Empire and Israel
by John Pilger
International Socialist Review,
The National Museum of American History
is part of the celebrated Smithsonian Institution in Washington,
D.C. Surrounded by mock Greco-Roman edifices with their soaring
Corinthian columns, rampant eagles, and chiseled profundities,
it is at the center of Empire, though the word itself is engraved
nowhere. This is understandable, as the likes of Hitler and Mussolini
were proud imperialists, too: on a "great mission to rid
the world of evil," to borrow from President Bush.
One of the museum's exhibitions is called
"The price of freedom: Americans at war." In the spirit
of Santa's Magic Grotto, this travesty of revisionism helps us
understand how silence and omission are so successfully deployed
in free, media-saturated societies. The shuffling lines of ordinary
people, many of them children, are dispensed the vainglorious
message that America has always "built freedom and democracy"-notably
at Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the atomic bombing saved "a
million lives," and in Vietnam where America's crusaders
were "determined to stop communist expansion," and in
Iraq where the same true hearts "employed air strikes of
The words "invasion" and "controversial"
make only fleeting appearances; there is no hint that the "great
mission" has overseen, since 1945, the attempted overthrow
of fifty governments, many of them democracies, along with the
crushing of popular movements struggling against tyranny and the
bombing of thirty countries, causing the loss of countless lives.
In Central America, in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan's arming and training
of gangster-armies saw off 300,000 people; in Guatemala, this
was described by the UN as genocide. No word of this is uttered
in the Grotto. Indeed, thanks to such displays, Americans can
venerate war, comforted by the crimes of others and knowing nothing
about their own.
In Santa's Grotto, there is no place for
Howard Zinn's honest People's History of the United States, or
I.F. Stone's revelation of the truth of what the museum calls
"the forgotten war" in Korea, or Mark Twain's definition
of patriotism as the need to keep "multitudinous uniformed
assassins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other people's
countries." Moreover, at the Price of Freedom Shop, you can
buy U.S. Army Monopoly, and a "grateful nation blanket"
for just $200. The exhibition's corporate sponsors include Sears,
Roebuck, the mammoth retailer. The point is taken.
To understand the power of indoctrination
in free societies is also to understand the subversive power of
the truth it suppresses. During the Blair era in Britain, precocious
revisionists of Empire have been embraced by the prowar media.
Inspired by Americas Messianic claims of "victory" in
the Cold War, their pseudo-histories have sought not only to hose
down the blood slick of slavery, plunder, famine, and genocide
that was British imperialism ("the Empire was an exemplary
force for good": Andrew Roberts) but also to rehabilitate
Gladstonian convictions of superiority and promote "the imposition
of western values," as Niall Ferguson puts it.
Ferguson relishes "values,"
an unctuous concept that covers both the barbarism of the imperial
past and today's ruthless, rigged "free" market. The
new code for race and class is "culture." Thus, the
enduring, piratical campaign by the rich and powerful against
the poor and weak, especially those with natural resources, has
become a "clash of civilizations." Since Francis Fukuyama
wrote his drivel about "the end of history" (since recanted),
the task of the revisionists and mainstream journalism has been
to popularize the "new" imperialism, as in Ferguson's
War of the World series for Channel 4 and his frequent sound bites
on the BBC. In this way, the public is "softened up"
for the rapacious invasion of countries on false pretences, including
a not unlikely nuclear attack on Iran, and the ascent in Washington
of an executive dictatorship, as called for by Vice-President
Cheney. So imminent is the latter that a supine Congress will
almost certainly reverse the Supreme Court's recent decision to
outlaw the Guantánamo kangaroo courts. The judge who wrote
the majority opinion-in a high court Bush himself stacked-sounded
his alarm through this seminal quotation of James Madison: "The
accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary,
in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether
hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced
the very definition of tyranny."
The catastrophe in the Middle East is
a product of such an imperial tyranny. It is clear that the long-planned
assault on Gaza and now the destruction of Lebanon are Washington-ordained
and pretexts for a wider campaign with the goal of installing
American puppets in Lebanon, Syria, and eventually Iran. "The
pay-off time has come," wrote the Israeli historian Ilan
Pappe; "now the proxy should salvage the entangled Empire."
The attendant propaganda-the abuse of
language and eternal hypocrisy-has reached its nadir in recent
weeks. An Israeli soldier belonging to an invasion force was captured
and held, legitimately, as a prisoner of war. Reported as a "kidnapping,"
this set off yet more slaughter of Palestinian civilians. The
seizure of two Palestinian civilians two days before the capture
of the soldier was of no interest. Neither was the incarceration
of thousands of Palestinian hostages in Israeli prisons, and the
torture of many of them, as documented by Amnesty. The kidnapped
soldier story cancelled any serious inquiry into Israel's plans
to reinvade Gaza, from which it had staged a phony withdrawal.
The fact and meaning of Hamas's self-imposed sixteen-month cease-fire
were lost in inanities about "recognizing Israel," along
with Israel's state of terror in Gaza-the dropping of a 500-pound
bomb on a residential block, the firing of as many as 9,000 heavy
artillery shells into one of the most densely populated places
on earth, and the nightly terrorizing with sonic booms.
"I want nobody to sleep at night
in Gaza," declared the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert,
as children went out of their minds. In their defense, the Palestinians
fired a cluster of Qassam missiles and killed eight Israelis:
enough to ensure Israel's victimhood on the BBC; even Jeremy Bowen
struck a shameful "balance," referring to "two
narratives." The historical equivalent is not far from that
of the Nazi bombardment and starvation of the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto.
Try to imagine that described as "two narratives."
Watching this unfold in Washington-I am
staying in a hotel taken over by evangelical "Christians
for Israel" apparently seeking rapture-I have heard only
the crudest colonial refrain and no truth. Hezbollah, drone America's
journalistic caricatures, is "armed and funded by Syria and
Iran," and so they beckon an attack on those countries, while
remaining silent about America's $3 billion-a-day gift
of planes and small arms and bombs to
a state whose international lawlessness is a registered world
record. There is never mention that, just as the rise of Hamas
was a response to the atrocities and humiliations the Palestinians
have suffered for half a century, so Hezbollah was formed only
as a defense against Ariel Sharon's murderous invasion of Lebanon
in 1982 which left 22,000 people dead. There is never mention
that Israel intervenes at will, illegally and brutally, in the
remaining 22 per cent of historic Palestine, having demolished
11,000 homes and walled off people from their farmlands, and families,
and hospitals, and schools. There is never mention that the threat
to Israel's existence is a canard, and the true enemy of its people
is not the Arabs, but Zionism and an imperial America that guarantees
the Jewish state as the antithesis of humane Judaism.
The epic injustice done to the Palestinians
is the heart of the matter. While European governments (with the
honorable exception of the Swiss) have remained craven, it is
only Hezbollah that has come to the Palestinians' aid. How truly
shaming. There is no media "narrative" of the Palestinians'
heroic stand during two uprisings, and with slingshots and stones
most of the time. Israel's murders of Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall
have left them utterly alone. Neither is the silence of governments
all that is shocking. On a major BBC program, Maureen Lipman,
a Jew and promoter of selective good causes, is allowed to say,
without serious challenge, that "human life is not cheap
to the Israelis, and human life on the other side is quite cheap
Let Lipman see the children of Gaza laid
out after an Israeli bombing run, their parents petrified with
grief. Let her watch as a young Palestinian woman-and there have
been many of them-screams in pain as she gives birth in the back
seat of a car at night at an Israeli roadblock, having been willfully
refused right of passage to a hospital. Then let Lipman watch
the child's father carry his newborn across freezing fields until
it turns blue and dies.
I think Orwell got it right in this passage
from Nineteen Eighty-Four, a tale of the ultimate empire: "And
in the general hardening of outlook that set in... practices which
had been long abandoned-imprisonment without trial, the use of
war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract
confessions... and the deportation of whole populations-not only
became common again, but were tolerated and even defended by people
who considered themselves enlightened and progressive."