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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shooting the messenger by Mark Steel

Why are the British and US governments saying the leak of military documents about Afghanistan has "put our soldiers at risk?" It's us who's been kept hidden from this information, not the Taliban. For example, many of the revelations are previously hidden details of civilian casualties, but Afghans in those areas probably already knew about those deaths. I don't suppose local insurgents have said "Well well, I've read the leaked documents, and you know that family whose house was bombed to rubble by an American plane, and the rest of the village arrived and wailed for three days and swore revenge and then there was a funeral that we all went to. Well it turns out they're dead."

One typical story in the documents tells how in March 2007, following an explosion, marines opened fire with automatic weapons as they drove down a six-mile stretch of road, killing 19 civilians including teenage girls in fields, motorists and an old man. But when they made a military report on the episode, they wrote that after the explosion the "patrol returned to base". This was accurate, as far as it went. It just missed out the details in between. But I suppose with all the excitement of returning to base you can easily forget the other bit of the afternoon, where you shot up half the neighbourhood. In any case those forms are so complicated, who wouldn't miss out on all that box-ticking after a tiring day.

Other documents reveal details of attempts to win over the locals. So one says: "The village of Mamadi is definitely anti-coalition. They want nothing to do with us." There are similar accounts, but then an endearingly optimistic report about a visit to a school in Nuristan, that says: "They were very friendly and wanted to talk to us. Some of them threw rocks at the soldiers, but it all appeared to be in good fun." So it seems the soldiers experienced the traditional friendly Nuristan greeting of rock-hurling. Because as anyone knows, the time to worry in Nuristan is when you say hello and they don't sling a rock at you, then you know you've offended them. But when they see you coming and immediately roll a boulder at your head you're practically family.

Another objection to the leaks is even more unlikely, that the information is irrelevant because it concerns events of a few years ago, before these problems were sorted out. Indeed, some of these accounts of civilian casualties took place way back in the olden days of 2008, when the war was in its infancy, barely seven-years-old. And as any military expert knows there are always teething troubles in any war for the first seven years, until year eight when matters suddenly sort themselves out and get settled.

So the main attack has been the traditional one with a leak, to ignore the lies, disasters and deaths revealed, and instead become furious at whoever exposed it all. If you report a murder to the police, you wouldn't expect to turn on the news later and hear: "The police have said they'll do all they can to catch the sick individual who revealed there had been a murder."

If things were going well they probably wouldn't mind leaks detailing levels of corruption. Unless they said: "Oo, it had all come together so well it looks like we'll be finished by September, with democracy and all the warlords doing community service, and we were going to announce it as a nice surprise and now you've spoilt it, Wikileaks."

Instead the documents reveal the Taliban's weaponry is greater than admitted, and the Afghan army is riddled with corruption and victory seems unlikely, far from the official declarations that it's all going to plan.

Secrets are essential not because of the danger when information gets to insurgents, but because of the danger when information gets to us. For we might conclude that having an army in Afghanistan for no coherent reason appears to putting them and the Afghans at a certain amount of risk.

First published in The Independent on 28th July 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010


In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes the rise of Julia Gillard, Australia's first female prime minister who, in following her "role model" former prime minister Bob "Silver Bodgie" Hawke, has capitulated to the mining companies and reaffirmed Australia's race-based refugee policies and tradition of fighting in other people's wars.

The Order of Mates celebrated beside Sydney Harbour the other day. This is a venerable masonry in Australian political life that unites the Labor Party with the rich elite known as the big end of town. They shake hands, not hug, though the Silver Bodgie now hugs. In his prime, the Silver Bodgie, aka Bob Hawke or Hawkie, wore suits that shone, wide-bottomed trousers and shirts with the buttons undone. A bodgie was a Australian version of the 1950s English Teddy Boy and Hawke’s thick grey-black coiffure added inches to his abbreviated stature.

Hawke also talked out of the corner of his mouth in an accent that was said to be “ocker”, or working class, although he himself was of the middle class and Oxford educated. As president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, his popularity rested on his reputation as a hard-drinking larrikin, an Australian sobriquet once prized almost as much as an imperial honour. For Hawke, it was the disguise of one whose heart belonged to the big end of town, who cooled the struggles of working Australians, during the rise to power of the new property sharks, minerals barons and tax avoiders.

Indeed, as Labor prime minister in the 1980s, Hawke and his treasurer Paul Keating eliminated the most equitable spread of personal income on earth: a model for the Blairites. And the great Mate across the Pacific loved Hawkie. Victor Marchetti, the CIA strategist who helped draft the treaty that gave America control over its most important spy base in the southern hemisphere, told me, “When Hawke came along... he immediately sent signals that he knew how the game was played and who was buttering his bread. He became very co-operative, and even obsequious.”

The party overlooking Sydney Harbour on 12 July was to launch a book by Hawke’s wife, Blanche d’Alpuget, whose effusions about the Silver Bodgie include his single-handed rescue of Nelson Mandela from apartheid’s clutches. A highlight of the occasion was the arrival of the brand new prime minister, Julia Gillard, who proclaimed Hawke her “role model” and the “gold standard” for running Australia.

This may help explain the extraordinary and brutal rise of Gillard. In 48 hours in June, she and Mates in Labor’s parliamnetary caucus got rid of the elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd. Her weapons were Rudd’s slide in the opinion polls and the power and prize of Australia’s vast trove of minerals. To pay off the national debt, Rudd had decreed a modest special tax on the profits of giants like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. The response was a vicious advertising campaign against the government and a threat to shut down mines.

Within days of her coup, Gillard, who was Rudd’s deputy, had reduced the new tax; and the companies’ campaign was called off. It was a repeat of Hawke’s capitulation to the mining companies in the 1980s when they threatened to bring down a state Labor government in Western Australia. Like her predecessors, Gillard is pursuing a landgrab of the one region of Australia, the Northern Territory, where Aboriginal Australians have land and mineral rights. The deceit is spectacular and historical. The government claims it is “protecting” black Australian children from “abuse” and “neglect” within their communities. Official statistics show that the incidence of child abuse is no different from that of white Australia and the true cause of Aboriginal suffering is a systemic colonial racism that denies housing, water, roads, adequate health care and schools to indigenous people and harasses and imprisons them at a rate greater than in South Africa under apartheid.

Since her coup, Gillard has reaffirmed this racism at the heart of policy-making. Australia takes fewer refugees than almost any country, yet Gillard is using their “threat” to outdo the hysterics of an especially primitive parliamentary opposition led by Tony Abbot, known as the “mad monk”. Gillard’s “hardline” on refugees has been welcomed by the openly racist former MP Pauline Hanson as “sweep[ing] political correctness from the debate”. Hanson’s One Nation Party is the equivalent of the white supremacist British National Party. Gillard, an immigrant from Wales, demanded that refugees heading for Australia be “processed” (dumped) in East Timor, an impoverished country whose genocidal occupation by Indonesia was backed by Australian governments. Now liberated, the East Timorese have read their massive, under-populated neighbour a moral lesson by saying no.

Many of the refugees come from Afghanistan which Australia invaded at Washington’s insistence. “Our national security is at stake in Afghanistan”, said Gillard on 5 July, linking a faraway tribal war and resistance to foreign invaders with three terrorist attacks in Indonesia in which Australians were killed. There is not a shred of evidence to support her statement. Australia’s security is probably unique; since 1915, an estimated 22 people have died as a result of politically motivated violence.

The new prime minister’s partner is a former hair products salesman called Tim Mathieson. This would be of no interest had he not been given the job of “Australia’s men’s health ambassador” by one of Gillard’s cabinet colleagues, the health minister, even though he had no experience in healthcare. Mathieson is now a “rising star” in real estate, thanks to one Albert Dadon, whose company is seeking planning permission for a contentious high rise development in Melbourne. Dadon can claim membership of the Order of Mates. As head of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange, he arranges admiring tours of Israel for politicians and journalists. Gillard went on such a junket last year in the wake of Israel’s massacre of 1400 people in Gaza, mostly women and children. She who would be the first female prime minister of Australia drooled her uncritical support for their killers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Deadly skies: The bloody truth about the Battle of Britain 70 years on by Robert Fisk

Rarely in history has a battle been so mythologised as the conflict that took place in the skies above southern England between 10 July and 31 October 1940. But the truth about the Battle of Britain - and the brave young airmen who fought it - is far more complex, ruthless and bloody than we often care to remember.

By 1956, the outer edges had rusted red and white but we 10-year-olds could stick our fingers into it and feel the sharp edges inside. Maurice Bickmore, the obsessive and sadistic headmaster, would almost mellow when he told us how it had come to be there – whenever his anger frothed out at us we had learnt to ask him about the hole in the gymnasium wall to cool him down. "I was standing just over there in the schoolyard," he would say every time, "and a German plane came right over the building chased by a Spitfire, and the Spitfire was shooting and one of the bullets hit the gym with a tremendous bang."

I had books about the fighter aircraft of the Second World War and I quickly identified that corroded hole in the wall as the effect of 22mm Hispano cannon fire,......... f unless the Spitfire pilot had used his twin Browning .303 machine guns. If it was a Spitfire. I wanted it to be a Spitfire with its clean leaf-like wings and its devastating profile. I had Airfix kits with which I constructed the fighters and bombers of the war – German, British, American, even a couple of stubby Japanese Mitsubishis, all stuck together with LePage's Aeroplane Glue, although my Mum had to help me build the Avro Lancaster – but it was the Spitfire that mesmerised me. I could put my upright thumb under the fuselage of the tiny glue-stuck, completed scale-model aircraft just forward of the ailerons, and it would balance perfectly, swaying gently backwards and forwards with no danger of toppling off, even if my thumb imitated the turbulence of a sudden cumulonimbus at Angels Twenty. By 1942, RAF 616 Squadron's Spitfire HF VIIs could reach Angels 43 – forty-three thousand feet – with a maximum speed of more than 400 miles an hour at Angels 25. There wasn't much you could teach Master Fisk about the Supermarine Spitfire – even if he had been born almost six years to the day after the start of the Battle of Britain, as the desperate campaign fought out mostly in the skies above southern England from 10 July to 31 October 1940 is remembered.

It was the Spitfire's swept-back cockpit canopy that gave it the edge, lifted it out of the 1930s and put it firmly into the 1940s and the design of the future. Even at 10 years old, I knew there was something special about it – just as I realised, in a much vaguer way – that the Spitfire was emblematic of something unprecedented and necessary about the Battle of Britain. All the other fighter planes that entered the war in 1939 were artistically clunky, even the Hawker Hurricane with its boxy cockpit and fat fuselage which some say had more claim to victory in the skies over Kent in 1940. I liked my model German Messerschmitt 109f – partly because of its yellow-painted engine cowling – but it too had a square hen-coop of a cockpit for the pilot and a priggish tail. No wonder, asked what he needed to win the battle, Oberstleutnant Adolf Galland (Knight's Cross and Oak Leaves and Swords) turned to his bejeweled Field Marshal Goering with one word: "Spitfires."

The young pilot Richard Hillary was to recall, almost mystically, the moment he approached his first Spitfire:

"The Spitfires stood in two lines outside 'A' Flight Pilots' room. The dull grey-brown of the camouflage could not conceal the clear-cut beauty, the wicked simplicity of their lines. I hooked up my parachute and climbed awkwardly into the low cockpit. I noticed how small was my field of vision. Kilmartin swung himself on to a wing and started to run through the instruments. I was conscious of his voice, but heard nothing of what he said. I was to fly a Spitfire. It was what I had most wanted to do through all the long dreary months of training. If I could fly a Spitfire, it would be worth it..."

The Spitfire was to previous aircraft design as Auden was to Robert Graves – even though Auden missed the battle by skulking in New York – or as the Nightingale in Berkeley Square was to "We Don't Want to Lose You, But We Think You Ought to Go". In art, the Spitfire was Vorticism against the Romantics – sleek, new, frightening, unforgiving. In the First World War, stringbag fighters – literally glued together – were constructed to fight. The Spitfire was built to win.

And as the years now stretch out our grim and bloody historical perspective, from Great War to Second World War, to the vile, hypocritical conflicts we fight today in the Muslim world, the Battle of Britain itself has become a kind of antidote to both past and future. The blood sacrifice of 1916 on the Somme – 20,000 British dead in just one day – was assuaged by the sacrifice of the "Few" in 1940. The flower of British manhood in both cases, to be sure – with a strong leavening of public schools in the Spitfires and Hurricanes – but the Battle of Britain proved that you didn't have to destroy all of a nation's youth to fight the good fight. In restrospect, the air battles of 1940 were also an antidote to the memory of the RAF's later savagery over Germany, the fire-storming of tens of thousands of civilians across the Reich. If Bomber Command was brutality – even Churchill spoke about terror crimes – then Fighter Command in 1940 represented chivalry.

Hillary wrote a short and brilliant book about the battle – and about himself – called The Last Enemy. It remains one of the few great literary works of the Second World War, its title culled from the First Book of Corinthians xv 26 – "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" – and its sorrow enshrined in the crash on 7 January 1943, in which Hillary himself met his last enemy. Returning from his first air battle in 1940, in which he had shot down a Messerschmitt and killed its pilot, Hillary examined his own conscience. On an old gramophone record, I have a BBC recording of this young man's voice, clipped, impatient, self-justificatory:

"My first emotion was one of satisfaction, satisfaction at a job adequately done, at the final logical conclusion of months of specialised training. And then I had a feeling of the essential rightness of it all. He was dead and I was alive; it could so easily have been the other way round; and that would somehow have been right too. I realised in that moment just how lucky a fighter pilot is. He has none of the personalised emotions of the soldier, handed a rifle and bayonet and told to charge. He does not have to share the dangerous emotions of the bomber pilot who night after night must experience that childhood longing for smashing things. The fighter pilot's emotions are those of the duellist – cool, precise, impersonal. He is privileged to kill well. For if one must either kill or be killed, as now one must, it should, I feel, be done with dignity..."

Hillary, though he could not have known it, captured that necessary antidote which his battle would provide for us. The soldier with his bayonet came from the Somme, the "dangerous emotions" of the bomber pilot from the future Battle of Germany.

Yet it is easy to forget that RAF Fighter Command did not save British cities from destruction, even if their crucifixion came nowhere near the incendiary slaughter that Bomber Command was later to visit upon Germany. Indeed, it was Hitler's decision in September 1940 to attack London – transferring his assault from Britain's airfields and radar stations – which spared the RAF from defeat. And of course, in the years that followed, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, the harsh facts of post-war research – read, for example, Peter Fleming's awesome Invasion 1940 – suggested that the Battle of Britain was not as great a victory as we imagined. The Germans had fewer pilots than we believed they had. We had more aircraft than we thought. And our "kill" claims were exaggerated. The British claimed 2,698 aircraft shot down between 10 July and 31 October 1940. The real figure was 1,733. But in the same period, the Germans claimed 3,058 British aircraft. In fact, they only shot down 915. The Brits only exaggerated by 55 per cent – the Germans by 234 per cent. There's Nazism for you!

Yet the years have also served to soften the cruelty and pain of the battle, to smother the terrible suffering of pilots and their families with the balm and bandages of our clichés. A stream of consciousness has wrapped itself around the reality of 1940. Never-before-in-the-field-of-human-conflict-Spitfires-Hurricanes-Dowding-Goering-Biggin-Hill-Tangmere-the-Few-Churchill-Hitler-Bandits-at-five-o'clock-Messerschmitts-Dorniers-Heinkels-the-Big-Wing-Bader-Deare-Tuck-Leigh-Malory-Galland-Molders-Wieck-Blood-Sweat-Tears. Very often tears. And most of it was fought above hop fields and Anglo-Saxon churches, the pale blue Kentish summer skies engraved with circular vapour trails, August forever turning into a golden September.

On the other side of the Channel, William Shirer – a CBS correspondent from still-neutral America whose memoir The Nightmare Years is in many ways more powerful than his timeless The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – was taken by German military guides to a hotel in occupied Calais. From there, on 15 August, he saw "a wave of German bombers roaring overhead towards the cliffs of Dover" with a swarm of Me 109 fighters above them. That day, the Luftwaffe flew 1,950 sorties, the RAF nearly a thousand on an air front of 500 miles. Then Shirer saw the German bombers coming back, some of them streaming smoke. But the German "minders" did not allow Shirer to talk to the returning pilots – he specifically asked for Galland – with good reason. The ghastly, flesh-burned creatures in those wounded planes were to be kept from the world.

So come now to a small Luftwaffe airbase near the forest of Crécy in occupied France where German pilot Gunther Bloemertz is waiting for a comrade to return from a raid over England in 1940. His almost forgotten record of the air war, Heaven Next Stop – regarded as a conflation of not only his own memories but those of his Luftwaffe colleagues – includes the terrifying moment when a Luftwaffe friend crashes on landing, his Me 109 toppling upside-down and bursting into flames:

"Our trapped comrade's horrible screaming came through to us, muffled by the closed cockpit-hood and drowned by the crackling of the flames. A human being burning alive before our eyes! At intervals we could make out the condemned man writhing and jerking convulsively – hammering on the unyielding walls of his glass cage, every moment more and more enveloped by the roaring flames... His despairing cry made us all realise simultaneously the only thing which could be done to ease our comrade's torment...

Another pilot, identified only as Ulrich, walked into the flames and shot the burning man in the head. Earlier, Bloemertz himself had shot down an RAF fighter, at the same time willing his British victim to jump from his burning aircraft. "I shout aloud in despair. Instead I see him bathed in the red of his own blood; his body strains half over the side to hang there, mutilated. Then the waves close over him..."

Hillary was to suffer almost the same fate when his own burning plane dived towards the Channel:

"I was falling. Falling slowly through a dark pit. I was dead. I saw it with my mind, my mind that was redness in front of my eye, the dull scream in the ear, the grinning of the mouth, the skin crawling on the skull. It was death and resurrection. Terror, moving with me, touched my cheek with hers and I felt the flesh wince... I was hot now, hot, again, again one with my body, on fire and screaming soundlessly."

My own father, First World War veteran Bill Fisk – in 1940 head of the local Home Guard in Maidstone – was to recall the shriek of uncontrolled Merlin engines as a fiery ball fell out of the sky over the centre of the town. He lay on the cobbles behind the Star Hotel as the Spitfire blew up a few hundred metres away, his own body bouncing on the road as the blast waves came down the High Street. On the golf course, he found the three-feet-deep perfect imprint of a German pilot who had jumped from his burning plane – without a parachute. Bill's future wife Peggy, on the outskirts of Maidstone, saw a pyre of black smoke and cycled off with her sister Bibby to see the burning wreckage of another Messerschmitt. "But when we got there," she told me years later, "we found it was one of ours on fire."

When Harry Saltzman produced his 1969 epic Battle of Britain – using more than a hundred real British and German fighters and bombers, for these were pre-digital days – he employed a real and terribly disfigured ex-fighter pilot to explain to a burned pilot's distraught wife (Susannah York) that plastic surgeons could do "wonderful things" these days. The man's gaunt, twisted face added a bleak sidebar to the battle which Kenneth More, Robert Shaw and Laurence Olivier (as Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding) could never match. For those who were burned or smashed to death, wives and lovers re-lived the nightmare last moments or, broken in spirit, faithfully awaited the return of husbands who could never come back.

In his often distressing Battle of Britain novel Piece of Cake, Derek Robinson describes the heartbreak of a fighter pilot's wife who turns up each day at the airfield perimeter to wait for her dead husband's Spitfire, a fearful presence which haunts his still- living fellow pilots:

"Cattermole was squinting and blinking into the hazy distance where a tiny black figure shimmered beside a little black car. He began walking... Cattermole stopped when he was 10 feet away. The sweat trickling into his eyes made him blink but his face was untouched by expression. 'We want you to go,' he said... 'Stupid bitch. I don't give a damn about you... You're a jinx, a menace. Fitz is dead, he's not coming back...' "

RAF Fighter Command could also show a ruthlessness which Bomber Command would later perfect a thousandfold. If the nobility of warfare was upheld in the Battle of Britain, the Geneva Conventions were not. The Luftwaffe complained bitterly that the RAF attacked German hospital sea-planes. Their claim was correct. Churchill's War Cabinet formally announced that "it has come to the notice of His Majesty's Government... that enemy aircraft bearing civil markings and marked with the Red Cross have recently flown over British ships at sea... His Majesty's Government are unable, however, to grant immunity to such aircraft flying over areas in which operations are in progress on land or at sea..." Dowding was blunter: "They were engaged in rescuing combatants and taking them back to fight again, and they were also in a position... to make valuable reconnaissance reports..." In the television series The World at War, Squadron Leader Max Aitken, son of Lord Beaverbrook, revealed that he had no compunction at shooting down German Red Cross planes. And Churchill wrote: "We did not recognise this means of rescuing enemy pilots in order that they might come and bomb our civilian population again." But the Germans pointed out that whenever German Red Cross aircraft rescued British pilots, they were, oddly, never shot down.

Of course, the Battle of Britain did produce honour, even humour, amid the carnage. RAF pilots sometimes circled ditched German bombers in the Channel in an effort to save their crews' lives. One British pilot found a German's parachute tangled on his starboard wing and throttled back to allow his German enemy to float free and alive to earth. Hillary remembered shouting German invective into his radio while climbing to 25,000 feet. "To my delight I heard one of them answer: 'You feelthy Englishmen, we will teach you how to speak to a German.' I am aware that this sounds a tall story, but several others in the Squadron were listening out and heard the whole thing."

Several true stories were astronomically funny. Fighter pilot Peter Townsend – later to be Princess Margaret's lover – returned from a fierce battle over the Channel to find a German Heinkel 111 bomber, wheels up, propellers bent, crash-landed on the runway of his RAF airfield. The pilot thought he had ditched in the sea and "before the astonished eye of the airfield control officer... a door was opened, a dinghy was thrown out and two of the crew – bootless for easy swimming – dived out on to dry land. Rumour even had it that they dived into their dingy and began rowing."

Inevitably, the pilots were fascinated by their enemies. When the legless Douglas Bader was shot down over France – by one of his own Spitfires, although he would never admit it – Adolf Galland greeted him warmly at his Luftwaffe airbase at St Omer, enquiring how he had managed to bale out with no legs. Bader didn't remember. "One never does," Galland replied before warmly inviting his captive to climb aboard a fully armed Me 109. According to Bader's biographer, "mad thoughts" of starting the engine and throttling away to freedom passed through his mind.

But a snapshot sent to Bader after the war shows a junior Luftwaffe officer covering him with a machine pistol. As he stepped out of the 109, "Bader looked across country and saw the sea. Far beyond he thought he could glimpse the White Cliffs of Dover and for a moment felt quite sick." A few months later, Wing Commander Robert Tuck crash-landed near Boulogne and was taken on the same pilgrimage to Galland. "We have met before, Herr Oberstleutnant Tuck," Galland said, shaking hands. "Last time I very nearly killed you, but you saw me coming..." The two men laughed when they realised that each had shot down the other's number two pilot. Galland recalled Bader's visit to his airbase at St Omer – "Wonderful fellow!" – before telling an orderly to place a bottle of White Label in front of Tuck, the last of the stock abandoned by the British at Dunkirk.

But the Battle of Britain was not a schoolboy game, a jape, a friendly match. It was harsh and cruel and thus – if it was an antidote to what had gone before and to what was yet to come – reflected the murderous war in which it occurred. The battle also remains a danger to us in a historical sense; our obsession with the RAF's victory tends to diminish infinitely more terrible and important turning points in a conflict that consumed upwards of 60 million lives. In terms of men and machines, it was a puny sideshow to Pearl Harbour, Alamein, Stalingrad, D-Day, the Battle for Germany, Dresden, Hamburg, Iwo Jima, Hiroshima, Nagasaki... The Soviets, not the RAF, broke the back of Hitler's legions.

And the pilots who fought were not, as hindsight might suggest to us, struggling to avenge Hitler's greatest crimes. The industrial slaughter of the Jewish Holocaust had not yet begun. The invasion of the Soviet Union was a year away. The nightly Blitz on London commenced on 7 September 1940, when the RAF were on the edge of victory. It was, perhaps, something more visceral that drove those pilots into the sky; the sheer bloody insult that the Luftwaffe committed by flying over the British coast from France. "The controller reports another large formation of Huns building up over Gris Nez and starting to come across but he doesn't go into how many," Spitfire pilot Geoffrey Wellum recorded in his diary. "Perhaps he thinks we've enough on our plate already. Where do all these bloody Germans come from? There seems to be no end to them..." When a false report of the German invasion of England circulated in one fighter pilot's mess, the legless Bader was the first to cheer up his comrades. Rubbing his hands with delight, he announced that now they would be able to kill even more Germans.

Nor would RAF Fighter Command keep its chivalry intact in the years to come. After the Normandy landings in June 1944, some of those same pilots helped to massacre the encircled German army trapped in the "Falaise Pocket"; thousands of French civilians died in the Pocket and in the still occupied towns between Normandy and Paris. While Bomber Command tore Germany's cities to pieces, fighter pilots – American and British, flying Spitfires as well as Typhoons and Mustangs – ranged the countryside to strafe German refugees, trains and even farm carts and horses, just as the Luftwaffe had done in France in 1940. Inevitably, they also attacked columns of British and American PoWs.

At the time, the Battle of Britain did not seem as coherent as it does today. "From time to time we openly recognised the meaningless of this existence," Luftwaffe pilot Bloemertz was to write of 1940. "More often we simply sensed it... Fate plunged onwards down its ordained path, and however we might try to protect ourselves it struck us exactly as it pleased. I couldn't block its way; and you – you who had wanted to kill me early in the morning – you couldn't do so either. Tommy, if you still live, are you perhaps drinking at this moment in some bar in the West End?"

And yet. There is always an "and yet" with this battle. By June of 1940, Britain was the sole country still in arms against the Nazis. If the RAF had broken, giving the Luftwaffe air superiority, the German invasion of the UK would have followed. If Britain failed, Churchill warned in June 1940, "the whole world, including the United States and all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science". And despite the historical manipulation of both the battle and Churchill by those miserable politicians who want to maintain our dishonest, illegal wars abroad today, his words, like the Spitfire, retain their integrity.

Perhaps it is what Richard Hillary, in a different context, called "the essential rightness of it all". For once – just once – Britain did the right thing and fought the right battle at the right time. And won.

Published in The Independent Saturday, 3 July 2010

The Mountain City Murders interview on Melbourne 3CR's Left After Breakfast

Left After Breakfast is broadcast every Friday 9 - 10 am on 3CR 855am- is presented by Susanna and The Bagman with Glen Davis providing a historical segment. On July 10 I joined Susanna and The Bagman and talked about a number of things including, the 1989 Cockatoo Island Dockyard Strike/Occcupation, BLF, John Cummins and my novel the Mountain City Murders.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Who needs schools anyway? by Mark Steel

                                                                       Mark Steel
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has already made two announcements this week, declaring that schools should revive the art of "deep thought", and cancelling £700m worth of school building projects. Which is handy, because for deep thought all you need is a hill to sit on and you can contemplate for months at a time without ever needing to go indoors. You don't hear Tibetan monks grumbling, "Ooh, I don't have a building to sit in, so how can I become at one with the rhythm of my own breathing? Please, master, my mum said I shouldn't sit out in a strong wind for more than three days?"

The initiative is typical of the imaginative thinking within the new politics. For example, one early casualty of education cuts has been swimming classes. And in many areas local authorities are cancelling schemes that allow children to use pools at little or no cost. So we save money wasted on teaching them to swim, but it doesn't matter because there's nowhere to swim anyway, which is the sort of joined-up thinking this country's been crying out for.

But more instructive than the specific cuts is the relish of those announcing them. Already the tone has changed from a matronly lament that sadly lots of stuff has to be got rid of. Now, like a hit-man over the early stage where they felt a bit queasy, there's a glint in their eye and they're loving it. Gove himself was on Newsnight bearing a chilling blank expression and repeating that the cuts were "unavoidable." In a couple more weeks he'll have two huge bodyguards behind him with folded arms and he'll have developed a Russian accent and do his interviews from a secret base under the sea and say, "Mr Paxman, zese cuts of vich you speke are, how shall ve put it... unavoidable. HA HA HA HA HA. Aaagh you are a fool, Mr Paxman, if only you could have verked for me, ve could have cut so much togezzer."

Projects they promised would be protected are now cancelled, and the definition of "waste" is stretched more creatively. For example, the cancelled school building scheme was derided by Gove as "bureaucratic and wasteful". So it turns out any of us who've wandered around a school in the past 10 years and thought, "Ooh, this is a smart new building", were wrong. What we should have said is, "Ah, I see you've got a new sports hall. I'm not sending my kids to this bureaucratic waste of a building, they're going to one that's run properly, where the science block's been sold off and turned into an Argos."

Because schools are now under the category of waste. Maybe they've got a point, because the aim seems to be that no one leaving school will have a job so they might sit in a crumbling hovel in practice for years of deep thought, but it's an example of how the coalition's cutting confidence is growing every day. And far from softening this, the Lib-Dem wing of the government loves it most of all.

They splutter with enthusiasm for cuts they vehemently opposed a few weeks ago, and you wonder whether they've started denouncing themselves like prisoners in Mao's Cultural Revolution. Maybe Vince Cable kneels before the cabinet every morning and says, "I confess, oh mighty cutting Chancellor, with the humility of a million grains of rice waiting to be boiled, that in doubting the magnificence of abolishing waste as early as this year I was recklessly ignoring the budget deficit you so nobly try to reduce. I am truly more pungent than a centipede."

Somehow they maintain that their principles remain because they're making sure the cuts are done with "fairness." In which case, presumably the schools the leaders of this government went to will also be fretting about cancelled buildings. So at Eton, where in the past few years they've had an Olympic rowing lake added to their grounds with no bureaucracy or waste involved, the headmaster will be holding meetings with parents to say, "Unfortunately, due to unavoidable cuts, we're having to sell off one lane of the course to developers. However, the funds raised mean at least we can go ahead with the purchase of a range of mountains in Nepal, which pupils will be able to attend in order to enjoy some extremely deep thought."

First published in The Independent on 7th July 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sticking the Public with the Bill for the Bankers' Crisis By Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein

My city feels like a crime scene and the criminals are all melting into the night, fleeing the scene. No, I’m not talking about the kids in black who smashed windows and burned cop cars on Saturday.

I’m talking about the heads of state who, on Sunday night, smashed social safety nets and burned good jobs in the middle of a recession. Faced with the effects of a crisis created by the world’s wealthiest and most privileged strata, they decided to stick the poorest and most vulnerable people in their countries with the bill.
How else can we interpret the G20’s final communiqué, which includes not even a measly tax on banks or financial transactions, yet instructs governments to slash their deficits in half by 2013. This is a huge and shocking cut, and we should be very clear who will pay the price: students who will see their public educations further deteriorate as their fees go up; pensioners who will lose hard-earned benefits; public-sector workers whose jobs will be eliminated. And the list goes on. These types of cuts have already begun in many G20 countries including Canada, and they are about to get a lot worse. For instance, reducing the projected 2010 deficit in the U.S. by half, in the absence of a sizeable tax increase, would mean a whopping $780-billion cut.

They are happening for a simple reason. When the G20 met in London in 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, the leaders failed to band together to regulate the financial sector so that this type of crisis would never happen again. All we got was empty rhetoric, and an agreement to put trillions of dollars in public monies on the table to shore up the banks around the world. Meanwhile the U.S. government did little to keep people in their homes and jobs, so in addition to hemorrhaging public money to save the banks, the tax base collapsed, creating an entirely predictable debt and deficit crisis.

At this weekend’s summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper convinced his fellow leaders that it simply wouldn’t be fair to punish those banks that behaved well and did not create the crisis (despite the fact that Canada’s highly protected banks are consistently profitable and could easily absorb a tax). Yet somehow these leaders had no such concerns about fairness when they decided to punish blameless individuals for a crisis created by derivative traders and absentee regulators.

Last week, The Globe and Mail published a fascinating article about the origins of the G20. It turns out the entire concept was conceived in a meeting back in 1999 between then finance minister Paul Martin and his U.S. counterpart Lawrence Summers (itself interesting since Mr. Summers was at that time playing a central role in creating the conditions for this financial crisis – allowing a wave of bank consolidation and refusing to regulate derivatives).

The two men wanted to expand the G7, but only to countries they considered strategic and safe. They needed to make a list but apparently they didn’t have paper handy. So, according to reporters John Ibbitson and Tara Perkins, “the two men grabbed a brown manila envelope, put it on the table between them, and began sketching the framework of a new world order.” Thus was born the G20.

The story is a good reminder that history is shaped by human decisions, not natural laws. Mr. Summers and Mr. Martin changed the world with the decisions they scrawled on the back of that envelope. But there is nothing to say that citizens of G20 countries need to take orders from this hand-picked club.

Already, workers, pensioners and students have taken to the streets against austerity measures in Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Greece, often marching under the slogan: “We won’t pay for your crisis.” And they have plenty of suggestions for how to raise revenues to meet their respective budget shortfalls.

Many are calling for a financial transaction tax that would slow down hot money and raise new money for social programs and climate change. Others are calling for steep taxes on polluters that would underwrite the cost of dealing with the effects of climate change and moving away from fossil fuels. And ending losing wars is always a good cost-saver.

The G20 is an ad hoc institution with none of the legitimacy of the United Nations. Since it just tried to stick us with a huge bill for a crisis most of us had no hand in creating, I say we take a cue from Mr. Martin and Mr. Summers. Flip it over, and write on the back of the envelope: Return to sender.

Published in The Globe and Mail June 28th, 2010

The charge of the media brigade by John Pilger

John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes how an all-pervasive corporate media culture in the United States prepares the way for a permanent state of war. And yet for all the column inches and broadcast hours filled, the brainwashing is not succeeding. And this, he suggests, is 'America's greatest virtue'.

The TV anchorwoman was conducting a split screen interview with a journalist who had volunteered to be a witness at the execution of a man on death row in Utah for 25 years. “He had a choice,” said the journalist, “lethal injection or firing squad.” “Wow!” said the anchorwoman. Cue a blizzard of commercials for fast food, teeth whitener, stomach stapling, the new Cadillac. This was followed by the war in Afghanistan presented by a correspondent sweating in a flak jacket. “Hey, it’s hot,” he said on the split screen. “Take care,” said the anchorwoman. “Coming up” was a reality show in which the camera watched a man serving solitary confinement in a prison’s “hell hole”.

The next morning I arrived at the Pentagon for an interview with one of President Obama’s senior war-making officials. There was a long walk along shiny corridors hung with pictures of generals and admirals festooned in ribbons. The interview room was purpose-built. It was blue and arctic cold, and windowless and featureless except for a flag and two chairs: props to create the illusion of a place of authority. The last time I was in a room like this in the Pentagon a colonel called Hum stopped my interview with another war-making official when I asked why so many innocent civilians were being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then it was in the thousands; now it is more than a million. “Stop tape!” he ordered.

This time there was no Colonel Hum, merely a polite dismissal of soldiers’ testimony that it was a “common occurrence” that troops were ordered to “kill every mother fucker”. The Pentagon, says the Associated Press, spends $4.7 billion on public relations: that is, winning the hearts and minds not of recalcitrant Afghan tribesmen but of Americans. This is known as “information dominance” and PR people are “information warriors”.

American imperial power flows through a media culture to which the word imperial is anathema. To broach it is heresy. Colonial campaigns are really “wars of perception”, wrote the present commander, General David Petraeus, in which the media popularises the terms and conditions. “Narrative” is the accredited word because it is post-modern and bereft of context and truth. The narrative of Iraq is that the war is won, and the narrative of Afghanistan is that it is a “good war”. That neither is true is beside the point. They promote a “grand narrative” of a constant threat and the need for permanent war. “We are living in a world of cascading and intertwined threats,” wrote the celebrated New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “that have the potential to turn our country upside down at any moment.”

Friedman supports an attack on Iran, whose independence is intolerable. This is the psychopathic vanity of great power which Martin Luther King described as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”. He was then shot dead.

The psychopathic is applauded across popular, corporate culture, from the TV death watch of a man choosing a firing squad over lethal injection to the Oscar winning Hurt Locker and a new acclaimed war documentary Restrepo. Directors of both films deny and dignify the violence of invasion as “apolitical”. And yet behind the cartoon facade is serious purpose. The US is engaged militarily in 75 countries. There are some 900 US military bases across the world, many at the gateways to the sources of fossil fuels.

But there is a problem. Most Americans are opposed to these wars and to the billions of dollars spent on them. That their brainwashing so often fails is America’s greatest virtue. This is frequnetly due to courageous mavericks, especially those who emerge from the centrifuge of power. In 1971, military analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaked documents known as the Pentagon Papers which put the lie to almost everything two presidents had claimed about Vietnam. Many of these insiders are not even renegades. I have a section in my address book filled with the names of former officers of the CIA, who have spoken out. They have no equivalent in Britain.

In 1993, C. Philip Liechty, the CIA operations officer in Jakarta at the time of Indonesia’s murderous invasion of East Timor, described to me how President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had given the dictator Suharto “a green light” and secretly supplied the arms and logistics he needed. As the first reports of massacres arrived at his desk, he began to turn. “It was wrong,” he said. “I felt badly.”

Melvin Goodman is now a scholar at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. He was in the CIA more than 40 years and rose to be a senior Soviet analyst. When we met the other day, he described the conduct of the cold war as a series of gross exaggerations of Soviet “aggressiveness” that wilfully ignored the intelligence that the Soviets were committed to avoid nuclear war at all costs. Declassified official files on both sides of the Atlantic support this view. “What mattered to the hardliners in Washington,” he said, “was how a perceived threat could be exploited.” The present secretary of defence, Robert Gates, as deputy director of the CIA in the 1980s, had constantly hyped the “Soviet menace” and is, says Goodman, doing the same today “on Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran”.

Little has changed. In America, in 1939, W.H. Auden wrote:

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives […]

Out of the mirror they stare,

Imperialism’s face

And the international wrong

Saturday, July 03, 2010

John Pilger: There Is a War on Journalism

John Pilger

It’s been a week since Rolling Stone published its article on General Stanley McChrystal that eventually led to him being fired by President Obama. Since the article came out, Rolling Stone and the reporter who broke the story, Michael Hastings, have come under attack in the mainstream media for violating the so-called "ground rules" of journalism. But the investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger says Hastings was simply doing what all true journalists need to do. Democracy Now

AMY GOODMAN: It’s been a week since Rolling Stone published its article on General Stanley McChrystal that eventually led to him being fired by President Obama. In a piece called "The Runaway General," McChrystal and his top aides openly criticized the President and mocked several top officials. Joe Biden is nicknamed "Bite me." National Security Adviser General James Jones is described as a "clown." Ambassador Richard Holbrooke is called a "wounded animal."

Since the article came out, Rolling Stone and the reporter who broke the story, Michael Hastings, have come under attack in the mainstream media for violating the so-called "ground rules" of journalism. New York Times columnist David Brooks penned a column attacking Hastings for being a, quote, "product of the culture of exposure." Brooks wrote, quote, "The reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority." He goes on to write, "The exposure ethos, with its relentless emphasis on destroying privacy and exposing impurities, has chased good people from public life, undermined public faith in institutions and elevated the trivial over the important," he said.

On Fox News, Geraldo Rivera attacked Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings for publishing quotes McChrystal and his aides made at a bar.

GERALDO RIVERA: This is a situation where you have to put it in the context of war and warriors and honor and the penumbra of privacy that is presumed when it’s not on the record specifically. When you’re hanging out at a bar waiting for a plane or a train or an automobile and you’re stuck together hours and hours, and you’re drinking in a bar, or you’re at an airport lounge, this is not an interview context. These guys, particularly the staffers who gave the most damning statements about the civilians in office, including the Vice President of the United States, these guys had no idea that they were being interviewed by this guy.

BILL O’REILLY: I’m not sure about that, Geraldo.

GERALDO RIVERA: This reporter—wait, hold on, Bill.

BILL O’REILLY: I’m not sure about that.

GERALDO RIVERA: This reporter from Rolling Stone, he was a rat in an eagle’s nest.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Fox News. But other mainstream media outlets have also attacked Michael Hastings for writing the story. This is Lara Logan, the chief foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News, being interviewed by Howard Kurtz on CNN.

HOWARD KURTZ: If you had been travelling with General McChrystal and heard these comments about Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Jim Jones, Richard Holbrooke, would you have reported them?

LARA LOGAN: Well, it really depends on the circumstances. It’s hard to know here. Michael Hastings, if you believe him, says that there were no ground rules laid out. And, I mean, that just doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me, because if you look at the people around General McChrystal, if you look at his history, he was the Joint Special Operations commander. He has a history of not interacting with the media at all. And his chief of intelligence, Mike Flynn, is the same. I mean, I know these people. They never let their guard down like that. To me, something doesn’t add up here. I just—I don’t believe it.

HOWARD KURTZ: Washington Post quoted an unnamed senior military official as saying that Michael Hastings broke the off-the-record ground rules. But the person who said this was on background and wouldn’t allow his name to be used. Is that fair?

LARA LOGAN: Well, it’s Kryptonite right now. I mean, do you blame him? The commanding general in Afghanistan just lost his job. Who else is going to lose his job? Believe me, all the senior leadership in Afghanistan are waiting for the ax to fall. I’ve been speaking to some of them. They don’t know who’s going to stay and who’s going to go. I mean, just the question is, really, is what General McChrystal and his aides are doing so egregious that they deserved to—I mean, to end a career like McChrystal’s? I mean, Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Lara Logan, the chief foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News, being interviewed on CNN. Meanwhile, both the Washington Post and ABC have published articles quoting anonymous military sources attacking Hastings’s Rolling Stone article.

For more on the story, we’re joined by the award-winning investigative journalist, documentary filmmaker John Pilger, began his career in journalism, oh, nearly half a century ago and has written close to a dozen books and made over fifty documentaries. He lives in London but is in the United States working on a forthcoming documentary about what he calls "the war on the media." It’s called The War You Don’t See.

We welcome John Pilger to Democracy Now! John, welcome. Talk about the war you don’t see.

JOHN PILGER: Well, the war you don’t see is expressed eloquently by the New York Times, that range of extraordinary media apologists that we’ve just seen. The reason we don’t see the war on civilians, the war that has caused the most extraordinary devastation, human and cultural and structural devastation in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is because of what is almost laughingly called the mainstream media. The one apology, not these apologies that we’ve seen this morning from Fox to CBS, right across the spectrum, to the New York Times this morning, the real apology that counted was the New York Times when it apologized to its readers for not showing us the war in—or the reasons that led up, rather, to the invasion of Iraq that produced this horrific war. I mean, these people now have become so embedded with the establishment, so embedded with authority, they’re what Brecht called the spokesmen of the spokesmen. They’re not journalists.

Brooks writes about a "culture of exposure." Excuse me, isn’t that journalism? Are we so distant from what journalism ought to be, not simply an echo chamber for authority, that somebody in the New York Times can attack a journalist who’s done his job? Hastings did a wonderful job. He caught out McChrystal, as he should have done. That’s his job. In a country where the media is constitutionally freer, nominally, than any other country on earth, the disgrace of the recent carnage in the Middle East and in Afghanistan is largely down to the fact that the media didn’t alert us. It didn’t report it. It didn’t question. It simply amplified and echoed authority. Hastings has proved—God bless him—that journalists still exist.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting to read the first paragraph of Hastings’s piece. He talks about, yes, this group in a French bar—and, by the way, Rolling Stone said, you should see what we didn’t print, because in fact there were things they said that were off the record. But to say that Hastings violated the off-the-record rule, they said, was not the case. There was many things we didn’t print. But right after they talked about the French—he talked about the French bar and McChrystal and his high officials in the bar, his aides, you know, dancing and singing the words "Afghanistan, Afghanistan," Hastings writes, "opposition to the war has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany’s president [and] sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him." But this is something most people in this country don’t know, that the US, despite the US-led coalition, the NATO troops, is very much almost going this alone.

JOHN PILGER: Yes, it’s going it alone in terms of the American people. And what journalism, like Hastings, does is represent the American people. A majority of the American people are now opposed to this colonial debacle in Afghanistan. I mean, I was very interested to read what President Obama said about Afghanistan, if I can find it. Yes, here it is. On February the 10th, 2007, quote, "It’s time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement [that lies] at the heart of someone else’s civil war," unquote. That’s what President Obama said before he became president. And unless the people of the United States, like the people of Europe, like most peoples in the world, understand that, that this is a long-running civil war, that it needs the kind of sympathy, if you like, for the people of Afghanistan—it certainly doesn’t need this brutal imposition of a colonial force there.

Now, that happens to be a truth that the likes of Michael Hastings and others are expressing. But it’s also a forbidden truth. And the moment you even glimpse that truth in the United States, the kind of barrage that—the grotesque sort of cartoon barrage of Fox, right up to the rather sneering barrage that comes from the New York Times, through to CBS and so on, the barrage against truth tellers becomes—Amy, we’re dependent now on the few Hastings, but also on whistleblowers. The most important exposé was the Wikileaks exposé of the Apache attack on those journalists and children in Iraq. And here they are prosecuting the whistleblower, when in fact those responsible should be prosecuted. But that’s verboten now.

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to encourage people to go to our website at democracynow.org. We interviewed Julian Assange, who’s on the run now, afraid that he will be picked, that he will be arrested. He’s the founder of Wikileaks, and we played that 2007 video that someone within the military gave to Wikileaks, to Assange, to show the killing of civilians on the ground in Iraq. Astounding.

I wanted to go back to this comment of the CBS correspondent, of Lara Logan, who says, "Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has." This is the reporter. You say that the media is not covering the war; it’s promoting the war.

JOHN PILGER: Michael Hastings is serving his country. This country tells the rest of the world about its magnificent beginning, about its magnificent Constitution, about its magnificent freedoms. At the heart of those freedoms is the freedom of speech and the freedom of journalism. That is serving your country. That is serving humanity. The idea that you only serve your country by being part of a rapacious colonial force—and, you know, I’m not speaking rhetorically here. That’s what is happening in Afghanistan. This is a civil war in which European and American forces have intervened. And we get a glimpse of that through the likes of the Hastings article. I really call on journalists, young journalists, to be inspired, if you like, by this Rolling Stone article, not to be put off by the apologists, not to be put off by those who serve their country embedded in the Green Zone in Baghdad, but to see journalism as something that is about truth telling and represents people and does serve one’s country.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting you say this, as up in Toronto—we just came from Toronto yesterday—well, hundreds of people and a number of journalists have been beaten and arrested—


AMY GOODMAN: —as they try to cover what’s happening on the streets, the protests around the G8/G20 meetings, as they talk about protecting banks and promoting war—


AMY GOODMAN: —in the summits.

JOHN PILGER: Yeah. Well, there is a war on journalism. There’s long been a war on journalism. Journalism has always been—I mean, if you read, let’s say, General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency manual, which he put his name to in 2006, he makes it very clear. He said we’re fighting wars of perception—and I paraphrase him—in which the news media is a major component. So, unless the news media is part of those wars of perception—that is, that not so much the enemy that is our objective; it’s the people at home—then, you know, they’re out. They’re part of—they can easily become part of the enemy. And as we’ve seen in the numbers of journalists who have been killed in Iraq—more journalists have been killed in Iraq, mostly Iraqi journalists, than in any other war in the modern era—there is a war on this kind of truth telling. And we’re seeing this—another form of this attack on truth telling by the likes of Fox and CBS and New York Times this morning. It embarrasses them. What Hastings has done deeply embarrasses these apologists.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, interestingly, it was Hastings himself that exposed the mainstream media. Just quoting from Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com, as Barrett Brown notes in Vanity Fair, "Hastings in 2008 did to the establishment media what he did to Gen. McChrystal—[he] exposed what they do and how they think by writing the truth—after he quite Newsweek (where he was the Baghdad correspondent) and wrote a damning exposé about how the media distorts war coverage. As Brown put it: 'Hastings ensured that he would never be trusted by the establishment media ever again.'"

JOHN PILGER: What a wonderful accolade! My goodness! That’s a tremendous honor for him to bear.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up, I want to ask you about the coverage of the Gaza aid flotilla that was attacked by the Israeli commandos. You’ve come in from Britain to the United States—


AMY GOODMAN: —to do this piece on the media.


AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment of the media’s coverage?

JOHN PILGER: Well, it’s very different. I mean, there was—I think things—I think the perception of Israel and Palestine has changed quite significantly in Europe, and there was horror at the murder of these people on the Turkish ship. And there was quick understanding, I felt, that how the Israelis manipulated the footage in order to suggest that the victims were actually assaulting those who attacked the flotilla.

The coverage here has been bathed in the usual euphemisms about Israel. It’s always put into the passive voice. Israel really—the Israeli commandos never really killed anybody; it was a tragic event in which people died, and so on and so forth.

Having said that, I must say, Amy, since I’ve been in the United States, I see a—there’s a shift that is in—both politically, but certainly in the media. Since Lebanon, since Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006, since the attack on Gaza, Christmas 2008 and early 2009, and now this assault on the flotilla, Israel can’t be covered up. It can’t be apologized for as effectively anymore. And even in the New York Times, which has always been a stalwart in supporting the Israeli regime, the language is changing. And I think this again reflects a popular understanding and a popular disenchantment with the Middle East and the United States role in the Middle East, the apologies for one atrocity after the other, the lack of justice for the people in Palestine. So, I don’t know whether I’m being optimistic or not, but there is a change. And where that change is going to, I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: Are there any other key stories that you feel the media is missing or distorting?

JOHN PILGER: Well, I mean, one of the key stories is the devastation, the economic devastation, in people’s lives, that it seems to me extraordinary. And this is true in Britain, as it is in the United States, that ordinary people have suffered since the collapse in September 2008 of significant parts of Wall Street, since the bubble burst. The idea that a president was elected as a man of the people—at least that’s the way he presented himself—is still, I think, promoted by the media, whereas Obama has made clear that he has very much reinforced Wall Street, he has helped to rebuild Wall Street, his whole team is from Wall Street. He’s reached into Goldman Sachs for his senior people. I think that that anger that I’ve felt in the United States over the last few years, that anger at a popular level, is still not expressed in the so-called mainstream media. I remember in the last year of George W. Bush, someone said that in one day 26,000 emails bombarded the White House, and almost all of them were hostile. That suggests to me a popular anger in this country that is often deflected into—down into cul-de-sacs, like the Tea Party movement. But the root of that anger—and that is a social injustice in people’s lives, in the repossession of houses, the loss of jobs, a rather weak reform, if it is a reform, of the scandalous healthcare arrangements, none of these—this popular disenchantment, disaffection, is not expressed in the media.

AMY GOODMAN: John Pilger, I want to thank you very much for being with us. John Pilger here in the United States doing a film, The War You Don’t See, as he covers the media’s coverage of war. He’s an award-winning investigative journalist and filmmaker. Thank you so much.