Before the Nobel Prize for literature was announced last Thursday, the name Harold Pinter did not rate a mention on any shortlist of likely contenders. No minor figure in Britain’s literary world, the septuagenarian Pinter had nevertheless abandoned serious writing decades ago, devoting his talents to his lifelong affair with radical left-wing politics. As it happened, that was more than sufficient for the Swedish Academy, the body of scholars and critics tasked with awarding the prize each October, which long ago dispensed with the pretence that it was recognizing anything other than the proper (read: leftist) political dispensation.
In this respect, at least, Pinter is eminently qualified. Pinter’s political activism can be traced to the early 1970s, when the playwright, then a rising star in London’s literary firmament, emerged as a prominent backer of Chile’s socialist president Salvador Allende. After Allende was overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet 1973, Pinter read an account of the coup that convinced him the United States was to blame. Pinter “knew” the coup was engineered by the CIA, and the conviction, though false, set him on his lifelong course of anti-American politics. That did not go unrecognized last week. In paying tribute to Pinter’s attention to “threat and injustice,” and hailing him “a fighter for human rights,” the academy made certain to point out his efforts since 1973.
In the following decades, as the quality of his literary work depreciated, Pinter’s enthusiasm for leftist dictatorships continued undiminished. The late seventies and early eighties saw him take up the cause of Central America’s Communist Sandinistas. In 1979, the playwright traveled to Nicaragua, meeting with President Daniel Ortega on several occasions and acting as a propaganda tool for that regime. Pinter’s propaganda efforts in the 1980s, including dozens of salutatory articles on Communist activities, were designed to counter American policy in Central America, which he parodied as, “Kiss my arse or I’ll kick your head in.” To this day, Pinter has resisted coming to grips with the totalitarian nature of the Sandinista regime and the numerous atrocities it carried out. Still parroting Marxist spin doctors, Pinter contends that the Sandinistas were “a democratically elected government which originally led a popular revolution to overthrow a dictatorship based on slavery.”
Much of Pinter’s political energy over the years has been expended on behalf of Marxist Cuba. An unswerving believer in the Cuban revolution, Pinter has praised its “respect for human dignity,” claiming, “[i]ts achievements are remarkable.” Firmly in the Castro camp, Pinter is also an active member of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, a radical organization committed to portraying Cuba, against all evidence, as a democratic country. Proclaiming itself a champion of the “defense of Cuba and its peoples' right to self-determination and national sovereignty,” the group holds the American “Cold War” responsible for the repressive regime and campaigns for the repeal of the U.S. embargo. In this, it fully represents Pinter’s view. In 1996, for instance, Pinter sought to excuse the brutality of the Cuban government and its persecution of political dissidents as the ineluctable coefficient of an American-made “siege situation.” More recently, in March of this year, Pinter joined Rigoberta Menchu, a Marxist fraud and a Nobel laureate in her own right, in signing an appeal on behalf of the Castro regime. Among its more grotesque evasions was the following endorsement of the Cuban police state: “There has not been a single case of disappearance, torture or extra judicial execution (in Cuba) since 1959,” wrote the signatories.
Still another thug who has enjoyed Pinter’s favor is Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Even as he has mouthed platitudes about international justice, Pinter has stated his confidence that the arrest of Milosevic “by the international criminal tribunal is unconstitutional, and goes against Yugoslav and international law. They have no right to try him.” Furthermore, in Pinter’s estimation, Milosevic was wholly blameless for the violence that tore apart the Balkans during the 1990s. As for the ethnic cleansing campaigns carried out by Serbian paramilitaries, they were, in Pinter’s rendition, ordered by errant subordinates. To publicize this dubious defense of the deposed dictator, Pinter has teamed up with a disparate coalition of radical leftists and Serbian sympathizers known as the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic.
If the defining feature of Pinter’s literary writings is menacingly dark atmospherics, the hallmark of his political commentary is seething anti-Americanism. Indeed, it is only a slight exaggeration to say that Pinter, whose obsession with the United States borders on the pathological, has blamed America for nearly every act of mass murder in the past three decades. Cataloguing the list of America’s alleged crimes, Pinter has blamed the U.S. for “the 200,000 deaths in East Timor in 1975 brought about by the Indonesian government but inspired and supported by America…the 500,000 deaths in Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Argentina, and Haiti, in actions supported and subsidized by America…The millions of deaths in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.”
So irrational was Pinter’s disdain for America that when U.S. troops liberated Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s invading armies, Pinter’s response was to pen a scatological and rabidly anti-American poem that did little for his reputation as a writer of serious verse. (A brief excerpt: “Hallelullah!/It works./We blew the s--t out of them./We blew the s--t right back up their own ass/And out their f---ing ears./It works./We blew the s--t out of them….”)
To appreciate the source of Pinter’s anti-American animus, one need only consider his 1993 declaration: ''I believe the United States is a truly monstrous force in the world,” he explained at the time. The following year, Pinter alleged in the New York Review of Books that the United States was the moral equivalent of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. It would not be the last time that Pinter, whose political vocabulary is conspicuously limited, would invoke the analogy of Nazi Germany. Indeed, any review of Pinter’s political writings reveals his belief that the United States is the modern incarnation of the Third Reich. “The U.S. is really beyond reason now. It is beyond our imagining to know what they are going to do next and what they are prepared to do. There is only one comparison: Nazi Germany,” he has said. Elaborating, Pinter added, “Nazi Germany wanted total domination of Europe and they nearly did it. The U.S. wants total domination of the world and is about to consolidate that.” Readers will not be startled to learn that Pinter regards the Guantanamo Bay detention center as a modern day concentration camp. It is thus on a par with America’s prison system, which, as Pinter informed the BBC is 2002 interview, is actually “a vast gulag.”
Not content to traffic in mere anti-Americanism, Pinter is also a notorious conspiracy theorist. In 1988, he wrote in the British Independent that “There are emergency plans for America to take over this country.” He meant it: “I am not talking wildly,” Pinter insisted. Furthermore, by the illogical extension favored by Pinter and the far-Left, America’s allies share in the supposed “crimes” of the United States, making them justifiable targets for wild-eyed conspiracies.
Topping the list is Israel. Jewish by birth, Pinter reviles the Jewish state. In 1988, Pinter joined other English Jews in signing a letter of condemnation against Israel’s policy of “might, force and beatings” against the Palestinian Arabs – a policy that existed only in the febrile imagination of Pinter and his ideological brethren. With his typical contempt for the facts, Pinter has also claimed that Israel has used nuclear weapons against the Palestinians. “Israel has these weapons and has used them,” Pinter assures the dwindling population of readers who still take him seriously. Like the United States, Israel for Pinter is not so much a state as a symbol, an all-powerful force that controls events on a global scale. Thus, in November 2002, Pinter blamed Israel for almost all the violence currently plaguing the world when he charged that Israel’s supposed injustice toward the Palestinians was “the central factor in world unrest.”
But it is the United States that occupies center stage in Pinter’s conspiratorial worldview. As Pinter sees it, “The USA is intent on controlling the world and the world’s resources.” In opposing the liberation of Iraq, Pinter claimed that the U.S. was bent on global conquest. “It is obvious, however, that the United States is bursting at the seams to attack Iraq. I believe that it will do this – not just to take control of Iraqi oil – but because the U.S. administration is now a bloodthirsty wild animal.” Less measured was Pinter’s proclamation, in 2002, that “Bush and company are determined, quite simply, to control the world and the world's resources. And they don't give a damn how many people they murder on the way.” As during the first Gulf War, Pinter put the sentiment in verse, in a January 2003 poem facetiously entitled “God Bless America.” (Sample stanza: “Here they go again/The Yanks in their armoured parade/Chanting their ballads of joy/As they gallop across the big world/Praising America’s God.”)
In view of his poisonous contempt for the U.S., it should come as no surprise that Pinter could muster no sympathy for America in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. While receiving an honorary doctorate from Turn University in 2002, Pinter unburdened himself of his view that “[t]he atrocity in New York was predictable and inevitable. It was an act of retaliation against constant and systematic manifestations of state terrorism on the part of the United States over many years, in all parts of the world.” In the same speech, Pinter gave sanction to any future terrorist attacks on Britain, claiming that they could justifiably be charged to Tony Blair. Terrorist attacks, Pinter explained, “are quite likely, the inevitable result of our Prime Minister's contemptible and shameful subservience to the United States.” That was among his kinder reproaches of the prime minister, whom Pinter has called a “deluded idiot.” (President Bush is accorded the title of “mass murderer.”)
Pinter is of course not the first writer to win the prize largely on the basis of his politics. After all, last year’s winner, the Austrian radical feminist Elfriede Jelinek, was a writer of sadomasochistic bilge that barely passed as pornography, let alone art. That decision prompted one academy jury member, Knut Ahnlund, to resign in protest last week after writing in a newspaper that the selection of Jelinek had caused “irreparable damage” to the once-respected award’s reputation. Earlier, in 1997, the Academy had honored Dario Fo, a veteran Italian Communist who considered the Italian Communist Party “too right-wing.”
What is different this year is that both Pinter and the Swedish Academy have acknowledged that the award was as much a recognition of his politics as his literary output, if not more so. Pinter, for his part, noted that had been writing plays for 50 years, but he stressed, “I am also very politically engaged, and I am not at all sure to what extent that factor had anything to do with this award.” The likely answer is that it had everything to do with it. Chief among Pinter’s qualifications, according to the academy, was his supposed role as a “human rights advocate.” Certainly his admirers saw it as an acknowledgment of Pinter’s political activism. The playwright Michael Frayn professed himself “delighted” with Pinter’s selection, especially since “he has been consistent and resolute in his criticism of U.S. imperialism.”
All of which serves to underscore the obvious: The prize that once commanded the respect of the international community now represents little more than the insular consensus of Sweden’s left-wing sophisticates. As if that were not bad enough, Pinter, upon receiving news of his award, relayed some truly depressing news: “I think the world has had enough of my plays by now,” he said. “But I think I shall certainly be writing more poetry and certainly remain deeply engaged in the question of political structures in this world.”
Jacob Laksin is an assistant editor at Frontpagemag.com and a writer at the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Patrick Devenny is the Henry M. Jackson National Security Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C.
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