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The Election, U.S. Foreign Policy, And Harold Pinter's 2005 Nobel Lecture

By Petr Navovy | Politics | September 30, 2016 |

By Petr Navovy | Politics | September 30, 2016 |

It is a strange, scary time to be alive right now in the United States of America. If you are a woman, you almost dare not celebrate the fact that a woman might finally actually make it to the highest office in the land lest you are dismissed, shouted down, ridiculed, condescensed to, or flat-out abused. If you are black or of any other ethnic minority you almost dare not speak up about the systematic, institutionalised oppression of your race; never mind the dog-whistle politics of the fascist clown running for President whose unforgivable rhetoric is further legitimising racist discourse and forcing a regression in the national dialogue. Luckily, people on this site and elsewhere do speak out. Nevertheless, the climate is one of doom and poisonous fear — and I say that as someone almost completely insulated from it: a middle-class, heterosexual, cisgendered white male. Living in Europe. For me to imagine what it is like to be one of the many, many vulnerable groups of people who potentially stand to lose so much under a Trump presidency is nigh-on impossible.

It is a sad, unfortunate fact, however, that even if hope and reason prevails in November and Hillary Clinton is elected President of the United States, the suffering inflicted by your government upon untold thousands of vulnerable people around the globe will not only continue, but probably escalate. Proxy wars in the Middle East; support for right-wing dictators; illicit coups against progressive regimes; unending support for Israel’s internationally condemned illegal occupation of Palestine; perennial wars of ‘benign intervention’. None of this would be any different under Trump, of course — the pseudo-isolationist stance that he adopts being nothing more than pure empty hogwash designed to appeal to a vast swathe of the electorate that are sick of their country’s murderous international escapades — but it is nevertheless sometimes worthwhile to take a step back from the immediate madness for a second and take a broader look at things. Because one view that the rest of the world has about the United States of America — and I’m sure you’ll forgive me for saying so — is that you don’t seem to give much of a damn at all about the rest of the world.

I say this as someone living in Great Britain — a former imperial superpower now somewhat humbled and forced to acknowledge the world a little bit (if still clinging onto the old world order with a posturing, murderously aggressive foreign policy, and by riding on the coattails of its bigger cousin across the water). That dichotomy of blinding power and humility is everywhere here, and it means I understand the perspective shift needed to see the world. A lot of people here still refuse to adopt it. To outside observers looking at you it seems at times as if foreign policy is completely the last thing on anyone’s mind in the United States. So much so that it rears its head in discussions barely at all. Of course, in this election cycle it makes some sort of sense, what with the risk of a lunatic like Trump being handed the keys to the kingdom; and of course people will care about their own interests and interests of their loved ones first, especially in the face of such a threat. But at some point the interests of others must come into play. Otherwise everything breaks down and we might as well end it all now, because then we are all Trump.

But ‘others’ doesn’t just mean ‘other Americans.’

No, I know, I’m sorry, that sounded patronising, but — blunt as it was — it felt necessary.

Here’s Idris Elba by way of apology before we continue:


You have to care. Your government certainly ‘cares’ enough, but that’s a caring that manifests itself in a giant hammer being wielded. You need to care.

Harold Pinter was an English playwright, and one of the greatest examples of his trade — probably of all time, but certainly in the 20th century. He was also a lifelong political activist and outspoken critic of war and international aggression. In 2005, the already frail Pinter — a few years away from death — received the Nobel Prize for literature, for which he delivered a pre-recorded lecture. In it, he takes aim at the foreign policy of the United States and the language of obfuscation and propaganda; and he uses his unbelievable gift with words to attempt to nudge the narrative in such a way to force a perspective shift in how America’s role in world history will be understood. Those who live in fear of invisible drones circling thousands of feet overhead do not need to be told this story; neither do those whose livelihoods, homes, families, and entire countries have been destroyed by the United States military, Republican-dispatched or Democrat-dispatched. Neither do those American citizens whose lives are being destroyed at home by the actions or inactions of their government need to hear of suffering — they have lived through enough of it.

But sometimes it is good to reminded that the blood shed by those thousands of miles across the sea is the same blood as that shed by those down the road.

In his Nobel lecture Harold Pinter delivers this truth better than almost anyone I have ever heard. This is one of the most telling passages:

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It’s a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, ‘the American people’, as in the sentence, ‘I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.’

It’s a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don’t need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it’s very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

Watch the full thing. It really is worth your time:

There is a transcript of the entire speech here.

Then, after November, try not to forget. Try to apply some pressure from within. There are people who need you to.


Petr Knava
lives in London and plays music