In response to:

A Dissent on 'Schindler's List' from the April 21, 1994 issue

To the Editors:

Jason Epstein’s objections to the film of Schindler’s List are persuasive. He refers to the “misplaced emphasis” of the endeavour and this does seem to me to be a serious critical perception. He says: “For this repeated indifference to our stated values our culture has paid a huge price in the form of lost confidence”—and points us to the true facts; the range of mass murder inspired by Hitler, Stalin and Mao. However, there is one notable omission in his account of moral and political turpitude in the twentieth century and that I suggest is the United States of America.

Of course the US has not itself indulged in systematic massacre (leaving aside of course the bombings of Laos and Cambodia and more recently Iraq) but it has made its contempt for international law perfectly clear. This was exemplified in 1986 when the International Court of Justice at the Hague found the US in breach of its obligations under international law in the case concerning military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua. It demanded that the US refrain from all such acts and make reparation for all injury caused. The US dismissed this judgement, declaring, crisply, that its actions were outside the jurisdiction of the International Court.

Neither has the United States tended towards direct acts of intervention (with obvious exceptions such as the invasions of the Dominican Republic, Grenada and Panama) but since 1945 the death of hundreds upon hundreds of thousands—which very swiftly becomes millions—of people in Indonesia; Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, El Salvador, Angola, The Philippines, Turkey, Haiti, East Timor, can be laid squarely at its door. The dirty work is normally done by the locals, of course, but the money, the resources, the equipment (all kinds), the advice, the information, the moral support, as it were, has come from successive US administrations.

Of course there is a difference. Hitler, Stalin and Mao, in one way or another, intended the death of millions. The US has, I suggest, accepted that the death of millions is inevitable if its “national interests” are to be protected—in other words, if its power is to be maintained.

In 1954 in Guatemala and in 1965 in Indonesia the US Embassies “fingered” those to be killed and recorded those deaths as efficiently as the Nazis. Where, I wonder, is the “moral” distinction between killing and “fingering” those to be killed? I can’t see that it exists myself.

The great difference between the ruthless foreign policy of the United States and other equally ruthless policies is that US propaganda is infinitely cleverer and the Western media wonderfully compliant. The responsibility for the countless atrocities committed in the name of “democracy” is perhaps something which Mr. Epstein might also consider.

Harold Pinter
London, England

This Issue

June 9, 1994