Harold Pinter’s Death etc. is a slim but sobering collection of his essays, plays, and poems about war, and specifically war as promulgated (fostered, supported, funded) by the United States. The works abound in references both veiled and stark to the United States’ promotion of right wing regimes of terror, and The U.S.’ record of human rights abuses including torture and wrongful imprisonment throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. This collection was published in 2005, the same year Pinter received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Pinter decries the hypocrisy of the United States using claims of spreading freedom and democracy and protecting the oppressed to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq; he bemoans Blair’s support for the invasion; and he points out the discrepancy between Hussein’s atrocities in his country and U.S. atrocities against countries as diverse as Vietnam, Greece, Guatemala, and Haiti, as well as against Iraqi civilians once the war began. Pinter never asks if our country’s power to wreak misery and death throughout the world will end before another century begins, but history would say this is most likely. Will another power take over where we leave off? Will we find ourselves at the mercy of a force believing “God” and “Right” is on its side? Pinter, who died in 2008, would say that power is always used to justify actions, and vice versa. Pity — and protect — those on the wrong end of power.
Pinter uses few words to pack his very hard punches. The plays “The New World Order” and “One for the Road” are painfully clear in the message that women and children, the vulnerable, pay the highest cost of war, but men made vulnerable by being on the losing side get it too, and badly. The horror of reading the plays is knowing that although Pinter writes fiction, the scenes are real and have been played over again and again in oppressive regimes around the world.
Pinter’s final poem in the collection is an elegy to the unknown dead, to all who have been killed in war and left as bodies by the side of the road or in a heap of other bodies, unidentified but mourned, alone in death but held close in someone’s memory, somewhere:
Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?
Did you wish the dead boy
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body
No matter what your politics, there is a truth in what Pinter writes that cannot be denied, and a responsibility that must be remembered. We have to protest against those wreak death, and protect those whose lives are threatened. War is terror, and we have to protest against it as the least humane of all human endeavors.