo-idealist.
The neo but has yet to be explained. I should add here that
the most hilarious label is the creation of the foreign editor of The
Australian who took a whole page in his newspaper to say that a subversive
movement called Chomskyist-Pilgerism was inspiring would-be terrorists
throughout the world.
During the 1990s,
whole societies were laid out for autopsy and identified as "failed
states" and "rogue states", requiring "humanitarian
intervention". Other euphemisms became fashionable - "good
governance" and "third way" were adopted by the liberal
realist school, which handed out labels to its heroes. Bill Clinton,
the president who destroyed the last of the Roosevelt reforms, was labelled
"left of centre".
Noble words like democracy, freedom, independence, reform were emptied
of their meaning and taken into the service of the World Bank, the IMF
and that amorphous thing called "The West" - in other words,
Of course, imperialism
was the word the realists dared not write or speak, almost as if it
had been struck from the dictionary. And yet imperialism was the ideology
behind their euphemisms. And need I remind you of the fate of people
under imperialism. Throughout 20th century imperialism, the authorities
of Britain, Belgium and France gassed, bombed and massacred indigenous
populations from Sudan to Iraq, Nigeria to Palestine, India to Malaya,
Algeria to the Congo. And yet imperialism only got its bad name when
Hitler decided he, too, was an imperialist.
So, after the war,
new concepts had to be invented, indeed a whole lexicon and discourse
created, as the new imperial superpower, the United States, didnt
wish to be associated with the bad old days of European power. The American
cult of anti-communism filled this void most effectively; however, when
the Soviet Union suddenly collapsed and the cold war was over, a new
threat had to be found.
At first, there
was the "war on drugs" - and the Bogeyman Theory of History
is still popular. But neither can compare with the "war on terror"
which arrived with September 11, 2001. Last year, I reported the "war
on terror" from Afghanistan. Like East Timor, events I witnessed
bore almost no relation to the way they were represented in free societies,
The American attack
on Afghanistan in 2001 was reported as a liberation. But the evidence
on the ground is that, for 95 per cent of the people, there is no liberation.
The Taliban have been merely exchanged for a group of American funded
warlords, rapists, murderers and war criminals - terrorists by any measure:
the very people whom President Carter secretly armed and the CIA trained
for almost 20 years.
One of the most
powerful warlords is General Rashid Dostum. General Dostum was visited
by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, who came to express his
gratitude. He called the general a "thoughtful" man and congratulated
him on his part in the war on terror. This is the same General Dostum
in whose custody 4,000 prisoners died terrible deaths just over two
years ago - the allegations are that wounded men were left to suffocate
and bleed to death in containers. Mary Robinson, when she was the UNs
senior humanitarian representative, called for an inquiry; but there
was none for this kind of acceptable terrorism. The general is the face
of the new Afghanistan you dont see in the media.
What you see is
the urbane Harmid Karzai, whose writ barely extends beyond his 42 American
bodyguards. Only the Taliban seem to excite the indignation of our political
leaders and media. Yet under the new, approved regime, women still wear
the burqua, largely because they fear to walk down the street. Girls
are routinely abducted, raped, murdered.
Like the Suharto
dictatorship, these warlords are our official friends, whereas the Taliban
were our official enemies. The distinction is important, because the
victims of our official friends are worthy of our care and concern,
whereas the victims of our official enemies are not. That is the principle
upon which totalitarian regimes run their domestic propaganda. And that,
basically, is how western democracies, like Australia, run theirs.
The difference is
that in totalitarian societies, people take for granted that their governments
lie to them: that their journalists are mere functionaries, that their
academics are quiet and complicit. So people in these countries adjust
accordingly. They learn to read between the lines. They rely on a flourishing
underground. Their writers and playwrights write coded works, as in
Poland and Czechoslovakia during the cold war.
A Czech friend,
a novelist, told me; "You in the West are disadvantaged. You have
your myths about freedom of information, but you have yet to acquire
the skill of deciphering: of reading between the lines. One day, you
will need it."
That day has come.
The so-called war on terror is the greatest threat to all of us since
the most dangerous years of the cold war. Rapacious, imperial America
has found its new "red scare". Every day now, officially manipulated
fear and paranoia are exported to our shores - air marshals, finger
printing, a directive on how many people can queue for the toilet on
a Qantas jet flying to Los Angeles.
impulses that have long existed in America are now in full cry. Go back
to the 1950s, the McCarthy years, and the echoes today are all too familiar
- the hysteria; the assault on the Bill of Rights; a war based on lies
and deception. Just as in the 1950s, the virus has spread to Americas
intellectual satellites, notably Australia.
Last week, the Howard
government announced it would implement US-style immigration procedures,
fingerprinting people when they arrived. The Sydney Morning Herald reported
this as government measures to "tighten its anti-terrorism net".
No challenge there; no scepticism. News as propaganda.
How convenient it
all is. The White Australia Policy is back as "homeland security"
- yet another American term that institutionalises both paranoia and
its bed-fellow, racism. Put simply, we are being brainwashed to believe
that Al-Qaida, or any such group, is the real threat. And it isnt.
By a simple mathematical comparison of American terror and Al-Qaida
terror, the latter is a lethal flea. In my lifetime, the United States
has supported and trained and directed terrorists in Latin America,
Africa, Asia. The toll of their victims is in the millions.
In the days before
September 11, 2001, when America routinely attacked and terrorised weak
states, and the victims were black and brown-skinned people in faraway
places like Zaire and Guatemala, there were no headlines saying terrorism.
But when the weak attacked the powerful, spectacularly on September
11, suddenly, there was terrorism.
This is not to say
that the threat from al-Qaida is not real - It is very real now, thanks
to American and British actions in Iraq, and the almost infantile support
given by the Howard government. But the most pervasive, clear and present
danger is that of which we are told nothing.
It is the danger
posed by "our" governments - a danger suppressed by propaganda
that casts "the West" as always benign: capable of misjudgment
and blunder, yes, but never of high crime. The judgement at Nuremberg
takes another view. This is what the judgement says; and remember, these
words are the basis for almost 60 years of international law: "To
initiate a war of aggression, it is not only an international crime;
it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war
crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the
In other words,
there is no difference, in the principle of the law, between the action
of the German regime in the late 1930s and the Americans in 2003. Fuelled
by religious fanaticism, a corrupt Americanism and corporate greed,
the Bush cabal is pursuing what the military historian Anatol Lieven
calls "the classic modern strategy of an endangered right-wing
oligarchy, which is to divert discontent into nationalism". Bushs
America, he warns, "has become a menace to itself and to mankind."
Those are rare words.
I know of no Australian historian or any other so-called expert to have
uttered such a truth. I know of no Australian media organisation that
would allow its journalists to speak or write such a truth. My friends
in Australian journalism whisper it, always in private. They even encourage
outsiders, like myself, to say it publicly, as I am doing now.
Why? Well, a career,
security - even fame and fortune - await those who propagate the crimes
of official enemies. But a very different treatment awaits those who
turn the mirror around. Ive often wondered if George Orwell, in
his great prophetic work 1984, about thought control in totalitarian
state - Ive often wondered what the reaction would have been had
he addressed the more interesting question of thought control in relatively
free societies. Would he have been appreciated and celebrated? Or would
he have faced silence, even hostility?
Of all the western
democracies, Australia is the most derivative and the most silent. Those
who hold up a mirror are not welcome in the media. My work is syndicated
and read widely around the world, but not in Australia, where I come
from. However, I am mentioned in the Australian press quite frequently.
The official commentators, who dominate the press, will refer critically
to an article of mine they may have read in the Guardian or New Statesman
in London. But Australian readers are not allowed to read the original,
which must be filtered through the official commentators. But I do appear
regularly in one Australian paper: the Hinterland Voice - a tiny free
sheet, whose address is Post Office Kin Kin in Queensland. Its
a fine local paper. It has stories about garage sales and horses and
the local scouts, and Im proud to be part of it.
Its the only
paper in Australia in which Ive been able to report the evidence
of the disaster in Iraq - for example, that the attack on Iraq was planned
from September 11; that only a few months earlier, Colin Powell and
Condaleeza Rice, had stated that Saddam Hussein was disarmed and no
threat to anyone.
Today, the United
States is currently training a gestapo of 10,000 agents, commanded by
the most ruthless, senior elements of Saddam Husseins secret police.
The aim is to run the new puppet regime behind a pseudo-democratic façade
- and to defeat the resistance. That information is vital to us, because
the fate of the resistance in Iraq is vital to all our futures. For
if the resistance fails, the Bush cabal will almost certainly attack
another country - possibly North Korea, which is nuclear armed.
Just over a month
ago, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a range of resolutions
on disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. Remember the charade
of Iraqs WMDs? Remember John Howard in Parliament last February,
saying that Saddam Hussein, "will emerge with his arsenal of chemical
and biological weapons intact", and that it was "a massive
In a speech lasting
30 minutes, Howard referred more than 30 times to the threat posed by
Saddam Husseins weapons of mass destruction. And it was all a
deception, wasnt it, a lie, a terrible joke on the public, and
it was channelled and amplified by an obedient media. And who in the
universities, our power-houses of knowledge and criticism and debate
- who stood up and objected? I can think of just two.
Nor can I find any
report in the media of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions
on 8th December. The outcome was remarkable, if not surprising. The
United States opposed all the most important resolutions, including
those dealing with nuclear weapons. In its secret Nuclear Posture Review
for 2002, the Bush administration outlines contingency plans to use
nuclear weapons against North Korea, and Syria, and Iran and China.
a British government has announced for the first time that Britain will
attack non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons "if necessary".
Who among you is aware of these ambitions, and yet American and British
intelligence facilities in this country are crucial to their implementation.
Why is there no
public discussion about this? The answer is that Australia has become
a microcosm of the self-censored society. In its current index of press
freedom, the international monitoring organisation Reporters Without
Borders lists Australian press freedom in 50th place, ahead only of
autocracies and dictatorships. How did this come about?
In the nineteenth
century, Australia had a press more fiercely independent than most countries.
In 1880, in New South Wales alone, there were 143 independent titles,
many of them with a campaigning style and editors who believed it was
their duty to be the voice of the people. Today, of twelve principal
newspapers in the capital cities, one man, Rupert Murdoch, controls
seven. Of the ten Sunday newspapers, Murdoch has seven. In Adelaide
and Brisbane, he has effectively a complete monopoly. He controls almost
70 per cent of capital city circulation. Perth has only one newspaper.
Sydney, the largest
city, is dominated by Murdoch and by the Sydney Morning Herald, whose
current editor in chief Mark Scott told a marketing conference in 2002
that journalism no longer needed smart and clever people. "They
are not the answer," he said. The answer is people who can execute
corporate strategy. In other words, mediocre minds, obedient minds.
The great American
journalist Martha Gellhorn once stood up at a press conference and said:
"Listen, were only real journalists when were not doing
as were told. How else can we ever keep the record straight?"
The late Alex Carey, the great Australian social scientist who pioneered
the study of corporatism and propaganda, wrote that the three most significant
political developments of the twentieth century were, "the growth
of democracy, the growth of corporate power and the growth of corporate
propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy".
Carey was describing
the propaganda of 20th century imperialism, which is the propaganda
of the corporate state. And contrary to myth, the state has not withered
away; indeed, it has never been stronger. General Suharto was a corporate
man - good for business. So his crimes were irrelevant, and the massacres
of his own people and of the East Timorese were consigned to an Orwellian
black hole. So effective is this historical censorship by omission that
Suharto is currently being rehabilitated. In The Australian last October,
Owen Harries described the Suharto period as a "golden era"
and urged Australia to once again embrace the genocidal military of
Recently, Owen Harries
gave the Boyer Lectures on the ABC. This is an extraordinary platform:
in six episodes broadcast on Radio National, Harries asked whether the
United States was benign or imperial. After some minor criticisms of
American power, he described the foreign policy of the most dangerous
administration in modern times as "utopian".
Who is Owen Harries?
He was an adviser to the government of Malcolm Fraser. But in none of
the publicity about his lectures have I read that Harries was also involved
with an CIA-front propaganda organisation, the Congress for Cultural
Freedom and its Australian offshoot. For years, Harries was an apologist
for the cold war and the initial CIA-run attack on Vietnam. In Washington,
he was editor of an extreme right wing journal called The National Interest.
No one would deny
Owen Harries his voice in any democracy. But we should know who his
former sponsors were. Moreover, it is his extreme view that is the one
that dominates. That the ABC should provide him with such a platform
tells us a great deal about the effects of the long-running political
intimidation of our national broadcaster.
Consider, on the
other hand, the ABCs treatment of Richard Flanagan, one of our
finest novelists. Last year, Flanagan was asked to read a favourite
piece of fiction on a Radio National programme and explain his reasons
for the choice. He decided on one of his favourite writers of fiction:
John Howard. He listed Howards most famous fictions - that desperate
refugees had wilfully thrown their children overboard, and that Australia
was endangered by Saddam Husseins weapons of mass destruction.
He followed this
with Molly Blooms soliloquy from Joyces Ulysses, because,
he explained, "in our time of lies and hate it seems appropriate
to be reminded of the beauty of saying yes to the chaos of truth".
Well, all of this was duly recorded. But when the programme was broadcast,
all references to the prime minister had been cut out. Flanagan accused
the ABC of rank censorship. No, was the response. They just didnt
want "anything political". And this is the same ABC that has
just given Owen Harries, the voice of George W Bushs utopia, six
one hour broadcasts.
As for Richard Flanagan,
that wasnt the end of it. The ABC producer who had censored him
asked if he would be interested in coming on a programme to discuss,
"disillusionment in contemporary Australia". In a society
that once prided itself on its laconic sense of irony, there was not
even a hint of irony, just an obedient, managerial silence. "All
around me," wrote Flanagan, "I see avenues for expression
closing, and odd collusion of an ever-more cowed media and the way in
which the powerful seek to dictate what is and what is not read and
I believe those
words speak for many Australians. Half a million of them converged on
the centre of Sydney on February 16 th, and this was repeated proportionally
across the country. Ten Million marched across the world. People who
had never protested before protested the fiction of Howard and of Bush
If Australia is
the microcosm, consider the destruction of free speech in the United
States, which constitutionally has the freest press in the world. In
1983, the principal media in America was owned by fifty corporations.
In 2002, this had fallen to just nine companies. Today, Murdochs
Fox Television and four other conglomerates are on the verge of controlling
90 per cent of the terrestrial and cable audience. Even on the Internet,
the leading twenty websites are now owned by Fox, Disney, AOL, Time
Warner, Viacom and other giants. Just fourteen companies attract 60
per cent of all the time Americans spend online. And these companies
control, or influence most of the worlds visual media, the principal
source of information for most people.
"We are beginning
to learn," wrote Edward Said in his book Culture and Imperialism,
"that de-colonisation was not the termination of imperial relationships
but merely the extending of a geo-political web that has been spinning
since the Renaissance. The new media have the media to penetrate more
deeply into a receiving culture than any previous manifestation of Western
technology." Compared with a century ago, when "European culture
was associated with a white mans presence, we now have in addition
an international media presence that insinuates itself over a fantastically
He was referring
not only to news. Right across the media, children are remorsely targeted
by big business propaganda, commonly known as advertising. In the United
States, some 30,000 commercial messages are targeted at children every
year. The chief executive of one leading advertising company explained:
"They arent children so much as evolving consumers."
is the twin of advertising. In the last twenty years, the whole concept
of PR has changed dramatically and is now an enormous propaganda industry.
In the United Kingdom, its estimated that pre-packaged PR now
accounts for half of the content of some major newspapers. The idea
of "embedding" journalists with the US military during the
invasion of Iraq came from public relations experts in the Pentagon,
whose current strategic-planning literature describes journalism as
part of psychological operations, or "psyops". Journalism
The aim, says the
Pentagon, is to achieve "information dominance" - which, in
turn, is part of "full spectrum dominance" - the stated policy
of the United States to control land, sea, space and information. They
make no secret of it. Its in the public domain.
who go their own way, those like Martha Gellhorn and Robert Fisk, beware.
The independent Arab TV organisation, Al-Jazeera, was bombed by the
Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the invasion of Iraq, more journalists
were killed than ever before - by the Americans. The message could not
be clearer. The aim, eventually, is that therell be no distinction
between information control and media. Thats to say: you wont
know the difference.
That alone is worthy
of reflection by journalists: those who still believe, like Martha Gellhorn,
that their duty is to keep the record straight. The choice is actually
quite simple: they are truth-tellers, or, in the words of Edward Herman,
they merely "normalise the unthinkable".
In Australia, so
much of the unthinkable has already been normalised. Almost twelve years
after Mabo, the basic rights of the first Australians, known as native
title, have become ensnared in legal structures. The Aboriginal people
now fight not just to survive. They face a constant war of legal attrition,
fought by lawyers. The legal bill and associated costs in native title
administration alone now runs into hundreds of million of dollars. Puggy
Hunter, a West Australian Aboriginal leader, told me: "Fighting
the lawyers for our birthright, fighting them every inch of the way,
will kill me." He died soon afterwards, in his forties.
The High Court of
Australia, once regarded as the last hope for thew First Australians,
now refers to native title as having a "bundle of rights"
- as if Aboriginal rights can be sorted and graded - and downgraded.
is the way we allow the government to treat refugees, against whom our
brave military is dispatched. In camps so bad that the United Nations
inspector said he had never seen anything like them, we allow what amounts
to child abuse.
On October 19th
2001, a boat carrying 397 people sank on its way to Australia. 353 drowned,
many of them children. Were it not for a single individual, Tony Kevin,
a retired Australian diplomat, this tragedy would have been consigned
to oblivion. Thanks to him, we now know the Australian and military
intelligence knew the boat was in grave danger of sinking, and did nothing.
Is that surprising when the prime minister of Australia and the responsible
minister have created such an atmosphere of hostility towards these
defenceless people - a hostility designed, I believe, to tap the seam
of racism that runs right through our history.
Consider the culpable
loss of those lives against the pompous statements of Australian defence
experts about our "sphere of influence" in Asia and the Pacific
- that allows the Australian military to invade the Solomons,
but not to save 353 lives.
talk about threats from asylum-seekers in leaking boats, from Al-Qaida.
In its annual report for 1990, the Australian Security and Intelligence
Organisation, ASIO, stated: "The only discernible threat of politically
motivated violence comes from the racist right." I believe, regardless
of subsequent events, nothing has changed.
All these matters
are connected. They represent, at the very least, an assault on our
intellect and our morality, yet even in our cultural life, we seem to
turn away, as if frightened. Last week, I attended the opening of a
new play in Sydney called "Harbour". It's about the great
struggle on the waterfront in 1998 which attracted extraordinary public
support. The play is an act of neutering, its stereotypes and sentimentality
make history acceptable. Those who can afford the $60-odd for a ticket
will not be disappointed. The sponsors, Jaguar and Fairfax and a huge
law firm, will not be disappointed.
We must reclaim
our history from corporatism; for our history is rich and painful and,
yes, proud. We should reclaim it from the John Howards and the Keith
Windshuttles, who deny it, and from the polite people and their sponsors
who neuter it. You will hear them say that Joe Blow doesnt care
- that as a people, we are apathetic and indifferent.
It was the thousands
of Australians who went into the streets in 1999, in city after city,
town after town, who decisively helped the people of East Timor - not
John Howard, not General Cosgrove. And those Australians were not indifferent.
It was the thousands of Australians and New Zealanders who stopped the
French exploding their nuclear bombs in the Pacific. And they were not
indifferent. It was the young people who travelled to Woomera and forced
the closure of that disgraceful camp. And they were not indifferent.
The tragedy for
many Australians seeking pride in the achievements of our nation is
the suppression or the neutering, in popular culture, of a politically
distinctive past, of which we there is much to be proud. In the lead
and silver mines of Broken Hill, the miners won the worlds first
35-hour a week, half a century ahead of Europe and America. Long before
most of the world, Australia had a minimum wage, child benefits, pensions
and the vote for women. By the 1960s, Australia could boast the most
equitable spread of income in the western world. In spite of Howard
and Ruddock, in my lifetime, Australia has been transformed from a second-hand
Anglo-Irish society to one of the most culturally diverse and attractive
on earth, and almost all of it has happened peacefully. Indifference
had nothing to do with it.
I can almost hear
a few of you saying, "OK, then what should we do?"
As Noam Chomsky
recently pointed out, you almost never hear that question in the so-called
developing world, where most of humanity struggles to live day by day.
There, theyll tell you what they are doing.
We have none of
the life-and-death problems faced by, say, intellectuals in Turkey or
campesinos in Brazil or Aboriginal people in our own third world. Perhaps
too many of us believe that if we take action, then the solution will
happen almost overnight. It will be easy and fast. Alas, it doesnt
work that way.
If you want to take
direct action - and I believe we dont have a choice now: such
is the danger facing all of us - then it means hard work, dedication,
commitment, just like those people in countries on the front line, who
ought to be our inspiration. The people of Bolivia recently reclaimed
their country from water and gas multinationals, and threw out the president
who abused their trust. The people of Venezuela have, time and again,
defended their democratically elected president against a ferocious
campaign by an American-backed elite and the media it controls. In Brazil
and Argentina, popular movements have made extraordinary progress -
so much so that Latin America is no longer the vassal continent of Washington.
Even in Colombia,
into which the United States has poured a fortune in order to shore
up a vicious oligarchy, ordinary people - trade unionists, peasants,
young people have fought back.
These are epic struggles
you dont read much about here. Then theres what we call
the anti-globalisation movement. Oh, I detest that word, because its
much more than that. Its is a remarkable response to poverty and
injustice and war. Its more diverse, more enterprising, more internationalist
and more tolerant of difference than anything in the past, and its
growing faster than ever.
In fact, it is now
the democratic opposition in many countries. That is the very good news.
For in spite of the propaganda campaign I have outlined, never in my
lifetime have people all over the world demonstrated greater awareness
of the political forces ranged against them and the possibilities of
The notion of a
representative democracy controlled from below where the representatives
are not only elected but can be called truly to account, is as relevant
today as it was when first put into practice in the Paris Commune 133
years ago. As for voting, yes, thats a hard won gain. But the
Chartists, who probably invented voting as we know it today, made clear
that it was gain only when there was a clear, democratic choice. And
theres no clear, democratic choice now. We live in a single-ideology
state in which two almost identical factions compete for our attention
while promoting the fiction of their difference.
The writer Arundhati Roy described the outpouring of anti-war anger
last year as "the most spectacular display of public morality the
world has ever seen". That was just a beginning and a cause for
Why? Because I think
a great many people are beginning to listen to that quality of humanity
that is the antidote to rampant power and its bedfellow: racism. Its
called conscience. We all have it, and some are always moved to act
upon it. Franz Kafka wrote: "You can hold back from the suffering
of the world, you have free permission to do so and it is in accordance
with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering
that you could have avoided."
No doubt there are
those who believe they can remain aloof - acclaimed writers who write
only style, successful academics who remain quiet, respected jurists
who retreat into arcane law and famous journalists who protest: "No
one has ever told me what to say." George Orwell wrote: "Circus
dogs jump when the trainer cracks the whip. But the really well-trained
dog is the one that turns somersaults when there is no whip."
For those members
of our small, privileged and powerful elite, I recommend the words of
Flaubert. "I have always tried to live in an ivory tower,"
he said, "but a tide of shit is beating its walls, threatening
to undermine it." For the rest of us, I offer these words of Mahatma
Gandhi: "First, they ignore," he said. "Then they laugh
at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."