Web of Deceit

By Mark Curtis (Vintage)

Reviewed by Richie Hunter

"The most remarkable thing about the world post September 11th is how similar it looks to the one before; little has changed, traditional Western policies have simply been reinforced". This is a Mark Curtis quote from his book, deeply researched using official documents, many of which have been secret up until now. He catalogues the murderous interventions of successive British Governments, from 1945 up to the present, into countries who want to manage their own affairs. He shows how systematic lying and deceit by officials has covered up atrocities, with the complicity of the mainstream media.

As you read this book, with page upon page describing British intrigue and connivance in the overthrow of popular governments, and atrocities committed in our name, a sense of revulsion and anger builds towards those with the power to change policy, and their subservience to the unelected ruling elites of the World Bank and trans-national corporations.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is an example. Following independence in 1960, Britain backed Belgium and the US in their desire to eliminate Patrice Lumumba, the Prime Minister, because he posed a threat to British interests. In 1961, after Lumumba was murdered, the US installed their own man. The country was ruled for 37 years by this bloody dictator, Mobutu.

Recently, over three million people have died in a war fuelled by the West’s lust for minerals - mainly Coltan - a vital element in the manufacture of mobile phones and laptop computers, but of little use to local people. News reports on the TV and in the mainstream press mostly portray the DRC as a country torn apart by tribal wars, and ignore Britain’s role in this terror.

The Socialist Outlook of May Day 1952 carried this picture under the headline “Unity with the Colonial Peoples!”Curtis exposes how British companies have sold arms to all the sides pillaging the country: Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola (fighting with the DRC regime), Uganda and Rwanda (fighting against). Uganda and Angola - on opposing sides in the war - were both invited to a major arms exhibition in September 2001, and Zimbabwe was still being supplied with Hawk jets and military training depite indiscriminately bombing the country in August 1998. Mugabe’s appalling human rights record did not affect British policy during this period. It only became an issue when Mugabe threatened white farmers with forcible expulsion from their land. So much for Blair’s pledge to the Labour Party conference in October 2001 to help heal a ’scar on the conscience of the world’ when talking about poverty and conflict in Africa.

This is not an isolated case. Britain sold arms to both Iran and Iraq during their war in the eighties; they currently arm both Greece and Turkey, countries in conflict over Cyprus; to China and Taiwan; to Lebanon and Israel…. the list goes on.

The public face of New Labour, with its so-called ‘moral arguments’ and ‘respect for human rights’, is shown in sharp contrast to its underhand private deals, making millions for commercial interests at the expense of local communities.

Government policy has always been to get the best deal for British companies while turning a ‘blind eye’ to atrocities committed by our ‘friends’. And if a government is democratically elected it doesn’t matter. In 1953 British Guiana’s (now Guyana) newly elected government was overthrown by the British for trying to improve ‘dreadful housing and social conditions’.

How sick is a government that publicly calls for two countries on the point of war to calm down, whilst behind the scenes lobbying for arms sales (as Blair did in India and Pakistan)? How hypocritical is it to bomb a country ‘for humanitarian reasons’, as in Yugoslavia, and then only mildly protest while atrocities on an even bigger scale are committed in Chechnya by Russia.

Curtis reminds us of some of Britain’s past interventions where people were striving for freedom; he calls them ‘unpeople’ because their lives don’t count for anything. He describes Malaya in 1948, where Britain declared an ‘emergency’ and then began a twelve year war to defeat rebels. Britain secretly described this war as ’in defence of [the] rubber industry’ and engaged in widespread bombing, draconian police measures and the ‘resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people in fortified ‘new villages’.

Taken from the Socialist Outlook 13 March 1953Or Kenya in 1952, where British forces conducted human rights atrocities, established Nazi-style concentration camps and ‘resettled’ hundreds of thousands of people in ‘protected villages’.

He tells of Britain’s illegal and secret removal of the 1,500 population of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, including Diego Garcia, following agreement to lease the islands to the US for use as an air base.

And of Rwanda in 1994 - of the genocide that claimed the lives of a million people. Britain effectively aided this slaughter by helping to reduce the UN force that could have prevented it, and in helping to delay other plans for intervention.

In the final chapter, Curtis claims that the Britain should “change policy and be on the side of democratic forces supporting ordinary peoples’ struggles for justice and rights”. He calls for massive public pressure through democratic organizations. He is right that people should unite and it is essential to build networks and survival mechanisms. But does Curtis believe ruling elites will give up power peacefully that if enough pressure is applied? Because this is to deny the history he illustrates on previous pages, and he leaves this important question hanging.

Nevertheless, this is a powerful book, and Curtis’s has performed a great service with his painstaking research. Buy it at News from Nowhere, on Bold Street.