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The truth is often offensive, and that's why most of you have only ever heard your news from aesthetically pleasing TV journalists like Raggi Omah, John Simpson and Kate Aidie, patronising you with sanitised sound bites so you can sleep guilt free at night and so not be complicit in the oppression of the third world which Britain's foreign policy seems to specialises in. It's only later the real truth seeps out and so why you won't have heard of intrepid and respected journalists like Seymour Hersch, Paul Foot and Linda Melvin, for example, the purveyors of that uncomfortable truth, they also sanitised as the big media conglomerates all but censor them by not putting them in front of the camera on the hour to tell the truth, the same media conglomerates that also own arms companies and rich mineral deposits in the third world, one arm of operations helping to muscle the other. The reality of Britain and America's involvement in all that is wrong in the world makes for challenging and occasionally disgusting reading here and when you look at an England football crowd of tattoos, beer bellies and crew cuts, or fat Americans baying for war, you see the violent vulgar people we are becoming and what we always have been in truth.
"America did not change on 911; it just became more itself"
'Tell Me No Lies' is a collection of powerful articles by journalistic giants, collated by John Pilger, the only man on telly who's wig actually grows, his extraordinary 1970s haircut still in place. The book contains those accounts of what they would rather you didn't see and hear on mainstream TV news and documentary programs, the stuff that only those (like me) who want to know and so seek out thorough books like this, eagerly detailing Britain and Americas complicity in the west's corruption in the third world. Did you know, for instance, the British government supported allies of the Khomer Rouge, Pol Pots brutal 'ground zero' crushing of Cambodia, Britain deliberately turning a blind eye to the killing fields that saw 500,000 people exterminated in the 1970s because of our support, the SAS actually on the ground out there and helping Pol Pot indirectly? Did you also know it was the same story in Indonesia in the 1960s, the west dividing up the oil and mineral rich island chain for themselves by supporting another disgusting military coup by General Suharto that saw one million people slaughtered in the following twenty years in the world's most populated region of Asia? No, nor did I. On September 11th in 1973 the Americans did the same in Chile ,and would repeat the model across South and Central America, hundreds and thousands dieing Under death squads led by the CIA. This is what we do so you can live like we do.
For the uninitiated-those who choose to be, or not to be with their ignorance-this collection of writing makes for dire reading at times and the blank realisation of just how corrupt the greedy west has become so to maintain that status, the hopeless UN the excuse for the world to do nothing about things like genocide and spending their time becoming the conduit to encourage war for oil, as was the case in Iraq in 2002. What can the small countries that belong to that organisation do when the bigger ones in the same debating chambers want to get hold of your resources at anything but a fair price? The answer, of course, is nothing. When the big five countries on the Security Council are also the worlds biggest arms exporters you can see the conflict and hypocrisy. These counties need regular wars to shift merchandise.
The books articles are in chronological order from just after WW11, featuring famous pieces about equally famous world events, starting with Martha Gelhorns investigation of the Dachau death camp, where predominately German scientists 'experimented' on human beings-mostly Jews- with zero concern or accountability if the prisoners/guinea pigs lived or died.
Jewish by birth Gelhorn wanted to expose the absolute truth on the death camps and the subtle complicity in them by the west for not bombing them earlier or at least stopping the trains getting to them. Make no mistake these places were terrifying, Dachau the worse. The west even employed some of those scientists to garner what they found out there, Von Brorn the V2 rocket scientist signing up with NASA to help put them on the moon. Jews, gypsies, disabled people and immigrants, amongst others, would be put in vats of cold water to see how long they could last standing up, this a test to see how long German pilots could last in the sea and so what materials to use on their survival kit, some 600 people dying this way. Others were put in oxygen tanks and the pressure turned up to see what air pressure a human being could survive before the altitude kills them, some 800 people dying in Dachua that way. This is why the Jews regularly crush Palestine. What nation wouldn't with Dachua constantly on their minds when their next door neighbours threaten to invade and blow them up?
Another post war chapter looks at Wilfred Burchett's reporting on the effects of radiation on the Japanese just after Hiroshima, what he clearly didn't grasp because he too marched into ground zero soon after, but soon realising by looking at the survivors and desolate carnage something was very wrong. The Americans denied for years after that the blast radiation could cause cancers and catastrophic genetic failure, which it clearly did, but the bomb a human experiment for just that reason, no different to Dachua in Burchett's eyes.
Edward R Morrow has a piece on the infamous McCarthy hearings in the book, portrayed superbly in the film 'Goodnight and Good Luck' by the excellent David Straithern. Jessica Mythords piece on Vietnam is interesting because it draws comparisons with Iraq on how America started that war by claiming their destroyers were attacked by the North Vietnamese when nothing of the sort had actually happened, but enough to stir American opinion to support a possible war. Although the war was painted as one against communist it was really about colonialism, as explained in Michael Caines excellent movie The Quiet American.
Seymour Hirsch's piece, he of Watergate, was a live account of the slaughter at My Lai, where American GIs 'lost it' and slaughtered a whole South Vietnam village. Like in Afghanistan the Yanks were regularly 'accidentally' killing villagers and wedding parties to 'send a message' to anyone who may want to collaborate with the enemy, be it just giving them food and water. Dim blue-collar American soldiers knew no different and did what their commanding officer told them. You tell me the difference between 911 and that? Many say the US probably deserved 911 for all their 'previous'. I can't comment.
East Timor rightfully gets a grilling; again the over-throw backed by the United States with help from next door neighbours Australia, huge oil and gas reserves the motivation. The piece on the South African death squads is self explanatory, but the Republics dramatic reverse after the lifting of white oppression not such an easy read for liberals. Africa was never meant to succeed it seems.
Libya, of course, made the headlines for different reasons, Colonel Gadaffi blamed for the Pan Am airline bombing. Although a man called Magrahi was blamed for the attack few believe he did it. Paul Foots article clearly details how Magrahi couldn't have been responsible for it and the culprits were more likely to be from Syria or Iran as revenge for the US accidentally (I use that word again) shooting down an Iranian airliner in the Gulf of Arabia. At the time America were courting Iran's support for an attack on Iraq and so didn't want to put them in the frame. The evidence presented (and some withheld from court) pointed away from Magrhai but still he was prosecuted on a tiny fragment that was obviously tampered with at the crime scene. The key witness who put Mugrahi in the frame was a low level informant and was told he would be 'cut off financially' if he didn't provide some useful information to the CIA at some point. The brown Samsonite case that contained the bomb, if put on the plane by Magrahi at Malta as stated, would have had to go though three sets of customs and twice being off-loaded to new planes. Rather intriguingly a message was posted on the US Embassy staffers wall in Moscow that there was a bomb risk to Pan Am US flight's that day and so not surprisingly there were soon 59 empty seats on that flight, all of those seats Americans that had pulled their place at the last hour, presumably on that warning, this mid December and so a very busy time to fly home for Christmas, seats at a premium over the Atlantic.
The beauty of blaming Libya was that they had huge oil reserves and so to lift the pariah state reputation they earned in the 80s from this blame the UK and US could use the oil deals as a great bargaining chip...we will let you back in the fold if you sell us cheap sweet crude, which is exactly what happened with Blair in a tent with that goats milk tea in the desert in 2004.
Rwanda was probably the United Nations worst moment, an organisation that's had few good moments, the way the organisation works set up to do the exact opposite its mandate was created for, cowardly nations using the red tape they love to create there so not to act over any crisis, the act of stalling over calling Rwanda genocide the excuse we needed not to act. The so-called peace keeping troops were certainly that, very peaceful behind their compound walls. The UN, like the European Parliament, does nothing but generate salaries and hopeless career diplomats, Colin Powell's pathetic performance in NY to justify the invasion of Iraq some ten years after Rwanda summing up its feebleness. We invaded Sierra Leon to secure the Jewish diamond trade but do nothing yet again as Sudan's genocide rages on, sadly what African people seem to do when the World Bank cuts the free, but the selfish British citizens only mobilised when MPs spend our money of duck islands. We are a cowardly lot.
The politicians came up with this outrageous paradoxical statement in the UN after the genocide in Rwanda. "You can only call it genocide after it has happened".
The UN Security Council eventually cabled a reply on the situation, but only if the word 'genocide' was taken out so they didn't take any blame for their obvious cowardice and liability. What they were basically saying was that we needed to let it happen so to be able to do anything about it because it then was genocide through action that we were never going to do anyway...?
Its not only international politics explored in the book but domestic stuff too, everything from the American fast-food trade to the thalidomide scandal to the demonisation of Arthur Scargill to collapse the damaging minors strike, the book, as expected, finishing with Bush stealing the election and the vulgar invasion of Iraq that followed. Gary Palasts piece on that election makes for intriguing reading if you don't think the 2000 race was fixed. Because one third of black Americans commit half of all the crimes in America they are banned from voting because they have serious criminal records. The remainder of blacks tend to vote Democrat so the Republicans basically employed a private firm to scrub black votes from the electoral role on those grounds, but scrubbed voters who had picked up their offence outside of Florida, which did not ban them from voting in Florida, where they were now registered. They probably should have been but the law said no that's not how it works. A final total of 97,600 people, mostly black, were turned away at the Florida poll stations, 59, 000 eventually seeing their vote annulled.15% of those had no criminal record but had the same names as criminals. The data firm were taking no risks and pretty much flagged every black name they could was crossed off the list, handing the election to Jeb Bush and his brother George. Incredibly the Republican woman that would oversee the predominately Republican High Court decision over the final result and so the presidency part owned that private data firm.
What we learn from the book is that in the old day's journalism was simply documenting history, a respectable job, but accidental collusion by towing the government line, be it unwittingly. Today censorship is more sophisticated; Alistair Campbell and an army of spin doctor's attacking people who dare speak the truth against the wishes of the establishment. Hands up who honestly thought just a handful of people were being killed during the 'Shock and Awe' attacks whilst Baghdad sleeps? Yet it strangely felt that way because of the skilful spin. Over 7,000 people died that night but we have become so sanitized by our news it never crossed our minds that night workers and security guards were in those buildings. There are not a handful of people running London at night are there? It was real carnage. It was nothing compared to the deaths being caused by western backed UN sanctions in Iraq though. The modern media normalises atrocity to an everyday event we the audience can be distanced from. And advertisers want to sell when people are watching those events and so the TV stations can shift those slots, why those media conglomerates often get behind the hype for war, CNN making its early fortune off Gulf War One.
I read books like this because you don't know sh*t until your 40. And if you're under 40 then you don't need to know this stuff. That's why these writers in the book are middle-class idealists who want to get the truth out. But if you want the right to have an opinion on the real news then its worth reading this. The news today is very cynical and it's all about quotes and making the news rather than reporting it. It's lazy and unproductive and as the printed press dies the truth will be more and more obfuscated and diluted online and it will be left to us to decide by reading powerful books like this, which I suppose isn't a bad thing. As Jack Nicholson said; you can't handle the truth!
"Tell Me No Lies" is one of the best books I've read this year. John Pilger has put together a collection of some of the very best investigative articles in journalism by some of the most respected practitioners of the craft. The accounts stand in contrast to much of today's journalism that seems to make more and more compromises to the handful of multinational news corporations that now fund and control it. Each chapter concentrates on a particular previously published newspaper article, a broadcast, or a book extract. Exposure is given to some of the most important and disturbing truths of the past fifty years.
I regard myself as being pretty well informed about world affairs in both the political and economic spheres. Some of the testimonies in the book were familiar to me but there were others that made me feel like I was reading some extraordinary secret historical account of the modern age. I was already aware of many of the stories and reports in the book such as for example, the story of the "My Lai" massacre in Vietnam reported by Seymour Hersh. I have read the book from which is taken the fascinating account by Wilfred Burchett who was the first western journalist to get into Hiroshima after the bomb had been dropped. Also there is a report on the genocide in East Timor committed by the Indonesian Army with the compliance and assistance of western governments - this has been a subject that I have researched in some detail over the years.
Areas and subject matter that I had been less knowledgeable about included the late Paul Foot's relentless and admirable pursuit to uncover the truth behind the Lockerbie disaster or more accurately "the Lockerbie cover-up". Then there is the extract from Eric Schlosser's book "Fast Food Nation: What the All-American Meal Is Doing to the World" tells of the horrendous conditions of work in American meat production factories and reminded me of why I became a vegetarian. There is a report by Israeli journalist Amira Hass about the discrimination and oppression of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the 1990s - something which continues and is virtually ignored in the mainstream media. I had little knowledge about the slaughter of a million people in Indonesia by the Suharto regime in the 1960s that was supported fully by the British and American governments. In the subsequent aftermath David Armstrong describes how the natural resources of Indonesia - the fifth largest country in the world in terms of population - were carved up and shared out amongst western multi-national corporations.
There are some excellently written pieces of journalism in the collection. Eduardo Galeano's extract from his own book "Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World" is a beautifully written piece of literature as well as an explicit portrayal of the macabre economic mechanisms of global consumerism. Many stories brought tears to my eyes: the slaughter of children in Rwanda in 1994 during the genocide that took place there and the plight of Terry Wiles, a thalidomide victim who was born without limbs and abandoned for five years in an orphanage. (Thalidomide was a drug developed by the German pharmaceutical company Grünenthal. In Britain it was distributed by Distillers and sold and prescribed as 'Distaval' to pregnant women during the late 1950s and early 1960s in order to combat morning sickness and as an aid to help them sleep. Before its release inadequate safety tests led to catastrophic results for the children of women who had taken thalidomide during their pregnancies. Phillip Knightley describes how the drinks company Distillers with the help of Enoch Powel tried to cover up the tragedy and avoid paying compensation to the victims).
However, it was the Anna Politkovskaya chapter (originally published in the Guardian) called "Dirty War in Chechnya" that probably moved me the most. This was because I knew she had been assassinated in 2006 - shot dead in the elevator of her apartment block in central Moscow - only one year after Pilger's book was published. Her integrity and bravery led to her paying the ultimate price for the pursuit of journalistic truth. The chapter reminds us of how she was used to risking her life. In 2002 on the third day of the siege, she entered the Moscow Melnikova Street theatre where Chechen Guerrillas had taken 750 people hostage. She managed to get drinks to the hostages before 67 of them, along with the 50 kidnappers were killed when Russian special forces pumped an anaesthetic gas into the theatre the following day before storming the building.
One underlying theme that comes across is how shallow and weak our so called democracies really are. This becomes more apparent as you learn the full extent to which our own elected governments (along with their unelected appointed officials and secret services) will lie and cheat in order to achieve an agenda that is veiled from public scrutiny and debate. It is not only the sheer horror of the atrocities that human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another but also the cynical collusion of those in power and their capacity to slaughter the innocent without conscience that will either have you enraged or in tears.
On the whole "Tell Me No Lies" makes for uncomfortable reading, but as it says on the cover, this is a book about investigative journalism and its triumphs. The chapters do not portray 'alternative' journalism, but 'real' journalism of the highest integrity, the type that nowadays seems too often a rarity both in the press and on TV. Nevertheless, one would still like to think that the collected reports of injustice in this book will inspire other journalists to face up to their true mission and as such, make those in power more accountable and the world more peaceful and just.
If this is a book that you can read in one sitting, it's not because it's more than 600 pages long. It's because you might find yourself having to take a break of one or two days between each chapter in order to fully comprehend and assimilate what you've just read. Some descriptions and accounts created images in my mind that haunted me for days afterwards. Essential reading.
Price: £6.99 at Amazon.co.uk
The book, a selection of articles, broadcasts, and books extracts, ranges from across many of the critical events, scandals and struggles of the past fifty years. John Pilger sets each piece of reporting in its context and introduces the collection with a passionate essay arguing that the kind of journalism he celebrates here is being subverted by the very forces that ought to be its enemy.