Truth-telling Journalist John Pilger Lays Out the Hard Truths Learned Over a Lifetime of Investigative Reporting in this Wide-ranging Speech. What follows is an excerpt of a speech given by John Pilger at the Socialism 2009 event in San Francisco on July 4, 2009.
Illustrations: Ben HEINE: "Barack Obama's Popularity", "OBAMA'S MAGIC" & "Colorful people for a Better World, Barack Obama, Martin Luther King". Ben on FB here.
Americanism is an ideology that is unique because its main feature is its denial that it is an ideology. It's both conservative and it's liberal. And it's right and it's left. And Barack Obama is its embodiment. Since Obama was elected, leading liberals have talked about America returning to its true status as, “a nation of moral ideals.” Those are the words of Paul Krugman, the liberal columnist of The New York Times. In the San Francisco Chronicle, columnist Mark Morford wrote, “Spiritually advanced people regard the new president as a light worker who can help usher in a new way of being on the planet.”
Tell that to an Afghan child whose family has been blown away by Obama's bombs. Or a Pakistani child whose house has been visited by one of Obama's drones. Or a Palestinian child surveying the carnage in Gaza caused by American "smart” weapons, which, disclosed Seymour Hersh, were re-supplied to Israel for use in the slaughter, “Only after the Obama team let it be known it would not object.” The man who stayed silent on Gaza is the man who now condemns Iran.
In a sense, Obama is the myth that is America's last taboo. His most consistent theme was never change; it was power. “The United States,” he said, “leads the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good. We must lead by building a 21st century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people.” And there is this remarkable statement, “At moments of great peril in the past century our leaders ensured that America, by deed and by example, led and lifted the world, that we stood and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond our borders.” Words like these remind me of the colonel in the village in Viet Nam, as he spun much the same nonsense.
Since 1945, by deed and by example, to use Obama's words, America has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, and crushed some 30 liberation movements and bombed countless men, women, and children to death. I'm grateful to Bill Blum for his cataloging of that. And yet, here is the 45th [sic] president of the United States having stacked his government with war mongers and corporate fraudsters and polluters from the Bush and Clinton eras, promising, not only more of the same, but a whole new war in Pakistan, justified by the murderous clichés of Hillary Clinton-clichés like, “high value targets.” Within three days of his inauguration, Obama was ordering the death of people in faraway countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan. And yet, the peace movement, it seems, is prepared to look the other way and believe that the cool Obama will restore, as Krugman wrote, “the nation of moral ideals.”
Not long ago, I visited the American Museum of History in the celebrated Smithsonian Institute in Washington. One of the most popular exhibitions was called “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.” It was holiday time and lines of happy people, including many children, shuffled through a Santa's grotto of war and conquest. When messages about their nation's great mission were lit up, these included tributes to the; "...exceptional Americans who saved a million lives...” in Viet Nam, where they were, “...determined to stop Communist expansion.” In Iraq other brave Americans “employed air-strikes of unprecedented precision.” What was shocking was not so much the revisionism of two of the epic crimes of modern times, but the sheer scale of omission.
Like all US presidents, Bush and Obama have very much in common. The wars of both presidents and the wars of Clinton and Reagan, Carter and Ford, Nixon and Kennedy are justified by the enduring myth of exceptional America, a myth the late Harold Pinter described as “a brilliant, witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”
The clever young man who recently made it to the White House is a very fine hypnotist, partly because it is indeed extraordinary to see an African American at the pinnacle of power in the land of slavery. However, this is the 21st century, and race together with gender, and even class, can be very seductive tools of propaganda. For what is so often overlooked and what matters, I believe above all, is the class one serves. George Bush's inner circle from the State Department to the Supreme Court was perhaps the most multi-racial in presidential history. It was PC par excellence. Think Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell. It was also the most reactionary. Obama's very presence in the White House appears to reaffirm the moral nation. He's a marketing dream. But like Calvin Klein or Benetton, he's a brand that promises something special, something exciting, almost risqué. As if he might be radical. As if he might enact change. He makes people feel good; he's a post-modern man with no political baggage. And all that's fake.
In his book, Dreams From My Father, Obama refers to the job he took after he graduated from Columbia in 1983; he describes his employer as, “...a consulting house to multi-national corporations.” For some reason he doesn't say who his employer was or what he did there. The employer was Business International Corporation, which has a long history of providing cover for the CIA with covert action and infiltrating unions from the left. I know this because it was especially active in my own country, Australia. Obama doesn't say what he did at Business International, and they may be absolutely nothing sinister. But it seems worthy of inquiry and debate, as a clue to, perhaps, who the man is.
During his brief period in the Senate, Obama voted to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He voted for the Patriot Act. He refused to support a bill for single-payer health care. He supported the death penalty. As a presidential candidate he received more corporate backing than John McCain. He promised to close Guantanamo as a priority, but instead he has excused torture, reinstated military commissions, kept the Bush gulag intact, and opposed habeas corpus.
Daniel Ellsberg, the great whistleblower, was right, I believe, when he said that under Bush a military coup had taken place in the United States, giving the Pentagon unprecedented powers. These powers have been reinforced by the presence of Robert Gates — a Bush family crony and George W. Bush's powerful Secretary of Defense, and by all the Bush Pentagon officials and generals who have kept their jobs under Obama.
In the middle of a recession, with millions of Americans losing their jobs and homes, Obama has increased the military budget. In Colombia he is planning to spend 46 million dollars on a new military base that will support a regime backed by death squads and further the tragic history of Washington's intervention in that region.
In a pseudo-event in Prague, Obama promised a world without nuclear weapons to a global audience, mostly unaware that America is building new tactical nuclear weapons designed to blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional war. Like George Bush, he used the absurdity of Europe threatened by Iran to justify building a missile system aimed at Russia and China. In another pseudo-event at the Annapolis Naval Academy, decked with flags and uniforms, Obama lied that America had gone to Iraq to bring freedom to that country. He announced that the troops were coming home. This was another deception. The head of the army, General George Casey, says, with some authority, that America will be in Iraq for up to a decade. Other generals say fifteen years.
Chris Hedges, the very fine author of Empire of Illusion, puts it very well; “President Obama,” he wrote, “does one thing and brand Obama gets you to believe another. This is the essence of successful advertising. You buy or do what the advertisers want because of how they make you feel.” And so you are kept in a perpetual state of childishness. He calls this “junk politics.”
But I think the real tragedy is that Obama, the brand, appears to have crippled or absorbed much of the anti-war movement, the peace movement. Out of 256 Democrats in Congress; 30, just 30, are willing to stand up against Obama's and Nancy Pelosi's war party. On June the 16th, they voted for 106 billion dollars for more war.
The “Out of Iraq” caucus is out of action. Its members can't even come up with a form of words of why they are silent. On March the 21st, a demonstration at the Pentagon by the once mighty United for Peace and Justice drew only a few thousand. The outgoing president of UFPJ, Lesley Kagen, says her people aren't turning up because, “It's enough for many of them that Obama has a plan to end the war and that things are moving in the right direction.” And where is the mighty Move On, these days? Where is its campaign against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? And what, exactly, was said when Move On's executive director, Jason Ruben, met Barack Obama at the White House in February?
Yes, a lot of good people mobilized for Obama. But what did they demand of him? Working to elect the Democratic presidential candidate may seem like activism, but it isn't. Activism doesn't give up. Activism doesn't fall silent. Activism doesn't rely on the opiate of hope. Woody Allen once said, “I felt a lot better when I gave up hope.” Real activism has little time for identity politics which, like exceptionalism, can be fake. These are distractions that confuse and sucker good people. And not only in the United States, I can assure you.
This article first appeared in the Rock Creek Free Press, September, 2009.
Live your values. Love your country.
And, remember: TOGETHER, We can make a DIFFERENCE!