THE WAR FOR TRUTH
By John Pilger
April 5, 2003
WE HAD a great day," said Sgt Eric Schrumpf of the US Marines last
Saturday. "We killed a lot of people."
He added: "We dropped a few civilians, but what do you do?" He said there
were women standing near an Iraqi soldier, and one of them fell when he
and other Marines opened fire. "I'm sorry," said Sgt Schrumpf, "but the
chick was in the way".
For me, what is remarkable about this story is that I heard almost the
same words 36 years ago when a US Marine sergeant told me he had killed a
pregnant woman and a child because they had "got in the way".
That was in Vietnam, another country invaded by the US military machine,
which left up to two million people dead and many more maimed and
otherwise ruined. President Reagan called this "a noble cause". The other
day, President Bush called the invasion of Iraq, another unprovoked and
piratical act, "a noble cause".
In the years since Vietnam, the Americans have invaded and caused,
directly and through stooges, great suffering in many other countries,
but none tells us more about the current war than their enduring atrocity
in Vietnam, known as the first "media war".
Like their attack on Iraq, their invasion of Vietnam was accompanied by a
racist contempt for the people. The Vietnamese were "gooks" and "slits"
who would never fight, who would be crushed within weeks. As in Iraq
today, the uncensored evidence of America's killing was not shown on TV
but covered up. General Colin Powell, Bush's "liberal" Secretary of
State, was promoted swiftly because he was given the job of covering up
the infamous My Lai massacre. In the end, the Vietnamese defied the
Hollywood script and expelled their invader, but at great cost. The
Iraqis, up against two western air forces and a Disneyworld of weapons of
mass destruction, are unlikely to share the same honour. And yet they,
too, are not keeping to the script; and their extraordinary resistance
against such overwhelming odds has required intensified propaganda in
Washington and London: aimed not at them, but at us.
Unlike in Vietnam, this propaganda, lying that is both crude and subtle,
is now dispensed globally and marketed and controlled like a new niche
product. Richard Gaisford, an "embedded" BBC reporter, said recently: "We
have to check each story we have with (the military). And the captain,
who's our media liaison officer, will check with the colonel, and they
will check with Brigade headquarters as well."
David Miller, a media analyst at Stirling University, calls it "public
relations genius". It works like this. Once the official "line" is agreed
and manufactured at the Coalition Press Information Centre in Kuwait and
the $1million press centre in Qatar, it is submitted to the White House,
to what is known as the Office of Global Communications. It is then
polished for British consumption by Blair's staff of propagandists in
Truth, above all, is redundant. There is only "good" news or no news. For
example, the arrival in Iraq of the British ship Sir Galahad with a
miserable few hundred tons of humanitarian aid was a "good" story given
wide coverage. What was missing was the truth that the Blair government
continues to back Washington's deliberate denial of $5.4billion worth of
humanitarian aid, including baby milk and medical supplies. This is "aid"
which Iraq has paid for (from oil receipts) and the UN Security Council
What was also missing from such a moving tale of Britain-to-the-rescue
was that, under pressure from Bush and Blair, the United Nations has been
forced to close down its food distribution system in Iraq, which barely
prevented famine in the pre-war period.
BLAIR'S lies about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and its alleged
links with al-Qaeda have been exposed and rejected by the majority of the
British people. He has since played his "conviction" card. Perhaps his
last propaganda refuge is a call to support "our boys".
On September 3, 1967, the Sunday Mirror published a dispatch of mine from
Vietnam under the front page headline: "How can Britain approve a war
like this?" Today's Mirror asks the same question of the invasion of
Iraq. The difference is that, unlike Blair, Prime Minister Harold Wilson
denied an American president the use of British troops for his
"coalition". A poll in yesterday's Mirror said that "78 per cent insist
British forces must not be brought home until the war is over." Polls
themselves can make propaganda, with the question predetermining the
answer. What if the question asked had been: "Do you support British
forces being in Iraq given the absence of any 'liberation' and the rising
number of civilian casualties?"
I doubt whether it would have been anywhere near 78 per cent. There is
undoubtedly a traditional reserve of support for "the troops", no matter
the dirty work they are sent to carry out. Blair's manipulation of this
should not be allowed to succeed. British troops may be better trained
than the Americans; but this does not alter the fact that they are part
of, indeed essential to, a criminal invasion of a country offering us no
Trained in media manipulation ("public relations"), British military
spokesmen lie as frequently as the Americans; if anything, their nonsense
about "uprisings" is too specious by half. The truth they don't tell is
that the British siege of Basra is strangling the civilian population,
causing great suffering to innocent, men, women and children in their
Imagine if Iraqi troops were doing the same to Coventry, a city of
comparable size. Imagine the outrage: the popular resistance, regardless
of who was in power in London. If we cannot imagine that, then we have
fallen victim to a big lie that reverses right and wrong. If we cannot
put ourselves in Iraqis' shoes, in the shoes of the grieving family of
the woman who was gunned down by Sgt Schrumpf, "the chick who got in the
way", then we have cause indeed to worry.