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SEE THE EVIL, HEAR THE EVIL, UNDERSTAND THE EVIL
The New Rulers of the World - John Pilger
Member Name: MagdaDH
The New Rulers of the World - John Pilger
Date: 22/09/04, updated on 21/10/04 (166 review reads)
Advantages: eye-opening, informative, passionate
Disadvantages: conspirationist (a bit), strictly from the political left
The book contains four essays, preceded by a long introduction, which in a good tradition of serious non-fiction writing, summarises the most important points of the book. If you come across the book but don't feel like tackling the whole of it, please read at least the introduction!
"The Model Pupil" concerns the Suhrato coup in Indonesia in 1965-66 and the ensuing and mostly covered-up bloodshed that claimed up to million lives in what is rightly compared by the author to the Holocaust. This was moving enough to learn about; as until now my knowledge consisted of nothing more but some vague mixture ideas from the old Polish communist press and some newer British media. The most shocking thing was perhaps the language used to refer to the events in Indonesia by the Western press at the time. "The greatest massacre of the second half of the XXth century was not so much news as the cause for celebration. Suharto's ascendancy was 'the West's best news for years', 'a gleam of light in Asia'. "
Pilger uses the term "unpeople" to denote the different value that is put on distant lives from what is considered the Third World as compared to lives (or deaths) of the Westerners: "that Afghan peasants have the same right to life as New Yorkers is unmentionable, a profanity". Or perhaps I should be using term 'Northerners' really as the divisions in the modern world are defined more and more by the North-South rather than the East-West axis.
The second text, "Paying the Price", is perhaps the most viscerally moving, as it describes in anecdotal detail supported by quantitative statistics the effect of the Security Council sanctions on the most vulnerable members of the Iraqi population. One example: a country that had one of the lowest infant mortalities in the world has now one of the highest. And it doesn't seem to be just a leftist propaganda, as a Unicef report stated that "up to 6000 children die every month mostly as the result of the blockade". Almost twice the number of 9/11 victims. But, again, these are unpeople. Three senior United Nations official resigned from their posts in a protest against what they saw as administering a genocide. Of course the sanctions are no more now ... all that is left is a wrecked, ruined country ripe for Muslim fundamentalism and/or American contractors to take over.
The third essay is called "Great Game" and in its factual layer describes the way that American dominance in the strategically supremely important region of Central Asia has been achieved. I found this chapter to be the most illuminating and perhaps the most important in its analysis of how the governments, the capital, the academia and the media collude in sustaining what is either a silence or lies and how the Big Money and the Big Force (in the form of US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines) go hand in hand to achieve the desired goal. It is them that keep the MacDonald's safe and sound, it is them that provide 'stable' regimes which allow companies to build pipelines and heavy infrastructure necessary to harness the Caspian oil.
Although anti-globalisation would be an important keyword for John Pilger's book, it is slightly different than the one we might know from 'No Logo' for example. Globalisation is seen here as a newly respectable face of the old beast of imperialism and the author certainly makes a persuasive case for his perspective. Pilger himself quotes from a Russian dissident, Boris Kagarlitsky: "Globalisation does not mean the impotence of the state but the rejection by the state of its social functions in favour of repressive ones, and the ending of democratic freedoms".
The last chapter has perhaps the least relevance to the general understanding of the world system, although it still makes for an illuminating if perhaps a hardly surprising read (maybe just for me, still influenced by anti-colonial propaganda of communist Poland). Entitled "The Chosen Ones", it describes the 'hidden Australia' (Pilger is Australian and it shows that that subject is somehow the closest to his heart) of the Aborigine settlements, the discrimination, the blighted and uprooted lives of the majority of what remains of Australia's original inhabitants (they managed to get rid of the ones in Tasmania completely). The "stolen generation" is mentioned, but also the land rights and the virtual although perhaps not legally set apartheid that ruled until recently, together with distorted propaganda on how much public resources is actually devoted to the welfare of Aborigines in comparison with the population of the white incomers.
The underlying explanation offered by John Pilger seems to be that it was all designed and planned by the triumphant and unscathed (in fact, greatly fattened on the spoils of war) United States of America after the WW II; and later on operationalised and executed at Breton Woods. After all, IMF and World Bank are controlled by America and they are largely responsible for the disastrous 'structural adjustment programmes' imposed on the developing countries and whose result is doubling the gap between the poorest and the richest 20% of humanity in 50 years since these institutions were established. I am not sure if such a theory, bordering on a conspiracy, is really one I can comfortably subscribe to, as I do not believe in grand designs of that kind. However, there certainly is such a thing as strategic policy and the one currently being implemented by the US (which seemingly has been in more or less of a fashion for quite a while) does seem to be bent on total economic and political dominance of the world.
The case against the ones "in the know" (the academics and the media) is made very strongly in the book: "Those with the power to understand suppress their knowledge". Overall, the omission and censorship are internal to the press as much as forced from above: so-called liberal columnists deliberate the issue of torturing prisoners and often come to the conclusion that torture is somehow OK, somehow justified; in these dangerous times of terror and uncertainty (and the tortured ones would be unpeople anyway, wouldn't they).
All in all I was moved - sometimes to tears; shocked and angered by John Pilger's book; perhaps the most by the chapters relating the most recent and closest events (Iraq, Central Asia). But having read this I also felt a little bit more empowered and a little bit less stupid. It is important to know. I believe it is important even if one doesn't do much with this knowledge.
It also made me think, think seriously about what kind of world we are living in and leaving to our children. Is it possible to create a better one? Are human beings doomed to life of terror, where famine, war and genocide are a reality for the millions? Should we just live our lives being grateful to the fate for the good fortune of being born in a relative wealth and peace of the second half of XXth century Europe?
So, yes, you should read this book unless you already know all that Pilger writes about. It is not long (few over 200 pages), does not demand more of a reader than an average broadsheet article, while being considerably better and clearer written than most. Pilger does not engage in a complex and sophisticated political-science analysis, he puts events in contexts and does his research, but does not flood the reader with unnecessary facts or sidelines. The television origin of the book makes it more accessible but not less valuable. Yes, you should read this book.
In a way, a conspiracy interpretation of the evil of the world (which is what I think Pilger proposes to some extent) is more attractive and more hopeful, as it somehow suggests that a replacement of "bad people" with "better people" would help. It suggests that it is the greed and power-hunger of individuals that is the cause of the misery. I am not so sure. Having grown up in a communist country, surrounded by marxism, I absorbed certain ideas of dialectic; having studied scientific psychology I learned of conformism and demands of a role. However much I would like to hope that change is possible, I can't help thinking that it is the whole system in which the global society is organised that is at fault. Bush or Stalin, Blair or Pol Pot don't really matter much unless we change the system.
Now, can we change the system? Again, I have a grave doubt as to a true possibility of change, but surely we do not have any other MORAL option then to believe that change is possible. We have to believe that some improvement IS achievable. The first duty for us, the normal little people in the rich North, is to seek and spread the truth. We don't have to risk much. John Pilger's book was printed by a legal, above-ground publishers. Nobody is going to jail in Britain or Australia for reading it. YET. But the freedom and comfort we enjoy are fragile, are as fragile as low infant mortality and universal education were for Iraqis. Most people in the world don't have these freedoms and comforts. We do and we also have a choice of making our ignorance just a little bit smaller, to make the new owners of the world just a little less powerful.
The book is available new on Amazon for 8.00 GBP, and that is in a new edition with an extra essay on Palestine included. Used editions are quoted from 3.00 GBP and I might even buy it...
I borrowed it from a library, so it would be probably available from yours as well (possibly on order).
Thanks to jillmurphy for pointing this one out. I wasn't as unbiased as she was in her review.
Thank you all for reading.