Sunday, December 11, 2005

The stupidity of Harold Pinter

Niall Ferguson: Do the sums, then compare US and Communist crimes from the Cold War

Brings it all flooding back, doesn't it? The demand that the President and his allies be tried as "war criminals". The denunciation of the "infantile insanity" of nuclear weapons. No, don't worry, you haven't stepped into a time machine. It's not the 1970s, and that wasn't Henry Kissinger in drag, it was only Condi Rice. But yes, I am afraid that is still Harold Pinter, spouting the same old anti-American drivel he was spouting 30 years ago.

Truth and falsehood are indeed hard to distinguish in Pinter's drama, and his Nobel soliloquy was no exception. First, the true part. Thousands were indeed killed by US-backed dictatorships, especially in Central and South America. What is demonstrably false is that this violence is comparable in scale with that perpetrated by Communist regimes at the same time.
It is generally agreed that Guatemala was the worst of the US-backed regimes during the Cold War. When the civil war there was finally brought to an end in the 1990s, the total death toll may have been as high as 200,000. But not all these deaths can credibly be blamed on the United States. Most of the violence happened long after the 1954 coup, when the regime was far from being under the CIA's control.

By comparison, the lowest estimate for the number of people who were killed on political grounds in the last seven years of Stalin's life is five million, and the camps of the gulag - which only a fraud or a fool would liken to American prisons today - kept on killing long after his death. In their new biography, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday reckon Mao was responsible for anything up to 70 million deaths in China. The number of people killed or starved by the North Korean regime may be in the region of 1.6 million. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia killed between 1.5 and 2 million people. For further details, I refer Pinter to The Black Book of Communism, published in 1997.
Nobody pretends that the United States came through the Cold War with clean hands. But to pretend that its crimes were equivalent to those of its Communist opponents - and that they have been wilfully hushed up - is fatally to blur the distinction between truth and falsehood. That may be permissible on stage. I am afraid it is quite routine in diplomacy. But is unacceptable in serious historical discussion.

So stick to plays, Harold, and stop torturing history. Even if there was a Nobel Prize for it, you wouldn't stand a chance. Because in my profession, unlike yours - and unlike Condi's, too - there really are "hard distinctions… between what is true and what is false".
Previous articles about: Anti-Americanism
US reacts to Paul Martin’s electioneering anti-Americanism
The double standards of Western media concerning prisoners

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