December 7, 2005

"The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them."

Harold Pinter on the occasion of accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature. Pinter, we're told, was "[d]ressed in black, bristling with controlled fury."
Mr. Pinter attacked American foreign policy since World War II, saying that while the crimes of the Soviet Union had been well documented, those of the United States had not. "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 saleable commodity is self-love."


Sloanasaurus said...

Another America hater.

Jake said...

No one can win the Nobel Prize for Literature or the Nobel Peace Prize unless they have an insane hatred for America,

Palladian said...

So the Nobel peace prize and the literature prize are now largely just the "Fuck America" prizes?

Maybe we should discuss the history of Mother England with Mr Pinter. Or, if we're in our torturous criminal mood, let's make him sit through one of his own plays a few times.

Oh well. Too bad the brave artists of the world who feel the need to unburden themselves like someone with dysentery at every opportunity have little to say about actual tyranny in the world today.

The saddest part about this is that I actually know quite a few New York Times readers who will read this, nodding their heads solemnly in assent.

Ann, didn't you once say in a podcast that you thought of Pinter's work as representative of your childhood idea of what adults read? Would Mr Pinter had the intelligence and morality and sanity of a children's story.

37383938393839383938383 said...

This is why the Nobel committee selected him. They wanted to use the award ceremony as a bully pulpit. This problem is not unique to our generation. The Nobel committe has always -- since the inception of the prize -- been faulted for overlooking great artists in favor of lesser artists whose politics and "idealism" mesh with those of the committee members. By lesser, I do not mean artists with no worth whatsoever; I mean B+ artists who are chosen instead of universally recognized A+ artists, even if those A+ artists are near death and would accept 1/3 of an award.

chuck b. 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."

Complaining that language keeps thought at bay... What would he have us do instead I wonder?

The full-text hasn't appeared online anywhere that I can find.

Steve Donohue said...

Could you imagine winning one of the most prestigious prizes in the world, one that puts you in the company of the 20th century's greatest writers, and using what scant time you have on the podium to lambast America. This is one of your defining moments as an author.

There's a reason why the crimes of the Soviet Union were so well documented (and I sense a tinge of regret in that sentence coming from your less-that-humble playwright) previous Nobel Laureate Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn wrote about them. Of course, first he spent eight years in the middle of Siberia during the peak of his life slaving in the gulags and living off gruel for the offense of having made an offhand deragatory remark about the Great Leader in a letter as he fought for the country. Somehow, I think if Mr. Pintar sat down and attempted to write the Bush Archipelago, he'd have a slightly more difficult filling out the 3 volumes- even in his most fertile of moods, an hour long play seems too much to ask from the poor man. Even worse, it would be done in a sparse style intended to be ironic and nihilistic, but instead was drab, boring, and largely unreadable. All while managing to defend the vestigial tail of the Stalinist system, Cuba, and the greatest single mass-murderer in the post Cold-War period, Slobodan Milosevic.

DEC said...

During the Spanish Civil War thousands of members of the political left went to fight the fascists in Spain. Where are the heirs of these fighting liberals? Where are today's Robert Jordans ("For Whom the Bell Tolls"), ready to battle Islamic fascists?

All I see now on the political left are characters like Pinter.

Aspasia M. said...

Yeah, the poet Sharon Olds recently turned down an invitation from Laura Bush to attend a book fair. She was a little upset about things like torture and extraordinary rendition.

These espresso-drinking, torture-hating, habeus-corpus loving poets are sooooo pre 9/11.

I mean, waterboarding is just no big deal. And why are the Europeans so upset that a German citizen got kidnapped by the U.S. and taken to Afghanistan to be imprisoned for 5 months. I mean, he was eventually returned to his wife and children when we figured out that we had the wrong guy. I mean, their names were so similar! We only dissapeared him for 5 months, after all. What's up with all the blow-back that Condi is getting on her European trip?

Hey, if your organs don't shut down, then it's not torture, so what are you complaining about?
Those wine-swilling, torture-hating, habeus-corpus loving, frenchy and german swine! They must hate freedom! They must hate America!

Wade_Garrett said...

I generally dislike it when people use forums such as the Nobel Prize acceptance speech, or an Academy Awards acceptance speech, to say something irresponsibly provocative.

Leaving aside the Pinter's questionable timing and lack of tact . . . can you really blame somebody for criticising the U.S. for propping up military dictatorships? Or, even worse, overthrowing democratically elected leaders?

37383938393839383938383 said...
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Steve Donohue said...

I can easily do so, Terrence, when said figure sits on the Cuba Solidarity Campiagn and the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic, one gets the suspicion that he is not overly concerned with destroying the pillars of unelected tyrrany.

I think that even funnier is this quote from Wikipedia:

He frequently writes political letters to British newspapers.

He's the UK equivalent of the angry guy that has to be reminded by the producer of the Rush Limbaugh Show that, sorry sir, you can only call in once per month. I'm really angry about this, so I'm going to mail a Letter to the Editor for the Guardian, and maybe if it's really good, they'll give me a funny little illustration or a featured spot or something. Or what the heck!- it doesn't even have to be good, I'm Harold F'n Pintar!

P.S. I think word verification is trying to tell me something: fukxu

Tom T. said...

"...but very few people have actually talked about them."

What planet does Pinter live on where this is true?

Joe Baby said...

I guess you gotta be really smart to stereotype 300 million people.

peter hoh said...

"...but very few people have actually talked about them."

Consider this the flip side of the Pauline Kael quote. She said, "I don't know how Richard Nixon could have won, I don't know anybody who voted for him."

Pinter's version is something like this: "I don't know why people don't talk about the crimes of the United States. Everyone I know talks about them all the time."

miklos rosza said...

peter: well put.

ALH ipinions said...

A bit histrionic perhaps. But Pinter is an acclaimed dramatist after all.

Nonetheless, his sobering point about the schizophrenic (and all too venal) nature of American foreign policy since WWII is undeniable (and worthy of far more debate).

Finn Kristiansen said...

Terrence said...
. . . can you really blame somebody for criticising the U.S. for propping up military dictatorships? Or, even worse, overthrowing democratically elected leaders?

I would imagine all major nations, and all military powers, have propped up dictatorships or overthrown elected leaders. We are guilty of nothing that other nations have not done. Yes we have done our share.

But there is a difference. All men (and nations) sin. But some nations try to repent in some fashion, and some don't. The United States has in many cases tried to right its wrongs, or adjust it course. Further, we have the mechanism for such action by virtue of our being a democracy.

We also have to take note of the good done in the world by the United States, which far outstrips that of any other nation. Nearly every great comfort (and your ability to have your words read by strangers as well) has its root in the United States, a unique nation made of people of the entire world. Our involvement in World War 2 alone likely stopped decades worth of future misery and death.

While it's impossible to peg, can you imagine the likely misery in the world if America stopped giving financial aid, stopped composing, stopped singing, stopped writing, stopped practicing law or creating new technology, stopped growing food, stopped blathering on about human rights, stopped allowing blacks on the bus, stopped knocking off Serbian strong men, stopped giving relief supplies, stopped giving charity via its churches, and so on. You cannot even price tag that invisible number.

All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but some strive to reach that glory and spread it to their fellows.

tefta said...

Jake, you said it, said it well and succinctly. Ditto my friend.

It is kinda sad about Vonnegut though. I thought he'd have a real chance this year after trying so hard to impress the selection committee with all those insane statements on his book selling tour.

Dan from Madison said...

It is a pathetic rant by a pathetic leftist. As usual, hold the US to a standard of perfection, focus on those relatively small errors, and then not assume any guilt for the really grievous errors of the past true leftists like the Gulag, Mao's slaughterhouse or the Khmer Rouge. *Sigh*

Dave said...
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Buck Pennington said...

American Football

You're not gone yet, Harold?

Henry said...

Just for contrast, here's a link to Solzhenitsyn's 1978 Commencement Address at Harvard University (Solzhenitsyn did not attend the 1970 Nobel Prize presentations because he was worried that if he left Russia he would not be able to return):

The speech is not missing criticism of Western systems, but through it all runs an indictment of Pinter's point of view:

"The communist regime in the East could stand and grow due to the enthusiastic support from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who felt a kinship and refused to see communism's crimes. When they no longer could do so, they tried to justify them. In our Eastern countries, communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. But Western intellectuals still look at it with interest and with empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to withstand the East."

I think the point at which Pinter crosses into intellectual dishonesty is when he chooses to treat the United States, post WWII, as distinct from Western Europe. If Pinter chose to indict all of the Western world, he could only be accused of a common kind of fashionable idiocy. When he decides to focus solely on the United States, his idiocy reveals itself as a repellent kind of Euro-Nationalism, the jingoism of quislings.

Adam said...

The entire speech appears to be here. With regards to America v. Western Europe, Henry, I do think this list pretty much is exclusively American:

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.

Henry said...

A list that is exclusively American is a list that is exclusively American. Clever of Pinter to qualify his list of dictatorships with the words "right wing". And your point is?

But wait a minute. Turkey? Is Turkey not a member of NATO?

* * *

Man that's a long speech. I especially liked this line (emphasis mine):

"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."

If Pinter isn't sure how the bases "got there" the tenor of the rest of his political opinions is hardly surprising.

Charles said...

I know I probably missed this guy's great literary offerings... but who the heck is he? I never heard of him, so what books did he write and why should I believe he has opinions to listen to? Like other alleged elites, shut up and write or act or read the news and don't subject me to your ill formed ranting that makes me think you are totally out of touch with reality.

Simon Kenton said...

From Faulkner's speech on the Nobel Prize, 55 years ago:

"I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

Brendan said...

Something tells me this would not be classified as "hate speech" at UConn. Nor would he be shouted down.

Charles said...

I see Scrappleface is all over this with the breaking news the Nobel Literature Prize no longer requires any product vaguely like literature to have been written.

mbrlr said...

Those of us who seem to inspire such hate from your side of the fence are simply appalled by a war based upon false premises, by failure to fully and effectively go after the actual enemies who blew up the WTC, by the dead and wounded --- and let's limit that, for this conversation, to American dead and wounded --- caused by this bloody escapade based upon false premises, by a level of deceit from the upper levels of our government that surpasses Nixonian levels, and by the administration's willingness to both ignore treaties and engage in what is essentially torture. Even if the treaties weren't in place (which seems to be the administration's attitude) --- what we're doing to those in our custody is unconscionable. The whole point and justification of our recent behavior is essentially that we're better than the nebulous they are, but by engaging in this sort of conduct...are we? Before you wave the flags, think about what we've done and are doing and ask if it really conforms to what the founding fathers intended. I simply refuse to believe that the founding fathers intended Americans to have to march in lockstep and allow the notion of Homeland (Heimat) Security to control over those freedoms fought for in the Revolution.

Ah, I'm starting to get a bit testy now. I'm sure y'all think I'll be quoting Karl Marx soon. I'm just worried, not only about our troops but about the things that make us who and what we are, our liberties. I'm a lawyer and, as I'm sure the blogmistress (not sure of the usage on that) must know and try to pass on to her students, devotion to those liberties is one of the most important roles we have within our society. Even if we differ on individual issues, even those of war and peace, devotion to the rule of law goes beyond divisions of left and right.

mbrlr said...

Just a note re Harold Pinter --- he's been around quite a while and is very respected, at least as far as his literary efforts go. The Nobel isn't out of line.

anselm said...

terrence and mbrlr dare to suggest that Pinter's criticism may have merit.

the general response: "we're not as bad as those others that Pinter didn't criticize!"

the litany of debacles that we have supported since WWII is extremely sobering:

Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile.

people are always talking about these? really? in my experience most americans are pretty ignorant of modern american history, pop culture aside.

you can nitpick with pinter, his status as an artist, or whatever, but the reminders are valid. to pretend they are just the standard issue sins of (democratic) empire does not dismiss it. to pretend its irrelevant, when we're in the midst of a new escapade that strongly reminiscent of this ignoble pattern, is exactly the kind of blindness that pinter is talking about.

pinter, somewhat like orwell and ibsen, threw his life into capturing that same genteel suppression of individual freedom, and of the unspoken violence behind the scenes. something tells me he's far from a coward, and doesn't mind being a target for the right.

[word verification: fistqo]

P. Froward said...

All Pinter means by "right-wing dictatorship" is "third-world government friendly to the US", so his claim that we support such things is circular.

During the Cold War we generally supported the lesser evil, and not just a little bit lesser, either: The left's uncritical adoration of folks like Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, and so on is well-known, and none of the regimes Pinter accuses us of supporting were ever in the same league as those guys. Not even close. Let's not forget that point: The US opposed all of the most evil regimes of the 20th century, and Pinter supported all of them except Hitler (and he missed supporting Hitler only because he wasn't writing during the Non-Aggression Pact era).

Pinter's position has always been that a genocidal regime is better than a merely lousy one. Furthermore, in every case where we don't support a brutal regime (e.g. Cuba), the Pinters of the world howl at us for being unsupportive meanies. If we'd treated Pinochet as a pariah, he'd be a darling of the left. If we treated Castro the way Pinter wants us to, Pinter would suddenly develop an intense interest in Castro's human rights violations.

As for the degree and worth of our support for these "right-wing dictatorships", you have to remember that left-wingers tend to exaggerate hysterically and make stuff up. When you have more facts than the lefties give you, the "obvious connections" they so often rely on turn out not to be very obvious at all, to anybody who isn't committed to believing in them in the first place.

Remember, Pinter's not just saying we've done bad things: That's trivially obvious; governments are imperfectly virtous at best. He is saying we're the greatest evil on Earth. He is saying that everything about us, and everything we do, is necessarily evil.

That has nothing to do with facts or logic. It's superstition, and it's preposterous. He's "criticizing" us the way David Duke "criticizes" black people.

And what's this about "genteel suppression of individual freedom", anselm? What are you referring to, exactly?

By the way, Pinter's in no danger of being attacked by anybody. He can afford guards. In fact, he's one of the most privileged people on the planet, and he's surrounded by adoring sycophants who'd never dream of contradicting a single word he says. He's about as "brave" as Mick Jagger croaking out "Satisfaction" for the 1,200th time.

But by "attack" you mean "disagree", I suspect, rather than "assault". Well, in a free society, you have to learn to live with that. People are allowed to disagree with Harold Pinter. So sorry.

Henry said...

mbrlr and anselm --

It's fine with me if Pinter wants to play Chomsky in Stockholm. Do some of Pinter's specific criticisms have merit. Absolutely, and they should be taken seriously, as many Americans do.

Is Pinter's presentation intellectually honest? Absolutely not.

What strikes me is how syncophantic his dissembling is. Here is a left-wing British playwrite, accepting a European award in a European Country, and he takes as his topic the evils of America.

To let his left-wing political allies off the hook, he claims that Soviet atrocities have been documented and thus not worth discussing.

To let his Western European hosts off the hook, he simply ignores them -- as he does all of the rest of the world.

Neocolonial French behaviour in Algeria and Vietnam goes unmentioned. Suez. Not mentioned. Northern Ireland. Not mentioned. Serbia and Kosovo. Off the radar. Ruwanda. Nada.

It's most telling that Pinter focuses his attention on U.S. actions against communist movements, for these are where his sympathies lie.

Let's take a look at the Sandanistas. Pinter is correct that the Sandanistas' literacy and vaccination campaigns were enormously successful. But there's much that Pinter forgets.

He forgets that the Sandanistas ruled by Junta, despite having promised elections during their guerilla campaign against Somoza. He forgets that the Carter Administration gave the Sandinistas over $118 million in aid and the Sandanistas still allied themselves with Cuba and the Soviet Union, placed the country's armed forces under their own control and began encouraging guerilla warfare in El Salvador and Guatemala. It was this attempt to export revolution that caused the United States to treat the Sandanistas as an enemy.

Many Nicaraguan ethnic groups who did not support the Sandanistas were forcibly relocated. The Sandanistas siezed land and industries, bringing them under the power of the unelected government. Both of these actions helped the Contras gain support, independently of U.S. behaviour.

Contrary to Pinter's implication, the Catholic Church did not support the Sandanistas. Rather the Sandanistas were joined by a small set of radical priests from the marxist Liberation Theology movement. On the Catholic Radio station, announcers who criticized the Sandanistas were forced off the air and eventually the station was closed.

Meanwhile, the Sandanistas forced the popular newspaper La Prensa to submit all articles for review as early as 1981; in 1986 they shut it down.

Despite the U.S.'s support to the Contras, the Nicaraguan economy was damaged mostly by the Sandanista's own collectivist "reforms". Nationalization of industry generally kept workers in the same positions as before (as in the Sugar industry), but took away their right to strike (just as in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union). Government policy was wildly inflationary and central planning coupled corruption with incompetence. The Sandanistas began rationing basic goods in 1984, a year before U.S. President Reagan the U.S. embargo.

By 1987, just two years later, the official U.S. policy was to encourage the Contras to negotiate toward Oscar Arias Sanchez's Esquipulas II peace plan.