'When Noam Chomsky first observed that the United States had attacked South Vietnam, he was upending a particularly tedious case of media conformism from that era, namely that the West was fighting Communists in the North to defend Saigon. However, the young professor was spectacularly right. By the end of the war, two thirds of US bombs – twice the total tonnage detonated in the Second World War – had fallen on the South.
The leading military historian Bernard Fall – who believed in the US presence there – said at the time that 'Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity… is threatened with extinction… [as] the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size.' Yet, as Chomsky argued, mainstream media opinion saw US actions in Vietnam either 'as a “noble cause” that could have been won with more dedication,' or, on the other side of the political spectrum, the critics spoke of '“a mistake” that proved too costly'.
The war consumed everything like a vortex: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, even Bernard Fall himself was killed by a landmine.
Similarly, when Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, Chomsky and his co-author, Edward S Herman, cut lonely figures in observing that the attack had even happened. Aerial bombing, mass executions and enforced famine claimed 200,000 lives, but the occupation received almost
We found that reporting on East Timor in Canadian papers like The Globe and Mail declined after the invasion and virtually flatlined as the atrocities reached their peak in 1978. Two decades on, Elaine Brière’s documentary Bitter Paradise: The Sell-Out of East Timor (1996) told the story but was itself bought – and then buried – by a major Canadian outlet.
The other exception was John Pilger’s Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy (1994), which was broadcast in Britain by ITV. Pilger, director David Munro and journalist Christopher Wenner had entered Timor posing as representatives of a travel firm and the film exposed Western complicity in what most analysts consider genocide.
Pilger cited former CIA officer C Philip Liechty, who was stationed in Jakarta, saying that Indonesian president Suharto 'was given the green light [by the US] to do what he did. We supplied them with everything they needed [from] M16 rifles [to] US military logistical support.... When the atrocities began to appear in the CIA reporting, the way they dealt with these was to cover them up as long as possible.’'
Read more: How the Western media support state terror – while millions die
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