Thursday, 4 November 2010

Ain't That Good News

I have just finished reading John Pilger's collection of some of the best in investigative journalism since the Second World War. Ezra Pound famously said that literature is news that stays news. By that criteria there is a lot of literature here.

There are many crimes outlined here, and in a way that pushes you to face the truth that is often obvious but usually ignored.

Dachau, Hiroshima, McCarthyism, Cambodia, Mai Lai, Beiruit, Rwanda, Checnya, Iraq, how our food is produced, american funerals, how drug companies and governments try to hide their actions behind a wall of disinformation and secrecy etc etc.

The way in which words can be used to hide the truth is examined relentlessly perhaps nowhere better than in an extract from Robert Fisks magesterial Pity the Nation where he stumbles onto the scene of a massacre in a Palestinian refugee camp in Beiruit and meets some eternal companions of death.

"If we did not move quickly enough, they bit us. Mostly they stayed around our heads in a grey cloud, waiting for us to assume the generous stillness of the dead. They were obliging, these flies, forming our only physical link with the victims who lay around us, reminding us that there is life in death. Someone benefits. The flies were impartial. It mattered not the slightest that the bodies here had been victims of mass murder. The flies would have performed  in just this way for the unburied dead of any community. Doubtless it was like this on hot afternoons during the Great Plague."

Our sympathy for grandmothers, children and some of the most powerless and deprived people on this planet is short circuited by the use of the word terrorist with impunity. This is continuing in Iraq and Afghanistan and the innocent lives lost in these 'wars' continue to be devalued by this tag.

The practices of these insect undertakers compare quite well with those exposed in  jessica Mitford's "The American Way of Death' where every sharp practice in the book is used to extract as much money as possible from the bereaved and 'the trappings of Gracious Living are transformed, as in a nightmare, into the trappings of Gracious Dying."

Reading here about recent history that I would have though that I 'know'. Even starting with a pretty cynical viewpoint on humanity it is startling how these stories retain their power to shock. The description of the massacre at Mai Lai is extraordinary as you can feel that the people describing what they saw can hardly believe that it happened.

The emptiness of Phnom Penh after the Khmer Rouge were ousted as described by John Pilger himself: 'like entering a city the size of Manchester or Brussels in the wake of a nuclear  cataclysm which had spared only the buildings.' The refusal of the British and Americans to use the word 'genocide' to describe what was happening in Rwanda. The horrific description of working conditions in American slaughterhouses from Fast Food Nation. These reports build one upon the other in a powerful testament to the distance we have to travel before the term civilisation can be used without irony.

For me the highlight in the book is the extract from Eduardo Galeano's The Upside Down World which I ordered online as soon as I finished this book. I look forward to its arrival and to further investigating his writings. I'll end with some random quotes.

"...free trade and other such monetary freedoms are to free peoples what Jack the Ripper was to St Francis of Assisi."

"In the Era of Peace, the name applied to the historical period that began in 1946, wars have slaughtered no fewer than twenty-two million people and have displaced from their lands, homes or countries over forty million more."

"Every war has the drawback of requiring an enemy - if possible, more than one. Without threat of aggression - spontaneous or provoked, real or fabricated - the possibility of war is hardly convincing and the demand for weaponry might face a dramatic decline."

"The war on drugs is a cover for social war."

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