In Our Schools, Children Learn That the US Fought the Vietnam War against a "Communist Threat" to "Us". Is It Any Wonder That So Many Don't Understand the Truth about Iraq?

By Pilger, John | New Statesman (1996), February 21, 2005 | Go to article overview

In Our Schools, Children Learn That the US Fought the Vietnam War against a "Communist Threat" to "Us". Is It Any Wonder That So Many Don't Understand the Truth about Iraq?


Pilger, John, New Statesman (1996)


How does thought control work in societies that call themselves free? Why are famous journalists so eager, almost as a reflex, to minimise the culpability of a prime minister who shares responsibility for the unprovoked attack on a defenceless people, for laying waste to their land and for killing at least 100,000 people, most of them civilians, having sought to justify this epic crime with demonstrable lies? What made the BBC's Mark Mardell describe the invasion of Iraq as "a vindication for him"? Why have broadcasters never associated the British or American state with terrorism? Why have such privileged communicators, with unlimited access to the facts, lined up to describe an unobserved, unverified, illegitimate, cynically manipulated election, held under a brutal occupation, as "democratic", with the pristine aim of being "free and fair"? That quotation belongs to Helen Boaden, the director of BBC News.

Have she and the others read no history? Or is the history they know, or choose to know, subject to such amnesia and omission that it produces a world-view as seen only through a one-way moral mirror? There is no suggestion of conspiracy. This one-way mirror ensures that most of humanity is regarded in terms of its usefulness to "us", its desirability or expendability, its worthiness or unworthiness: for example, the notion of "good" Kurds in Iraq and "bad" Kurds in Turkey. The unerring assumption is that "we" in the dominant west have moral standards superior to "theirs". One of "their" dictators (often a former client of ours, such as Saddam Hussein) kills thousands of people and he is declared a monster, a second Hitler. When one of our leaders does the same he is viewed, at worst, like Blair, in Shakespearean terms. Those who kill people with car bombs are "terrorists"; those who kill far more people with cluster bombs are the noble occupants of a "quagmire".

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Historical amnesia can spread quickly. Only ten years after the Vietnam war, which I reported, an opinion poll in the United States found that a third of Americans could not remember which side their government had supported. This demonstrated the insidious power of the dominant propaganda, that the war was essentially a conflict of "good" Vietnamese against "bad" Vietnamese, in which the Americans became "involved", bringing democracy to the people of southern Vietnam faced with a "communist threat". Such a false and dishonest assumption permeated the media coverage, with honourable exceptions. The truth is that the longest war of the 20th century was a war waged against Vietnam, north and south, communist and non-communist, by America. It was an unprovoked invasion of the people's homeland and their lives, just like the invasion of Iraq. Amnesia ensures that, while the relatively few deaths of the invaders are constantly acknowledged, the deaths of up to five million Vietnamese are consigned to oblivion.

What are the roots of this? Certainly, "popular culture", especially Hollywood movies, can decide what and how little we remember. Selective education at a tender age performs the same task. I have been sent a widely used revision guide for GCSE modern world history, on Vietnam and the cold war. This is learned by 14- to-16-year-olds in our schools. It informs their understanding of a pivotal period in history, which must influence how they make sense of today's news from Iraq and elsewhere.

It is shocking. It says that under the 1954 Geneva Accord: "Vietnam was partitioned into communist north and democratic south." In one sentence, truth is despatched. …

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