Harold Pinter Nobel Prize Lecture on US Atrocities
By: SARAH LYALL, Published: December 8, 2005
LONDON, Dec. 7 – The playwright Harold Pinter turned his Nobel Prize acceptance speech on Wednesday into a furious howl of outrage against American foreign policy, saying that the United States had not only lied to justify waging war against Iraq but had also “supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship” in the last 50 years.
“The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them,” Mr. Pinter said. “You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”
Sitting in a wheelchair, his lap covered by a blanket, his voice hoarse but unwavering, Harold Pinter, 75, delivered his speech via a video recording that was played on Wednesday at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm. Doctors told him several years ago that he had cancer of the esophagus and recently ordered him not to travel to Stockholm for the speech, his publisher said.
The playwright, known in recent years as much for his fiery anti-Americanism as for his spare prose style and haunting, elliptical plays like “The Caretaker” and “The Homecoming,” was awarded the $1.3 million Nobel literature prize in October. In its citation, the Swedish Academy made little mention of his political views, saying only that he is known as a “fighter for human rights” whose stands are often “seen as controversial.” It mostly focused on his work, saying that Mr. Pinter “uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms.”
The literature prize has in recent years often gone to writers with left-wing ideologies. These include the European writers José Saramago of Portugal, Günter Grass of Germany, and Dario Fo of Italy.
When he won the award, Mr. Pinter said he did not know if the academy, whose deliberations and reasoning are kept secret, had taken his politics into account. He clearly welcomed the platform the award gave him to bring his views, long expressed in Britain, to a larger audience.
Dressed in black, bristling with controlled fury, Mr. Pinter began by explaining the almost unconscious process he uses to write his plays. They start with an image, a word, a phrase, he said; the characters soon become “people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.”
“So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction,” he continued, “a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.”
But while drama represents “the search for truth,” Mr. Pinter said, politics works against the truth, surrounding citizens with “a vast tapestry of lies” spun by politicians eager to cling to power.
Mr. Pinter attacked American foreign policy since World War II, saying that while the crimes of the Soviet Union had been well documented, those of the United States had not. “I put to you that the United States is, without doubt, the greatest show on the road,” he said. “Brutal, indifferent, scornful, and ruthless it may be, but it is also very clever. As a salesman, it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self-love.”
He returned to the theme of language as an obscurer of reality, saying that American leaders use it to anesthetize the public. “It’s a scintillating stratagem,” Mr. Pinter said. “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 it’s very comfortable.”
Accusing the United States of torturing terrorist suspects in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, Mr. Pinter called the invasion of Iraq – for which he said Britain was also responsible – “a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law.” He called for Prime Minister Tony Blair to be tried before an international criminal court.
Mr. Pinter said it was the duty of the writer to hold an image up to scrutiny, and the duty of citizens “to define the real truth of our lives and our societies.”
“If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision, we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man,” he said.
Here is the audio file with snippets of his infamous 2005 Nobel acceptance speech:
“Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-WW2 period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All of this has been fully documented and verified.
My contention here today is that the American crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented or acknowledged, let alone even recognized as crimes at all.
I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on the world.
Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of the territories of truth since the majority of politicians are interested not in truth, but in power and the maintenance of that power.
To maintain their power it is essential that the public remains in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us is a vast tapestry of lies.
As every single person knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that this was true. It was not true.
We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th, 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true.
We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured that it was true. It was not true.
The truth is something entirely different.
But before I discuss the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War, that is the period from 1945 – 2005. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny.
Direct invasion of a sovereign state (like Iraq 2003) has never been America’s favored method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as ‘low-intensity conflict’.
Low-intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. For example, see Venezuela today.
When the populace has been subdued – or beaten to death – the same thing really – and your own friends, the military, and the great corporations sit comfortably in power, you go before the world’s cameras and say,
“Democracy has prevailed!”
” ‘Democracy has prevailed’ was commonplace in American foreign policy in the years to which I refer. Millions of people were killed by corrupt and violent dictators, dictatorship regimes aided and supported by Washington.
These millions of innocent people died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation, and oppression, which had been their birthright and which was enforced upon them by their corrupt leaders.
The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of the successive American installed military dictatorships there.
The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again.
The casinos moved back into the country. Free health care and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. Once again, ‘Democracy had prevailed’ according to Washington.
But this ‘policy’ was by no means restricted to Central America.
It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.
The United States supported and in many cases engendered every military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Panama, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile.
The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.
Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries.
Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy?
The answer is YES, the deaths did take place and YES, the deaths are attributable to American foreign policy.
But you wouldn’t know it.
The deaths 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 United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. Especially in the corporate-controlled media.
You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good.
It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of global hypnosis.
I put to you that the United States is, without doubt, the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful, and ruthless it may be, but it is also very clever. As a salesman, it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self-love.
It’s a winner.
Listen to all American presidents on television say 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.’
It’s a scintillating strategy. Language is 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 it’s very comfortable.
This does not apply of course to the 40 million Americans living below the poverty line on food stamps and the 2.5 million men and women (and some children) imprisoned in the vast gulag of privately operated prisons, which extend across the USA.
Today, the United States no longer bothers about ‘low-intensity conflict’; no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious; puts its cards openly on the table without fear or favor. The U.S. quite simply doesn’t give a damn about the United Nations, international law, or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant.
It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.
What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days – “conscience”?
A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead?
Look at (the American military base and prison forcibly located on Cuban soil at) Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Hundreds of people detained without charge for years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention.
It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what’s called the ‘international community’.
This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be ‘the leader of the free world’. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them?
They pop up occasionally – a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man’s land from which indeed they may never return.
At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture.
What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing.
What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing.
Why not? Because the United States has said that to criticize our conduct constitutes an unfriendly act. You’re either with us or against us.
So British Prime ministers just shut up.
The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading as “liberation”– a term of last resort – all other justifications having failed.
An open and formidable assertion of military force.
We, the West, have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation, and death to the Iraqi people and we call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East’.
How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand?
More than enough, I would have thought.
Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles even before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don’t exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead.
‘We don’t do body counts,’ said the American general Tommy Franks in Iraq.
The media are integral to this process. Early in the Iraq invasion, there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of a little Iraqi boy kissing Tony Blair on the cheek. It was an utterly sickening and cynical PR stunt”
“A grateful child,” read the British newspaper caption.
“A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by an invading missile. He was the only survivor.
“When do I get my arms back?” the small boy asked.
The story was dropped.
Tony Blair wasn’t holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you’re making sincere speeches on television.
The 2,000 (as of 2005) dead American soldiers are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm’s way. The mutilated Iraqis rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives.
So the dead Americans and the mutilated Iraqis both rot, but in different kinds of graves.
American soldiers, killed in Iraq, were buried in the dark, so as not to attract attention.
For 20 years, until 2009, photographs of soldiers’ coffins returning from war zones or their burials were prohibited by the American government.
The United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. Its official declared policy is now defined as ‘full spectrum dominance‘. That is not my term, it is theirs. ‘Full spectrum dominance’ means control of land, sea, air, and outer space and all attendant resources.
The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honorable exception of Sweden, of course. (home of the Nobel Prizes)
The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning.
Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows?
We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.
Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself, are demonstrably sickened, shamed, and angered by their government’s actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force – yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty, and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States are unlikely to diminish.”
* * * *
“A writer’s life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don’t have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection – unless you lie – in which case you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, have become a politician.
When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimeter and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.
I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation that devolves upon us all. It is in fact, mandatory.
The search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.
If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision, we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.”