In researching a new film, I have been watching documentary archive from the 1980s, the era of Ronald Reagan and his "secret war" against Central America. What is striking is the relentless lying. A department of lying was set up under Reagan with the coy name, "office of public diplomacy". Its purpose was to dispense "white" and "black" propaganda - lies - and to smear journalists who told the truth. Almost everything Reagan himself said on the subject was false. Time and again, he warned Americans of an "imminent threat" from the tiny impoverished nations that occupy the isthmus between the two continents of the western hemisphere. "Central America is too close and its strategic stakes are too high for us to ignore the danger of governments seizing power with military ties to the Soviet Union," he said. Nicaragua was "a Soviet base" and "communism is about to take over the Caribbean". The United States, said the president, "is engaged in a war on terrorism, a war for freedom".
How familiar it all sounds. Merely replace Soviet Union and communism with al-Qaeda, and you are up to date. And it was all a fantasy. The Soviet Union had no bases in or designs on Central America; on the contrary, the Soviets were adamant in turning down appeals for their aid. The comic strips of "missile storage depots" that American officials presented to the United Nations were precursors to the lies told by Colin Powell in his infamous promotion of Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction at the Security Council in 2003.
Whereas Powell's lies paved the way for the invasion of Iraq and the violent death of at least 100,000 people, Reagan's lies disguised his onslaught on Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. By the end of his two terms, 300,000 people were dead. In Guatemala, his proxies - armed and tutored in torture by the CIA - were described by the UN as perpetrators of genocide.
THERE IS ONE MAJOR DIFFERENCE TODAY
That is the level of awareness among people everywhere of the true purpose of Bush and Blair's "war on terror" and the scale and diversity of the popular resistance to it. In Reagan's day, the notion that presidents and prime ministers lied as deliberate, calculated acts was considered exotic; Nixon's Watergate lies were said to be shocking because presidents did not lie outright.
Almost no one believes that any more. In Britain, thanks to Blair, a sea-change in public attitudes has taken place. No less than 80 per cent regard him as a liar; 82 per cent believe his warmongering was a principal cause of the London bombings; 72 per cent believe he has made this country a target. No modern prime minister has been the object of such informed opprobrium. In addition, a majority remain sceptical about the veracity of a "plot" to blow up aircraft flying from Heathrow. The recent, thuggish self-promotion of the Home Secretary (Interior Minister) John Reid is rejected by a clear majority, along with the media-promotion of Treasurer Gordon Brown as the man who brought economic prosperity to Britain while acting as paymaster for various imperial adventures. More than three-quarters of the population believe Brown and Blair have merely made the rich richer (YouGov and Guardian/ICM).
IN MY EXPERIENCE, THIS CRITICAL PUBLIC INTELLIGENCE AND MORAL SENSE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN AHEAD OF THOSE WHO CLAIM TO SPEAK FOR THE PUBLIC.