on 25 August 2003
I initially found the book a slow read but, once I was used to the style, I couldn't put it down.
Curtis has trawled through declassified government documents to reclaim our true history. By examining UK foreign policy from 1945 to the present day, he shows that although governments may change, in terms of our foreign policy it's "business as usual". Importantly, he shows how the media justifies and supports the government's policies and it's here that a Chomsky-style analysis comes in to play.
For me, this was an important book because there are very few books available that expose the dirty history of the UK but many on the USA; it's too easy to criticise the USA without being aware of our own complicity.
As a society, we have been brought up believing in the benevolence of our country and hearing about all the good things we have done. This book is an important counter-balance and, I believe, is essential reading, not just for us Brits to see what is really going on in our name but also for those in the "developing world" who are on the receiving end of policies.
on 7 February 2004
Whilst the actions of the Bush administration has ensured that the reputation of the United States has taken a battering in recent years, its loyal ally in Europe, Great Britain, has not suffered to the same extent. Until now, there has not been a British equivalent of Wiliam Blum's Rogue State, an account of America's unscrupulous role in the 'New World Order'. Mark Curtis' Web of Deceit: Britain's Real Role in the World, remedies this situation at a most opportune time. Although the book has an introduction by John Pilger, presumably to give it critical credibility and sell a few more copies, Curtis should hardly need such publicity - he was the man who uncovered Britain's complicity in the murderous regime of General Suharto in Indonesia, and indeed has already published a pair of books dealing with British foreign policy: The Ambiguities of Power (1995) and The Great Deception: Anglo-American Power and the New World Order (1998). Under the leadership of 'Teflon Tony' Blair, Britain has engaged in four major wars in five years: one as a leading member of Nato (Kosovo), one as a former Imperial master (Sierra Leone), and two (Afghanistan, Iraq) in an attempt to maintain something of its former importance in the world by tagging along with Bush's adventures.
In Europe, Britain is usually seen as a harmless, even well-meaning, partner. British popular culture, as manifested by sports or television, and the widespread use of the English language, has meant that Britain appears 'close'. Britain's dubious post-colonial foreign policy is often overlooked. Recent revelations will have made unsettling reading for those who still believe in Britain's essentially benign approach to world affairs: evidence of British collusion with loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland engaging in 'targeted assassinations' of suspected IRA members, for example, and the mounting anger over the way in which the government not only doctored intelligence reports on weapons of mass destruction, but also misled the House of Commons, and indeed the whole country, over the nature of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
Foreign correspondents in Britain (based in London, naturally) often seem to get trapped in a comfortable metropolitan world of embassy receptions and first-night theatre parties which, if not blunting their objectivity, at least gives a strange impression of what the general public back home (wherever that may be) would like to hear about. The British press itself is, however, often no better. Tony Blair shamelessly courted the right-wing Murdoch newspapers on the way to power, and the support given to Blair by Murdoch titles such as the Sun and the Times have demonstrated clearly why this section of the popular media was so important to the New Labour project. It is the reason why Web of Deceit, by Mark Curtis, is such an important book, because in spite of the brave work carried out by John Pilger and others since the Vietnam War, the popular self-image of Britain as a benevolent post-Imperial master, only engaging in 'humanitarian intervention', has been allowed to penetrate the global psyche almost unchallenged. According to Curtis, however, 'violating international law has become as British as afternoon tea'.
Well over a century ago, Michael Davitt, one of the leaders and fouding fathers of the British labour movement, mused on Gladstone's ideas of 'humanitarian intervention', and came to the conclusion that British morality in foreign affairs was highly elastic, dependent only on what was in British economic interests. The only thing that has changed in the year 2003 is that it is now the leader of the British 'New' Labour movement who is carrying out this kind of policy. Whilst the likes of Davitt, and many modern readers, might be familiar with British misadventures in the colonies, Curtis' book throws light on areas which many outsiders might find surprising.
In order to highlight the grotesque hypocrisy in British foreign policy, especially in relation to 'humanitarian intervention', Curtis juxtaposes the chapter on Nato's Kosovo campaign with one on Chechnya. It is noted that human rights abuses in Chechnya are merely referred to as 'allegations' by the British, and a chronological account of the Chechen wars is put alongside Blair's reactions - usually nothing. In October 2002, as a part of the justification for the war on terror, Blair claimed that because of the 'terrorism coming from extremists operating out of Chechnya... I have always taken the view that it is important that we understand the Russian viewpoint on this.' The Chechens, therefore, are little more than al-Qaeda mercenaries, doing their best to de-stabilise international order.
The idea that the general public are not given any real information about Britain's real role in the world is given further strength by Curtis's account of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Using official files, he tells of how the British government 'used its diplomatic weight to reduce severely a UN force that, according to military officers on the ground, could have prevented the killings', and, in late April 1994, along with the US and China, secured a security council resolution that rejected the use of the term "genocide", so that the UN would not act. Rwanda is often brought out as an example, by the likes of Blair, as to why 'humanitarian intervention' is necessary. This book demonstrates that he should be more careful with his examples. Curtis' main aim is summed up in his claim that 'if we were honest, we would see Britain's role in the world to a large extent as a story of crimes against humanity.'
on 26 January 2010
In Web of Deceit, Curtis draws extensively on formerly secret government files and archive press reports to rescue crucial details from the memory hole. Fastidiously researched and impeccably sourced, this is essentially the missing history book of postwar British foreign policy. From propping up repressive governments to toppling democratically-elected ones and crushing popular rebellions, it's all a far cry from the simplistic and childish narrative of 'Our Boys versus The Evildoers' propagated by Whitehall, Westminster and Fleet Street.
Well organized, including 50 pages of end notes and a chronology of main events, it comes across like a British version of William Blum's 'Rogue State'. As you progress through the chapters on Kenya, Malaya, Rwanda, Iran, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kosovo, Indonesia, Diego Garcia and more, it becomes ever more apparent that our post-9/11 interventions in the Middle East appear to be little more than business as usual. Even recent shocking allegations of torture are essentially nothing new.
This is quite a lengthy and comprehensive book; heavy on fact and quite wide-ranging in scope. Just a little repetitive in parts, but overall Curtis does a good job of preventing it all from becoming too dry, and for me at least, his writing seems to fall a healthy midway between the over-sentimentality that can sometimes threaten to diminish Pilger, and the dry convolution that can cripple Chomsky. Like those two writers, Curtis is not afraid to resort to the occasional caustic remark whenever words like 'ethical' or 'humanitarian' come into play - and in most instances, his sarcasm is justified.
Ultimately then, this does what it promises: it provides concrete evidence of deceit. There are already plenty of books out there that tackle the hypocrisy of US foreign policy, and this is one of the few that focuses on our own little island (which is surprising, given our long and checkered history). However the blame shouldn't be levelled entirely at our elected officials; that all the information is publicly available yet has gone largely unmentioned by mainstream journalism is ultimately a devastating indictment on our much-hyped 'free press'.
on 25 January 2005
This should be essential reading for anyone voting in the up-coming UK elections. In a similar vein to classic texts by Noam Chomsky (and John Pilger) this uncovers the truth behind the rhetoric. But Curtis is more detailed in his research than either Chomsky or Pilger. The evidence is on every page: our politicians lie to us and that lying is endemic and systematic. That they lie is bad enough but when these lies hide the crimes documented in this book, crimes committed with your taxes and in your name, you should be angry and deeply saddened.
Buy this book; read it and pass it on to a friend; it is that important.
Web of Deceit, a quite rightly impassioned study of the last fifty years of British foreign policy, not only exposes the cynicism at the heart of U.K. realpolitik but also the mainstream mass media's easy acceptance of officialdom's rhetoric. Author Mark Curtis argues convincingly and with careful attention to the documentary record, that post-World War II, there has generally been an elite consensus around the fundamentals of British policy abroad and that this has largely gone unquestioned by journalists who have a far too close relationship with the dominant power structure.
A key strategy of Curtis' is to compare the bipartisan government proclamations of noble intent with the internal planning record, often drawing on recently declassified files but quite as often using publicly available material. The result is jarring: the British government (Conservative or (New) Labour, there are more similarities than differences) will loudly announce that we are at the fore-front of a new humanitarianism, combining fair trade with human rights, for the betterment of the world's poor. In reality, we turn a blind eye to genocide - or actively sell arms to the most cruel and repressive of regimes - and we impose a form of corporate dominated globalised capitalism that impoverishes many of those already living on two dollars a day.
Such inflammatory writing might seem hyperbolic, but Curtis keeps it all thoroughly grounded, with case after case of Britain's actual footprint in other countries: in Iran, Kenya, Malaya, British Guiana, Indonesia, East Timor and Diego Garcia, we have intervened to overthrow democratic governments or propped up murderous dictators. We have crushed democratic independent nationalists under the pretext of preventing communist subversion. We sell arms to the worst regimes in the Middle East and ignore their barbarism because their terrorism supports our 'war on terrorism.' We think of ourselves as a calming influence on the excesses of United States policy but in reality we unstintingly support it, providing a fig-leaf of multilateralism. We call on others to obey international law when it suits us but then block effective peace keeping action by the United Nations. We condemn (rightly) North Korea but we cheer on atrocities committed in Chechnya and Turkey. And the list goes on...
With Web of Deceit, Mark Curtis has written an indispensable book on the true nature of British activities abroad; we have no excuse for not knowing what has been done and is being done in our name. His language resembles Noam Chomsky's but Curtis is a far more accessible writer. In many ways, this book is a fine companion piece to Chomsky's Deterring Democracy, full of facts inexpressible within the doctrinal system. If this country wants to reduce the level of terrorism in this world, an excellent starting place would be to stop committing it.
on 27 May 2003
In this richly informative book, Mark Curtis surveys Britain’s real role in the world. Part 1 details the British state’s policies under the Blair government. Part 2 studies its plans for the global economy, showing how Labour services capitalists at home and abroad. He finds in Eastern Europe ‘a new entrepreneurial and often criminal class’, a nice hint that he uses the terms ‘elite’ and ‘elites’ when writing about Britain and the USA only to get past the censorship.
Part 3 uses official records to examine four 1950s events: the MI6/CIA coup in Iran, the coup evicting British Guiana’s elected government, the war against Kenya (killing 150,000 people), and the war for Malaya’s rubber. Part 4 looks at the media, using as example 1965’s events, when the Labour government supplied warships, logistics and intelligence to support Suharto’s coup and massacre of a million people.
Curtis looks at Blair’s support for US wars on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan (20,000 killed, 500,000 refugees created), and Iraq. The US Assistant Secretary of State said, “when the Afghan conflict is over we will not leave central Asia. We have long-term plans and interests in this region.” The US now has 13 bases in nine countries there.
British forces are training Saudi Arabia’s military and security forces, just as the SAS and MI6 trained the mujehadin in the 1980s, in Britain’s biggest covert operation since 1945. Curtis also refutes Labour’s claim that it is ‘even-handed’ in the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Curtis proves that British foreign policy is not about promoting national interests or democracy. The British ruling class has never shrunk from using terrorism to advance its interests. Now Blair, Bush’s PR man, openly promotes expeditionary warfare, force projection operations and pre-emptive military force.
Economic penetration complements military aggression: Labour’s aid, debt relief and loans all depend on countries ‘creating a favourable climate for investment’. Workers have to oppose all attacks on sovereignty, economic or political, including the terrorism of the US and British states.
on 17 June 2004
Well if you thought that the UK was a force for good in the world then this book will shake your assumptions. In case after case Mark Curtis reveals the immoral and self centred nature of British foreign policy. We will do anything to make a shilling; destroy governments, sell arms to despots, cuddle up with tyrants and to hell with the consequences for the little people. This is a very well researched and disturbing read. Our behaviour in the post WW2 period has been nothing short of murderous. No matter who was in power at Westminster the crimes flowed on and nobody cared. A million dead in Indonesia, thousands dead in Afghanistan, Diego Garcia's population uprooted and then deserted, the sorry tale goes on.
Mark Curtis has little good to say about any of our recent politicians. The blessed Blair, that fudamentalist Christian and latter day crusader has been very effective in slaughtering Muslims, especially babies, but "to mention the indictment of Tony Blair for war crimes, to oppose British cooperation with the US because it is a consistent supporter of human rights abuses overseas, or even to end arms exports is "unthinkable" in the mainstream and would invite ridicule"
If you love the UK then read this book because somehow we need to change what is going on and you cannot do that unless you know what has been done in your name. Ethical foreign policy? You will not find it here.
This book is a remarkable piece of work that is well researched and written.
The writings of Mark Curtis link well with John Pilger's books, but have a different slant. Intead of talking of distant lands, Mark Curtis' focus is on good old Blightly.
Looking through declassified files he has managed to unearth Britain's real role in the world - toppling foreign governments, forcefully removing a population from islands and developing repressive techniques that were so effective they have been copied by others.
This book will open your eyes to Britain's real role in the world. You name it, we've been there and done it! Shameful!
on 27 May 2009
I hope many will read this book, but sadly, too many people are selfish - as long as they're comfortable in their home, have a TV, nice car the neighbours can envy, etc. they don't care a damn about anything else. Unfortunately, when they wake up to what's really going on it will probably be too late - and they'll be the first to moan.
This book brings together many issues that collectively make one aware how we are manipulated by governmenmts. There are dozens of conspiracy theories out there - but this is not one of them. It's a factual analysis of the lies and corruption that, when it finally reaches its goal, will be known as the new world order - the enslavement of people by a handful of powerful people.
Full marks to Mark Curtis for this work. I implore as many as possible to read it.
on 13 June 2008
Doesn't make comfortable reading for those who believe the government hype and the propaganda of the media.