We have watched the entire 12-part series many times. When we first happened upon the Netflix series we were compelled to binge the entire set over a couple of days, and later watched it as a refresher at a more casual and sensible pace. And still later, in preparing for the launch of TheIndispensableNation, we dove into every line of the series, reconstructing the text and, in so doing, considered the recurring themes Stone and Kuznick had laid out in the arc of their narrative. We also watched dozens of interviews with these men in which they discussed the background of the making of the series. In these interviews Stone often recounted his own evolution, leading him to the realization that America is "on the wrong track".
That wrong track is the nuclear track. As Stone says, he grew up in the shadow of the Bomb, and of nuclear war. And it is the nuclear track that is at the heart of the recurring themes he and Kuznick explore in the series. These include: America's ongoing use of nuclear blackmail in advancing its foreign policy objectives, its overriding commitment to nuclear superiority, and the utter madness of America's leaders in planning for, if not seeking to engage in, nuclear war. Stir into the mix America's blind hatred of communism (which was effectively employed in a highly coordinated and successful effort to destroy domestic dissent in the U.S., thus neutering the labor movement, the progressive movement, the civil rights movement, and the women's movement), the support of virtually every right-wing military dictatorship since the Second World War, and the total and ongoing disregard for the the murder each year of thousands upon thousands of civilians in foreign countries, and the existential threat posed by the indispensable nation comes into sharp focus.
How do we begin to explain this madness? Corruption and greed are surely at the heart of the matter. But this corruption and greed were enabled by America's position of total dominance in the aftermath of World War II, which was, in turn, enabled by America's then-monopoly of the atomic bomb. In a February 1948 memo, George Kennan identified with clear-eyed resolve the problem facing America:
"...we have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction."
Let's revisit the central thought from that passage: "Our real task...is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity..." From the time of Woodrow Wilson's "divine mission" to spread democracy in the service of U.S. business interests, to the ongoing debacle today in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen (and, soon perhaps, Iran), America's foreign policy has continued to centre on those relationships that permit it to maintain its position of disparity - Kennan merely gave it form.
But times are changing, and America's position of disparity is fast eroding. Yes, the gulf in individual wealth that favours America's elites continues to widen, but America's share of the world's wealth as a proportional value continues to decline. China, as evidenced by its New Silk Road initiative, along with its growing roster of partners (including Russia), is rapidly eclipsing U.S. economic supremacy. The stage is thus set for a possible cataclysm, as America's military power increasingly confronts Asia's rising economic power.
America's establishment, the ruling class, the one percent, the deep state, any and all, have vowed never to allow a competitor to usurp its position of total dominance, and this vow is made manifest by the U.S. commitment to "full spectrum dominance". This credo is uncompromising, and it captures the most disturbing theme to which The Untold History of the United States alludes throughout its narrative - the idea that civilian populations have become wholly acceptable targets in the pursuit of America's hegemony. The fire-bombings of Germany and Japan were merely a prelude to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (themselves fire-bombings of a different sort, made more efficient by the use of one bomb rather than thousands), which were followed by more crimes against humanity, first in North and South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and then in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan and Yemen. And today, current American nuclear war-gaming casually estimates first-strike losses in the billions, followed, of course, by the inevitable nuclear winter that will seal the deal.
This is madness, of course. The end of all life on earth will surely be the result of the next major war, should the U.S. finally feel free to unleash the full power its nuclear arsenal. Before that becomes an eventuality, we must consider events since the end of World War II, and recognize and name America's atrocities - that by even conservative estimate, America has killed more than 20 million people in pursuit of its foreign policy objectives. The desire of U.S. leaders to sanitize the nuclear arsenal as merely conventional weapons, and to increasingly identify civilians and non-combatants as strategic objectives is, of course, a calculated attempt to normalize this madness. But as the eminent American scientist and Nobel Prize-winner, George Wald, said in a 1969 speech at MIT, "There is nothing worth having that can be obtained by nuclear war."
It is imperative we fully recognize what U.S. foreign policy has wrought in order to comprehend its future potential. And so, in nominating a capstone for The Untold History series, we propose the thoughts of Harold Pinter, another Nobel Laureate. In his widely acclaimed acceptance of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature, Pinter offered an astonishingly frank and brutal assessment of American foreign policy since World War II. His seething anger at the murder of innocents in Latin America, under the direction of U.S. authorities, captures precisely the tone we all should assign to America's actions in foreign lands today. Pinter asks, what has happened to our moral sensibility, to our conscience? As he says, "The conscience to do not only with our own acts, but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others." And, he rightly asks, "How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal?"
Art, Truth & Politics
written and presented by Harold Pinter...
…language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool, which might give way under you, the author, at any time. But as I have said, 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.
Political theatre presents an entirely different set of problems. Sermonizing has to be avoided at all cost. Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air. The author cannot confine or constrict them to satisfy his own taste, or disposition, or prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles, from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives – take them by surprise, perhaps, occasionally – but nevertheless, give them the freedom to go which way they will. This does not always work, and political satire, of course, adheres to none of these precepts; in fact, it does precisely the opposite, which is its proper function.
In my play The Birthday Party, I think I allow a whole range of options to operate in a dense forest of possibility, before finally focusing on an act of subjugation.
Mountain Language portends to no such range of operation – it remains brutal, short, and ugly. But the soldiers in the play do get some fun out of it. One sometimes forgets that torturers become easily bored. They need a bit of a laugh to keep their spirits up. This has been confirmed, of course, by the events at Abu Graib in Baghdad. Mountain Language lasts only twenty minutes, but it could go on for hour after hour, on and on and on, the same pattern repeated over and over again, on and on, hour after hour.
Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to be taking place under water. A drowning woman, her hand reaching up through the waves, dropping down out of sight, reaching for others, but finding nobody there, either above or under the water, finding only shadows, reflections, floating. The woman, a lost figure, in a drowning landscape, a woman unable to escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others. But, as they died, she must die too.
Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory, since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested, not in truth, but in power, and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power, it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us, therefore, is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.
We were assured it was true. It was not true.
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 forty-five minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Qaeda, and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th, 2001. We were assured this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.
The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world, and how its choses to embody it.
But before I come back to 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. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow, here.
Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period – the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.
But my contention here, is that the United States’ crimes in the same 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, 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 favorite 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 your dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of a 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, the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that ‘democracy has prevailed.’ This was common place in U.S. foreign policy in the years to which I refer.
The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America’s view of its role in the world, both then and now.
I was present at a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in London in the late 1980s. The United States’ Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras, in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua, but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the United States’ body was Raymond Seitz, then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself. Father Metcalf said, “Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural center. We have lived in peace. A few months ago, a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything – the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped the nurses and teachers, slaughtered the doctors in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the U.S. government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity."
Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible, and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused, and then spoke with some gravity. “Father,” he said, “let me tell you something: In war, innocent people always suffer.” There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch. ‘Innocent people,’ indeed, always suffer.
Finally somebody said, “But in this case, innocent people are the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidized by your government – one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money, further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?” Sykes was imperturbable. “I don’t agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,” he said. As we were leaving the embassy, a U.S. aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.
I should remind you that at the time, President Reagan made the following statement: “The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.”
The United States denounced these achievements as "Marxist-Leninist subversion."
The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over fourty years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979 - a breath-taking popular revolution. The Sandinistas weren’t perfect; they possessed their fair share of arrogance, and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational, and civilized. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society; the death penalty was abolished; hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead; over one hundred thousand families were given title to land; two thousand schools were built; a quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one-seventh; free education was established, and a free health service; infant mortality was reduced by a third; polio was eradicated.
The United States denounced these achievements as “Marxist-Leninist subversion.” In the view of the U.S. government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of healthcare and education, and achieve social unity and national self-respect, neighboring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time, fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.
They died because they dared to question the status quo - the endless platter of poverty, disease, degradation, and depression, which had been their birthright.
I spoke earlier about a tapestry of lies which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a totalitarian dungeon. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were, in fact, three priests in the government – two Jesuits and a Marian missionary. The “totalitarian dungeons” were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically-elected government of Guatemala in 1954, and it is estimated that over two hundred thousand people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.
Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University at San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Atlacatl Regiment, trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man, Archbishop Romero, was assassinated while saying Mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as Communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo – the endless platter of poverty, disease, degradation, and depression, which had been their birthright.
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.
The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. 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 and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.
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 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 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. 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 its 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, that I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.”
The United States quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law, or critical dissent.
It’s a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words ‘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 critical faculties, but its very comfortable. This does not apply, of course, to the forty million people living below the poverty line, and the two million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons which extends across the United States.
The United States no longer bothers about low-intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point about being reticent, or even devious, it puts its cards on the table without fear or favor. 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 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? The 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 Guantanamo Bay, hundreds of people detained without charge for over three 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.
How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murdered and a war criminal?
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 6. They are being 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, to criticize our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act – you’re either with us, or against us. So Blair shuts 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 therefor of the public, an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East, masquerading as a last resort, all other justifications having failed to justify themselves as liberation, a formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people. We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation, and death to the Iraqi people, and 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. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But, Bush has been clever, he has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore, if any American soldier, or for that matter, politician, finds himself in the dock, Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court, and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address, if they’re interested – it is Number 10, Downing Street, London.
Death, in this context, is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least one hundred thousand Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment; their deaths don’t exist; they are blank. They’re not even recorded as being dead. “We don’t do body-counts,” said the American General, Tommy Franks.
Early in the invasion, there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers, of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy – “A Grateful Child,” said the 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 a missile, he was the only survivor. “When do I get my arms back?” he asked. This story was never referred to again. Well, 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 a sincere speech on television.
The two thousand American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm’s way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot in different kinds of graves.
Here is an extract of a poem by Pablo Neruda, “I’m Explaining A Few Things”: And one morning all that was burning, one morning the bonfires leapt out of the earth devouring human beings -- and from then on fire, gunpowder from then on, and from then on blood. Bandits with planes and Moors, bandits with finger-rings and duchesses, bandits with black friars spattering blessings came through the sky to kill children and the blood of children ran through the streets without fuss, like children's blood.
Jackals that the jackals would despise, stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out, vipers that the vipers would abominate!
Face to face with you I have seen the blood of Spain tower like a tide to drown you in one wave of pride and knives!
Treacherous generals: see my dead house, look at broken Spain : from every house burning metal flows instead of flowers, from every socket of Spain Spain emerges and from every dead child a rifle with eyes, and from every crime bullets are born which will one day find the bull's eye of your hearts.
And you'll ask: why doesn't his poetry speak of dreams and leaves and the great volcanoes of his native land?
Come and see the blood in the streets. Come and see The blood in the streets. Come and see the blood In the streets!
Let me make it quite clear that by quoting from Neruda poem, I’m in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful, visceral, description of the bombing of civilians.
This infantile insanity, the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons, is at the heart of present American political philosophy.
I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. It’s 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 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. We don’t quite know how they got there, but they are there, all right. The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched with fifteen minutes warning. Its developing new systems of nuclear force, known as “bunker-busters”. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile – Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Ladin? You? Me? Joe Doakes? China? Paris? Who knows. What we do know, is that this infantile insanity, the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons, is at the heart of present American political philosophy. 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, is unlikely to diminish.
I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers, but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address, which he could make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive – a man’s man.
“God is good. Good is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Ladin’s god is bad, his is a bad god. Saddam’s god was bad – except he didn’t have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don’t chop people’s heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am a democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society – we give compassionate electrocution, and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority, and don’t you forget it.”
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, of course, you have constructed your own protection, and, it could be argued, become a politician.
I have referred to death quite a few times in this speech. I should now quote a poem of my own, called “Death.” Where was the body found? Who found the dead body? Was the dead body dead when found? How was the dead body found? Who was the dead body? Who was the father or daughter or brother Or uncle or sister or mother or son Of the dead and abandoned body?
Was the body dead when abandoned? Was the body abandoned? By whom had it been abandoned? Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey? What made you declare the dead body dead? Did you declare the dead body dead? How well did you know the dead body? How did you know the body was dead? Did you wash the dead body Did you close both its eyes Did you bury the body Did you leave it abandoned Did you kiss the dead body
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 which devolves upon us all. It is, in fact, mandatory.
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.
Transcribed from Harold Pinter's video lecture on the occasion of his Nobel Prize in Literature of December 7, 2005