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Posts by John Pilger

The Rise of the Democratic Police State


Thomas Friedman is a famous columnist on the New York Times. He has been described as "a guard dog of U.S. foreign policy." Whatever America's warlords have in mind for the rest of humanity, Friedman will bark it. He boasts that "the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist." He promotes bombing countries and says World War Three has begun.

Friedman's latest bark is about free speech, which his country's Constitution is said to safeguard. He wants the State Department to draw up a blacklist of those who make "wrong" political statements. He is referring not only to those who advocate violence, but to those who believe American actions are the root cause of the current terrorism. The latter group, which he describes as "just one notch less despicable than the terrorists," includes most Americans and Britons, according to the latest polls.

Friedman wants a "War of Ideas report" that names those who try to understand and explain, for example, why London was bombed. These are "excuse makers" who "deserve to be exposed." He borrows the term "excuse makers" from James Rubin, who was Madeleine Albright's chief apologist at the State Department. Albright, who rose to secretary of state under President Clinton, said that the death of half a million Iraqi infants as a result of an American-driven blockade was a "price" that was "worth it." Of all the interviews I have filmed in official Washington, Rubin's defense of this mass killing is unforgettable.

Farce is never far away in these matters. The "excuse makers" would also include the CIA, which has warned that "Iraq [since the invasion] has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of 'professionalized' terrorists.'" On to the Friedman/Rubin blacklist go the spooks!

Like so much else during the Blair era, this McCarthyite rubbish has floated across the Atlantic and is now being recycled by the prime minister as proposed police-state legislation, little different from the fascist yearnings of Friedman and other extremists. For Friedman's blacklist, read Tony Blair's proposed database of proscribed opinions, bookshops, Web sites.

The British human rights lawyer Linda Christian asks: "Are those who feel a huge sense of injustice about the same causes as the terrorists – Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib – to be stopped from speaking forthrightly about their anger? Because terrorism is now defined in our law as actions abroad, will those who support liberation movements in, for example, Kashmir or Chechnya be denied freedom of expression?" Any definition of terrorism, she points out, should "encompass the actions of terrorist states engaged in unlawful wars."

Of course, Blair is silent on Western state terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere; and for him to moralize about "our values" insults the fact of his blood-crime in Iraq. His budding police state will, he hopes, have the totalitarian powers he has longed for since 2001, when he suspended habeas corpus and introduced unlimited house arrest without trial. The Law Lords, Britain's highest judiciary, have tried to stop this. Last December, Lord Hoffmann said that Blair's attacks on human rights were a greater threat to freedom than terrorism. On July 26, Blair emoted that the entire British nation was under threat and abused the judiciary in terms, as Simon Jenkins noted, "that would do credit to his friend Vladimir Putin." What we are seeing in Britain is the rise of the democratic police state.

Should you be tempted to dismiss all this as esoteric or merely mad, travel to any Muslim community in Britain, especially in the northwest, and sense the state of siege and fear. On July 15, Blair's Britain of the future was glimpsed when the police raided the Iqra Learning Center and bookstore near Leeds. The Iqra Trust is a well-known charity that promotes Islam worldwide as "a peaceful religion which covers every walk of life." The police smashed down the door, wrecked the shop and took away antiwar literature which they described as "anti-Western."

Among this was, reportedly, a DVD of the Respect Party MP George Galloway addressing the U.S. Senate and a New Statesman article of mine illustrated by a much-published photograph of a Palestinian man in Gaza attempting to shield his son from Israeli bullets before the boy was shot to death. The photograph was said to be "working people up," meaning Muslim people. Clearly, David Gibbons, this journal's esteemed art director, who chose this illustration, will be called before the Blair Incitement Tribunal. One of my books, The New Rulers of the World, was also apparently confiscated. It is not known whether the police have yet read the chapter that documents how the Americans, with help from MI6 and the SAS, created, armed, and bankrolled the terrorists of the Islamic mujahedin, not least Osama bin Laden.

The raid was deliberately theatrical, with the media tipped off. Two of the alleged July 7 bombers had been volunteers in the shop almost four years ago. "When they became hardliners," said a community youth worker. "They left and have never been back, and they've had nothing to do with the shop." The raid was watched by horrified local people who are now scared, angry, and bitter. I spoke to Muserat Sujawal, who has lived in the area for 31 years and is respected widely for her management of the nearby Hamara Community Center. She told me, "There was no justification for the raid. The whole point of the shop is to teach how Islam is a community-based religion. My family has used the shop for years, buying, for example, the Arabic equivalent of Sesame Street. They did it to put fear in our hearts." James Dean, a Bradford secondary school teacher, said, "I am teaching myself Urdu because I have multi-ethnic classes, and the shop has been very helpful with tapes."

The police have the right to pursue every lead in their hunt for bombers, but scaremongering is not their right. Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner who understands how the media can be used and spends a lot of time in television studios, has yet to explain why he announced that the killing in the London Underground of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes was "directly linked" to terrorism, when he must have known the truth. Muslim people all over Britain report the presence of police "video vans" cruising their streets, filming everyone. "We have become like ghettoes under siege," said one man too frightened to be named. "Do they know what this is doing to our young people?"

The other day Blair said, "We are not having any of this nonsense about [the bombings having anything] to do with what the British are doing in Iraq or Afghanistan, or support for Israel, or support for America, or any of the rest of it. It is nonsense and we have to confront it as that." This "raving," as the American writer Mike Whitney observed, "is part of a broader strategy to dismiss the obvious facts about terror and blame the victims of American-British aggression. It's a tactic that was minted in Tel Aviv and perfected over 37 years of occupation. It is predicated on the assumption that terrorism emerges from an amorphous, religious-based ideology that transforms its adherents into ruthless butchers."

Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago has examined every act of suicide terrorism over the past 25 years. He refutes the assumption that suicide bombers are mainly driven by "an evil ideology independent of other circumstances." He said, "The facts are that since 1980, half the attacks have been secular. Few of the terrorists fit the standard stereotype. … Half of them are not religious fanatics at all. In fact, over 95 percent of suicide attacks around the world [are not about] religion, but a specific strategic purpose – to compel the United States and other Western countries to abandon military commitments on the Arabian Peninsula and in countries they view as their homeland or prize greatly. … The link between anger over American, British, and Western military [action] and al-Qaeda's ability to recruit suicide terrorists to kill us could not be tighter."

So we have been warned, yet again. Terrorism is the logical consequence of American and British "foreign policy" whose infinitely greater terrorism we need to recognize, and debate, as a matter of urgency.

Blair's Bombs


In all the coverage of the bombing of London, a truth has struggled to be heard. With honorable exceptions, it has been said guardedly, apologetically. Occasionally, a member of the public has broken the silence, as an east Londoner did when he walked in front of a CNN camera crew and reporter in mid-platitude. "Iraq!" he said. "We invaded Iraq and what did we expect? Go on, say it."

Alex Salmond tried to say it on Today on Radio 4. He was told he was speaking "in poor taste … before the bodies are even buried." George Galloway was lectured on Newsnight (BBC2) that he was being "crass." The inimitable Ken Livingstone contradicted his previous statement, which was that the invasion of Iraq would come home to London. With the exception of Galloway, not one so-called antiwar MP spoke out in clear, unequivocal English. The warmongers were allowed to fix the boundaries of public debate; one of the more idiotic, in the Guardian, called Blair "the world's leading statesman."

And yet, like the man who interrupted CNN, people understand and know why, just as the majority of Britons oppose the war and believe Blair is a liar. This frightens the political elite. At a large media party I attended, many of the important guests uttered "Iraq" and "Blair" as a kind of catharsis for that which they dared not say professionally and publicly.

The bombs of 7 July were Blair's bombs.

Blair brought home to this country his and George W. Bush's illegal, unprovoked, and blood-soaked adventure in the Middle East. Were it not for his epic irresponsibility, the Londoners who died in the Tube and on the No. 30 bus almost certainly would be alive today. This is what Livingstone ought to have said. To paraphrase perhaps the only challenging question put to Blair on the eve of the invasion (by John Humphrys), it is now surely beyond all doubt that the man is unfit to be prime minister.

How much more evidence is needed? Before the invasion, Blair was warned by the Joint Intelligence Committee that "by far the greatest terrorist threat" to this country would be "heightened by military action against Iraq." He was warned by 79 percent of Londoners who, according to a YouGov survey in February 2003, believed that a British attack on Iraq "would make a terrorist attack on London more likely." A month ago, a leaked, classified CIA report revealed that the invasion had turned Iraq into a focal point of terrorism. Before the invasion, said the CIA, Iraq "exported no terrorist threat to its neighbors" because Saddam Hussein was "implacably hostile to al-Qaeda."

Now, a report by the Chatham House organization, a "think-tank" deep within the British establishment, may well beckon Blair's coup de grace. Published on July 18, it says there is "no doubt" the invasion of Iraq has "given a boost to the al-Qaeda network" in "propaganda, recruitment, and fundraising" while providing an ideal targeting and training area for terrorists. "Riding pillion with a powerful ally" has cost Iraqi, American and British lives. The right-wing academic Paul Wilkinson, a voice of Western power, was the principal author. Read between the lines, and it says the prime minister is now a serious liability. Those who run this country know he has committed a great crime; the "link" has been made.

Blair's bunker-mantra is that there was terrorism long before the invasion, notably Sept. 11, 2001. Anyone with an understanding of the painful history of the Middle East would not have been surprised by Sept. 11 or by the bombings of Madrid and London, only that they had not happened earlier. I have reported the region for 35 years, and if I could describe in a word how millions of Arab and Muslim people felt, I would say "humiliated." When Egypt looked like winning back its captured territory in the 1973 war with Israel, I walked through jubilant crowds in Cairo: it felt as if the weight of history's humiliation had lifted. In a very Egyptian flourish, one man said to me, "We once chased cricket balls at the British Club. Now we are free."

They were not free, of course. The Americans resupplied the Israeli army and they almost lost everything again. In Palestine, the humiliation of a captive people is Israeli policy. How many Palestinian babies have died at Israeli checkpoints after their mothers, bleeding and screaming in premature labor, have been forced to give birth beside the road at a military checkpoint with the lights of a hospital in the distance? How many old men have been forced to make obeisance to young Israeli conscripts? How many families have been blown to bits by American-supplied F-16s using British-supplied parts?

The gravity of the bombing of London, said a BBC commentator, "can be measured by the fact that it marks Britain's first suicide bombing." What about Iraq? There were no suicide bombers in Iraq until Blair and Bush invaded. What about Palestine? There were no suicide bombers in Palestine until Ariel Sharon, an accredited war criminal sponsored by Bush and Blair, came to power. In the 1991 Gulf "War," American and British forces left more than 200,000 Iraqis dead and injured, and the infrastructure of their country in "an apocalyptic state," according to the United Nations. The subsequent embargo, designed and promoted by zealots in Washington and Whitehall, was not unlike a medieval siege. Denis Halliday, the United Nations official assigned to administer the near-starvation food allowance, called it "genocidal."

I witnessed its consequences: tracts of southern Iraq contaminated with depleted uranium, and cluster bomblets waiting to explode. I watched dying children, some of the half a million infants whose deaths UNICEF attributed to the embargo – deaths that the U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said were "worth it." In the West, this was hardly reported. Throughout the Muslim world, the bitterness was like a presence, its contagion reaching many young British-born Muslims.

In 2001, in revenge for the killing of 3,000 people in the twin towers, more than 20,000 Muslims died in the Anglo-American invasion of Afghanistan. This was revealed by Jonathan Steele in the Guardian but never became news, to my knowledge. The attack on Iraq was the Rubicon, making the reprisal against Madrid and the bombing of London entirely predictable: this last "in response to the massacres carried out by Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan," claimed the Secret Organization Group of al-Qaeda in Europe. Whether or not the claim was genuine, the reason was. Bush and Blair wanted a "war on terror," and they got it. Omitted from public discussion is that their state terror makes al-Qaeda's appear minuscule by comparison. More than 100,000 Iraqi men, women, and children have been killed not by suicide bombers, but by the Anglo-American "coalition," says a peer-reviewed study published in the Lancet, and largely ignored.

In his poem "From Iraq," Michael Rosen wrote:

"We are the unfound
We are uncounted
You don't see the homes we made
We're not even the small print or the bit in brackets…
because we lived far from you…
because you have cameras that point the other way…."

Imagine, for a moment, you are in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. It is an American police state, like a vast penned ghetto. Since April last year, the hospitals there have been subjected to an American policy of collective punishment. Staff have been attacked by U.S. Marines, doctors have been shot, emergency medicines blocked. Children have been murdered in front of their families.

Now imagine the same state of affairs imposed on the London hospitals that received the victims of the bombing. When will someone draw this parallel at one of Blair's staged "press conferences," at which he is allowed to emote for the cameras about "our values outlast[ing] theirs"? Silence is not journalism. In Fallujah, the people know "our values" only too well. And when will someone invite the obsequious Bob Geldof to explain why his hero's smoke-and-mirrors "debt cancellation" amounts to less than the money the Blair government spends in a week brutalizing Iraq?

The hand-wringing over "whither Islam's soul" is another distraction. As an industrial killer, Christianity leaves Islam for dead. The cause of the current terrorism is neither religion nor hatred for "our way of life": it is political, requiring a political solution. It is injustice and double standards, which plant the deepest grievances. That, and the culpability of our leaders, and the "cameras that point the other way," are the core of it.

On July 19, while the BBC governors were holding their annual general meeting at Television Center, an inspired group of British documentary filmmakers met outside the main gates and conducted a series of news reports of the kind you do not see on television. Actors played famous reporters doing their "pieces to camera." The "stories" they reported included the targeting of the civilian population of Iraq, the application of the Nuremberg Principles to Iraq, America's illegal rewriting of the laws of Iraq, the everyday torture and humiliation of ordinary people, and the failure to protect Iraqis' archaeological and cultural heritage.

Blair is using the London bombings to further deplete our rights and those of others, as Bush has done in America. Their goal is not security, but greater control. The memory of their victims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and elsewhere demands the renewal of our anger. The troops must come home. Nothing less is owed to those who died and suffered in London on July 7, unnecessarily, and nothing less is owed to those whose lives are marked if this travesty endures.

UK Press Under Blair's Thumb


In 1987, the Australian sociologist Alex Carey, a second Orwell in his prophesies, wrote "Managing Public Opinion: The Corporate Offensive." He described how in the United States "great progress [had been] made toward the ideal of a propaganda-managed democracy," whose principal aim was to identify a rapacious business state "with every cherished human value." The power and meaning of true democracy, of the franchise itself, would be "transferred" to the propaganda of advertising, public relations, and corporate-run news. This "model of ideological control," he predicted, would be adopted by other countries, such as Britain.

To many who work conscientiously in the media in developed societies, this will sound alarmist; it is not like that in Britain, they will say. Ask them about censorship by omission or the promotion of business ideology and war propaganda as news, a promotion both subtle and crude, and their defensive response will be that no one ever instructed them to follow any line: no one ever said not to question the prime minister about the horror he had helped to inflict on Iraq: his epic criminality. "Blair always enjoys his interviews with Paxo," says Roger Mosey, the head of BBC Television News, without a hint of irony.

Blair should enjoy them; he is always spared the imperious bombast of Jeremy Paxman, the BBC's political "interrogator," whose work is now a pastiche and kept mostly for official demons. "Watch George Galloway clash with Jeremy Paxman," says the BBC News homepage like a circus barker. Once under the big top of the BBC's Newsnight you get the usual setup: a nonsensical question about whether or not Galloway, who, representing the antiwar party Respect, defeated the Labour member of a safe seat in east London, was "proud of having got rid of one of the few black women in parliament," followed by mockery of the very idea that his opponent, an unabashed Blairite warmonger, should account for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people.

Seven years ago, when Denis Halliday, one of the United Nations' most respected humanitarian aid directors, resigned from his post in Iraq in protest at the Anglo-American-led embargo, calling it "an act of genocide," he was given the Paxo treatment. "Aren't you just an apologist for Saddam Hussein?" he was mock-asked. The following year, UNICEF revealed that the embargo had killed half a million Iraqi children. As for East Timor, a triumph of the British arms trade and Robin Cook's "ethical" foreign policy, the presence of British Hawk jets was "not proved," declared Paxo, parroting a Foreign Office lie. (A few months later, Cook came clean.) Today, napalm is used in Iraq, but the armed forces minister is allowed to pretend that it isn't. Israel's weapons of mass destruction are "dangerous in the extreme," says the former head of the US Strategic Command, but that is a permanent taboo.

In the London Guardian of May 9, famous journalists and their executives were asked to reflect on the election campaign. Almost all agreed that it had been "boring" and "lacked passion" and "never really caught fire." Mosey complained that "it was difficult to reach out to people who are disengaged." Again, irony was absent, as if the BBC's obsequiousness to the "consensus of propaganda," as Alex Carey called it, had nothing to do with people's disengagement or with the duty of journalists to engage the public, let alone tell them things they had a right to know.

It is this right-to-know that is being lost behind a willful illusion. Since the cry "freedom of the press" was first heard roughly 500 years ago, when Wynkyn de Worde set up Caxton's printing press in the yard of St. Bride's Church, off Fleet Street in London, there has never been more information or media in the "mainstream," yet most of it is now repetitive and profoundly ideological: captive of the insidious system Carey described.

Omission is how it principally works. Between April 1-15, the Media Tenor Institute analyzed the content of television evening news. Foreign politics, including Iraq, accounted for less than two percent. Search the postelection comments of the most important people in journalism for anything about the greatest political scandal in memory the unprovoked bloodbath in Iraq and you will find nothing. The Goldsmith affair, in which the attorney general advice to Blair that the invasion was illegal, was an aberration forced on to the election agenda not by a journalist but by an insider; and no connection was then made with the suffering and grief in Iraq.

In the middle of the election campaign, Dr. Les Roberts gave a special lecture at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London. It was all but ignored. Yet this is the extraordinary man who led an American-Iraqi research team in the first comprehensive investigation of civilian deaths in Iraq. Published in the Lancet, the most highly regarded medical journal in the world with the tightest peer-review procedures, the study found that "at least" 100,000 civilians had died violently, the great majority of them at the hands of the "coalition": women, children, the elderly. He also described how American military doctors had found that 14 percent of soldiers and 28 percent of Marines had killed a civilian: a huge, unreported massacre.

This great crime, together with the destruction of the city of Fallujah and the 40 known victims of torture and unlawful killings at the hands of the British army, and the biggest demonstration by Iraqis demanding the invaders get out, was not allowed to intrude on a campaign that "never really caught fire." The airbrushing requires no conspiracy. "The thought," wrote Arthur Miller, "that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable, and so the evidence has to be internally denied."

In its ideological crusade, the Blair regime has bombed and killed and abused human rights directly or by proxy, from Iraq to Colombia, from tsunami-stricken Aceh to the 14 most impoverished countries in Africa where the sale of British weapons have fanned internal conflict. When I asked a television executive why none of this was glimpsed in the election "coverage," he seemed nonplussed. "It was not relevant to the news," he said. What is relevant in the wake of the election is a propaganda consensus promoting the potential greatness of the Chancellor Gordon Brown, as the greatness of the now embarrassing Blair was once promoted. ("My God, he will be a hard act to follow. My God, Labour will miss him when he has gone," wrote Blair's most devoted promoter, Martin Kettle, in the Guardian, skipping over his crimes.)

That Brown is the same ideologue as Blair is of no concern, neither is his commitment, not to ending poverty in the world, but to the rehabilitation of imperialism. "We should be proud … of the empire," he said last September. "The days of Britain having to apologize for its colonial history are over," he told the Daily Mail. These views touch the nostalgic heart of the British establishment, which, under Thatcher and Blair, has recovered from its long disorientation after Hitler gave all imperial plunderers a bad name. This and the appeasement of British imperialists is rarely mentioned in the endless anniversaries of the Second World War, whose triumphalism in politics and popular culture has bred imperial wars, like Iraq.

Thus, Blair's foreign policy adviser Robert Cooper caused little controversy when he wrote a pamphlet calling for "a new kind kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan views." This is conquest redefined as liberation, evoking the same moral claims that were not questioned until Hitler. "Imperialism and the global expansion of the western powers, wrote Frank Furedi in The New Ideology of Imperialism, were represented in unambiguously positive terms as a major contributor to human civilization." That imperialism was and is racist, violent, and a cause of suffering across the world – witness the ruthless expulsion of the people of Diego Garcia as recent as the 1970s – is "not relevant to the news." Observe instead the BBC swoon at Gordon Brown's 19th-century speeches about ending African poverty on condition that business can exploit and arm Africa's poorest.

All this chimes in Washington, where Bush's drivel of "democracy and liberty on the march" is swallowed by leading journalists on both sides of the Atlantic. A vintage imperialist campaign is under way against strategic and resource-rich Arab nations: indeed, against all Muslim peoples. It is the "clash of civilizations" of Samuel Huntington's delusions. The Arabs being Semites, it is one of the West's greatest anti-Semitic crusades.

That, you might say, is well discussed. Perhaps. What is not discussed is a worldwide threat similar to that of Germany in the 1930s: certainly the greatest threat in the lifetime of most people. This is not news. Consider the unreported demise of the "war on terror." In his inaugural speech in January, Bush pointedly said not a word about that which he had made his signature. No terrorism. No Osama. No Iraq. No axis of evil. Instead, he warned that America's new targets were those living in whole regions of the world which "simmer in resentment and tyranny" and where "violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended powers, and raise a mortal threat."

The monumental paranoia is almost beside the point. Bush was lowering the threshold. The American military can go anywhere, attack anything, use any kind of weapon in pursuit of is latest, most dangerous illusion: the "simmering resentment" and the "gathering violence." Unreported is the military coup that has taken place in America; the Pentagon and its civilian militarists now control "policy." Diplomacy is "finished … dead," as one of them put it. Andrew Bacevich, soldier, conservative, and professor of American military strategy at Boston University, says that Bush has "committed the United States to waging an open-ended war on a global scale."

Britain, with its profound understanding of imperialism, is a pioneer of this new danger. In 1998, the Blair government's Strategic Defense Review stated that the country's military priority would be "force projection" and that "in the post-Cold War world we must be prepared to go the crisis rather than have the crisis come to us." In 2002, Geoff Hoon became the first defense secretary to declare that British nuclear weapons could be used against non-nuclear nations. In December 2003, a defense white paper, "Delivering Security in a Changing World," called for "expeditionary operations" in "a range of environments across the world." Military force was no longer "a separate element in crisis resolution." Almost a third of public spending on research now goes to the military: far more than is spent on the National Health Service.

On Aug. 6, it will be the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima which, with the destruction of Nagasaki, stands as one of the greatest crimes. There is now a nuclear renaissance, led by the nuclear "haves," with America and Britain upgrading their "battlefield" nuclear weapons. The very real danger is, or should be clear to all of us. The Guardian says Blair, having won his "historic" third term, ought to be "humble." It is truly humbling that only 20 percent of eligible voters voted for him, the lowest figure in modern times, and that he has no true mandate. No, it is journalists who ought to be humble and do their job.

Britain's Absurd Election


A familiar, if desperate, media push is underway to convince the British people that the main political parties offer them a democratic choice in the general election on May 5. This demonstrable absurdity became hilarious when Tony Blair, leader of one of the nastiest, most violent right-wing regimes in memory, announced the existence of "a very nasty right-wing campaign" to defeat him. If only it were that funny. If only it were possible to read the "ah but" tributes to a "successful" Labour government without cracking a rib. If only it were possible to read warmongers bemoaning the "apathy" of the British electorate without one's laughter being overtaken by the urge to throw up.

Truth can be subverted, but for millions of decent Britons the subversion is over, and the penny has finally dropped. For that, they have Blair to thank. On May 5, they will silently go on strike against a corrupt, undemocratic system, as they did at the last election, producing the lowest turnout since the franchise, including barely a third in some constituencies. Others will come under extraordinary pressure to put aside considerations of basic morality and vote for this "successful" Blair government. They – allow me to change that to you – ought to be aware of what this will mean for your fellow human beings.

By voting for Blair, you will walk over the corpses of at least 100,000 people, most of them innocent women and children and the elderly, slaughtered by rapacious forces sent by Blair and Bush, unprovoked and in defiance of international law, to a defenseless country. That conservative estimate is the conclusion of a peer-reviewed Anglo-American study, published in the British medical journal the Lancet. It is the most reliable glimpse we have of the criminal carnage caused by Blair and Bush in Iraq, and it is suppressed in this election "campaign."

By voting for Blair, you will be turning a deaf ear to the cries of countless Iraqi children blown up by British cluster bombs and poisoned by toxic explosions of depleted uranium. These unseen victims of Blair and Bush – including Iraqi women who have developed rare "pregnancy cancer," and children with unexplained leukemia – will not be your concern. According to one of the military experts who cleaned up Kuwait after the 1991 Gulf war, Blair and Bush have created "another Hiroshima" in parts of Iraq. You will be voting to endorse that.

By voting for Blair, you will turn away from the tens of thousands of children left to starve in Iraq by his and Bush's invasion. On March 30, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights heard that malnutrition rates among Iraqi infants under the age of five had almost doubled since the invasion – double the number of hungry children under Saddam Hussein. The author of the report to the commission, Jean Ziegler, a UN specialist on hunger, said the "coalition" was to blame.

By voting for Blair, you will be affirming that liar's triumph. Blair is a liar on such an epic scale that even those who still protect him with parliamentary euphemisms, like Robin Cook ("He knew perfectly well what he was doing. I think there was a lack of candor") and the Guardian and the BBC, now struggle to finesse his perjury.

Take his latest lie. On March 13, Jonathan Dimbleby asked Blair about the leaked memo of David Manning, the prime minister's foreign policy adviser, in which Manning confirmed to Blair in March 2002 that he had assured the Americans "you would not budge in your support for regime change." Blair lied to Dimbleby that "actually he didn't say that as a matter of fact": Manning "[made] clear that the development of WMD in breach of the United Nations resolutions will no longer be tolerated."

Following are the words Manning wrote to Blair: "I said [to Condoleezza Rice] that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament, and a public opinion that was very different [from] anything in the States." There is no mention, nothing, about United Nations resolutions, or weapons of mass destruction.

By voting for Blair, you will invite more lies about terrorist scares in Britain so that totalitarian laws can be enacted. "I have a horrible feeling that we are sinking into a police state," said George Churchill-Coleman, the former head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad. Like the fake reasons for Blair's tanks around Heathrow on the eve of the greatest antiwar demonstration in British history, so anything, any scare, any arrest, any "control order," will be possible.

By voting for Blair, you will fall for the spin, the myth, of the social reformism and "economic achievements" of his government. The ban on fox-hunting and the lowering of the age of gay consent are political and media distractions that do nothing to protect a social democracy being progressively shorn of ancient liberties, such as those enshrined in Magna Carta.

Little of this is up for discussion. In 2005, we have an election, not politics; a media court, not critical debate. True politics is about all of humanity, and our responsibility for those who commit crimes in our name. No reverence for the sanctity of a debased vote or a false choice – or the lesser evil of a nonexistent, sentimental, pre-Blair Labour Party – will change that. We owe that truth to the people of Iraq, at least.

The Fall of Saigon 1975: An Eyewitness Report


Saigon, April 1975. At dawn I was awake, lying under my mattress on the floor tiles, peering at my bed propped against the French windows. The bed was meant to shield me from flying glass; but if the hotel was attacked with rockets, the bed would surely fall on me. Killed by a falling bed: that somehow made sense in this, the last act of the longest-running black farce: a war that was always unnecessary and often atrocious and had ended the lives of three million people, leaving their once bountiful land petrified.

The long-awaited drive, by the legatees of Ho Chi Minh, to reunify Vietnam had begun at last, more than 20 years since the "temporary" division imposed at Geneva. On New Year's Day, 1975, the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) surrounded the provincial capital of Phuoc Binh, 75 miles from Saigon; one week later the town was theirs. Quang Tri, south of the Demilitarised Zone, and Phan Rang followed, then Bat Me Thout, Hue, Danang and Qui Nhnon in quick succession and with little bloodshed. Danang, once the world's greatest military base, was taken by a dozen cadres of the Front for the Liberation of Vietnam (the NLF, known as the Vietcong by the Americans) waving white handkerchiefs from the back of a truck. A United Press wirepicture of an American punching a South Vietnamese "ally" squarely in the face as the Vietnamese tried to climb on board the last American flight from Nha Trang to Saigon held a certain symbolism of what had gone before.

By mid-April, the end was in sight as the battle for Xuan Loc unfolded 30 miles to the north-west of Saigon, which itself was already encircled by as many as 15 PAVN divisions armed with artillery and heatseeking missiles. On 20 April, Xuan Loc was captured by the PAVN. Only Saigon was now left.

Among the ribbons of refugees heading away from the fighting were embittered troops of the army of the US-backed Saigon regime, whose president and commander-in-chief, General Thieu, had acknowledged their defeat by fleeing to Taiwan with a fortune in gold. On 27 April, General Duong Van ("Big") Minh was elected president by the National Assembly with instructions to find a way to peace. It was "Big" Minh who in 1963 had helped to overthrow the dictator Ngo Dinh Diem and had sought, with his fellow officers, to negotiate a peace settlement with the NLF. When the Americans learned about this they bundled Minh out of office, and the war proceeded.

It was now eight o'clock; I hurried across Lam Som Square to get some urgently needed coffee. Saigon had been under rocket attack for two nights. One rocket had cut a swathe through half an acre of tiny, tightly packed houses in Cholon, the Chinese quarter, and the fire storm that followed had razed the lot. There were people standing motionless, as if in a tableau, looking at the corrugated iron which was all that remained of their homes. There were few reporters; yesterday's rockets were news, the first to fall on Saigon in a decade; today's rockets were not. A French photographer blundered across the smouldering iron, sobbing; he pulled at my arm and led me to a pyre that had been a kitchen.

Beside it was a little girl, about five, who was still living. The skin on her chest was open like a page; her arms were gutted and her hands were petrified in front of her, one turned out, one turned in. Her face was still recognisable: she had plump cheeks and brown eyes, though her mouth was burnt and her lips had gone completely. A policeman was holding her mother away from her. A boy scout, with a Red Cross armband, clattered across the iron, gasped and covered his face. The French photographer and I knelt beside her and tried to lift her head, but her hair was stuck to the iron by mortar turned to wax by the heat. We waited half an hour, locked in this one dream, mesmerised by a little face, trying to give it water, until a stretcher arrived.

Following the attacks the American Ambassador, Graham Martin, appeared on Saigon television and pledged that the United States would not leave Vietnam. He said, "I, the American Ambassador, am not going to run away in the middle of the night. Any of you can come to my home and see for yourselves that I have not packed my bags. I give you my word." America's last proconsul on the continent of Asia, Martin was a private, strong-willed and irascible man. He was also very sick; his skin was sunken and skeined grey from long months of pneumonia; his speech was ponderous and frequently blurred from the drugs he was taking. He chain-smoked, and conversations with him would be interrupted by extended bouts of coughing.

To describe Graham Martin as a hawk would be to attribute to that bird qualities of ferocity it does not have. For weeks he had told Washington that South Vietnam could survive with an "iron ring" around Saigon supplied by B-52s flying in relays back. But Martin could not ignore completely what he saw; he knew it was his job, and his job alone, to preside over the foreclosure on an empire which had once claimed two-thirds of Indo-China, for which his own son had died, nine years before. In the American embassy, a tree, one of many mighty tamarinds planted by the French a century before, dominated the lawns and garden outside the main foyer. The only other open space big enough for a helicopter to land had the swimming pool in the middle of it, and the helipad on the embassy roof was designed only for the small Huey helicopters. If a helicopter evacuation was called, only the marines' Chinook and Jolly Green Giant helicopters would be able to fly large numbers of people to the Seventh Fleet, 30 miles offshore, within the course of one day. The tree was Graham Martin's last stand. He had told his staff that once the tree fell, America's prestige would fall with it, and he would have none of it.

Tom Polgar was the CIA station chief. Unlike many of his predecessors, he was unusually well informed and he despaired openly of the Ambassador's stubbornness. When Thieu locked himself in the bunker beneath the presidential palace for three and a half days, refusing to resign or even to take any phone calls, it was Polgar, together with the French Ambassador, Jean-Marie Merrillon, who finally persuaded Graham Martin that he should intervene. To Martin, the felling of President Thieu became like the felling of the embassy tree: a matter of pride and "face," for himself and for America. The United States government had solemnly committed itself to Thieu and the southern state it had invented; he often said that his own son had died so that Thieu's "South Vietnam" could remain "free." On April 28 the NLF raised their flag on Newport bridge, three miles from the city centre. The monsoon had arrived early and Saigon now lay beneath leaden cloud; beyond the airport were long, arched bolts of lightning and the thunder came in small salvos as President Minh prepared to address what was left of his "republic." He stood at the end of the great hall in the presidential palace, which was heavy with chandeliers and gold brocade, and he spoke haltingly, as if delivering a hopeless prayer. He talked of "our soldiers fighting hard" and only, it seemed, as an afterthought did he call for a ceasefire and for negotiation. As he finished speaking, a succession of thunderclaps drowned his last words; the war was ending with a fine sense of theatre.

I walked quickly along Tu Do, the city's main street, as the lightning marched into the centre of the city. Half a dozen shops had closed since the day before, their owners having evacuated themselves to the bowling alley and gymnasium at Dodge City, the code-name for the old American command cocoon at Tan Son Nhut airport, where they paid handsomely for a place in the queue. The Indian tailor at No 24 Tu Do, "Austin's Fine Clothes," was morosely counting his dollars and cursing his radio for not picking up the BBC World Service news. I had known the tailor at Austin's for a long time, and our relationship had always been one of whispers and comic furtiveness, involving the handing over of one green note, which would be fingered, snapped, peered at and put up against the light, and the receiving of a carrier bag filled with best British Vietnamese piastres. (Britain's greatest export to South Vietnam was banknotes.)

Thunder pulverised the city as the tailor counted his money; he had at least 5,000 dollars in that drawer, today's and yesterday's takings, and his Indian passport protruded from his shirt pocket. "Communists respect passports," he said, patting his without knowing what they respected. He said Saigon would not fall for at least a month, which caused the Vietnamese assistant, whirring at his sewing machine behind the curtain, to laugh.

The thunder had a new sound, dry and metallic. It was gunfire. The city seemed to be exploding with weapons of every kind: small arms, mortars, anti-aircraft batteries. "I think we are being bombed," said the tailor, who flinched from his counting only to turn up the volume on his radio, which was tuned to the Voice of America's Oldies arid Goldies hour. For the next half-hour the shop itself seemed to be a target and I ensured that two walls stood between me and the street. The tailor, however, remained at his post and counted his dollars while the Voice of America played "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White," which was barely audible above the gunfire. It is a profoundly witless song, but I sang along with the tailor, and I shall probably never forget the words. In a far corner, like a wounded bird, an old Vietnamese woman clawed at the wall, weeping and praying. A joss stick and a box of matches lay on the floor in front of her; she could not strike the matches because her whole body was shaking with fear. After several attempts I was able to light it for her, only then realising the depth of my own fear.

The loud noises, including the thunder, stopped, and there was now only a crackle of small arms fire. "Thanks to the gentlemen who have bombed us," said the tailor, "the rate has just risen a thousand piastres." He opened the steel shutters, looked out and said, "OK, run!"

It seemed that all of Saigon was running, in spasms of controlled, silent panic. My own legs were melting, but they went as they never had before, and were given new life by an eruption of shooting outside the Bo Da café. A military policeman, down on both knees, was raking the other side of the street, causing people to flatten or fall; nobody screamed. A bargirl from the Miramar Hotel, wearing platform shoes, collided with the gutter, badly skinning her legs and her cheek. She lay still, holding her purse over the back of her head. On the far corner, opposite the Caravelle Hotel and outside a gallery which specialised in instant, hideous girlie paintings, a policeman sprayed the sky with his M-16 rifle. There was a man lying next to him, with his bicycle buckled around him.

Saigon was now "falling" before our eyes: the Saigon created and fattened and fed intravenously by the United States, then declared a terminal case; capital of the world's only consumer society that produced nothing; headquarters of the world's fourth greatest army, the ARVN, whose soldiers were now deserting at the rate of a thousand a day; and centre of an empire which, unlike the previous empire of the French who came to loot, expected nothing from its subjects, not rubber nor rice nor treasure (there was no oil), only acceptance of its "strategic interests" and gratitude for its Asian manifestations: Coca-Cola and Napalm.

At one o'clock in the morning, Graham Martin called a meeting of his top embassy officials to announce that he had spoken to Henry Kissinger, who had told him that the Soviet Ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, had promised to pass his (Kissinger's) message to Hanoi requesting a negotiated settlement with President Minh's government. Martin said Kissinger was hopeful that the Russians could arrange this. He said he wanted the evacuation by fixed-wing aircraft to continue for as long as possible, perhaps for 24 hours. It was shortly after four o'clock in the morning when scores of rockets fell on Tan Son Nhut airport, followed by a barrage of heavy artillery. The waiting was over; the battle for Saigon had begun. The sun rose as a ragged red backdrop to the tracer bullets.

A helicopter gunship exploded and fell slowly, its lights still blinking. To the east, in the suburbs, there was mortar fire, which meant that the NLF were in Saigon itself, moving in roughly a straight line towards the embassy. A 6am meeting between Martin and his top officials was, said one of those in attendance, "a disaster." All of them, except Martin, agreed that they should start the evacuation immediately. Martin said no, he would not "run away," and announced to their horror that he would drive to Tan Son Nhut to assess the situation for himself. There was no more than a suspicion among the embassy staff that the last proconsul of the empire might, just might, have plans to burn with Rome. When the meeting ended in confusion, Polgar ordered that the great tamarind tree be chopped down.

The tree-cutters assembled, like Marlboro men run to fat. These were the men who would fell the great tamarind; a remarkable group of CIA officers, former Special Forces men (the Green Berets) and an assortment of former GIs supplied by two California-based companies to protect the embassy. They carried weapons which would delight the collector, including obsolete and adorned machine guns and pistols, and a variety of knives. However, they shared one characteristic; they walked with a swagger that was pure cowboy: legs slightly bowed, right hand hanging loose, fingers turned in and now and then patting the holster. They were issued with axes and a power saw, and secretaries from the embassy brought them beer and sandwiches. They were cutting down the Ambassador's tree without the Ambassador's approval.

At the same time, a fleet of cars and trucks pulled into the market outside the Botanical Gardens and Zoo, and quickly discharged their cargo: frozen steaks, pork chops, orange juice, great jars of pickles and maraschino cherries, cartons of canned butter beans and Chunky peanut butter, Sara Lee cakes, Budweiser beer, Seven-Up, Wrigley's Chewing Gum, Have-A-Tampa plastic-tipped cigars and more, all of it looted from the Saigon commissary, which had been abandoned shortly after an NLF sapper unit strolled in Indian file past its rear doors. To the Saigonese, stealing from their mentors and patrons had become something of a cultural obligation, and there was a carnival air and much giggling as fast-melting T-bones were sold for a few cents. A pick-up truck discharged a dishwashing machine and a water cooler was quickly sold and driven away in a tri-shaw; the dishwasher was of the Blue Swan brand and on its box was the Blue Swan motto: "Only the best is right for our customers." The dishwasher was taken from its box and left on the road. Two hours later it was still there, unsold and stripped of vital parts, a forlorn monument to consumer enterprise in Vietnam.

Saigon was now under a 24-hour curfew, but there were people in the streets, and some of them were soldiers from the 18th ARVN Division which had fought well at Xuan Loc, on Highway One. We had been expecting them and awaiting the first signs of their anger as they watched the Americans preparing to leave them to their fate. That morning, when they first appeared in the centre of the city, they merely eyed foreigners, or robbed them, or fired into the air to relieve their frustration.

I walked back to the Caravelle Hotel where I was to meet Sandy Gall of Independent Television News (ITN); he and I were the "evacuation wardens" for the TCN Press, which meant Third Country Nationals, which meant everyone who was not American or Vietnamese. For some days Gall and I had concerned ourselves with the supremely eccentric task of trying to organise those representatives of the British, Canadian, Italian, German, Spanish, Argentinian, Brazilian, Dutch and Japanese press who wanted to be evacuated. The American embassy had distributed a 15-page booklet called SAFE, short for "Standard Instruction and Advice to Civilians in an Emergency." The booklet included a map of Saigon pinpointing "assembly areas where a helicopter will pick you up." There was an insert page which read: Note evacuational signal. Do not disclose to other personnel. When the evacuation is ordered, the code will be read out on American Forces Radio. The code is: THE TEMPERATURE IN SAIGON IS 112 DEGREES AND RISING. THIS WILL BE FOLLOWED BY THE PLAYING OF I'M DREAMING OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS."

The Japanese journalists were concerned that they would not recognise the tune and wondered if somebody could sing it to them. At the Caravelle, Gall and I had nominated floor wardens who, at the first hint of yuletide snow in Saigon, were to ensure that reporters who were infirm, deaf, asleep, confined to a lavatory or to a liaison, would not be left behind. There was more than a modicum of self-interest in this arrangement; I had, and have, an affliction which has delivered me late for virtually every serious event in my life.

Two C-130 Hercules aircraft from Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines were over Tan Son Nhut. They were ordered not to land. Scouts sent to the perimeter of the airport reported that two platoons of PAVN infantry had reinforced the sappers in the cemetery a mile away; a South Vietnamese pilot had landed his F-5 fighter on the runway and abandoned it with its engine running; and a jeep-load of ARVN were now ramming one of their own C-130s as it tried to take off. "There are some three thousand panicking civilians on the runway," said General Homer Smith on the VHF. "The situation appears to be out of control."

Graham Martin, alone in his office, watched the tree fall and heard his CIA Station Chief cry, 'Timberrrr!' When Kissinger phoned shortly afterwards, in compliance with President Ford's wish that the American Ambassador should take the final decision on the evacuation, he listened patiently to an exhausted and ailing Graham Martin. At 10.43 a.m. the order was given to "go with Option Four" (the helicopter evacuation; the other options had involved evacuation by sea and by air). But Martin remained steadfast in the belief that there was "still time" to negotiate an "honourable settlement."

The Caravelle emptied without the knowledge of the Unofficial Joint TCN Warden. Nobody told me. Bing Crosby did not croon on my radio. When I emerged, the rooms looked like the Marie Celeste, with clothes, papers, toothbrushes left. I ran to my room, gathered my typewriter, radio and notes and jammed them into one small bag; the rest I left. Two room attendants arrived and viewed my frantic packing, bemused and slightly in awe. One asked, "Are you checking out, sir?" I said that I was, in a manner of speaking. "But your laundry won't be back till this evening, sir." I tried not to look at him. "Please ... you keep it ... and anything else you see." I pushed a bundle of piastres into their hands, knowing that I was buying their deference in the face of my graceless exit. After nine years, what a way to leave. But that I wanted to leave was beyond question; I had had my fill of the war.

Outside, Lam Son Square was empty, except for a few ARVN soldiers slouched in doorways and in the gutter. One of them walked briskly up Tu Do, shouting at me; he was drunk. He unholstered his revolver, rested it on an unsteady arm, took aim and fired. The bullet went over my head as I ran. A crowd was pressing at the gate of the American embassy; some were merely the curious who had come to watch the Americans' aerial Dunkirk, but there were many who gripped the bars and pleaded with the marine guard to let them in and waved wax-sealed documents and letters from American officials. An old man had a letter from a sergeant who a long time ago had run the bar at the Air Force officers' club in Pleiku. The old man used to wash dishes there, and his note from the sergeant, dated 5 June, 1967, read, "Mr Nha, the bearer of this letter, faithfully served the cause of freedom in the Republic of Vietnam." Mr Nha also produced a toy Texas ranger's star which one of the pilots at Pleiku had given to him. He waved the letter and the toy Texas ranger's star at the marine guard who was shouting at the crowd," Now please don't panic... please!" For as long as they could remember, these people, who worked for the Americans, had been told to fear the communists; now they were being told, with the communists in their backyards, that they should not panic.

The old man attempted to slide through the opening in the gate and was pushed to the ground by the marine who was telling them not to panic. He got up, tried again and was tackled by a second marine who propelled him outside with the butt of his rifle and hurled the Texas ranger's badge over the heads of the crowd.

Inside the embassy compound the marines and the cowboys were standing around the stump of the great tamarind tree. "OK, you tell me what we're gonna do about this immovable bastard?" said one of the cowboys into his walkie-talkie. "Take it easy, Jed," came an audible reply, "just you and the boys level it down by at least another foot, so there's plenty of room for the rotors. And Jed, get all those shavings swept up, or sure as hell they're gonna be sucked into the engines." So the marines and the cowboys went on swinging their axes at the stump, but with such mounting frustration and incompetence that their chopping became an entertainment for those both inside and outside the gate, and for the grinning French guards on the high wall of the French embassy next door.

There is in the Vietnamese language, which is given much to poetry and irony, a saying that "only when the house burns, do you see the faces of the rats." Here was Dr Phan Quang Dan, former deputy prime minister and minister responsible for social welfare and refugee resettlement, a man seen by Washington and by Ambassador Martin as the embodiment of the true nationalist spirit of South Vietnam. An obsessive anti-communist who was constantly making speeches exhorting his countrymen to stand and fight, Dr Phan Quang Dan was accompanied by his plump wife sweltering under a fur coat and by a platoon of bagmen whose bags never left their grip. The "beautiful people" of Saigon were also there, including those young men of military age whose wealthy parents had paid large bribes to keep them out of the Army. Although they were listed as soldiers on some unit's roster, they never reported for duty and their commanding officers more than likely pocketed their wages. They were called "ghost soldiers" and they continued to lead the good life in Saigon: in the cafés, on their Hondas, beside the pool at the Cercle Sportif, while the sons of the poor fought and died at Quang Tri, An Loc, and all the other places.

"Look, it is me ... let me in, please ... thank you very much ... hello, it is me!" The shrill voice at the back of the crowd outside the gate belonged to Lieutenant-General Dang Van Quang, regarded by his countrymen and by many Americans as one of the biggest and richest profiteers in South Vietnam. The marine guard had a list of people he could let in, and General Quang was on it. With great care, the guard helped General Quang, who was very fat, over the 15-foot bars and then retrieved his three Samsonite bags. The General was so relieved to be inside that he walked away, leaving his 20-year-old son to struggle hopelessly in the crowd. There were two packets of dollars sagging from the General's jacket breast pocket. When they were pointed out to him, he stuffed them back in, and laughed. To the Americans, General Quang was known as "Giggles" and "General Fats." Among the Americans in the embassy compound there was a festive spirit. They squatted on the lawn around the swimming-pool with champagne in ice buckets looted from the embassy restaurant, and they whooped it up; one man in a western hat sprayed bubbly on another and there was joyous singing by two aircraft mechanics, Frank and Elmer. Over and over they sang, to the tune of "The Camp Town Races":

We're goin' home in freedom birds,
Doo dah, doo dah;
We ain't goin' home in plastic bags,
Oh doo dah day.

"This is where I've come after ten years," said Warren Parker almost in tears. "See that man over there? He's a National Police official ...nothing better than a torturer." Warren Parker had been, until that morning, United States Consul in My Tho, in the Delta, where I had met him a week earlier. He was a quiet, almost bashful man who had spent 10 years in Vietnam trying to "advise" the Vietnamese and puzzling why so many of them did not seem to want his advice. He and I pushed our way into the restaurant beside the swimming-pool, past a man saying, "No Veetnamese in here, no Veetnamese," where we looted a chilled bottle of Taylor New York wine, pink and sweet. The glasses had already gone, so we drank from the bottle. "I'll tell you something," he said in his soft Georgia accent, "if there ever was a moment of truth for me it's today. All these years I've been down there, doing a job of work for my country and for this country, and today all I can see is that we've succeeded in separating all the good people from the scum, and we got the scum."

At 3.15 p.m. Graham Martin strode out of the embassy lift, through the foyer and into the compound. The big helicopters, the Jolly Green Giants, had yet to arrive and the stump of the tamarind was not noticeably shorter, in spite of the marines' and cowboys' furious chopping and sawing. Martin's Cadillac was waiting for him and, with embassy staff looking on in shock, the Cadillac drove towards the gate, which was now under siege. The marine at the gate could not believe his eyes. The Cadillac stopped, the marine threw his arms into the air and the Cadillac reversed. The Ambassador got out and stormed past the stump and the cowboys. "I am going to walk once more to my residence," he exclaimed. "I shall walk freely in this city. I shall leave Vietnam when the President tells me to leave." He left the embassy by a side entrance, forced his own way through the crowd and walked the four blocks to his house. An hour and a half later he returned with his poodle, Nitnoy, and his Vietnamese manservant.

As the first Chinook helicopter made its precarious landing, its rotors slashed into a tree, and the snapping branches sounded like gunfire. "Down! Down!" screamed a corporal, high on Methedrine, to the line of people crouched against the wall, waiting their turn to be evacuated, until an officer came and calmed him. The helicopter's capacity was 50, but it lifted off with 70. The pilot's skill was breathtaking as he climbed vertically to 200 feet, with bullets pinging against the rotors and shredded embassy documents playing in the downdraft. However, not all the embassy's documents were shredded and some were left in the compound in open plastic bags. One of these I have. It is dated May 25, 1969 and reads, "Top Secret ... memo from John Paul Vann, counter insurgency ...900 houses in Chau Doe province were destroyed by American air strikes without evidence of a single enemy being killed. The destruction of this hamlet by friendly American firepower is an event that will always be remembered and never forgiven by the surviving population..."

From the billowing incinerator on the embassy roof rained money. I found it difficult to believe my eyes. The unreal and the real had merged. From the heavens came 20, 50 and 100 dollar bills. Most were charred; some were not. The Vietnamese waiting around the pool could not believe their eyes; former ministers and generals and torturers scrambled for their severance pay from the sky. An embassy official said that more than five million dollars were being burned. "Every safe in the embassy has been emptied and locked again," said an official, "so as to fool the gooks when we've gone."

At least a thousand people were still inside the embassy, waiting to be evacuated, although most of the celebrities, like "Giggles" Quang, had seen themselves on to the first helicopters; the rest waited passively, as if stunned. Inside the embassy itself there was champagne foaming on to polished desks, as several of the embassy staff tried systematically to wreck their own offices: smashing water coolers, pouring bottles of Scotch into the carpets, sweeping pictures from the wall. In a third-floor office a picture of the late President Johnson was delivered into a wastepaper basket, while a framed quotation from Lawrence of Arabia was left on the wall. The quotation read: "Better to let them do it imperfectly, than to do it perfectly yourself, for it is their country, their war, and your time is short."

It was approaching midnight. The embassy compound was lit by the headlights of embassy cars, and the Jolly Green Giants were now taking up to 90 people each. Martin Garrett, the head of security, gathered all the remaining Americans together. The waiting Vietnamese sensed what was happening and a marine colonel appeared to reassure them that Ambassador Martin had given his word he would be the last to leave. It was a lie, of course. It was 2.30 a.m. on April 30 when Kissinger phoned Martin and told him to end the evacuation at 3.45 a.m. After half an hour Martin emerged with an attaché case, a suit bag and the Stars and Stripes folded in a carrier bag. He went in silence to the sixth floor where a helicopter was waiting. "Lady Ace 09 is in the air with Code Two." "Code Two" was the code for an American Ambassador. The clipped announcement over the tied circuit meant that the American invasion of Indo-China had ended. As his helicopter banked over Highway One, the Ambassador could see the headlights of trucks of the People's Army of Vietnam, waiting.

The last marines reached the roof and fired tear-gas canisters into the stairwell. They could hear the smashing of glass and desperate attempts by their former allies to break open the empty safes. The marines were exhausted and beginning to panic; the last helicopter had yet to arrive and it was well past dawn. Three hours later, as the sun beat down on an expectant city, tanks flying NLF colours entered the centre of Saigon. Their jubilant crews showed no menace, nor did they fire a single shot. They were courteous and bemused; and one of them jumped down, spread a map on his tank and asked amazed bystanders, "Please direct us to the presidential palace. We don't know Saigon, we haven't been here for some time." The tanks clattered into Lam Som Square, along Tu Do, up past the cathedral and, after pausing so that the revolutionary flag on their turrets could catch the breeze, they smashed through the ornate gates of the presidential palace where "Big" Minh and his cabinet were waiting to surrender. In the streets outside, boots and uniforms lay in neat piles where ARVN soldiers had stepped out of them and merged with the crowds. There was no "bloodbath," as those who knew little about the Vietnamese had predicted. With the invader expelled, this extraordinary country was again one nation, as the Geneva conference had said it had a right all those wasted years ago. The longest war of the 20th century was over.