Part two of the 2005 Nobel Prize acceptance speech of the acclaimed British playwright, poet, actor, and activist Harold Pinter. He died last week at the age of seventy-eight. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn to the end of the speech of, well, the British playwright, acclaimed poet, actor and activist, Harold Pinter. We played a portion of it yesterday. The response was tremendous. And so, today we thought we’d play the end of the speech. He died on Christmas Eve. This is the speech that he gave called “Art, Truth, and Politics” that he delivered when he received the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature. He was too sick to go to Stockholm, and so this was the video address that was broadcast the night of the prize.
HAROLD PINTER: 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 East.”
How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? 100,000? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore, it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore, if any American soldier or, for that matter, politician finds himself in the dock, Bush has warned that he will send in the Marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address, if they’re interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.
Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don’t exist. They are blank. They’re not even recorded as being dead. “We don’t do body counts,” said the American general Tommy Franks.
Early in the invasion, there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. “A grateful child,” said the caption. A few days later, there was a story and photograph on an inside page of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. “When do I get my arms back?” he asked. This story was never referred to again. Well, Tony Blair wasn’t holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you’re making a sincere speech on television.
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.
Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, “I’m Explaining a Few Things”:
And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.
Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.
Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.
And you will ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.
Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!
Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda’s poem, I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I quote Neruda, because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.
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.
The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honorable exception of Sweden, of course. We don’t quite know how they got there, but they are there all right.
The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. 2,000 are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched with fifteen minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity, the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons, is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.
Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government’s actions, but as things stand, they are not a coherent political force — yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear, which we can see growing daily in the United States, is unlikely to diminish.
I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers, but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address, which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man’s man.
“God is good. God is great. God is good. My god is good. Bin Laden’s god is bad. His is a bad god. Saddam’s god was bad, except he didn’t have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don’t chop people’s heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don’t you forget it.”
A writer’s life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don’t have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection, unless you lie, in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.
I have referred to death quite a few times in this speech. I shall now quote a poem of my own called “Death.”
Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?
Who was the dead body?
Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?
Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?
Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?
What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?
Did you wash the dead body?
Did you close both its eyes?
Did you bury the body?
Did you leave it abandoned?
Did you kiss the dead body?
When we look into a mirror, we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimeter, and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror, for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.
I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.
If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision, we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us: the dignity of man.
AMY GOODMAN: British playwright, poet, author, Harold Pinter. He died on Christmas Eve. That was an excerpt of his Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance address three years ago. He sent it by video. He was too ill to go to Stockholm.