Ever since I read the speech given by Harold Pinter on the
occasion of his receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature I�ve pondered whether
to write about it. Before I read the transcript of the speech on the internet,
I had never heard of Pinter in spite of the evidently considerable attention
that has been given to his work. That I haven�t heard or read of him is
probably because of what can be viewed as a shortcoming in not having spent
much time with plays and fiction.
I have hesitated writing about the speech because of the
obvious strength of its evaluation of United States international activity in
the post World War II era and its clear denunciation of the United States
current invasion and occupation of Iraq. Yet, I have had reservations about the
speech. I can certainly just be silent about my reservations and given the
accolades that he has received what I have to write about his speech can easily
be dismissed. Yet the unmentionable in Harold Pinter's speech has acquired its
own life in other commentaries and needs to addressed in this the most obvious
There is no question about the fact that the speech serves
to focus considerable detail on the murderous activity of the United States
foreign policy in the world and England�s subservient support of such activity,
particularly in its participation in the latest slaughter of innocents in Iraq.
The passionate verbal portrait of the process of these horrors only serves to
make unquestionably obvious, in my opinion, the glaring omission in the speech.
I read with real interest the description of how Pinter
described the process that he went through to produce two of his plays. Pinter
tells us that one play began with a word and the other play began with a
According to Pinter, �Most of the plays are engendered by a
line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the
image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue
into my head, followed by an image, followed by me . . . The plays are The
Homecoming and Old Times.
The first line of The Homecoming is 'What have you done with the
scissors?' The first line of Old Times is 'Dark.'�
For Pinter the �truth in drama is forever elusive.� He
writes, �There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is
unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily
either true or false; it can be both true and false.� . . ."But the real
truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in
dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from
each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind
to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand,
then it slips through your fingers and is lost.�
Pinter then distinquishes between himself as a writer and
himself as a citizen and writes, �I believe that these assertions still make
sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a
writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What
is true? What is false?�
With that established, Pinter describes the process of his
writing and then proceeds to describe the truth of United States foreign
policy. Pinter then describes two methods of the implementation of United
States foreign policy. If he, a writer and a citizen, can describe them so
precisely and succinctly, it occurs to me that the policy makers, the policy
implementers must have the two methods as part of their play book of standard
methods for United States domination. In any case they seem, at least to me, to
be accurate descriptions of what the United States has been about.
One of the methods Pinter calls the �low intensity conflict�
and describes it as follows, �Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in
fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has
described as 'low intensity conflict.' Low intensity conflict means that
thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one
fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you
establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace
has been subdued or beaten to death -- the same thing -- and your own friends,
the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go
before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace
in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.�
From there Pinter proceeds through the litany of the United
States support of the slaughter of innocents by this method of low intensity
conflict ----Nicarauga, El Salvador, Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil,
Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile.
His use of language in the descriptions makes it evident
that he is a writer who is a citizen. My friend Kenneth Burke described humans
as �symbol-using animals, inventors of the negative� in distinction from
anthropologists who described humans as �tool-using animals.� But it has always
occurred to me that we are an identity of symbol-using, tool-using animals,
inventors of the negative. One or the other elements of this identity can be
the most dominant as the dominance of tool-using for the auto mechanic compared
to the dominance of symbol-using for the playwright. The Nobel Prize for
Literature is evidence of Pinter�s skill as a symbol-user.
Pinter uses this skill with language to describe the United
States involvement with torture and imprisonment both in the United States
prison system but also in its creation of the torture prisons at Quantanamo and
elsewhere in the world. Pinter�s descriptions are sonorously graphic.
He writes, �We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted
uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to
the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle
�The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are
transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of
harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives.
So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.�
�Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What
does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally -- a small item on page
six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may
never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including
British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative
or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit
But in the end, Pinter writes, the �low intensity conflict�
is not enough for the United States. The stakes have been raised; all bets are
off; the United states policy makers decide on the final solution.
Pinter writes, �I have said earlier that the United States
is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case.
Its official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance.' That
is not my term, it is theirs. 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land,
sea, air and space and all attendant resources.� So there we have it. Full
Pinter describes the United States� use of torture, its
proliferation of nuclear weapons, its torturous prison policies, the mounting
direct horrendous death and consequent death tolls of its policies, its
targeted assassination of leaders of the countries that are the targets of its
policies and, finally, �control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant
It is, using his words, a �full spectrum� description of
United States foreign policy.
Yet, in the 2,970 odd words of his speech, there
is not a single word, not even a hint of a word or phrase, not a scintilla of
the United States unstinting, incontrovertible support for the Jewish
Zionist-led Israeli government�s assault against the people of Palestine.
Given the means that he describes how he came to write some
of his work -- the mention of a word or the mention of a phrase leads to
conjuring a whole story -- one is forced to wonder how the mention of the
invasion and occupation of Iraq in the Middle East didn�t conjure up the
invasion and occupation of the Palestine beyond the internationally recognized
1949 and 1967 borders by Israel in the Middle East.
. . . how the
mention of United States nuclear proliferation did not conjure up the near
life-long imprisonment of Israeli citizen Mordechai Vanunu for revealing
Israel�s nuclear proliferation
. . . how the
mention of Guantanamo and the other torture prisons did not conjure up the
Israeli dungeon-like prisons that hold nearly 10,000 Palestinian men, women,
adolescents and children and, until recently, the Israeli use of torture of
prisoners sanctioned in Israeli law
. . . how the
mention of the targeted assassination of the leaders of countries did not
conjure up Israel�s stated policy of killing Palestinian leaders
. . . how the
mention of cluster bombs, depleted uranium, random killings and murder did not
conjure up the Israeli behemoth bulldozers leveling homes and decades old olive
groves, and Israeli helicopter gunships and jet plane killing machines
assaulting the people of Palestine and their infrastructure of every
Because I wondered how Pinter�s words and phrases did not
manage to conjure up the details of United States-supported Israeli actions in the
very location of the world that occupied so much of Pinter�s speech, I went to
the Internet to find out about Pinter.
What I found out was that Pinter is Jewish. Yet that means
little in the context of the fact that there are a considerable number of Jews
that have demonstrated and voiced opposition to the Israeli government�s
occupation and absorption of Palestine beyond its internationally recognized
borders. That opposition includes hundreds of military �refuseniks� that will
not participate in the occupation.
In fact, what I found out was that Pinter is one of those
Jewish intellectuals that specifically and directly expresses opposition to
Israel�s occupation and absorption of Palestine beyond its borders, outside of
the context of his Nobel Prize lecture.
In a letter also
signed by Noam Chomsky, John Berger and Jose Saramago, Pinter along with these
others declared on July 26, 2006, �Each provocation and counter-provocation is
contested and preached over. But the subsequent arguments, accusations and
vows, all serve as a distraction in order to divert world attention from a
long-term military, economic and geographic practice whose political aim is
nothing less than the liquidation of the Palestinian nation.
"This has to be said loud and clear for the practice,
only half declared and often covert, is advancing fast these days, and, in our
opinion, it must be unceasingly and eternally recognised for what it is and
So, in December of 2005, at the time of the Nobel
presentation, Pinter delivers a 45-minute speech of some 2,900 words whose
content ranges all over the world, including the Middle East, about the United
States' support and direction of �low intensity conflict� and �full spectrum
dominance� without even an aside mention or obscure reference to the United
States' support of Israel�s nearly half century combination of �low intensity
conflict� and �full spectrum dominance� against the people of Palestine.
Then in July of 2006, only six months after his Nobel
presentation speech before the entire world, Pinter signs a letter that the
United States supported Israeli � . . . long-term military, economic and
geographic practice whose political aim is nothing less than the liquidation of
the Palestinian nation. . . . must be unceasingly and eternally recognised for
what it is and resisted.�
Even more than thatm according to Genevieve Fraser of
Ramallah Online, �When Israel held Mordechai Vanunu in captivity (much of it in
solitary confinement) for 18 years as a nuclear whistleblower, Britain�s
renowned playwright Harold Pinter served as a trustee for the Campaign to Free
Vanunu and for a Free Middle East.
"Since 2001, Pinter has promoted the Palestine
Solidarity Campaign's boycott of Israeli products and tourism. And when George
Galloway, Britain's anti-Israel MP, declared that Ariel Sharon was a war
criminal who deserves to be locked up for human rights abuses, Pinter supported
Sharon�s condemnation. He has not only been vocal about the desperate suffering
of the Palestinians, but has gone so far as to declare Israel "the central
factor in world unrest.�
But Israel and its supporters in Washington and throughout
the world would have a hard time condemning Pinter as an anti-Semite. Pinter
was born in London to working-class Jewish parents of Ashkenazi ancestry. Three
of Pinter's grandparents were from Poland and one from Odessa.
In his presentation speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize for
Literature, �Art, Truth & Politics,� Pinter stated, � . . . the search for
the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It
has to be faced, right there, on the spot.� In keeping with that philosophy,
last July 6, Pinter�s name appeared along with 300 prominent members of the
Jewish Community in Britain in a full page ad published in the Times of London
condemning Israel�s massive assault on Gaza. Sponsored by Jews for Justice in Palestine,
the ad serves as a �Call by Jews in Britain� and begins by asking, �What is
�We watch with horror the collective punishment of the
people of Gaza. Everything reasonable must be done to secure Corporal Gilad
Shalit�s safe release but nothing Israel is doing contributes to that aim.
Instead, it is using its enormously superior military might to terrorize an
�Destruction of the fragile Gaza infrastructure will not
release Shalit. Bombing power stations and cutting off fuel supplies deprives
people of electricity, refrigeration, pumped drinking water and sewage disposal
services. It holds hostage hospital patients on life support systems, or
undergoing dialysis. It brings the threat of epidemics and starvation.
�As Gideon Levy wrote in the Israeli daily Ha�aretz, this is
'not only pointless, but . . . blatantly illegitimate.' Gilad Shalit has become
a pawn in the Israeli government�s ongoing battle to topple the
democratically-elected government of the Palestinians.
�Presenting this as an isolated hostage-taking incident
ignores Israel�s regular snatching of Palestinians from their homes. Thousands
are held in �administrative detention� without trial, women and children
amongst them. A doctor and his brother � civilians � were kidnapped from their
home in Al Shouka, near Rafah, the day before Corporal Shalit was captured.
Like him, they need to be returned to their families in the established
practice of prisoner exchange. And all elected MPs, punitively imprisoned by
Israel in recent days, must be immediately released.�
�For the US and its allies merely to call for �restraint� is
desperately inadequate � and evidently ineffective. This is a situation that
requires determined action by the international community.�
So it is clear that outside of his presentation speech on
the occasion of his receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Pinter is
thoroughly aware of the Israeli �low intensity conflict" and �full
spectrum dominance� of the people of Palestine supported by the United States.
The question remains, then, how is that Pinter�s
participation in the collective statements that address the United States'
nearly half century support of Israel�s invasion, occupation and absorption of
Palestine beyond its borders -- � . . . that is nothing less than the
liquidation of the Palestinian nation.� -- is omitted entirely in his personal
statement; draws a blank in his own Nobel Prize speech even when he has
contended that Israel is �the central factor in the world unrest�?
We can only conjecture about the reasons for the glaring
omission. But Pinter�s information provides us with the process of producing
his writings -- how it proceeds from the mention of a word, from the mention of
a phrase and as a citizen his writing is a search for �What is true? What is
false?� His writing is deliberate, it is thoughtful, and it is precise. And
that is exactly what Pinter�s omission of the United States support of the
Israeli �liquidation of the Palestinian nation� in his Nobel Prize presntation
speech was -- it was deliberate, thoughtful, and precise.
Pinter anticipated that the organized response, (a la Jimmy Carter) that he
would have received if his speech included his personal condemnation of United
States' support for Israel�s slaughter of innocents in Palestine, would have
been too much to bear at a moment of personal triumph when the world�s
accolades and attention were focused on the successful son of a Jewish tailor.