Sunday, 29 August 2010

In Britain today war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength – and the media agrees

British government announcements regarding the ongoing war in Afghanistan remind me of a John Pilger article I read last year entitled Welcome to Orwell’s World. In this piece, Pilger draws on Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in his analysis of US – and by extension, British – foreign policy and shows a disturbing parallel between the censored dystopia of Orwell’s fiction and the lies told by leaders of Western societies today:

“In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell described a superstate called Oceania, whose language of war inverted lies that passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’, ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’. Barack Obama is the leader of a contemporary Oceania. In two speeches at the close of the decade, the Nobel Peace Prize winner affirmed that peace was no longer peace, but rather a permanent war that “extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan” to “disorderly regions and diffuse enemies”.”

This “language of war” is constantly drilled into us, not just by politicians, but the mainstream media as well. Cast your mind back six or seven years and the ‘War on Terror’ was generally accepted as a neo-con fiction designed as an excuse to perpetually wage war against any country or people that had strategic or economic value to the West, or who could be used as a convenient scapegoat (as mentioned in a previous EoP blog). It is now routinely described as a necessary conflict to spread human rights and stop terrorists carrying out massacres on our streets. Al-Qaeda are no longer described as a miniscule extremist faction, but as a monolithic organisation that have cells in almost all countries. The fact that the US, UK and their allies siphon off the natural resources of Iraq, Afghanistan and numerous other countries is no longer a topic for discussion. These occupied countries now have ‘democratically-elected’ governments who are in no way puppets of the West, apparently. To suggest anything else would be to question the values of Western society itself.

However, with Wikileaks’ release of the US ‘war logs’ from the conflict in Afghanistan last month – and the subsequent mainstream media response – it appeared that the sanitising mask that had been covering the Middle Eastern conflict was beginning to slip. And yet the overall reaction to the ‘revelations’ such as “hundreds of civilians killed by coalition troops,” and “covert unit hunts leaders for 'kill or capture'” was one of grim recognition. Was it really a surprise to anyone that the US and its allies have killed hundreds of non-combatants? It seems more than likely that these files were only the tip of the atrocity iceberg. So why weren’t people more shocked as the Guardian purported to be? The answer lies in the “language of war” which we have become so accustomed to. We know massacres are taking place and that illegal occupations are being carried out by our governments, but over time this has become the norm – it is the everyday. War is now peace.

The media do talk about the troop and civilian death toll, but this is never really in terms of the conflict being fundamentally wrong. Deaths are usually portrayed as a lamentable but necessary cost for ‘completing the mission’. No coverage is given to the viewpoint that the wars in the Middle East are just modern day imperialism – a way of reinforcing economic dominance on a global scale by plundering resources and crushing dissent. The BBC’s claims of impartiality and of giving every viewpoint a fair airing are quite simply laughable when you start to analyse their coverage of anything regarding ‘national security’ (or perhaps ‘national interest’ would be a more fitting term?). The next time you watch a report on the war in Afghanistan see how often the journalist refers to ‘getting the job done’ or the regularity with which a sound bite is played of a well-groomed officer saying ‘we’re making good progress and protecting the civilian population’. When reporters explain what the rather bland-sounding term ‘getting the job done’ actually means it usually involves ‘forcing the Taliban out of their strongholds’ and ‘bringing stability’ to the country (helping previously oppressed girls go to school seems a particularly common theme used to appeal to Western sensibilities). These aims are never questioned by the BBC – to do so would be to undermine the legitimacy of our ‘free society’ and cast aspersions on the motives of our democratically-elected leaders. But if you think a little more about what this cheer-leading of ‘getting the job done’ actually entails a far more disturbing truth is revealed. The BBC – and the majority of mainstream journalists – are sanitising state-sanctioned murder and occupation, all for the pursuit of the West’s economic and cultural domination.

Television coverage of the Afghan war usually consists of images of soldiers firing over walls at unseen enemies, or grainy night-vision footage of troops running around while the journalist’s voice-over utters bland, state-approved sound bites like ‘the fort comes under attack twice a day, but the soldiers are determined to get the job done’. If the 10 O’clock news instead regularly showed the aftermath of air-strikes on villages with pieces of civilians scattered throughout the bombed-out wreckage of their homes, and the reality of the damage inflicted by modern infantry warfare, whilst also allowing a full spectrum of views to be publicised, then there is little doubt that public opinion in the West would turn against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, we may even avoid future conflicts in places such as Yemen and Iran. But this simply won’t happen if the mainstream media acts as a filter for the real face of occupation and war, sifting out most of the ‘disturbing’ images (and facts), replacing them with inanities and implicit support for the ruling elite’s agenda.

In July, Jon Snow wrote a blog entitled Sanitising War in which he wrestled with the morality of his role in how war is reported. When discussing the “absence of bodies” in war coverage and the families who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan, he wrote: “It could not be right, could it, for them to have their loss splashed so brutally and bloodily across our screens? Or am I myself busy sanitising war?” To answer your question, Jon: yes, you are, but don’t worry – you’re not the only one.

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