Socialist Worker

Web of Deceit: What the Brits did abroad

Mark Curtis details what British intervention round the world has really meant in the new book Web of Deceit

Issue No. 1854

WITH ITS slick cover design, Mark Curtis's book looks like a blockbuster. It deserves to be one. The story of the terrorist actions carried out by the British state is scarier and more gripping than any thriller.

In Web of Deceit Curtis has scoured the historical records and dug deep into Foreign Office files. His book demonstrates beyond any doubt that Britain is a 'rogue state', its leaders enthusiastically helping the US's global death squad bludgeon its way across the world.

The victims of these policies are 'unpeople' – they do not count and they are not counted. This lucid book aims to dispel the big lie that the British government has honourable motives when it intervenes abroad. Its chapters address different aspects of British foreign policy including recent policy towards Iraq and its complicity with the murder carried out by the Russian state in Chechnya.

One of the most valuable chapters looks at the war in Kosovo. Curtis says, 'The claim that the war was fought for humanitarian purposes rests on the belief that the bombing prevented a humanitarian disaster. 'This claim is illusory, since it is clear NATO bombing precipitated, rather than halted, large-scale 'ethnic cleansing'.'

He goes through in convincing detail the exaggerated claims made by the British government and others to justify war. 'A British government memorandum written after the NATO bombing says that 10,000 people were killed in Kosovo in 1999. 'Foreign secretary Robin Cook confirmed that only 2,000 of those deaths occurred before the bombing.'

Other chapters range from a brief history of the Middle East to the slaughter in Indonesia. Curtis also analyses the 'special relationship' between the US and Britain.

He shows that British support for wars waged by the US started well before Blair. In 1965 Labour prime minister Harold Wilson said, 'We fully support the action of the US in resisting aggression in Vietnam.' 'Resisting aggression' meant carpet bombing as well as the widespread use of napalm and chemical poisons.

Perhaps many people are familiar with Britain's recent crimes. But they may not know about earlier events like the dirty war in Malaya 50 years ago, when the British army tortured and murdered peasants to protect British rubber interests. 'To combat an insurgent force of around 3,000-6,000, British forces embarked on a brutal war which involved large-scale bombing, dictatorial police measures and the wholesale 'resettlement' of hundreds of thousands of people.' Several of the measures laid the basis for the tactics used by the US in Vietnam.

Curtis also uncovers a Foreign Office secret file which says, 'The war against Malayan bandits is very much a defence of the rubber industry.' The Foreign Office emerges from this book dripping with blood, an ambassador for Britain's arms dealers. But this whole government is corrupt and other departments are no better. Curtis documents how the Department for International Development under Clare Short promoted privatisation as the only path to 'development'.

This could be a deeply depressing book. But Curtis has hope for the future. He says, 'A popular people's movement has arisen in recent years, misnamed the 'anti-globalisation' movement, conducting demonstrations, rallies and teach-ins all over the world. The movement is united first in opposing the control of the planet by big business and second in seeking a world where justice and rights are respected for all.'

And he adds, 'As Bush has tried to divide the world into those with us and those against us, the fact is that there are an awful lot of people against 'us', perhaps most people on the planet – justifiably so. And, of course, we should be against 'us', as defined by Bush and Blair, if we are concerned to build a better future.' The book also has a very useful chronology of events from 1947 to this year.

Mark Curtis is an author and has worked in the field of international development for ten years. He is speaking about Britain's real role in the world at Marxism 2003. Web of Deceit costs £7.99 plus postage from Bookmarks – phone 020 7637 1848.

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Sat 7 Jun 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1854
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