Magazine article The Spectator

Sound Barrier

Magazine article The Spectator

Sound Barrier

Article excerpt

'The poem has become a byword for truth-telling, ' is how Eliot Weinberger's epic list of quotations from politicians and military personnel about the war in Iraq has been described. It was first published in the London Review of Books in February 2005, but a theatrical version was performed on Radio Four on Friday evening, dramatised by Simon Levy for the Fountain Theatre Company of Los Angeles and directed for radio by Tim Dee. What I Heard About Iraq is hardly a play in the conventional sense. There is no interaction, no character development, nothing happens. The five actors merely quote the words of George W. Bush and Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, with a few Iraqis added in to leaven the mix. Their statements to us are played out against a specially created soundscape of gunshots, bomb blasts and keening women. The point presumably is to show just how surreal the world has become, with politicians saying one thing one day and the exact opposite the next. Truth, always a slippery thing, has become ever more elusive in the first years of this new millennium.

All these conflicting quotations are compressed into 60 minutes of quickfire soundbites. One moment we hear Colin Powell declaring that Iraq has 'no significant capability of weapons of mass destruction'. The next we hear Rumsfeld, in a quote from just six hours after the planes crashed into the Twin Towers -- 'It might be an opportunity to attack Iraq.' A relentless stream of words bombards the listener: 'smoking guns', 'mushroom cloud', 'biological agent'. I went away to answer the telephone and when I came back they were still pouring out of the radio, as if from the doomsaying chorus in a Greek tragedy. 'Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources', 'You can't distinguish between alQa'eda and Saddam Hussein', 'Bring 'em on', 'What's important for the American people to hear is reality', 'Iraq is a catastrophic success'. Each quotation is introduced by the words, 'I heard. . . ', as if taken directly from the source. Tony Blair's quotes are given to us by an American actor in an American accent.

And that's what makes me uneasy. This is a shocking document, but what is it?

Fact or fiction, an arthouse drama or an historical record of what happened?

Weinberger is said to have collected all his quotations from the internet. …

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