Big Bro, Kosovo, Iraq

Jim heartfield jim at
Sun Aug 20 02:22:43 PDT 2000

The WEEK ending 20 August 2000

Big Brother: realism, with all four feet firmly on the ground

After the Docu-soap, Reality TV and Big Brother, the series pioneered by Dutch TV company Endemol, now showing in the US and Britain, in a joint venture with Bazal and the Guardian Media Group. Curiously, Reality TV existed as fiction before it was put into reality, by the two Hollywood dystopias, The Truman Show and Ed TV. The title, Big Brother, refers to George Orwell's sinister Stalin-figure in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell warned of a totalitarian society where everyone was observed by Close Circuit Television, a vision that came true in Britain in the nineties, when an exaggerated fear of crime persuaded authorities to introduce CCTV in high streets across the country. (Ironically, the principle losers have been the police, as thousands of cases of brutality have been supported by evidence from CCTV.) Big Brother is made possible by the technology of CCTV, but its real basis is the diminished distinction between public and private space.

Talk shows like Jerry Springer's and the Oprah Winfrey's accelerated the pace of excruciating public confession that was echoed by the President of the United States televised apologies over the Monica Lewinsky affair. The therapeutic idiom of baring all and sharing your pain suggests that confession is good for the soul, while reserve and 'bottling it up' are pathological. Without an inner life, people are buffeted along on the perceptions of others, narcissistically demanding the indulgence of an audience. Reflection and calculation are most definitely out, as Big Brother's 'Nasty Nick' Bateman found out when he was denounced for plotting against his fellow housemates to win the £70 000 prize, while daft Nicola's spontaneous wall murals won the public's heart.

The climax of the UK version of Big Brother came when Nick's housemates plundered his suitcase to find the hidden notes he had made of his strategy to win, in a house-meeting format confrontation (in imitation of another Sci Fi Dystopia, Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451, writing is banned in the Big Brother house). The moral is that private ends are wicked, public sharing is good.

The Big Brother Housemates live in a leisure society nightmare, where all they do is hang together in a house, with only laboratory rat-like tasks to substitute for work. Their individuality is so demeaned by the dependency culture that flirty Mel's only advice to the humiliated Nick is to 'ask Big Brother' what to do. This is Reality TV. There is no script and not much editing. In Lewis Carroll's mythical land the map- making was so comprehensive, that a one-to-one scale map of the entire country was commissioned, so that unfolded it obscured the very thing it was supposed to reveal (in Sylvia and Bruno Concluded). Reality TV looks the same, every boring detail is reproduced, saving the programme makers any responsibility for doing any work themselves. This is not reality, though. Not unless privacy has finally been abolished, and the leisure society made a mind-numbing reality.

Kosovo dead: think of a number...

When the right wing US think tank Stratfor questioned the official UN statistics on the numbers of Kosovars killed by Serbs in the 1999 conflict they were denounced as 'revisionists'. Recent figures show that the UN did indeed systematically exaggerate the numbers, to justify its own aerial bombing campaign. These are the figures:

· David Scheffer US Envoy on War Crimes, 18 May 1999: 225,000 dead.

· William Cohen, US Defence Secretary, May 1999 on 'Face the Nation': 100,000 missing 'and may have been murdered'

· William Cohen, US Defence Secretary, May 1999 on 'Face the Nation': 'we have reports that as many as 4,600 have been executed, but I suspect it far higher than that'

· British foreign office minister Geoff Hoon, June 16: 'According to the reports we have gathered, it appears that around 10,000 people have been killed'

· Civilian Administrator, Bernard Kouchner, 2 August 1999: 11 000 bodies have already been found, citing the Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

· In August 1999 one of the Spanish forensic scientists working on massacre sites told El Pais 'I have been reading the data from the UN. They began with 44 000 deaths. Then they lowered it to 22 000. And now they are going with 11 000. I look forward to seeing what the final count will be.'

· Paul Risely, Hague Tribunal Press Spokesperson, 17 August 2000: 'The final number of bodies uncovered will be less than 10 000 and probably more accurately determined as between two and three thousand'.

· The total number of bodies found is 2788, and according to Risely, foreign exhumation teams will be sent home in October 'they will not be necessary next year'.

By contrast Nato estimated more than 5000 Serb dead and over 10 000 wounded (4 June 1999). Even these figures are suspect, as Nato consistently overestimated military casualties, and underestimated civilian deaths. In June 1999 Major Chuck Wald confirmed Nato's claim that 99.6 per cent of its bombs hit their target. However, Only 40 per cent of the bombs dropped by the Royal Air Force during last year's Kosovo conflict have been confirmed as hitting their targets, according to a UK Ministry of Defence operational analysis reported in Flight International. Only 40 per cent of the Hunting RBL755 anti-personnel cluster bombs hit their targets, the report says. Some 31 per cent of the cluster bombs missed their targets, while 29 per cent cannot be accounted for.

Ten Years Ago: How the Gulf War started

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 was the precursor to a war in which America and her allies killed more than 180 000 Iraqis through bombing, and thousands more through the sustained sanctions campaign since.

The division of Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia was accomplished by British High Commissioner Sir Percy Cox, with a pencil, map and ruler, at a conference in November 1922. British Agent Harry Philby said of the carve-up 'Of course the whole trouble about Kuwait is that it is racially and geographically a part of this country [the Arabian peninsula], though it is artificially separated from it by a political barrier which the British, in their folly want to keep up' (HVF Winstone, Z Freeth, Kuwait, p90).

In the 1930s a Free Kuwait movement, dedicated to uniting Kuwait and Iraq was crushed. The British political agent in Kuwait, Lieutenant- Colonel HRP Dickson wrote in 1933 'residents of Kuwait had to be kept isolated, by force if need be', from contact with other Iraqis (in Ralph Schoenman, 'Iraq and Kuwait: A History Suppressed', unpublished paper). In 1938, the Free Kuwaiti movement established a legislative council, voted for union with Iraq, and rose up, only to be crushed by Britain. In April 1958 the British Foreign Office's AR Walmsely drew up plans to invade Kuwait to prevent the spread of Arab nationalism. Democratic sentiment in Kuwait continued to support union with Iraq until the seventies' oil boom consolidated a tiny minority of Kuwaitis - an electorate of 60 000 males ruling over hundreds of thousands of Yemeni and Palestinian migrant workers - into a 'nation'.

America engineered Iraq's Ba'athist coup of 1963 to stop communist influence, leading to Saddam's accession to power. In 1980 America sent national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to tell Saddam to make war against the radical Islamic regime in Iran (in the course of which Iraq gassed 5000 Kurds at Halabja in 1988). America financed the war with $500 million in credit each year, as well as providing logistical and tactical support.

But the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 led US strategists to cast around for a new bogeyman - even if that meant sacrificing a loyal ally. On 23 November 1988 General Norman Schwarzkopf was appointed head of US Army Central Command, responsible for US Forces in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Schwarzkopf, eager to carry on drawing his salary, was 'confident of Central Command's reason for existence' but worried that 'nobody except a few stubborn hard-liners believed that we'd go to war with the Soviets in the Middle East' (It Doesn't Take a Hero, p286). At the senior generals' conferences Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell 'argued that, because the army could no longer expect to go to war against the Soviets, we should rethink the way we were structured and equipped - before Congress did it for us' (p288). In other words, if they did not invent a new enemy, Congress would cut the budget. Schwarzkopf's operations staff prepared war games 'premised on the Soviets' coming through Iran - the discredited Zagros Mountains scenario'. But Schwarzkopf ordered it junked: 'I was determined that the scenario we'd rehearse that summer would be the one in which the enemy was not the Soviet Union, but Iraq' (Ibid., p.289).

While Schwarzkopf was planning the war against the substitute red menace, Iraq, impoverished by war, was at loggerheads with Kuwait over plans to raise oil-prices. On 25 April, 1990, April Glaspie, US Ambassador to Iraq told Saddam Hussein 'We have no opinion on the Arab- Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait'. In the light of the US' past support for Iraq's wars, Saddam took the bait, and Schwarzkopf got to play his war-game for real, an opportunity to reconstruct the Cold War alliance around a pastiche of Joseph Stalin.

-- James Heartfield

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