It Never Happened

By Harold Pinter

Z magazine, February 1997

Can it be true? Are the other "major powers" in the world finally moving towards a position where their contempt for the assertion of U.S. power is actually being embodied in action?

For the fourth year running the United Nations has voted for the motion condemning the U.S. embargo of Cuba, this time by 137 votes (including Great Britain) to 3. The countries against the motion were the U.S., Israel, and Uzbekistan. The European Union is taking the U.S. to the World Trade Organization panel, arguing that the Helms/Burton bill is illegal. Fourteen out of fifteen members of the Security Council (including Great Britain) voted against the U.S. veto of Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The U.S. was on its own.

How can any country stand out against such a consensus?: 137-3; 14-1. How can any country, in the light of such blanket condemnation of its policies and actions, not pause to take a little thought, not subject itself to even the mildest and most tentative critical scrutiny? The answer is quite simple. If you believe you still call all the shots you just don't give a shit. You say, without beating about the bush: Yes, sure, I am biased and arrogant and in many respects ignorant but so what? I possess the economic and military might to back me to the hilt and I don't care who knows it. When I say that I also occupy the moral high ground, you'd better believe it.

The U.S. is without a doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful, and ruthless it may be but it's also very smart. As a salesperson it's out on its own. And its most saleable commodity is self-love. It's a winner. The U.S. has actually educated it self to be in love with itself. Listen to Clinton-and before him, Bush and before him, Reagan and before him, all the others-say on television 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." A nation weeps. It's a pretty brilliant 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 you don't know that. Nobody tells you. So the status quo remains where it is and Father Christmas remains American and America remains the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

Except, of course, for the one and a half million people in prison, the 50 million living under the poverty line, those about to be gassed, injected or electrocuted in the 38 out of 52 states which carry the death penalty. They don't feel quite the same about this cushion of reassurance, but nobody listens to them anyway. As they are mostly poor and black they are essentially subversive. They are subversive because where they are resentful and critical and degraded and angry, they threaten the stability of the state. The one thing they can have is God. If they want "Him." God belongs to every American. Successive American presidents have made this quite clear.

Sometimes you look back in recent history and you ask: Did all that really happen? Were half a million "Communists" massacred in Indonesia in 1965? Were 200,000 people killed in East Timor in 1975 by Indonesian invaders? Have 300,000 people died in Central America since 1960? Has the persecution of the Kurdish people in Turkey reached levels approaching genocide? Are countless Iraqi children dying every month for lack of food and medicine brought about by UN sanctions? Did the military coups in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Chile result in levels of repression and depth of suffering comparable to Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and the Khmer Rouge? Has the U.S. to one degree or another inspired, engendered, subsidized, and sustained all these states of affairs? The answer is yes. It has and it does. 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 U.S. throughout the world have been systematic, constant, clinical, remorseless, and fully documented but nobody talks about them. No body ever has . Of course, it' s probably more than a newspaper or TV channel's life is worth to do so. It must be said, that as the absolute necessity of economic control is at the bottom of all this, any innocent bystander who happens to raise his / her head must be kicked in the teeth. This is entirely logical.

Perhaps the story that really takes the biscuit or beats the band or finally makes the cat laugh is the story of Haiti, a story virtually ignored by the world for decades. Haiti suffered under the grisly Duvalier dictatorships and their paramilitary force, the Ton Ton Macoutes, for 29 years. By 1986 popular feeling was so powerful that the Duvalier regime collapsed. Other military dictatorships followed but in 1990 the first actual democratic election in Haiti took place. Aristide was elected with 67 percent of the vote. His platform: To bring the Haitian people from misery to dignity." Eight months later there was a coup d'etat. For three years the military again ruled. During this period, 5,000 people were killed. The U.S. was finally forced to act. It led a UN force to the island, to "restore democracy."

What it actually did was to restore the status quo. To give the generals various modes of asylum and protection and to effectively neutralize Aristide. His economic policies, for which the people had elected him, were discarded. The IMF and the World Bank moved in. They insisted on the application of a structural adjustment policy which threatens all hope of equitable development and progress in the country. People in Haiti refer to this plan as the "Death Plan." It will destroy the country's peasant economy . As a rider, the U.S. army took from the Haitian army headquarters 160,000 pages of documents. The U.S. government refuses to return these documents. Why? Guess. The documents show the extent of CIA involvement in the coup which overthrew Aristide in 1991.

Lastly, an elegy. Curtains are drawn, lights go out. It never happened. In 1979 the Sandinistas triumphed in a remarkable popular revolution against the Somoza dictatorship. They went on to address their poverty stricken country with unprecedented vigor and sense of purpose. They introduced a literacy campaign and health provisions for all citizens which were unheard of in the region, if not throughout the whole continent. The Sandinistas had plenty of faults but they were thoughtful, intelligent, decent, and without malice. They created an active, spontaneous, pluralistic society. The U.S. destroyed, through all means at its disposal and at the cost of 30,000 dead, the whole damn thing. And they're proud of it.

The general thrust these days is: "Oh, come on, it's all in the past, nobody's interested any more, it didn't work, everyone knows what the Americans are like, but stop being naive, this is the world, there's nothing to be done about it and anyway fuck it, who cares?" But let me put it this way-the dead are still looking at us, waiting for us to acknowledge our part in their murder.

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