January 07, 2005
The Other, Man-made Tsunami
By John Pilger
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.
and Blair increased their first driblets of "aid"
only when it became clear that people all over the
world were spontaneously giving millions and a public
relations problem beckoned.
The Blair government's
current "generous" contribution is one sixteenth
of the £800m it spent bombing Iraq before the invasion
and barely one twentieth of a billion pound 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 defense 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 terrorizing 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 presently defying international
maritime law by denying East Timor its due of oil
and gas royalties worth some 8bn dollars. 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
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 "re-order 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 poverty that is your miserable existence."
The Blair government had just taken part in
the conquest of Afghanistan, in which as many as
20,000 civilians died. Of all the great humanitarian
crises in living memory, no country suffered more
and none has been helped less. Just three 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 are crumbs
for emergency aid. What is often presented as reconstruction
revenue is private investment, such as the 35m dollars
that will finance a proposed five-star hotel, mostly
for foreigners. An adviser to the minister of rural
affairs in Kabul told me the government had received
less than 20 per cent of the aid promised to Afghanistan.
"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 American 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. Cancer cases are rising rapidly,
especially *censored* 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 dollars has been
spent, most of it on mercenaries guarding foreigners.
Little of this is news in the west.
other tsunami is worldwide, causing 24,000 deaths
every day from poverty and debt and division that
are the products of a supercult called neo-liberalism.
This was acknowledged by the United Nations in 1991
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 the
waffle of the British Chancellor (Treasurer) Gordon
Brown about the Group of Eight "sharing Britain's
dream" in ending poverty as just that: waffle.
Not one government has honoured the United Nations
"baseline" and allotted a miserable 0.7 of its national
income to overseas aid. Britain gives just 0.34
per cent, making its "department of international
development" a black joke. The US gives 0.15 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 Organization, are
allowed to protect their home industries and agriculture;
only they have the right to subsidize exports of
meat, grain and sugar and dump them in poor countries
at artificially low prices, thereby destroying livelihoods
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 dollars. The World Resources Institute
says the toll of this man-made tsunami reaches 13-18
million child deaths every year; or 12 million children
under the age of five, according to a UN 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 1982?"
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
the poorest of the poor gave them shelter and cared
for them, one hears the antithesis of "policies"
that care only for the avaricious.
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.
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 privatization
and its attendant indecencies.
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 revitalized 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 unraveling,
so a whole system of domination and impoverishment
can unravel, too.