The New Rulers of the World, Introduction, by John Pilger

The New Rulers of the World

written by

John Pilger

Published in 2002 by Verso Books
ISBN 1-85984-393-X

For Denis Halliday, Hans Von Sponeck, Felicity Arbuthnot, the late Charlie Perkins,
Daniel Indra Kusuma, Dita Sari and others too numerous to mention, whose actions have given us power


When American Vice-President Dick Cheney said that the "war on terrorism" could last for fifty years or more, his words evoked George Orwell's great prophetic work, Nineteen Eighty-Four. We are to live with the threat and illusion of endless war, it seems, in order to justify increased social control and state repression, while great power pursues its goal of global supremacy. Washington is transformed into "chief city of Airstrip One" and every problem is blamed on the "enemy," the evil Goldstein, as Orwell called him.1 He could be Osama bin Laden, or his successors, the "axis of evil."

In the novel, three slogans dominate society: war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. Today's slogan, "war on terrorism," also reverses meaning. The war is terrorism. The most potent weapon in this "war" is pseudo-information, different only in form from that Orwell described, consigning to oblivion unacceptable truths and historical sense. Dissent is permissible within "consensual" boundaries, reinforcing the illusion that information and speech are "free."

The attacks of September 11, 2001 did not "change everything," but accelerated the continuity of events, providing an extraordinary pretext for destroying social democracy. The undermining of the Bill of Rights in the United States and the further dismantling of trial by jury in Britain and a plethora of related civil liberties are part of the reduction of democracy to electoral ritual: that is, competition between indistinguishable parties for the management of a single-ideology state.

Central to the growth of this "business state" are the media conglomerates, which have unprecedented power, owning press and television, book publishing, film production and databases. They provide a virtual world of the "eternal present," as Time magazine called it: politics by media, war by media, justice by media, even grief by media (Princess Diana).

The "global economy" is their most important media enterprise. "Global economy" is a modern Orwellian term. On the surface, it is instant financial trading, mobile phones, McDonald's, Starbucks, holidays booked on the net. Beneath this gloss, it is the globalisation of poverty, a world where most human beings never make a phone call and live on less than two dollars a day, where 6,000 children die every day from diarrhoea because most have no access to clean water.2

In this world, unseen by most of us in the global north, a sophisticated system of plunder has forced more than ninety countries into "structural adjustment" programmes since the eighties, widening the divide between rich and poor as never before. This is known as "nation building" and "good governance" by the "quad" dominating the World Trade Organisation (the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan) and the Washington triumvirate (the World Bank, the IMF and the U.S. Treasury) that controls even minute aspects of government policy in developing countries. Their power derives largely from an unrepayable debt that forces the poorest countries to pay $100 million to western creditors every day. The result is a world where an elite of fewer than a billion people controls 80 per cent of humanity's wealth.

Promoting this are the transnational media corporations, American and European, that own or manage the world's principal sources of news and information. They have transformed much of the "information society" into a media age where extraordinary technology allows the incessant repetition of politically "safe" information that is acceptable to the "nation builders." In the West, we are trained to view other societies in terms of their usefulness or threat to "us" and to regard "cultural" differences as more important than the political and economic forces by which we judge ourselves. Those with unprecedented resources to understand this, including many who teach and research in the great universities, suppress their knowledge publicly; perhaps never before has there been such a silence.

The New Rulers of the World sets out to explain something of this new "order" and the importance of breaking the silence that protects great power and its manipulations, notably the current "war." There are four essays, beginning with "The Model Pupil." This is the story of how the "global economy" in Asia was spawned in the bloodbath that brought General Suharto to power in Indonesia in 1965-66. It draws on recently released documents that describe a remarkable meeting in 1967 of the world's most powerful corporate figures, at which they carved up the Indonesian economy, sector by sector.

"This was done in the most spectacular way," Jeffrey Winters, professor at Northwestern University, Chicago, told me. "They divided up into five different sections: mining in one room, services in another, light industry in another, banking and finance in another. ... You had these big corporate people going around the table, saying [to Suharto's people] this is what we need: this, this and this, and they basically designed the legal infrastructure for investment in Indonesia."3

As a result, a mountain of copper and gold, nickel and bauxite, was handed out to American transnational companies. A group of American, Japanese and French companies got the tropical forests of Sumatra; and so on. I asked one of Suharto's representatives at the 1967 meeting, Emil Salim, if anyone had mentioned that up to a million people had died violently in bringing the new "global economy" to Indonesia. "No, that was not on the agenda," he replied. "We didn't have television then."4

The greatest massacre of the second half of the twentieth century was not so much news as cause for celebration. The world's fourth most populous country was "ours." Suharto's ascendancy was "the West's best news in years." James Reston, the doyen of American columnists, told readers of the New York Times that the bloody events in Indonesia were "a gleam of light in Asia."5

In our universities, Indonesian scholars approved Suharto's big lie about a "communist coup" being the cause of the killings, while western corporations anointed his regime's "stability." The silence lasted more than a quarter of a century, until it was broken by the cries of Suharto's victims in East Timor: a second genocide conducted with western military backing.

This chapter draws on my documentary film, The New Rulers of the World, broadcast in 2001, from which this book's title is taken. "New" needs qualifying. The narrative that links all four chapters is the legacy of the "old" imperialism and its return to respectability as "globalisation" and the "war on terrorism." The "new rulers" are sometimes misunderstood to be the great transnational corporations, mostly American, that dominate "world trade." Certainly, their enormity and scale of operations are new, with the Ford Motor Company now bigger than the economy of South Africa and General Motors wealthier than Denmark.

However, the widely held belief among anti-globalisation campaigners that the state has "withered away" is misguided, along with the view that transnational corporate power has replaced the state and, by extension, imperialism. As the Russian dissident economist Boris Kagarlitsky points out, "Globalisation does not mean the impotence of the state, but the rejection by the state of its social functions, in favour of repressive ones, and the ending of democratic freedoms."6

The chapter "The Great Game" seeks to illuminate the ways in which this disguised state power provides the conditions and privileges that protect western markets while allowing western corporations to intervene where they like in the world, as they did in Indonesia. Today, the imperial state's enduring power is both as "hidden hand" and iron fist of rampant capital.

The capacity of the American military machine to smash impoverished countries is undisputed, conditional on the absence of American ground troops and their substitution by local or allied forces. The exception was Vietnam. Regardless of their B-52 bombers, napalm, chemical defoliants and weight of numbers, American troops could not match the knowledge and tenacity of a people prepared to see off an invader. This was their imperial lesson.

Thus, in Afghanistan, to date only a handful of Americans have been killed. Mujaheddin commanders reported B-52s destroying villages "too small to be marked on any map," with "perhaps more than 300 people killed" in one night. In a family of forty, only a small boy and his grandmother survived, reported Richard Lloyd Parry of the Independent.7 Out of sight of the television cameras, "at least 3,767 civilians were killed by U.S. bombs between October 7 and December 10. average of sixty-two innocent deaths a day," according to one study; and this in a country whose last annual budget--$83 million--was one-tenth the cost of a 8-52 bomber.8

This has been reported in the supporting media as a "vindication," a triumph of ideas, of good over evil, with editorialists and the usual windbag columnists calling for apologies from those who defied the propaganda. At the time of writing, not a single member of the al-Qa'ida leadership, including the Chief Demon bin Laden, has been captured or, to anyone's knowledge, killed. Neither has the Secondary Demon Mullah Omah, leader of the Taliban, been sprung. Indeed, none of those directly implicated in the September 11 attack on America was Afghan; most were Saudis, trained in Germany and the United States, and none has been brought to justice; yet thousands of innocent people in dusty, unseen villages have been subjected to capital punishment without trial, Texas-style, and many more will be maimed over the years by tens of thousands of unexploded cluster bombs.

Moreover, the change in Afghanistan itself is minimal. Women still dare not go unveiled, and warring feudalism reigns. "The Taliban used to hang the victim's body in public for four days," said the new, American-installed regime's Minister of Justice. "We will only hang the body for a short time, say fifteen minutes, after a public execution."9

Describing this as a triumph is like lauding the superiority of the German war machine as a vindication of Nazism.

In the media age, ignorance is strength and omission standard practice. Mere examination of the root causes of September 11 invites smear. David McKnight, an Australian journalist and academic, wrote that "people like John Pilger and Noam Chomsky appear to absolve the [September 11] perpetrators of their crime."10 I had written in The Guardian: "The truth [about September 11] is that the killing of thousands of innocent people is not justified in America, or anywhere else."11 To McKnight and those he echoes, the killing of thousands of innocents in Afghanistan is "the global equivalent of police raiding the hide-out of the criminal," involving " violent confrontation that is sometimes unavoidable in apprehending criminals."

That Afghan peasants have the same right to life as New Yorkers is unmentionable, a profanity. The murderous demolition of their villages, with not a Taliban or al-Qa'ida fighter in sight, is "unavoidable." In other words, certain human lives have greater worth than others and the killing of only one set of civilians is a crime. The terrorists of Osama bin Laden and George W Bush are sustained by this ancient lie.

They are also joined by history. The CIA's "Operation Cyclone" trained and armed at least 35,000 zealots who became the Taliban and al-Qa'ida.12 As John Cooley writes in his definitive Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, "Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Government supported the [American-funded] jihad with full enthusiasm," much of it coordinated by an MI6 officer in Islamabad. Osama bin Laden was given "full rein."13 The cost to the American tax-payer was $4 billion. Rescuing these facts ought to be the job of journalists and scholars, but this has not happened.

At the height of the bombing of Afghanistan, the Observer paid tribute to its great publisher and editor, David Astor, who had died. In opposing the British attack on Suez in 1956, Astor, said the paper, "took the Government to task for its bullying and in so doing defined the Observer as a freethinking paper prepared to swim against the tide of popular sentiment." Astor had described "an endeavour to reimpose nineteenth-century imperialism of the crudest kind." He wrote: "Nations are said to have the governments they deserve. Let us show that we deserve better." The Observer commented that "the richness of the language and relevance of the sentiments resonate today."14 The words were almost surreal, the irony exquisite. The Observer supported the Blair Government's "endeavour" in Afghanistan.

This book continues a strand in my earlier books, Heroes, Distant Voices and Hidden Agendas, which compared the actions of politicians in western democracies with those of criminal tyrants. In cause and effect, the crucial difference is distance from the carnage, and the dissemination of an insidious propaganda that says a crime is not a crime if "we" commit it. It was not a crime to murder more than half a million peasants with bombs dropped secretly and illegally on Cambodia, igniting an Asian holocaust. It was not a crime for Bill Clinton and George W Bush, Tony Blair and his Tory predecessors to have caused the deaths in Iraq of "more people than have been killed by all weapons of mass destruction in history," to quote the conclusion of an American study.15

Their medieval blockade against twenty-two million people, now in its twelfth year, is the subject of the chapter "Paying the Price." The facts are not in dispute, though rarely published. A report by the United Nations Secretary-General in October 2001 says that the obstruction of $4 billion of humanitarian supplies by the U.S. and British governments is by far the main cause of the extreme suffering and deaths in Iraq. The United-Nations Children's Fund, Unicef, says that every month up to 6,000 children die mostly as a result of the blockade.16 This is twice the total number of deaths in the Twin Towers and another vivid reminder of the different value of different lives. The Twin Towers victims are people. The Iraqi children are unpeople.

At the time of writing, Iraq is likely to be attacked by the U.S. Using sections of the American and British press as "conduits," American intelligence has successfully created what the CIA in Indochina used to call a "master illusion." This is the threat of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction." There is no proof or credible evidence of any such threat, which has been denied by the former United Nations inspector in Iraq, Scott Ritter.17

However, the Iraqi "threat" is central to the Bush administration's post-September 11 strategy of "total war." Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's instructions to the Pentagon to "think the unthinkable" may well cause non-Americans, at least, to worry that the world's only superpower has been taken over by fundamentalists whose fanaticism promises human carnage on a scale that makes amateurs of the Taliban.18

In Washington, the "oil group" under George W Bush and Vice-President Cheney (George Bush Senior, like Cheney and others in his Cabinet, was a consultant to the Carlyle Group, which advised the bin Laden family) is increasingly influenced by the Defense Policy Board (DPB), a semi-official panel that advises Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. Known in Washington as the "Wolfowitz cabal," the group draws together the extreme right of American political life and is responsible for the inspiration behind the "war on terrorism," principally a concept of "total war."

One of the group's "thinkers," Richard Perle, a cold war planner in the Reagan administration, offered this explanation. "No stages," he said. "This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq, then we take a look around and see how things stand. This is entirely the wrong way to go about it. ..If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war...our children will sing great songs about us years from now."19

The pursuit of the criminals of September 11 is not enough. "Terrorism" demands endless war. A replacement for the "red scare" has at last been found, justifying a permanent war footing and paranoia, and construction of the greatest military machine ever: the "National Defense Missile Programme." This, says the U.S. Space Command, will ensure the "full spectrum dominance" of the world.20

This means complete military mastery, which is likened in Pentagon literature to the European navies' dominance of both the northern and eastern hemispheres in the nineteenth century. It does not end there. These words are already applied in other areas, notably the control of all economic life, the composition, or "internal wiring," as the New York Times put it, of foreign governments and the redefinition of dissent as an "international security concern."

This is expressed more openly and crudely than ever before, notably by a select group of literate oafs in the American press. In an article entitled "Unilateralism is the key to our success," Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post described the world in the next fifty years as one without protection against nuclear attack or environmental damage for the citizens of any country except the United States; a world where "democracy" means nothing if its benefits are at odds with American "interests"; a world in which to express dissent against these "interests" brands one a terrorist and justifies surveillance, repression and death.21 As Drew Whitworth pointed out, these beliefs are indistinguishable from those of Osama bin Laden, "carried forward by a few men without a mandate."22

There is an echo of the "Thousand Year Reich" about this, first promoted in an American context by Henry Luce's bellicose proclamation, in 1941 in Time, of an "American Century." In the United States, academic-populists once again dispense a Reader's Digest view of the world, such as Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilisations and, more recently, Victor Davis Hanson's Why the West Has Won, with its call to "civic militarism."23 In none of these texts, which emphasise "cultural" supremacy, is there recognition that the imperialist imperatives of the American Century have undermined the greatest western achievement, that of secular, redistributive politics, and allowed the maelstrom stemming from American violence, along with introspective, revengeful religion, to fill the gaps.

This book argues that we urgently need antidotes to a propaganda that beckons dangers no less than those of the cold war.

We need an awareness of lethal double standards: that "international law" and "international community" are often merely the preserves of great power, not the expression of the majority. The United States can mount a posse (known as a "coalition") to attack countries, while the numerous UN General Assembly resolutions calling for justice in Palestine are not worth the paper they are written on. We also need to examine the common use of "we" and its appropriation by great power. If "we" are to fight terrorism, then "we" must call on the United States to end its terror in the Middle East, Colombia and elsewhere. Only then can "we" make the world a safer place.

The final chapter, "The Chosen Ones," which contrasts Olympian imagery with the reality of indigenous lives in my own country, Australia, follows on from and borrows from my 1989 book, A Secret Country, and my 1999 film, Welcome to Australia. I have been writing about and filming the struggle of the Aboriginal people for more than thirty years; and I am still moved and shocked by the unresolved apartheid behind the picture postcard of Australia.

A universal breaking of silence is exemplified in the Aboriginal struggle. The reawakening among many Aborigines, in politics, the law and the arts especially, is the achievement of some of the most tenacious and courageous activists anywhere. They are Renaissance men and women, who face one of the most intransigent and meanest political establishments. Sometimes, emerging from yet another meeting with nodding politicians, they lose heart; and, like so many of their young people, die by their own hand. Rob Riley, a courageous indigenous leader, was one who died this way.

One of my oldest friends, Charlie Perkins, Australia's Martin Luther King, lived past the age of sixty, an amazing achievement for one whose people more often than not die in their thirties and forties. It was Charlie who led the "freedom rides" of the sixties into Australia's equivalent of the American Deep South, chaining himself to the turnstiles of swimming pools that refused to admit black children. His last, long interview with me is published here.

On our first visit to Alice Springs together, in 1969, Charlie's mother, Hetti, who was a queen of the Arrente people, suggested we gain entry to an Aboriginal "reserve," a concentration camp in the bush, by revving the car and ramming the gate, which we did. This book is a tribute to those, like Charlie and Hetti, whose actions shame the silent and defy the myth of apathy.

They represent worldwide movements of people with little: in India the 300,000-strong, all-female Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA); in Brazil the Landless People's Movement; in Mexico the Zapatistas. Their victories, usually unrecognised in the West, are often epic. In Bolivia's third city, Cochabamba, ordinary people took back their water from a corporate conglomerate, after the World Bank had pressurised the Bolivian government into privatising the public water supply. Having refused credit to the public water company, the bank demanded that a monopoly be given to Aguas del Tunari, part of International Water Limited, a British-based company half-owned by the American engineering giant Bechtel.

Granted a forty-year concession, the company immediately raised the price of water. In a country where the minimum wage is less than $100 a month, people faced increases in their water bills of $20 a month--more than water users pay each month in the wealthy suburbs of Washington, home to many World Bank economists. In Cochabamba, even collecting rainwater without a permit was now illegal.

So they organised; young and old, activists and those who, as Marcela Lopez Levy wrote, had previously been "too busy surviving to get involved." She spoke to Marcelo Rojas, who became one of the leaders. "I had never taken an interest in politics before," he said. "My father is a politician, and I thought it was all about cutting deals. But to see people fighting for their water, their rights, made me realise there was a common good to defend, that the country can't be left in the hands of the politicians." He was arrested and tortured by the police, as were many young people who built barricades and protected the old when the authorities attacked. They took over their city and they won. The government tore up the contract, and the company cleared its desks.24

Epic victories of that kind, all over the world, are not part of the media agenda. Argentina is reported as chaos, not as a struggle with connections to our own lives. The struggle of journalists in Turkey for a free press, of trade unionists in Colombia and the new "tiger" unions in East Asia are little known in the West. In Indonesia, the IMF may have delivered an expedient coup de grace to the genocidist Suharto, but it was extraordinarily brave people, like Dita Sari and Daniel Indra Kusuma, to whom this book is dedicated, who broke the long silence and faced guns and armoured vehicles supplied by the dictator's friends, notably the British government.

In South Africa, it was young people, like those at Soweto in 1976, who faced the "Hippos," the hideous armoured vehicles from which the police killed and wounded indiscriminately. Study Paul Weinberg's historic photograph of a lone woman standing defiant between two of these monsters, as they rolled into her township; her arms are raised, her fists are clenched. The negotiators played a part, but it was those like her who defeated apartheid.25

The list is endless and a source of optimism in these politically surreal times. Contrary to myth, people are seldom compliant. In a survey of thirty countries, Gallup found that the majority opposed the bombing of Afghanistan and military violence as a means of bringing terrorists to justice.26 For all the propaganda of "news," the attempts to turn state murder into a morality play, people remain sceptical, at least. There is a critical public intelligence, which journalists would do well to respect. That the real terror is poverty, from which some 24,000 people die every day, is beyond public dispute.27

Following September 11, Robin Theurkauf, a lecturer in international law at Yale University, wrote, "Terrorist impulses ferment in poverty, oppression and ignorance. The elimination of these conditions and the active promotion of a universal respect for human rights must become a priority."

She lost her husband, Tom, in the Twin Towers.28

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About the Author

John Pilger, an Australian, has twice won British journalism's highest award, that of Journalist of the Year, for his work all over the world, especially as a war correspondent. For his documentary film-making, he has won France's Reporter sans Frontières, an American television Academy Award, an "Emmy," and the Richard Dimbleby Award, given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, for a lifetime's factual broadcasting. He lives in London.


1. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, London: Secker & Warburg, 1949.

2. United Nations Development Report figures, cited in The Guardian, October 22, 2001.

3. Interviewed by the author, Washington, January 2001.

4. Interviewed by the author, Jakarta, November 2000.

5. New York Times, June 19, 1966.

6. Boris Kagarlitsky, "Facing the Crisis," Links, no.19, September-December 2001.

7. Independent on Sunday, December 9, 2001.

8. Marc Herold, University of New Hampshire, cited by Seumas Milne in The Guardian, December 20, 2001.

9. Socialist Worker, January 19, 2002.

10. Sydney Morning Herald, December 29, 2001.

11. The Guardian, September 21, 2001.

12. Independent, November 1, 1998; David Holmes and Norm Dixon, Behind the US War in Afahanistan, Sydney: Resistance Books, 2001, pp. 47-52.

13. John K Cooley, Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, London: Pluto Press, 2001.

14. Observer, December 9, 2001. David Astor's editorial appeared on November 4, 1956.

15. John Mueller and Karl Mueller, "The Methodology of Mass Destruction: Assessing Threats in a New World Order," The Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 23, no.1, 2000, pp. 163-87.

16. United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and the Government of Iraq, Child and Maternal Mortality Survey 1999: Preliminary Report, 1999.

17. Interviewed by the author, New York, December 1999.

18. The Guardian, November 29, 2001.

19. Green Left Weekly, December 12, 2001.

20. United States Space Command, Vision for 2020, Director of Plans, Petersen AFB, Colorado;

21. Cited in Guardian Weekly, January 3-9, 2002.

22. Ibid.

23. Samuel P Huntington, The Clash of Civilisations, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996; Victor Davis Hanson, Why the West Has Won: Carnage and Culture from Salamis to Vietnam, London: Faber & Faber, 2001.

24. Marcela Lopez Levy, "The damn water is ours!", New Internationalist, September 2001.

25. Beyond the Barricades, photographs selected by Omar Badsha, Gideon Mendel and Paul Weinberg, London: Kliptown Books, 1989, p. 71.

26. Gallup International, London, October 2001;

27. UN estimate of deaths from hunger, cited in The Guardian, October 22, 2001.

28. Robin Theurkauf, "Are we at war?" The Friend, September 28, 2001.

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