I’ve been reading an extraordinary book lately, renewing and expanding my knowledge of recent history, oftentimes in ways that leave me shocked and angry—not just at the tragedy of the events themselves, but at the shallow and slanted way in which they were reported to me and the rest of the American public, if they were reported at all—for this book is not just a history, it is a history of how history is reported, and it lays to rest the myth of “the liberal media.” Even though it is nearly twenty years old, it is still fully relevant to current events, because some things—like the fundamentally conservative, not liberal, bias of the mainstream media—don’t change.
The book is Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, subtitled “The Political Economy of the Mass Media.” It examines several major news stories of the sixties, seventies and eighties in deep and well-footnoted detail: terrorism and electoral politics in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, the so-called plot to kill Pope John-Paul II, and the three wars in Indo-China—Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In all of these cases, I was astounded to discover the difference between reality on the ground and what I had been able to learn about these events from the mass media (even my cynical reading of the mass media) and even from such alternative news sources as were available at the time—about which I have to say, thank goddess for the internet—it has made the news much more democratic and diverse.
Chomsky and Herman point out that the so-called “liberal media”–the television networks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time and Newsweek—consistently ignored obvious connections between governments and terrorist activities in El Salvador and Guatemala, while straining to create them in Nicaragua; pumped up the idea of a KGB-Bulgarian plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II when there was no credible evidence to back up the claim (and a great deal of evidence pointing to the fascist-leaning Italian secret police’s manufacture of the plot).
I had long been aware of how widespread state terrorism has been in Central America, and the “plot to kill the pope” seems like the stuff of comic opera, but somehow I had missed just how completely and intentionally devastating America’s assault on Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam had been. The United States’ objective was to destroy the fabric of civil society in those countries, and through our superior weaponry we all but succeeded—in disrupting the lives of millions of people who were not actively hostile to this country and certainly represented no threat to America. If tht’s not terrorism, I don’t know what is. Chomsky and Herman posit that the military’s aim was to demonstrate to the third world that it was not worthwhile to engage in guerilla warfare, because US airpower would more than make up for any success against our ground troops—and the overwhelming sympathy that the people of Vietnam had for the Viet Minh (“Viet Cong,” the authors point out, was in fact a derogatory term) made U.S. success on the ground an impossibility.
And so, the atrocities at My Lai were the rule, not an exception. John Kerry’s “war hero” status devolves into war criminal status—do we know how many innocent civilians he killed?
The war on Vietnam was an attempt by the Western economic system to destroy the working, communal peasant network that was in place in southeast Asia, and force the people there to adopt a consumerist way of life that would benefit the Western economic system. The same kind of eminent domain that the Supreme Court just approved, on a transnational scale.
This is not, however merely a book of history—it is a history of how the history has been told, and it is easy to connect the dots—the same cover-over is going on today. Just as there were no hard questions in the popular media about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, there are no hard questions about why there was no wreckage scattered around from the airliner that allegedly hit the Pentagon, nor a call for a good explanation of why the World Trade Center collapsed from below when it was struck from above, nor an explanation of why World Trade Center Building 7 imploded several hours later when it had not been hit by an airplane or damaged by the collapse of the main towers, let alone a good explanation for why the “Bin Laden likely to use planes to attack U.S.” briefing was ignored, why Colin Powell lied to the U.N., why the Bin Laden family was allowed to leave the country unquestioned, why no interceptor planes were scrambled when the hijacking started…the list goes on and on
I am marking this fourth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center by asserting that it wasn’t a terrorist attack—it was a sucker punch, My fellow Americans, we have been had. That pain you feel is George Bush’s fist in your gut.
Just as the media unquestioningly accepted that the rebels in El Salvador and Guatemala were communists, and that the death squads had nothing to do with the government and were not trained, equipped, and encouraged by the United States, so today the media accept that the struggle in Columbia is narcotraffickers versus government, with some uncontrollable right-wing death squads floating around, and that the trouble in Iraq is with a small minority of the population there.
And just as there were no questions about whether the United States had a right to be in Vietnam, only questions about whether the war was winnable, so there is no discussion in the mainstream media about whether the U.S. has any right to be in Iraq, only arguments about whether we can prevail against the “insurgents.” The question is too embarassing to ask, because the answer is that the United States had as much right to interfere in Vietnam—and in Iraq—as the Germans had to send their troops into Poland in 1939.
Let me say that again, more clearly: the United States has as much right to invade Iraq as the Germans had to invade Poland. Again: the United States has as much right to invade Iraq as the Germans had to invade Poland. Please tell all your friends to tell this to all their friends. It’s the thousand pound gorilla in America’s living room: the United States has as much right to invade Iraq as the Germans had to invade Poland. Do I make myself perfectly clear?
All those who support America’s current war of aggression in the middle east—including recent Democratic candidate Kerry and current front-runners Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden—are complicit in war crimes just as surely as any member of the 1939 German government. There is no good reason for the United States to have military forces in Iraq. None. Zip. Nada. The World Trade Center bombing was allowed to happen by the Bush junta, if it was not actively planned by them. And you’ll never read about it in Newsweek.
The book, again, is Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent.” Read it and weep. Read it and get motivated. Happy anniversary.