John Pilger: “Power, Propaganda and Conscience”


Richard Moore


I am pleased to share with you this important and inspiring essay, sent to us 
by Betty Daly-King.  An excerpt:

    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
    countering them.


Delivered-To: •••@••.•••
Date: Wed, 28 Jan 2004 01:11:46 +0800
To: •••@••.•••
From: Betty Daly-King <•••@••.•••>
Subject: John Pilger, UWA 12/01/04

"Power, Propaganda and Conscience in The War On Terror"
John Pilger: University of Western Australia
12 January 2004

I would like to thank the University of Western Australia for inviting
me here today, and especially Nigel Dolan for his warm welcome and
smooth organisation.

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
it's possible to assess fairly how our world is controlled and divided,
and manipulated and how language and debate are distorted and a false
consciousness developed.

When we speak of this in regard to totalitarian societies and
dictatorships, we call it brainwashing: the conquest of minds. It's 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, there's none of that? What's your secret?"

The secret is that the question is almost never raised. Or if it is
raised, it's 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 [Australian]
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 Suharto's 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. "The truth," wrote Greg
Sheridan, "is that even genuine victims frequently concoct stories." The
paper's 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 rule. 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 Suharto's 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 I'd 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 Suharto's 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.

The media's silence I'll discuss in a while. Let's 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 Russia's satellites, just as the
United States threatened, invaded and controlled its satellites in Latin

"Liberal realism" 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 labels.

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 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, didn't 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, especially Australia.

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 UN's 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 don't 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.

The totalitarian 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 America's 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

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 isn't. 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

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

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". Bush's 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. I've often wondered if George
Orwell, in his great prophetic work 1984, about thought control in
totalitarian state … I've 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. It's a fine local paper. It has stories
about garage sales and horses and the local scouts, and I'm proud to be
part of it.

It's the only paper in Australia in which I've 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
Hussein's 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 Iraq's WMDs? Remember John Howard in Parliament
last February, saying that Saddam Hussein, and I quote, "will emerge
with his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons intact" unquote, and
that it was "a massive programme".

In a speech lasting 30 minutes, Howard referred more than 30 times to
the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. And it
was all a deception, wasn't 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.

Following suit, 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

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, we're only real journalists when we're not
doing as we're 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 was, and I
quote, "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 Indonesia.

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 an important figure in a 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, which he visited, courtesy of the
CIA. Later, in Washington, he was editor of an extreme right wing
journal called The National Interest.

No would deny Owen Harries his voice in any democracy. But we should
know who his former sponsors were. Moreover, it is his extreme view 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 ABC's 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 Howard's most famous fictions that
desperate refugees had wilfully thrown their children overboard, and
that Australia was endangered by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass

He followed this with Molly Bloom's soliloquy from Joyce's Ulysses,
because, he explained, and I quote, "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 didn't want "anything political". And this is the
same ABC that has just given Owen Harries, the voice of George W Bush's
utopia, six one hour broadcasts.

As for Richard Flanagan, that wasn't the end of it. The ABC producer who
had censored him asked if he would be interested in coming on a
programme to discuss, and I quote, " 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 and Blair.

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,
Murdoch's 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 world's 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 man's presence, we now
have in addition an international media presence that insinuates itself
over a fantastically wide range."

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 aren't children so much as evolving
consumers." Public relations 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, it's
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
as psyops.

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. It's in the public domain.

Those journalists 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 there'll
be no distinction between information control and media. That's to say:
you won't 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

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 the
First Australians, now refers to native title as having a "bundle of
rights" as if Aboriginal rights can be sorted and graded -- and

The unthinkable 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
Solomon's, but not to save 353 lives.

Threats? Let's 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
doesn't 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 awere not indifferent.

The tragedy for many Australians seekivng 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 world's
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, they'll 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 doesn't work that way.

If you want to take direct action and I believe we don't 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 don't read much about here. Then there's
what we call the anti-globalisation movement. Oh, I detest that word,
because it's much more than that. It's is a remarkable response to
poverty and injustice and war. It's more diverse, more enterprising,
more internationalist and more tolerant of difference than anything in
the past, and it's 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 countering them. 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, that's 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
there's 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 optimism.

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. It's 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

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 beatings 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."


    "...the Patriot Act followed 9-11 as smoothly as the
      suspension of the Weimar constitution followed the
      Reichstag fire."  
      - Srdja Trifkovic

    There is not a problem with the system.
    The system is the problem.

    Faith in humanity, not gods, ideologies, or programs.

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