Harold Pinter died yesterday of cancer at age 78. He was one of the great playwrights of the twentieth century. In his plays, like The Homecoming, The Birthday Party, and Old Times, he caught the ambivalent and restless conflict, the striving for significant personal connection and the intricate by-play of emotion and memory, that lay at the heart of the human dilemma.
Pinter also was one of the great moral voices speaking for human justice and freedom the English-speaking world has seen in recent times. This is most evident in his final testament, his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he received in 2005.
In this speech, Pinter railed against the collapse of morality explicit in the U.S. and British war against Iraq, and in the use of torture that exemplified the prosecution of their bogus “war on terror.” He spoke the truth about the post-war history of the United States, the crimes and support for a myriad of right-wing, barbaric regimes, which “have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all.”
His was a voice for human progress that will be terribly missed.
From his Nobel acceptance speech:
What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days – conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what’s called the ‘international community’. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be ‘the leader of the free world’. 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 blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You’re either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.
The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.
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? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought….
When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre 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.
Pinter’s death is a sad holiday present for us all, unless it be that his words and his message be recalled to mind, and enter the popular consciousness as a trumpet call for civilized justice and an end to militarism and tyranny.
Also posted at Invictus