[OPE-L] Pilger, the other tsunami

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Tue Jan 11 2005 - 11:48:09 EST

From: Justice Freedom
The other tsunami
Cover story
John Pilger
Monday 10th January 2005, 4 pages
While the sea may have killed tens of thousands, western policies  kill
millions every year. Yet even amid disaster, a new politics of  community
and morality is emerging.

The west's crusaders, the United States and Britain, are giving less  to
help the tsunami victims than the cost of a Stealth bomber or a  week's
bloody occupation of Iraq. The bill for George Bush's coming  inauguration
party would rebuild much of the coastline of Sri Lanka.  Bush and Blair
increased their first driblets of "aid" only when it  became clear that
people all over the world were spontaneously giving  millions and that a
public relations problem beckoned. The Blair
government's current "generous" contribution is one-sixteenth of
the ??800m it spent on bombing Iraq before the invasion and barely
one-twentieth of a ??1bn gift, known as a soft loan, to the
Indonesian military so that it could acquire Hawk fighter-bombers.

On 24 November, one month before the tsunami struck, the Blair
government gave its backing to an arms fair in Jakarta, "designed to  meet
an urgent need for the [Indonesian] armed forces to review its  defence
capabilities", reported the Jakarta Post. The Indonesian
military, responsible for genocide in East Timor, has killed more  than
20,000 civilians and "insurgents" in Aceh. Among the exhibitors  at the
arms fair was Rolls-Royce, manufacturer of engines for the  Hawks, which,
along with British-supplied Scorpion armoured vehicles,  machine-guns and
ammunition, were terrorising and killing people in  Aceh up to the day the
tsunami devastated the province.

The Australian government, currently covering itself in glory for its
modest response to the historic disaster befallen its Asian
neighbours, has secretly trained Indonesia's Kopassus special forces,
whose atrocities in Aceh are well documented. This is in keeping with
Australia's 40-year support for oppression in Indonesia, notably its
devotion to the dictator Suharto while his troops slaughtered a third  of
the population of East Timor. The government of John Howard -
notorious for its imprisonment of child asylum-seekers - is at
present defying international maritime law by denying East Timor its  due
of oil and gas royalties worth some $8bn. Without this revenue,  East
Timor, the world's poorest country, cannot build schools,
hospitals and roads or provide work for its young people, 90 per cent  of
whom are unemployed.

The hypocrisy, narcissism and dissembling propaganda of the rulers of  the
world and their sidekicks are in full cry. Superlatives abound as  to
their humanitarian intent while the division of humanity into
worthy and unworthy victims dominates the news. The victims of a
great natural disaster are worthy (though for how long is uncertain)
while the victims of man-made imperial disasters are unworthy and  very
often unmentionable. Somehow, reporters cannot bring themselves  to report
what has been going on in Aceh, supported by "our"
government. This one-way moral mirror allows us to ignore a trail of
destruction and carnage that is another tsunami.

Consider the plight of Afghanistan, where clean water is unknown and
death in childbirth common. At the Labour Party conference in 2001,  Tony
Blair announced his famous crusade to "reorder the world" with  the
pledge: "To the Afghan people, we make this commitment . . . We  will not
walk away . . . we will work with you to make sure [a way is  found] out
of the miserable poverty that is your present existence."  The Blair
government was on the verge of taking part in the conquest  of
Afghanistan, in which as many as 25,000 civilians died. In all the  great
humanitarian crises in living memory, no country suffered more  and none
has been helped less. Just 3 per cent of all international  aid spent in
Afghanistan has been for reconstruction, 84 per cent is  for the US-led
military "coalition" and the rest is crumbs for
emergency aid. What is often presented as reconstruction revenue is
private investment, such as the $35m that will finance a proposed
five-star hotel, mostly for foreigners. An adviser to the minister of
rural affairs in Kabul told me his government had received less than  20
per cent of the aid promised to Afghan-istan. "We don't even have  enough
money to pay wages, let alone plan reconstruction," he said.

The reason, unspoken of course, is that Afghans are the unworthiest  of
victims. When US helicopter gunships repeatedly machine-gunned a  remote
farming village, killing as many as 93 civilians, a Pentagon  official was
moved to say, "The people there are dead because we
wanted them dead."

I became acutely aware of this other tsunami when I reported from
Cambodia in 1979. Following a decade of American bombing and Pol
Pot's barbarities, Cambodia lay as stricken as Aceh is today. Disease
beckoned famine and people suffered a collective trauma few could
explain. Yet for nine months after the collapse of the Khmer Rouge
regime, no effective aid arrived from western governments. Instead, a
western- and Chinese-backed UN embargo was imposed on Cambodia,
denying virtually the entire machinery of recovery and assistance.  The
problem for the Cambodians was that their liberators, the
Vietnamese, had come from the wrong side of the cold war, having
recently expelled the Americans from their homeland. That made them
unworthy victims, and expendable.

A similar, largely unreported siege was forced on Iraq during the  1990s
and intensified during the Anglo-American "liberation". Last  September,
Unicef reported that malnutrition among Iraqi children had  doubled under
the occupation. Infant mortality is now at the level of  Burundi, higher
than in Haiti and Uganda. There is crippling poverty  and a chronic
shortage of medicines. Cases of cancer are rising
rapidly, especially breast cancer; radioactive pollution is
widespread. More than 700 schools are bomb-damaged. Of the billions  said
to have been allocated for reconstruction in Iraq, just $29m has  been
spent, most of it on mercenaries guarding foreigners. Little of  this is
news in the west.

This other tsunami is worldwide, causing 24,000 deaths every day from
poverty and debt and division that are the products of a supercult  called
neoliberalism. This was acknowledged by the United Nations in  1990 when
it called a conference in Paris of the richest states with  the aim of
implementing a "programme of action" to rescue the world's  poorest
nations. A decade later, virtually every commitment made by  western
governments had been broken, making Gordon Brown's waffle  about the G8
"sharing Britain's dream" of ending poverty as just
that: waffle. Very few western governments have honoured the United
Nations "baseline" and allotted a miserable 0.7 per cent or more of  their
national income to overseas aid. Britain gives just 0.34 per  cent, making
its "Department for International Development" a black  joke. The US gives
0.14 per cent, the lowest of any industrial state.

Largely unseen and unimagined by westerners, millions of people know
their lives have been declared expendable. When tariffs and food and  fuel
subsidies are eliminated under an IMF diktat, small farmers and  the
landless know they face disaster, which is why suicides among  farmers are
an epidemic. Only the rich, says the World Trade
Organisation, are allowed to protect their home industries and
agriculture; only they have the right to subsidise exports of meat,  grain
and sugar and dump them in poor countries at artificially low  prices,
thereby destroying livelihoods and lives.

Indonesia, once described by the World Bank as "a model pupil of the
global economy", is a case in point. Many of those washed to their  deaths
in Sumatra on Boxing Day were dispossessed by IMF policies.  Indonesia
owes an unrepayable debt of $110bn. The World Resources  Institute says
the toll of this man-made tsunami reaches 13-18
million child deaths worldwide every year; or 12 million children  under
the age of five, according to a UN Human Development
Report. "If 100 million have been killed in the formal wars of the  20th
century," wrote the Australian social scientist Michael
McKinley, "why are they to be privileged in comprehension over the  annual
[death] toll of children from structural adjustment programmes  since

That the system causing this has democracy as its war cry is a
mockery which people all over the world increasingly understand. It  is
this rising awareness, consciousness even, that offers more than  hope.
Since the crusaders in Washington and London squandered world  sympathy
for the victims of 11 September 2001 in order to accelerate  their
campaign of domination, a critical public intelligence has
stirred and regards the likes of Blair and Bush as liars and their
culpable actions as crimes. The current outpouring of help for the
tsunami victims among ordinary people in the west is a spectacular
reclaiming of the politics of community, morality and
internationalism denied them by governments and corporate propaganda.
Listening to tourists returning from stricken countries, consumed  with
gratitude for the gracious, expansive way some of the poorest of  the poor
gave them shelter and cared for them, one hears the
antithesis of "policies" that care only for the avaricious.

"The most spectacular display of public morality the world has ever
seen", was how the writer Arundhati Roy described the anti-war anger  that
swept across the world almost two years ago. A French study now  estimates
that 35 million people demonstrated on that February day  and says there
has never been anything like it; and it was just a  beginning.

This is not rhetorical; human renewal is not a phenomenon, rather the
continuation of a struggle that may appear at times to have frozen  but is
a seed beneath the snow. Take Latin America, long declared  invisible and
expendable in the west. "Latin Americans have been
trained in impotence," wrote Eduardo Galeano the other day. "A
pedagogy passed down from colonial times, taught by violent soldiers,
timorous teachers and frail fatalists, has rooted in our souls the  belief
that reality is untouchable and that all we can do is swallow  in silence
the woes each day brings." Galeano was celebrating the  rebirth of real
democracy in his homeland, Uruguay, where people have  voted "against
fear", against privatisation and its attendant
indecencies. In Venezuela, municipal and state elections in October
notched up the ninth democratic victory for the only government in  the
world sharing its oil wealth with its poorest people. In Chile,  the last
of the military fascists supported by western governments,  notably
Thatcher, are being pursued by revitalised democratic forces.

These forces are part of a movement against inequality and poverty  and
war that has arisen in the past six years and is more diverse,  more
enterprising, more internationalist and more tolerant of
difference than anything in my lifetime. It is a movement unburdened  by a
western liberalism that believes it represents a superior form  of life;
the wisest know this is colonialism by another name. The  wisest also know
that just as the conquest of Iraq is unravelling, so  a whole system of
domination and impoverishment can unravel, too.


This article first appeared in the New Statesman. For the latest in
current and cultural affairs subscribe to the New Statesman print


- Modern "war" is state terrorism directed against civilians.

- The purpose of u.s. actions toward Iraq over the last 14 years (2
horrific illegal bombing invasions, and 12 years of illegal, immoral
sanctions) is to destroy Iraq as a nation, the fulfillment of the neo- con
dream of "ending nations" that defy usrael. Forget what bush,  klinton and
others say, forget stated intentions, just look at what  they do, and what
they have done.

- If my men could think, they would not fight.
- Napoleon

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