[News] Playwright Pinter uses Nobel prize ceremony to denounce US
News at freedomarchives.org
Thu Dec 8 15:39:50 EST 2005
"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," he said.
"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 salable commodity is self-love."
"It's a scintillating stratagem," Pinter said.
"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."
Art, truth and politics
In his video-taped Nobel acceptance speech,
Harold Pinter excoriated a 'brutal, scornful and
ruthless' United States. This is the full text of his address
Thursday December 8, 2005
Harold Pinter delivering his Nobel lecture via video to the Swe
Harold Pinter delivering his Nobel lecture via
video to the Swedish Academy in Stockholm. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/EPA
In 1958 I wrote the following:
'There are no hard distinctions between what is
real and what is unreal, nor between what is true
and what is false. A thing is not necessarily
either true or false; it can be both true and false.'
I believe that these assertions still make sense
and do still apply to the exploration of reality
through art. So as a writer I stand by them but
as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?
Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never
quite find it but the search for it is
compulsive. The search is clearly what drives
the endeavour. The search is your task. More
often than not you stumble upon the truth in the
dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an
image or a shape which seems to correspond to the
truth, often without realising that you have done
so. But the real truth is that there never is any
such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic
art. There are many. These truths challenge each
other, recoil from each other, reflect each
other, ignore each other, tease each other, are
blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have
the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips
through your fingers and is lost.
I have often been asked how my plays come about.
I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays,
except to say that this is what happened. That is
what they said. That is what they did.
Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a
word or an image. The given word is often shortly
followed by the image. I shall give two examples
of two lines which came right out of the blue
into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.
The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The
first line of The Homecoming is 'What have you
done with the scissors?' The first line of Old Times is 'Dark.'
In each case I had no further information.
In the first case someone was obviously looking
for a pair of scissors and was demanding their
whereabouts of someone else he suspected had
probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that the
person addressed didn't give a damn about the
scissors or about the questioner either, for that matter.
'Dark' I took to be a description of someone's
hair, the hair of a woman, and was the answer to
a question. In each case I found myself compelled
to pursue the matter. This happened visually, a
very slow fade, through shadow into light.
I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.
In the play that became The Homecoming I saw a
man enter a stark room and ask his question of a
younger man sitting on an ugly sofa reading a
racing paper. I somehow suspected that A was a
father and that B was his son, but I had no
proof. This was however confirmed a short time
later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A
(later to become Max), 'Dad, do you mind if I
change the subject? I want to ask you something.
The dinner we had before, what was the name of
it? What do you call it? Why don't you buy a dog?
You're a dog cook. Honest. You think you're
cooking for a lot of dogs.' So since B calls A
'Dad' it seemed to me reasonable to assume that
they were father and son. A was also clearly the
cook and his cooking did not seem to be held in
high regard. Did this mean that there was no
mother? I didn't know. But, as I told myself at
the time, our beginnings never know our ends.
'Dark.' A large window. Evening sky. A man, A
(later to become Deeley), and a woman, B (later
to become Kate), sitting with drinks. 'Fat or
thin?' the man asks. Who are they talking about?
But I then see, standing at the window, a woman,
C (later to become Anna), in another condition of
light, her back to them, her hair dark.
It's a strange moment, the moment of creating
characters who up to that moment have had no
existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain,
even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be
an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position
is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by
the characters. The characters resist him, they
are not easy to live with, they are impossible to
define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a
certain extent you play a never-ending game with
them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and
seek. But finally you find that you have people
of flesh and blood on your hands, people with
will and an individual sensibility of their own,
made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.
So language in art remains a highly ambiguous
transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen
pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.
But as I have said, the search for the truth can
never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be
postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.
Political theatre presents an entirely different
set of problems. Sermonising has to be avoided at
all cost. Objectivity is essential. The
characters must be allowed to breathe their own
air. The author cannot confine and constrict them
to satisfy his own taste or disposition or
prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them
from a variety of angles, from a full and
uninhibited range of perspectives, take them by
surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless
give them the freedom to go which way they will.
This does not always work. And political satire,
of course, adheres to none of these precepts, in
fact does precisely the opposite, which is its proper function.
In my play The Birthday Party I think I allow a
whole range of options to operate in a dense
forest of possibility before finally focussing on an act of subjugation.
Mountain Language pretends to no such range of
operation. It remains brutal, short and ugly. But
the soldiers in the play do get some fun out of
it. One sometimes forgets that torturers become
easily bored. They need a bit of a laugh to keep
their spirits up. This has been confirmed of
course by the events at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad.
Mountain Language lasts only 20 minutes, but it
could go on for hour after hour, on and on and
on, the same pattern repeated over and over again, on and on, hour after hour.
Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to
be taking place under water. A drowning woman,
her hand reaching up through the waves, dropping
down out of sight, reaching for others, but
finding nobody there, either above or under the
water, finding only shadows, reflections,
floating; the woman a lost figure in a drowning
landscape, a woman unable to escape the doom that
seemed to belong only to others.
But as they died, she must die too.
Political language, as used by politicians, does
not venture into any of this territory since the
majority of politicians, on the evidence
available to us, are interested not in truth but
in power and in the maintenance of that power. To
maintain that power it is essential that people
remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance
of the truth, even the truth of their own lives.
What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.
As every single person here knows, the
justification for the invasion of Iraq was that
Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body
of weapons of mass destruction, some of which
could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about
appalling devastation. We were assured that was
true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had
a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared
responsibility for the atrocity in New York of
September 11th 2001. We were assured that this
was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq
threatened the security of the world. We were
assured it was true. It was not true.
The truth is something entirely different. The
truth is to do with how the United States
understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.
But before I come back to the present I would
like to look at the recent past, by which I mean
United States foreign policy since the end of the
Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon
us to subject this period to at least some kind
of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.
Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union
and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war
period: the systematic brutality, the widespread
atrocities, the ruthless suppression of
independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.
But my contention here is that the US crimes in
the same period have only been superficially
recorded, let alone documented, let alone
acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at
all. I believe this must be addressed and that
the truth has considerable bearing on where the
world stands now. Although constrained, to a
certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet
Union, the United States' actions throughout the
world made it clear that it had concluded it had
carte blanche to do what it liked.
Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in
fact been America's favoured method. In the main,
it has preferred what it has described as 'low
intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means
that thousands of people die but slower than if
you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It
means that you infect the heart of the country,
that you establish a malignant growth and watch
the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been
subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing -
and your own friends, the military and the great
corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go
before the camera and say that democracy has
prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign
policy in the years to which I refer.
The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant
case. I choose to offer it here as a potent
example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.
I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.
The United States Congress was about to decide
whether to give more money to the Contras in
their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I
was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf
of Nicaragua but the most important member of
this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The
leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then
number two to the ambassador, later ambassador
himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in
charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My
parishioners built a school, a health centre, a
cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few
months ago a Contra force attacked the parish.
They destroyed everything: the school, the health
centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses
and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most
brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please
demand that the US government withdraw its
support from this shocking terrorist activity.'
Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a
rational, responsible and highly sophisticated
man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic
circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with
some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you
something. In war, innocent people always
suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.
Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.
Finally somebody said: 'But in this case
"innocent people" were the victims of a gruesome
atrocity subsidised by your government, one among
many. If Congress allows the Contras more money
further atrocities of this kind will take place.
Is this not the case? Is your government not
therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and
destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'
Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the
facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.
As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me
that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.
I should remind you that at the time President
Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras
are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'
The United States supported the brutal Somoza
dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The
Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas,
overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.
The Sandinistas weren't perfect. They possessed
their fair share of arrogance and their political
philosophy contained a number of contradictory
elements. But they were intelligent, rational and
civilised. They set out to establish a stable,
decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty
was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of
poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from
the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title
to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite
remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy
in the country to less than one seventh. Free
education was established and a free health
service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.
The United States denounced these achievements as
Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the
US government, a dangerous example was being set.
If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms
of social and economic justice, if it was allowed
to raise the standards of health care and
education and achieve social unity and national
self respect, neighbouring countries would ask
the same questions and do the same things. There
was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.
I spoke earlier about 'a tapestry of lies' which
surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described
Nicaragua as a 'totalitarian dungeon'. This was
taken generally by the media, and certainly by
the British government, as accurate and fair
comment. But there was in fact no record of death
squads under the Sandinista government. There was
no record of torture. There was no record of
systematic or official military brutality. No
priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There
were in fact three priests in the government, two
Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The
totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in
El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had
brought down the democratically elected
government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is
estimated that over 200,000 people had been
victims of successive military dictatorships.
Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the
world were viciously murdered at the Central
American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a
battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort
Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man
Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying
mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died.
Why were they killed? They were killed because
they believed a better life was possible and
should be achieved. That belief immediately
qualified them as communists. They died because
they dared to question the status quo, the
endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation
and oppression, which had been their birthright.
The United States finally brought down the
Sandinista government. It took some years and
considerable resistance but relentless economic
persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined
the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were
exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The
casinos moved back into the country. Free health
and free education were over. Big business
returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.
But this 'policy' was by no means restricted to
Central America. It was conducted throughout the
world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.
The United States supported and in many cases
engendered every right wing military dictatorship
in the world after the end of the Second World
War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay,
Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines,
Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile.
The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile
in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.
Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place
throughout these countries. Did they take place?
And are they in all cases attributable to US
foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take
place and they are attributable to American
foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.
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.
The United States no longer bothers about low
intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point
in being reticent or even devious. It puts its
cards on the table without fear or favour. It
quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United
Nations, international law or critical dissent,
which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It
also has its own bleating little lamb tagging
behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.
What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did
we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do
they refer to a term very rarely employed these
days - conscience? A conscience to do not only
with our own acts but to do with our shared
responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this
dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people
detained without charge for over three years,
with no legal representation or due process,
technically detained forever. This totally
illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance
of the Geneva Convention. It is not only
tolerated but hardly thought about by what's
called the 'international community'. This
criminal outrage is being committed by a country,
which declares itself to be 'the leader of the
free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of
Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about
them? They pop up occasionally - a small item on
page six. They have been consigned to a no man's
land from which indeed they may never return. At
present many are on hunger strike, being
force-fed, including British residents. No
niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No
sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up
your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood.
This is torture. What has the British Foreign
Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the
British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing.
Why not? Because the United States has said: to
criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay
constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with
us or against us. So Blair shuts up.
The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of
blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute
contempt for the concept of international law.
The invasion was an arbitrary military action
inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross
manipulation of the media and therefore of the
public; an act intended to consolidate American
military and economic control of the Middle East
masquerading - as a last resort - all other
justifications having failed to justify
themselves - as liberation. A formidable
assertion of military force responsible for the
death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.
We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted
uranium, innumerable acts of random murder,
misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people
and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.
How many people do you have to kill before you
qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a
war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than
enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is
just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the
International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush
has been clever. He has not ratified the
International Criminal Court of Justice.
Therefore if any American soldier or for that
matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush
has warned that he will send in the marines. But
Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is
therefore available for prosecution. We can let
the Court have his address if they're interested.
It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.
Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush
and Blair place death well away on the back
burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by
American bombs and missiles before the Iraq
insurgency began. These people are of no moment.
Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They
are not even recorded as being dead. 'We don't do
body counts,' said the American general Tommy Franks.
Early in the invasion there was a photograph
published on the front page of British newspapers
of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi
boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few
days later there was a story and photograph, on
an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with
no arms. His family had been blown up by a
missile. He was the only survivor. 'When do I get
my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped.
Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms,
nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor
the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It
dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.
The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment.
They are transported to their graves in the dark.
Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The
mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of
their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both
rot, in different kinds of graves.
Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, 'I'm Explaining a Few Things':
And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.
Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.
Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.
And you will ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.
Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets! *
Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from
Neruda's poem I am in no way comparing Republican
Spain to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I quote Neruda
because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I
read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.
I have said earlier that the United States is now
totally frank about putting its cards on the
table. That is the case. Its official declared
policy is now defined as 'full spectrum
dominance'. That is not my term, it is theirs.
'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land,
sea, air and space and all attendant resources.
The United States now occupies 702 military
installations throughout the world in 132
countries, with the honourable exception of
Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they
got there but they are there all right.
The United States possesses 8,000 active and
operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on
hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15
minutes warning. It is developing new systems of
nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The
British, ever cooperative, are intending to
replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who,
I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden?
You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What
we do know is that this infantile insanity - the
possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons
- is at the heart of present American political
philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the
United States is on a permanent military footing
and shows no sign of relaxing it.
Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the
United States itself are demonstrably sickened,
shamed and angered by their government's actions,
but as things stand they are not a coherent
political force - yet. But the anxiety,
uncertainty and fear which we can see growing
daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.
I know that President Bush has many extremely
competent speech writers but I would like to
volunteer for the job myself. I propose the
following short address which he can make on
television to the nation. I see him grave, hair
carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere,
often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile,
curiously attractive, a man's man.
'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God
is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad
God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have
one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians.
We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in
freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am
the democratically elected leader of a
freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate
society. We give compassionate electrocution and
compassionate lethal injection. We are a great
nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a
barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I
possess moral authority. You see this fist? This
is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'
A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost
naked activity. We don't have to weep about that.
The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it.
But it is true to say that you are open to all
the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out
on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter,
no protection - unless you lie - in which case of
course you have constructed your own protection
and, it could be argued, become a politician.
I have referred to death quite a few times this
evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called 'Death'.
Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?
Who was the dead body?
Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?
Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?
Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?
What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?
Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body
When we look into a mirror we think the image
that confronts us is accurate. But move a
millimetre and the image changes. We are actually
looking at a never-ending range of reflections.
But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror -
for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.
I believe that despite the enormous odds which
exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce
intellectual determination, as citizens, to
define the real truth of our lives and our
societies is a crucial obligation which devolves
upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.
If such a determination is not embodied in our
political vision we have no hope of restoring
what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man.
* Extract from "I'm Explaining a Few Things"
translated by Nathaniel Tarn, from Pablo Neruda:
Selected Poems, published by Jonathan Cape,
London 1970. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited.
© The Nobel Foundation 2005
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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