Harold Pinter 1930-2008: “What happened to our moral sensibility?”

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

8 comments

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    • Valtin on December 26, 2008 at 1:07 am
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    and not a frequent visitor or contributor here. I hope to remedy that. I’ve been working on something big, and hope it will go public before the new year.

    I’m also sorry to post such a downer diary on Christmas Day, but you could look at Harold Pinter’s life and his work and thought as something uplifting, too.

    Art brings us together. And Pinter exemplified the best of that.

    Rest in peace.

  1. Thanks Valtin,

    For this eulogy for Mr. Pinter. I have read his speech three or four times, in the past few years, but never expecting it to be one of his defining works.

    As one so moved by his courage to speak his thoughts, I held him a bit beyond mortality maybe. His words will never die though, & I will visit them again I`m sure.

    If your absence, while being perfectly understandable, is a factor of your

    work in progress, then I think you should take as much time as possible, while acknowledging that Jan 20th is coming up fast, which may lend urgency to your work.

    Meanwhile, please  accept the best holiday season wishes for you & yours.

  2. through Pinter and a sad time for him to leave us.  

    I have felt and do feel the same as Pinter.  

    There’s a tremendous “unsettled” feeling within — with the knowledge that these heinous war crimes may go unaddressed.  I have so often said that if these criminals go off into the sunset with no repercussions for crimes — the highest of crimes, that they will continue to operate in the “shadows” — wealth and power, you know!  But, more than that even, I think, is that it may very well be the end of what we know as America (unfortunately, what we have known has been pretty wrong right down the line — we’ve never been a good or nice country).  But a country founded on a Constitution and a so-called system of democracy is likely to find it’s demise — not addressing these highest level criminals is a form of condonation setting the impetus for the America to be.  It, of course, represents a severing of what we were or purported to be.

    If a man sells his soul once, he usually will sell it again — then, again, and again, until whatever “self” he may have had becomes lost and there is little hope for a return to “self.”   I look at it on the larger scale.

    Listening to music, doing pleasurable things like cooking, etc. help a lot.

    I, too, look forward to your next!

    Good wishes of the holiday season!  

    • kj on December 28, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Guardian Tributes to Pinter scanning these as time allows.

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