Woolly Days has just finished reading two books from the Brisbane city library.
They are Ernesto Guevara’s 'Motorcycle Diaries' and John Pilger’s 'New Rulers of the World'.
Guevara’s account is playful with the stirrings of a nascent political conscience bubbling just under the surface.
I saw Walter Salles’ screen treatment last year and he did an admirable job of bringing that life and vitality from the book onto the big screen.
“Che” is the Argentinean word for ‘mate’ – not to be confused with maté, the Argentinean tea. This oft repeated ‘che’ is how other Spanish speaking South Americans picked him out to be from Argentina.
There is an occasional excursion into the political domain especially in Chile. In the 1950s Chile there is the usual Latin American dictatorship struggle which is threatened by many political strands. Allende is not yet a key player but he is mentioned as a Popular Front candidate. That party has the support of the Communist Party but his votes have been reduced due to fractured affiliations within the party.
For the most part however, the Diaries are part travelogue, part homage to mezquito America.
Pilger’s work is far more polemical. In a series of four essays, he takes apart the power structures of the world.
The first essay is about Indonesia’s transfer of power from Sukarno to Suharto and it is presented as a western corporate carve-up. This time of Living Dangerously (1965-66) killed a million Indonesians and entrenched western power. Sukarno had threatened to take a ‘third path’ (neither capitalist nor communist) with his promotion of the Non Aligned Movement. The US couldn’t countenance this and bankrolled his overthrow.
The second essay discusses Iraq. It was written post 9/11 but before the 2003 invasion. It describes how half a million children have been killed by the sanctions imposed (at US/UK instigation) by the UN Security Council in the 1990s. Saddam was an American created tyrant. His Ba’ath party came to power in a coup supported by the CIA and the West bankrolled Iraq during the Iran war. They also hindered rebel attempts to unseat him after the end of the 1991 Gulf War allowing his Republican Guard unfettered access through the recently defeated country to engage the enemy that George Bush senior had so publicly exhorted to rise against Saddam.
The third essay is entitled The Great Game. It takes its title from a quote from the British viceroy of India Lord Curzon in 1898 when Britain was at the height of its imperial powers. Curzon stated that ‘to me, I confess that countries are pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played a great game for the domination of the world’. 100 years later, that Great Game is still in progress. The British are still involved but these days in a supporting role.
Now it is the turn of the Americans to move the pieces across the board. Pilger describes the impact of US cluster bombing in South East Asia and later in Afghanistan. He points out how the US sabotaged the 1954 Geneva conference on the re-unification of Vietnam. After 9/11, Pakistan had negotiated with Mullah Omar of the Taliban (which means ‘the students’ and who were educated in Pakistani military colleges with US money, arms and training) to hand over Osama to them for trial by an international tribunal.
President Musharaf rejected the plan under US pressure as it ‘risked the premature collapse of the international effort’ which was building to attack Afghanistan. September 11 gave the Americans the excuse they needed to change the regime in Afghanistan so that they could lay a gas and oil pipe through the country from the Caspian with the assistance of a 'stable’ government. The last thing they now needed was to have the rug pulled from under their feet by an early capture of Bin Laden.
Four years later the ‘demon’ is still at large. What the US have instead, is direct control over Afghanistan (and now Iraq). They also have military bases in most of the ex-Soviet Asian states which act as ‘guardposts’ over US control of the oil supply in the Persian Gulf. Iran sticks out like a very sore thumb against this American hegemony of the region. Meanwhile the US keeps most of the third world in thrall via the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO. Loans to stimulate economic growth are tied to pro-US policies. Ghana would get aid from Britain for a clean water project but only if they agreed to privatise the water supply. These types of decisions are not widely reported. The compliant media practice ‘censorship by omission’.
The fourth essay takes Pilger home to his native Australia and discusses the Aboriginal issue. As Richard Wall describes it: "Here is clear evidence that the wounds of coercion and conquest are difficult – if not impossible – to heal, and that if they do heal somewhat with the passage of time, they still leave deep scars not only on the psyche but also on the physical lives of victims – even to the extent of drastically shortening those lives today. And they damage the perpetrators and bystanders too. As Pilger points out, in the process of genocide there is always a third party, the bystander, whose passive acquiescence in the conquest and exploitation of a people, and its legacy, at the very least haunts his life and makes resolution painful and difficult."