Monday, December 12, 2005

Pinter’s Prize Prattle (Investor’s Business Daily) and a related Opinion piece by Niall Ferguson (the LA Times & the Australian)

Caption Note: Wed Dec 7, 1:33 PM ET
On screen the 2005 Nobel Literature laureate the British author Harold Pinter makes a speech broadcast from England to Swedish spectators and media at the Swedish Royal Academy in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday Dec. 7, 2005. Pinter, who has been treated for cancer in recent years, was supposed to have delivered the traditional Nobel lecture in person, but was forced to cancel his trip to Stockholm because of poor health. (AP Photo/Henrik Montgomery)
link to the photo

Note from the blog editor: If anything my training of being a journalist taught from the college, “balanced reporting” is definitely on the top of the list. To respond to the Pinter’s lecture that was widely agreed and welcomed around the world, here is a view from the other side. Maybe the business people do see things in different a way.

On a second note, with more reading, two papers across the Pacific Ocean, Los Angeles Times and the Australian (another link)
syndicate an opinion piece of Professor Niall Ferguson of Harvard University. I will post this under the Investor’s Business Daily article. The Australian gave it a strong title “Harold Pinter should stick to writing plays”; however, the LA Times was mellow on such title as “The play's his thing, not history.” Enjoy reading.

Thu Dec 8, 7:00 PM ET

The Arts: British novelist George Orwell satirized what he called double think -- a bent in the political realm to hold thoughts meaning their opposite. Did playwright Harold Pinter learn anything from his countryman?

For that matter, you wonder if the committee that awarded Pinter the 2005 Nobel Prize in literature ever learned about the damage that double-think does to the truth. Brit lit's newest lion, no matter how talented or innovative a craftsman, clearly absorbed the habit, turning geopolitical white into black.

On Wednesday, wheelchair-bound with cancer, the 75-year-old Pinter appeared in a recorded message before the Swedish Academy. The author of "The Room" and "The Birthday Party" used the occasion to excoriate British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush.

The two Western leaders who liberated Iraq, he said, deserve to be tried by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. No doubt the illustrious Nobel groupies, assembled in Stockholm, Sweden, applauded heartily. Said Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy: "Pinter was delivering his free words such as a writer has a right to say them."

Well, sure, but he was also carrying on the Shelleyesque romanticism that refuses to separate art from politics -- itself an inadvertent invitation to totalitarianism.

Just how did Pinter exercise his unquestioned freedom? Try swallowing this: "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. 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.'"

While Pinter, clearly addled, fantasizes about Blair and Bush answering to the ICC, he might take a look at videos from another courtroom, this one in Baghdad. There, Saddam's victims describe in grisly detail the crimes of a true mass murderer.

Pinter's plays are known for their poignant scenes of modern angst. But they beg a question more troubling than anything he's raised in his works: Would the enormity of Saddam's murders simply swell too large for Pinter's literary imagination? Can the Nobel panel even bring itself to ask such a now-pertinent question?

Pinter's work, explained the Nobel committee, "uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."

Dear Nobel Committee: You have dropped into Orwell's infamous "memory hole" some other notable closed rooms, namely those where Saddam practiced torture and unspeakable killing. You have conferred your once-prestigious award on a notable playwright who has descended to everyday prattle.

Here's a restorative thought: Next year, posthumously, an overdue Nobel to Orwell himself?

Copyright © 2005 Investor's Business Daily

link to the original post

Niall Ferguson

December 12, 2005

"THERE are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false."

No, that wasn't US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, half-answering questions in Europe last week about the CIA's alleged prison camps in Poland and Romania and the "extraordinary rendition" of terrorist suspects to countries where they are likely to be tortured. It was actually Harold Pinter, explaining the difference between drama and politics in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature. (Melbourne's The Age was so moved by the lecture that it published the speech as the lead piece on its opinion page last Friday.)

In the lofty realm of dramatic art, Pinter asserted, there can be nothing so clear-cut as truth. It is, however, a very different matter when it comes to US foreign policy. There, the distinction between true and false is as clear as that between day and night. It's simple. Everything the US says is false and everything its critics say is true.

Let me say right away that I am not about to mount a defence of the use of torture on suspected terrorists -- though if anyone could provoke me into doing so, the insufferably vain Pinter is the man. I do not care at all for Pinter's plays; if the Nobel committee wants to boost his bank balance and his ego, then that is its affair. God knows, the latter is big enough. Pinter's account of writing The Homecoming was surely worth a Nobel prize for pomposity: "It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence." Gee, almost like being God, Harold.

Leave aside for today the invasion of Iraq, which he denounced in familiar terms. More intriguing was his extended critique of US policy -- and secrecy -- during the Cold War. Here are Pinter's five charges:

* The US engaged in "low intensity conflict throughout the world", causing "hundreds of thousands" of deaths. Pinter cites the case of Nicaragua, where American aid helped overthrow the "intelligent, rational and civilised" government of the Sandinistas.

* "The US supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War", specifically those in Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Greece, Haiti, Indonesia, Paraguay, The Philippines, Turkey and Uruguay. The deaths of all the people murdered by these regimes were "attributable to American foreign policy".

* These "systematic, constant, vicious [and] remorseless" crimes bear comparison with those committed during the Cold War by the Soviet Union (no mention, be it noted, of China, Vietnam or North Korea).

* But these crimes "have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged". It is as if "it never happened", thanks to "a highly successful act of hypnosis".

* This mass hypnosis has been achieved by repeated use of the phrase "the American people", which "suffocates [the] intelligence and critical faculties" of all Americans, apart from "the 40million people living below the poverty line and the two million ... imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons which extends across the US".

Brings it all flooding back, doesn't it? The demand that the president and his allies be tried as "war criminals". The denunciation of the "infantile insanity" of nuclear weapons. No, don't worry, you haven't stepped into a time machine. It's not the 1970s, and that wasn't Henry Kissinger in drag, it was only Condi Rice. But yes, I am afraid that is still Harold Pinter, spouting the same old anti-American drivel he was spouting 30 years ago.

Truth and falsehood are indeed hard to distinguish in Pinter's drama, and his Nobel soliloquy was no exception. First, the true part. Thousands were indeed killed by US-backed dictatorships, especially in Central and South America. What is demonstrably false is that this violence is comparable in scale with that perpetrated by communist regimes at the same time.

It is generally agreed that Guatemala was the worst of the US-backed regimes during the Cold War. When the civil war there was finally brought to an end in the 1990s, the total death toll may have been as high as 200,000. But not all these deaths can credibly be blamed on the US. Most of the violence happened long after the 1954 coup, when the regime was far from being under the control of the CIA.

By comparison, the lowest estimate for the number of people who were killed on political grounds in the last seven years of Stalin's life is five million, and the camps of the gulag -- which only a fraud or a fool would liken to American prisons today -- kept on killing long after his death. In their new biography, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday reckon Mao Zedong was responsible for anything up to 70 million deaths in China. The number of people killed or starved by the North Korean regime may be in the region of 1.6 million. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia killed between 1.5 and two million people.

For further details, I refer Pinter to The Black Book of Communism, published in 1997.

As for the allegation of a conspiracy to hush up American complicity in Cold War human rights violations, he really has to be kidding. You no longer need to rely on articles by Seymour Hersh to know about this stuff. There are easily accessible websites where you can download any number of declassified documents about all the dreaded dictatorships the CIA backed. On the basis of these and other sources, there have been at least five detailed monographs published in the past 10 years on Guatemala alone. Some cover-up.

Nobody pretends that the US came through the Cold War with clean hands. But to pretend that its crimes were equivalent to those of its communist opponents -- and that they have been wilfully hushed up -- is fatally to blur the distinction between truth and falsehood. That may be permissible on stage. I am afraid it is quite routine in diplomacy. But it is unacceptable in serious historical discussion.

So stick to plays, Harold, and stop torturing history. Even if there was a Nobel prize for it, you wouldn't stand a chance. Because in my profession, unlike yours -- and unlike Condi's, too -- there really are "hard distinctions between what is true and what is false".

Professor Niall Ferguson’s website:

No comments: