“The propagandistâ€™s purpose,â€ wrote Aldous Huxley, â€œis to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.â€ The British, who invented modern war propaganda and inspired Joseph Goebbels, were specialists in the field. At the height of the slaughter known as the First World War, the prime minister, David Lloyd George, confided to C P Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian: â€œIf people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they donâ€™t know, and canâ€™t know.â€ What has changed?
â€œIf we had all known then what we know now,â€ said the New York Times on 24 August, â€œthe invasion [of Iraq] would have been stopped by a popular outcry.â€ The admission was saying, in effect, that powerful newspapers, like powerful broadcasting organisations, had betrayed their readers and viewers and listeners by not finding out â€“ by amplifying the lies of Bush and Blair instead of challenging and exposing them. The direct consequences were a criminal invasion called â€œShock and Aweâ€ and the dehumanising of a whole nation.
This remains largely an unspoken shame in Britain, especially at the BBC, which continues to boast about its rigour and objectivity while echoing a corrupt and lying government, as it did before the invasion. For evidence of this, there are two academic studies available â€“ though the capitulation of broadcast journalism ought to be obvious to any discerning viewer, night after night, as â€œembeddedâ€ reporting justifies murderous attacks on Iraqi towns and villages as â€œrooting out insurgentsâ€ and swallows British army propaganda designed to distract from its disaster, while preparing us for attacks on Iran and Syria. Like the New York Times and most of the American media, had the BBC done its job, many thousands of innocent people almost certainly would be alive today.
When will important journalists cease to be establishment managers and analyse and confront the critical part they play in the violence of rapacious governments? An anniversary provides an opportunity. Forty years ago this month, Major General Suharto began a seizure of power in Indonesia by unleashing a wave of killings that the CIA described as â€œthe worst mass murders of the second half of the 20th centuryâ€. Much of this episode was never reported and remains secret. None of the reports of recent terror attacks against tourists in Bali mentioned the fact that near the major hotels were the mass graves of some of an estimated 80,000 people killed by mobs orchestrated by Suharto and backed by the American and British governments.
Indeed, the collaboration of western governments, together with the role of western business, laid the pattern for subsequent Anglo-American violence across the world: such as Chile in 1973, when Augusto Pinochetâ€™s bloody coup was backed in Washington and London; the arming of the shah of Iran and the creation of his secret police; and the lavish and meticulous backing of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, including black propaganda by the Foreign Office which sought to discredit press reports that he had used nerve gas against the Kurdish village of Halabja.
In 1965, in Indonesia, the American embassy furnished General Suharto with roughly 5,000 names. These were people for assassination, and a senior American diplomat checked off the names as they were killed or captured. Most were members of the PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party. Having already armed and equipped Suhartoâ€™s army, Washington secretly flew in state-of-the-art communication equipmen! t whose high frequencies were known to the CIA and the National Security Council advising the president, Lyndon B Johnson. Not only did this allow Suhartoâ€™s generals to co-ordinate the massacres, it meant that the highest echelons of the US administration were listening in.
The Americans worked closely with the British. The British ambassador in Jakarta, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, cabled the Foreign Office: â€œI have never concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to effective change.â€ The â€œlittle shootingâ€ saw off between half a million and a million people. However, it was in the field of propaganda, of â€œmanagingâ€ the media and eradicating the victims from peopleâ€™s memory in the west, that the British shone. British intelligence officers outlined how the British press and the BBC could be manipulated. â€œTreatment will need to be subtle,â€ they wrote, â€œeg, a) all activities should be strictly unattributable, b) British [government] participation or co-operation should be carefully concealed.â€ To achieve this, the Foreign Office opened a branch of its Information Research Department (IRD) in Singapore.
The IRD was a top-secret, cold war propaganda unit headed by Norman Reddaway, one of Her Majestyâ€™s most experienced liars. Reddaway and his colleagues manipulated the â€œembeddedâ€ press and the BBC so expertly that he boasted to Gilchrist in a secret message that the fake story he had promoted â€“ that a communist takeover was imminent in Indonesia â€“ â€œwent all over the world and back againâ€. He described how an experienced Sunday newspaper journalist agreed â€œto give exactly your angle on events in his article . . . ie, that this was a kid-glove coup without butcheryâ€. These lies, bragged Reddaway, could be â€œput almost instantly back to Indonesia via the BBCâ€. Prevented from entering Indonesia, Roland Challis, the BBCâ€™s south-east Asia corres-pondent, was unaware of the slaughter. â€œMy British sources purported not to know what was going on,â€ Challis told me, â€œbut they knew what the American plan was. There were bodies being washed up on the lawns of the British consulate in Surabaya, and British warships escorted a ship full of Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits so that they could take part in this terrible holocaust. It was only later that we learned that the American embassy was supplying names and ticking them off as they were killed. There was a deal, you see. In establishing the Suharto regime, the involvement of the IMF and the World Bank was part of it . . . Suharto would bring them back. That was the deal.â€
The bloodbath was ignored almost entirely by the BBC and the rest of the western media. The headline news was that â€œcommunismâ€ had been overthrown in Indonesia, which, Time reported, â€œis the westâ€™s best news in Asiaâ€. In November 1967, at a conference in Geneva overseen by the billionaire banker David Rockefeller, the booty was handed out. All the corporate giants were represented, from General Motors, Chase Manhattan Bank and US Steel to ICI and British American Tobacco. With Suhartoâ€™s connivance, the natural riches of his country were carved up.
Suhartoâ€™s cut was considerable. When he was finally overthrown in 1998, it was estimated that he had up to $10bn in foreign banks, or more than 10 per cent of Indonesiaâ€™s foreign debt. When I was last in Jakarta, I walked to the end of his leafy street and caught sight of the mansion where the mass murderer now lives in luxury. As Saddam Hussein heads for his own show trial on 19 October, he must ask himself where he went wrong. Compared with Suhartoâ€™s crimes, Saddamâ€™s seem second-division. With British-supplied Hawk jets and machine-guns, Suhartoâ€™s army went on to crush the life out of a quarter of the populationof East Timor: 200,000 people. Using the same Hawk jets and machine-guns, the same genocidal army is now attempting to crush the life out of the resistance movement in West Papua and protect the Freeport company, which is mining a mountain of copper in the province. (Henry Kissinger is â€œdirector emeritusâ€.) Some 100,000 Papuans, 18 per cent of the population, have been killed; yet this British-backed â€œprojectâ€, as new Labour likes to say, is almost never reported. What happened in Indonesia, and continues to happen, is almost a mirror image of the attack on Iraq. Both countries have riches coveted by the west; both had dictators installed by the west to facilitate the passage of their resources; and in both countries, blood-drenched Anglo-American actions have been disguised by propaganda willingly provided by journalists prepared to draw the necessary distinctions between Saddamâ€™s regime (â€œmonstrousâ€) and Suhartoâ€™s (â€œmoderateâ€ and â€œstableâ€).
Since the invasion of Iraq, I have spoken to a number of principled journalists working in the pro-war media, including the BBC, who say that they and many others â€œlie awake at nightâ€ and want to speak out and resume being real journalists. I suggest now is the time.