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A BBC viewer challenges Simon Schama

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David C
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Joined: 12 Jan 2004
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Post Post subject: A BBC viewer challenges Simon Schama Reply with quote

13th January 2010

Simon Schama – Obama’s America

Dear Mr Schama

I watched your programme last night with a growing sense of unease, and because of this I have watched it again on iPlayer.

I must criticise the programme from several points of view. The main one is that you seem to accept at face value the numerous quotations from the televised speeches of American presidents. Time and again they all keep on repeating the mantra of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, ‘preserving freedom’, ‘defending freedom’, ‘keeping the world safe’.

You clearly believe, as I suppose do the presidents, and by extension their populations, that these phrases mean something, because you never once question them, never once point out that their idea of freedom and democracy just might not mean what we think, never once point to the irony of the words which lead, as in Vietnam by your own figures, to the deaths of 59,000 American troops and four million Vietnamese. Do you not see the irony, the hypocrisy, of killing millions of people in a nation to bring them peace? You never speculate as to what they mean by ‘freedom’ or ‘democracy’.

In your apparently naïve acceptance of their claims to be champions of democracy you do not mention the US backed military overthrow of a democratically elected government in Guatemala, or in Chile, or in Indonesia, or the constant US posturing and undermining of the democratically elected government in Venezuela, all to do with access to the markets for American corporations. You never once suggest that in all their claims about the righteousness of their cause, there lies the possibility that these presidents may be lying, that they may have an ulterior motive that they do not want us to see. You naively swallow their pronouncements as unquestionable truth and present your viewers with a false picture of world power-politics.

The whole programme is littered with such pronouncements:

Set free a suffering humanity
The hellish mess that was Europe
Communism – danger to civilisation
N.Korea – rogue state
‘We have not sought world domination’ (Obama)
‘We do not seek to occupy other nations’
Keeping the world safe for American democracy
Victims of 9/11, massacred in the name of fundamentalist intolerance

You show no sense of observing the irony in any of these. How can you show presidents saying, ‘ We have not sought world domination’ and ‘We do not seek to occupy other nations’ (Korea still, Iraq, Afghanistan etc) without actually laughing. This is patently untrue yet you present it as some kind of incontrovertible fact. Their hypocrisy is breathtaking yet you seem not to notice. Throughout the programme you show no doubt as to the rightness of the American cause. We good, they bad.

‘Fundamentalist intolerance’ – is there some way in which George W Bush was neither fundamentalist nor intolerant? So how is it a criticism of others then?

Towards the end you ask: ‘What did America have to do [since the victory in the cold war] to make the world safe for democracy?
Answer: ‘Nothing anymore!’

Is this a deliberate attempt to suggest that the US is not doing anything on the international scene? Or do you sincerely believe that they are doing nothing?
First Gulf War?
Arming of Israel?
Occupation of Iraq
Sabre rattling over Iran
Support of extremely undemocratic Saudis
Support of acknowledged corrupt leaders in Yemen
Support of vicious regimes in the old soviet republics

You whitewash a nation that sees only armed force as the solution to its perceived ‘conflicts’ You make no suggestion that these conflicts arise because the US, in Obama’s words which you show, ‘will use force to protect our vital interests.’ You show no insight into the duplicity of these words

The soldiers you constantly showed in numerous wars to bolster the idea of heroes fighting selflessly to defend their way of life, were a sad sight and did indeed inspire sympathy as they were no doubt intended to do. But for me the sympathy came from the fact that they, like you apparently, have all been deluded by the propaganda of state power, sending them to their deaths to preserve the freedom of the corporate system to extract profits in oil and goods from any market they please.

You showed marching Chinese (or was it North Korean) troops, a vast army conscripted by the tyranny of communism I suppose. You do not have the insight to speculate that here in the west no force is needed to conscript. The propaganda has done its job, men join up if they are scared enough about ‘the threat’. The poor man Krepp showed this perfectly when he said he and his brother used to go to the movies, war movies, they were exciting and had good endings. He, like most of the others I susupect, were deluded about their roles. You have nothing to say about the manipulation of opinion in ‘the free world’.

At the end you show a street in South Korea and say, astonishingly really, that this is what American freedom has brought, Starbucks and Pizza joints. You neglect to mention the vast, vast profits now being earned by American corporations and real estate merchants in a polarised society where the hugely rich exploit the poor, or the gangs, the drug culture, the unemployment, the slums, the destruction of a way of life that existed before the US troops got there.

And, the final fallacy of the exclusive pairing. You stack this prosperity against the ‘alternative’ of ‘famine, fundamentalism and dictatorship’, as if these two extremes are the only alternatives there are. Surely you cannot believe this? What about a middle road that you could suggest Mr Obama follow? Point out some flaws, inconsistencies, hypocrisies in his and previous presidents’ arguments.

Mr Schama, I could go on, but will leave it there. Much as I liked the glossy and atmospheric photography, you have left the impression of the US as the benevolent peacemaker in a world of danger, whereas in reality, in the years since the end of WW2 they have been responsible for more deaths worldwide than the rest of the world put together. Ask the people of Indo-China, the states of South America, the Middle East.

‘Freedom’ for America’s tyrants means the ability to use military force to subjugate any state that opposes corporate power, especially oil-power. Most thinking people agree that we in the UK are less safe now than we were before the Iraq war began in 2003. Ordinary, innocent citizens and people with their sons in the military are the sacrifice that Obama is willing to make for continuing US domination of the world. And you, a historian, apparently can’t see it. Your film is unfortunately just one more addition to the smokescreen.

A truer picture of the current American president would be of someone charmingly but sadly deluded by a sense of idealism, wilfully blind to the realities and catastrophic injustices of American power, who may have come to office believing he could make a difference, but has run headlong into his own heavily armed military dictatorship and is now capitulating to the system. Now that would have been an angle to pursue.

Yours respectfully.
Wed Jan 13, 2010 1:49 pm
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Rhoderick Gates

Joined: 17 Nov 2005
Posts: 47
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Post Post subject: Reply with quote

Victims of 9/11, massacred in the name of fundamentalist intolerance

Mmm, what rubbish. Though to be expected. Here is the truth, rather

The fatwas written or signed by Osama Bin Laden in 1996 and 1998 both demand the end of the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. In the fatwa issued in 1998, bin Laden and others wrote: "For more than seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples" (see February 22, 1998). [Nation, 2/15/1999] The attacks were consistent with the overall mission statement of al-Qaeda, as set out in the 1998 fatwā issued by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ahmed Refai Taha, Mir Hamzah, and Fazlur Rahman

Nor are OBL & co 'fundamentalists', as the CIA's Bin Laden Unit's former chief Michael Scheuer outlines;

The 9/11 Commission report identifies bin Laden and his followers as takfiris, who kill Muslims if they don‘t agree with them. They‘re not takfiris. They‘re just very devout, severe Salafists and Wahhabis.

Socialism: Common ownership and democracy combined
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Sat Mar 06, 2010 6:37 am
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