True Life adventures, a true Nobel
Prize, and truth writ large

Robert Fisk, Harold Pinter, John Pilger

by G.S.      <george.salzman@umb.edu>
October 23 to November 8, 2005

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Salz/2005-11-08.htm

The true great war for civilization —
is the struggle for the truth

Robert Fisk, a notable truth-teller
      It begins, “Knew it would be like this. On 19 March 1997, outside the Spinghar Hotel in Jalalabad with its manicured lawns and pink roses, an Afghan holding a Kalashnikov rifle invited me to travel in a car out of town. The highway to Kabul that evening was no longer a road but a mass of rocks and crevasses above the roaring waters of a great river. A vast mountain chain towered above us.” So begins Robert Fisk’s gripping account of his meetings with Osama Bin Laden. If you’re like me, and must read on, go to http://www.robert-fisk.com/ and click on the link to this extract from his new (Oct 1, 2005) book, The Great War for Civilisation: the Conquest of the Middle East.

      I read that excerpt on Oct 11 and immediately went to the website, http://www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk to order a copy. Ten days later it came to me in the mail here in Oaxaca. Right now (late October) the site says it is temporarily unavailable ― great news that it is in such demand ― because this volume should be devoured by every person committed to trying to civilize human society. Fisk is a master writer ― and, though he doesn't call himself a historian, he truly is one ― and everything he writes that I've read is as truthful and informed as he can make it.

      I plunged right into Chapter 10, The First Holocaust, about which I shamefully hadn’t read anything since ― probably my teenage years ― when I read Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, about a handful of Armenians in that fortress close to the edge of the eastern Mediterranean who escaped the genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government. Starting on April 24, 1915, that government systematically managed the savage murder of a million and a half Armenians.


      It is Fisk’s unrelenting struggle for the truth ― to learn it and to tell it ― that makes me admire him so greatly. Even when he does not hold particular individuals in contempt for purveying lies, for example some of the people acting as functionaries of governments or closely-allied powerful institutions, he always makes clear what the truth is, never hiding the lies. But when someone acts contemptibly, in his judgment, Fisk isn’t hesitant to make that plain. As he does when he writes (The Great War for Civilisation, pp. 418-420):

      Most outrageous of all, however, has been the New York Times, which so bravely recorded the truth – and scooped the world – with its coverage of the Armenian genocide in 1915. Its bravery has now turned to cowardice. Here, for example, is a key paragraph from a 26 March 1998 New York Times report, by Stephen Kinzer, on the 70,000 Armenians who survive in present-day Turkey:

    Relations between Turks and Armenians were good during much of the Ottoman period, but they were deeply scarred by massacres of Armenians that pro-Ottoman forces in eastern Anatolia carried out in the spring of 1915. Details of what happened then are still hotly debated, but it is clear that vast numbers of Armenians were killed or left to die during forced marches in a burst of what is now called ‘ethnic cleansing.’

      Now I have a serious problem with this paragraph. First of all, the figure of a million and a half Armenians – or even a million Armenians – the all-important statistic that puts the Armenians in the genocide bracket, indeed marks them as victims of the first holocaust of the last century, has totally disappeared. We are left with what Kinzer calls ‘vast numbers’ of killed which, I suppose, keeps the New York Times out of harm’s way with the Turks. Then genocide is reduced to ‘ethnic cleansing’, a phrase familiar from the Serb wars against the Muslims of Bosnia and the Albanians of Kosovo, but on an infinitely less terrible scale than the massacres of 1915. And note how this was a ‘burst’ of ‘ethnic cleansing’; a sudden, spontaneous act rather than a premeditated mass killing. Note, too, the reference to ‘pro-Ottoman forces’ rather than the dangerous but real ‘Turkish forces’, or even ‘Turkish Ottoman forces’, that he should have been writing about. Then we are told that the issue is ‘hotly debated’. How very fair of the New York Times to remind us that a campaign exists to deny the truth of this genocide without actually saying so, a lie every bit as evil as that most wicked claim that the Jewish Holocaust never happened. Another of Kinzer’s articles was headlined: ‘Armenia Never Forgets – Maybe It Should’.

      I have my suspicions about all this. I think the New York Times reporter produced this nonsense so as to avoid offending the present Turkish government. He didn’t want his feature to be called ‘controversial’. He didn’t want to stir things up. So he softened the truth – and the Turks must have been delighted. Now let’s supply a simple test. Let us turn to that later and numerically more terrible Holocaust of the Jews of Europe. Would Kinzer have written in the same way about that mass slaughter? Would he have told us that German–Jewish relations were merely ‘deeply scarred’ by the Nazi slaughter? Would he have suggested – even for a moment – that the details are ‘hotly debated’? Would he have compared the massacre of the Jews to the Bosnian war? No, he would not have dared to do so. He should not have dared to do so. So why was he prepared to cast doubt on the Armenian genocide?

      Kinzer was back to his old denial tricks in an article in the New York Times on 27 April 2002, about the proposed Armenian Genocide Museum in Washington:

    Washington already has one major institution, the United States Holocaust Museum, that documents an effort to destroy an entire people. The story it presents is beyond dispute. But the events of 1915 are still a matter of intense debate.

Here we go again. The Jewish Holocaust is ‘undeniable’, which is true. But its undeniability is used here to denigrate the truth of the Armenian Holocaust which, by inference, is not ‘beyond dispute’ and is the subject of ‘intense debate’, The ‘hotness’ of the debate and its ‘intensity’ again gives force in both of Kinzer’s articles to the idea that the Turkish denial may be true. The same slippage reappeared in the on 8 June 2003, when a famous photograph of Armenian men being led by Turkish gendarmes from an anonymous town in 1915 carried the caption ‘Armenians were marched to prison by Turkish soldiers in 1915’. Scarcely any Armenians were marched off to prison. They were marched off – prior to the deportation, rape and massacre of their womenfolk and children – to be massacred. The town in the picture is Harput – the photograph was taken by a German businessman – and the men of Harput, some of whom are in this remarkable picture, were almost all massacred. But the New York Times sends these doomed men peacefully off to ‘prison’.

      Nor is the New York Times alone in its gutlessness. On 20 November 2000, the Wall Street Journal Europe, perhaps Israel’s greatest friend in the US press – . . .

      The above is just a bit of that remarkable chapter by a remarkable journalist, a man for whom disseminating the truth, as well as he is able to ascertain it, is the crux of the struggle to which he’s dedicated his entire adult life.

Harold Pinter, a true Nobel laureate
      In 1958 he wrote, “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.” However, at the start of his website, at http://www.haroldpinter.org/home/, he immediately follows that quote, which struck me as ridiculous, with: “I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?”(emphases added -G.S.)

      The website also states, “Harold Pinter has been awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, the highest honour available to any writer in the world. The Nobel announcement, at http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/2005/press.html, said that Pinter was an artist ‘who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms.’” This guarded hint on the Nobel website is illuminated elsewhere on Pinter’s not-quite-up-to-date homepage by, “Pinter’s interest in politics is a very public one. Over the years he has spoken out forcefully about the abuse of state power around the world, including, recently, NATO's bombing of Serbia. His most recent speech was given on the anniversary of NATO'S bombing of Serbia at the Committee for Peace in the Balkans Conference, at The Conway Hall June 10th 2000.”

      Until I got the e-mail from Shraga Elam <elams@dplanet.ch> asking me to sign a petition to The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences objecting to an award in economics to Robert Aumann and Thomas Schelling, two non-scientists, the first a mathematical ‘game theorist’ and the second a practitioner in applying game theory results, of whom I had been unaware, Harold Pinter‘s name was as unknown to me as theirs. The bio-bibliography on the Nobel website gives scant information about his life aside from his achievements in literature and drama, saying hardly more than “Harold Pinter was born on 10 October 1930 in the London borough of Hackney, son of a Jewish dressmaker. Growing up, Pinter was met with the expressions of anti-Semitism, and has indicated its importance for his becoming a dramatist. Since 1973, Pinter has won recognition as a fighter for human rights, alongside his writing.”

      As I wrote in my previous post, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Salz/2005-10-19.htm, Nobel’s will stated that “the interest on which [meaning the interest on the remainder of his estate -G.S.] shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” (emphasis added). In addition to the information about Pinter on his and the Academy’s websites, I found some further reassurance that he’s on the ‘right side’ of the struggle for a humane social order in the vehemence with which the National Observer, William F. Buckley‘s notorious right-wing periodical, denigrated his receipt of the award. So I have no particular reason to doubt the legitimacy of awarding him the Nobel Prize for Literature, in so far as satisfying Nobel’s basic criterion.

When money takes over, the truth be damned
      Nobel’s will, signed in November 1895, specified five categories for the prizes: physics, chemistry, medicine or physiology, literature, and peace. No other fields of endeavor were included by Nobel. He died a year later, in December 1896, the Nobel Foundation was established in 1900, and the first prizes were awarded in 1901, in each of the five stipulated categories.

      Enter, the Bank of Sweden (Sveriges Riksbank), which, 67 years later, established an award it crowned with the absurdly inelegant title “The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel”. If you are wondering whether this prize might be confused with the mis-titled “Nobel Prize in Economics” you could hardly be closer to the Bank’s rationale for selecting what at first glance appears to be a ridiculously cumbersome name. In my last posting I referred to an article by Yves Gingras, who shows convincingly that the Bank’s choice was an integral part of a rather grandiose scheme to endow the discipline of economics with prestige, in the public mind, on a par with that of the three true Nobel Prizes in science, i.e. Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine. Yves Gingras is professor of history and sociology of science at the Université du Québec à Montréal. His fascinating account, which is at http://www.btinternet.com/~pae_news/review/issue17.htm, is well worth reading.

      Gingras tells how the Bank pulled it off.

      First, despite the scepticism of some scientists towards the ‘scientificity’ of economics, the Bank managed to convince the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Foundation to administer their prize. Secondly, identical procedures for the selection and nomination of the prize were chosen to those of the real Nobel prizes. Of course, the prize money would come from the Bank of Sweden, not the Nobel Foundation, but all the rest would be done exactly as if it was in fact a Nobel prize, up to and including the ceremony of 10 December.

     Thus, the inclusion of the term ‘in Honor of Alfred Nobel’ in the title created the necessary bridge to the Nobel prize, and by exactly mimicking the process, the Bank created all the conditions enabling the association and even the identification of its prize with those established by Alfred Nobel at the turn of the century. Note that, for obvious reasons, it is much simpler to say ‘Nobel Prize in Economics’ than ‘Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Honor of Alfred Nobel’! No surprise that, since 1969, all journalists and economists have commonly referred to the Bank of Sweden Prize as ‘The Nobel Prize in Economics’. The strategy was a complete success.

The social alchemy of belief
      Now that we understand why a bizarre name was chosen, transforming a peculiar social alchemy into a ‘Nobel prize’, let us look at the ‘flow of capital’ the whole process involved. The Bank started with economic capital and ‘invested’ it in the Nobel Foundation to transform it into symbolic capital as fast as possible. Even a very large amount of cash is not sufficient in itself to assure the prestige of a prize. The key point was to effect a complete transfer of the already accumulated symbolic capital of the Nobel prizes to the new Economic Prize instituted by the Bank . . .

Time for ‘auto-divestment’
      Gingras also writes, “Having played an important role in lobbying the Swedish Academy of Sciences to accept the Bank’s offer and after having himself received the prize, Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal changed his mind and became a fierce advocate of the abolition of the prize. More recently, a few days before the Nobel ceremony of the 2001 prizes, descendants of Alfred Nobel criticized the use of the term “Nobel prize” applied to economics.”

      The website of The New School for Social Research has a more detailed discussion of objections that have been made to the 1968 “coup d’état” achieved by the Bank of Sweden against The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and The Nobel Foundation, at http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/schools/nobel.htm. According to the information on this site, the choice of award recipients is made by the Bank, which I believe means a committee of five members chosen by the Bank. If true, I would find that very objectionable, yet another solid reason for completely severing the association of every aspect of Nobel Prize awards from the Bank. To sum up, I believe there is good reason for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to “divest” itself of this non-Nobel prize, acknowledging thereby that it made a mistake in 1968, and put an end to this ignoble intellectual swindle that has been going on now for some 27 years.

Help the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
be truthful — sign the petition against
the fraudulent “Nobel” prize
Go to http://www.ajjp.org/campaigns/signStatement.php?cid=2, read the petition and, if you agree substantially with it, add your signature.

John Pilger, teller of truths
      What was the Santa Cruz Massacre? On November 12, 1991 in the city of Dili, East Timor, occupation troops of Suharto’s Indonesia killed more than “271 East Timorese . . . at the Santa Cruz cemetery or in hospitals soon after” the initial shooting. This event was notable because, as the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) website explains, “This massacre, unlike many others which occurred during the course of Indonesia's U.S.-backed occupation, was filmed and photographed by international journalists”. The quotes are from the valuable and still vital ETAN website, at http://www.etan.org/timor/SntaCRUZ.htm. Among the international journalists present that fateful day were Amy Goodman and Alan Nairn, who frantically waved their American passports at the soldiers standing above them, rifle barrels aimed at their faces as they lay on the ground, expecting to be murdered, and John Pilger, elsewhere in the cemetary filming the carnage.

      Amy Goodman, Alan Nairn and John Pilger, particularly gifted individuals, live in my personal Hall of Heroes, that company of people who are not for sale, a great and growing group on whose work hangs the slender thread of hope for human survival in a humane world. With personal courage far exceeding anything I could have mustered, Pilger managed, risking certain death if discovered, to hide and smuggle his film out of East Timor. The footage is of course terrifying, as is usual in such documentaries, showing unarmed civilians who had come to a ceremony mourning the loss of a young East Timorese man killed but days before, at first walking sorrowfully in the slow and solemn procession in the cemetary, and then breaking out in a mad dash as the murderous bullets engulf them. The Indonesian invasion of East Timor began within hours of President Ford’s and Henry Kissinger’s departure from Jakarta, where they gave the U.S.-sanctioned dictator General Suharto the OK to attack.

      A recent article (October 14, 2005) of Pilger’s begins

From Suharto to Iraq: Nothing has changed
      “The propagandist’s purpose,” wrote Aldous Huxley, “is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.” The British, who invented modern war propaganda and inspired Joseph Goebbels, were specialists in the field. At the height of the slaughter known as the First World War, the prime minister, David Lloyd George, confided to C P Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian: “If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know, and can’t know.”

      What has changed? “If we had all known then what we know now,” said the New York Times on 24 August [2005], “the invasion [of Iraq] would have been stopped by a popular outcry.” The admission was saying, in effect, that powerful newspapers, like powerful broadcasting organisations, had betrayed their readers and viewers and listeners by not finding out – by amplifying the lies of Bush and Blair instead of challenging and exposing them. The direct consequences were a criminal invasion called “Shock and Awe” and the dehumanising of a whole nation.

      This remains largely an unspoken shame in Britain, especially at the BBC, which continues to boast about its rigour and objectivity while echoing a corrupt and lying government, as it did before the invasion. For evidence of this, there are two academic studies available – though the capitulation of broadcast journalism ought to be obvious to any discerning viewer, night after night, as “embedded” reporting justifies murderous attacks on Iraqi towns and villages as “rooting out insurgents” and swallows British army propaganda designed to distract from its disaster, while preparing us for attacks on Iran and Syria. Like the New York Times and most of the American media, had the BBC done its job, many thousands of innocent people almost certainly would be alive today.

      When will important journalists cease to be establishment managers and analyse and confront the critical part they play in the violence of rapacious governments? An anniversary provides an opportunity. Forty years ago this month, Major General Suharto began a seizure of power in Indonesia by unleashing a wave of killings that the CIA described as “the worst mass murders of the second half of the 20th century”. Much of this episode was never reported and remains secret. None of the reports of recent terror attacks against tourists in Bali mentioned the fact that near the major hotels were the mass graves of some of an estimated 80,000 people killed by mobs orchestrated by Suharto and backed by the American and British governments.

      Indeed, the collaboration of western governments, together with the role of western business, laid the pattern for subsequent Anglo-American violence across the world: such as Chile in 1973, when Augusto Pinochet’s bloody coup was backed in Washington and London; the arming of the shah of Iran and the creation of his secret police; and the lavish and meticulous backing of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, including black propaganda by the Foreign Office which sought to discredit press reports that he had used nerve gas against the Kurdish village of Halabja.

      In 1965, in Indonesia, the American embassy furnished General Suharto with roughly 5,000 names. These were people for assassination, and a senior American diplomat checked off the names as they were killed or captured ...

      The full text of this article is on Pilger’s website, at http://pilger.carlton.com/print/133512. As is obvious, I am obsessed with the drive for truth. None of us is capable of knowing more than a minute fraction of what is necessary to fully comprehend reality. We can help each other to know the truth and, when we understand enough about the terrible reality in which we are living, we can act to change it for the better.

― G.S., November 8, 2005

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Last update of this page: November 8, 2005