The War on Terror Requires Looking in the Mirror: British Playwright Harold Pinter Tells “Americans” the Truth about Ourselves

December 1, 2005

The U.S.-led "war on terror" is the ultimate in hypocrisy and deceit. If the U.S. is serious about addressing the evil de jour, "terrorism," it must honestly look at itself and be prepared for a painful journey of healing, just as a chronic addict or drunk gets ready to endure the arduous 12-step program of recovery.

Historic and contemporary behaviors of U.S. civilization reveal classic examples of psychologist Carl Jung’s archetypal defense mechanism of projecting one’s shadow onto others. One’s own darkness is so terrifying that it is easier not to muster the courage to face it. In 1928 Jung described how the psychology of war brings the shadow to the fore: "Everything which our nation does is good, everything which the other nations do is wicked. The center of all that is mean and vile is always to be found several miles behind the enemy’s lines." Many veterans of war have painfully experienced the projections stripped from our eyes and minds. We saw the enemy — it was first myself, then ourselves as a collective culture. Holy royal shit! How the fuck could that be? Wow!

As a nation it is imperative that we muster the courage to discover our own shadows. They exist in the images we project — evil axis, Hitler-like leaders, weapons of mass destruction, ruthless dictators, deceitful nations, mushroom clouds, etc. Each image is a huge clue about our own nation — they are our images, the shadow of the darkness within us as a culture, and as individuals who have collectively participated in and legitimized the projections.

The Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek has said that 9/11 was merely a distilled version of our own essence.

"For the last five centuries, the relative prosperity of the ‘civilized’ West was brought by the export of ruthless violence and destruction into the ‘barbarian’ OUTSIDE: the long history from the conquest of America to the slaughter in the Congo. Cruel and indifferent as it may sound, we should also, now more than ever, bear in mind that the actual effect of these bombings is much more symbolic than real. The U.S. just got the taste of what goes on around the world on a daily basis, from Sarajevo to Grozny, from Rwanda and Congo to Sierra Leone . . . America’s ‘holiday from history’ was a fake: America’s peace was brought by the catastrophes going on elsewhere. Therein resides the true lesson of the bombings: the only way to ensure that it will not happen HERE again is to prevent it going on ANYWHERE ELSE."

As I have described over and over, the United States as a civilization was founded on systematic application of terror so grotesque that we hardly ever talk about it, or acknowledge it. Equally troubling, we have consistently maintained our American Way Of Life by acts of terror for 385 years, pre- and post-Republic, first in the Western Hemisphere, then moving like a cancer to the entire globe in our insatiable search for cheap or free resources, markets, and labor. Since 1997 the U.S. military establishment has explicitly identified its policy as "full spectrum dominance." There it is! William Blum offers a concise list of the last 60 years worth of our various crimes against humanity in his Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Common Courage, 2000).

British Playwright Harold Pinter has described U.S. foreign policy as "kiss my ass or I’ll kick your head in." His recent speech on the occasion of accepting the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature is one of the clearest, most stinging indictments of U.S. imperialism I have ever read. Are you ready? Here goes:


But my contention here is that the U.S. crimes in the [postwar] period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognized, as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States’ actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America’s favoured 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. When the populace has been subdued — or beaten to death — the same thing — and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in U.S. foreign policy in the years to which I refer. The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, 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 U.S. foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

It 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. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of 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 stratagem. 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. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the U.S.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It 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.

The U.S. is the world’s wholesale terrorist, provoking retail terrorist re-actions among the ignored, the invaded, the desperate, the disempowered, and the victims of double standards. Our job as human beings is to participate in a revolt from below, from within the belly of the beast. The practice of living justly is the foun
dation for peace. Folks, this system does not deserve our support and legitimacy — just the opposite. It does not deserve our votes, our dollars, or the bodies of our sons and daughters. This is a leap in thinking but the historical empirical evidence is overwhelmingly clear. We have grown up in a monster, disguised as a "representative democracy." It can only continue if we choose to remain complicit and obedient to it. Please imagine the numerous creative and courageous ways to say NO, while constructing the revolutionary alternatives in each of our thousands of local communities.

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