Adam Curtis BBC Jan 8, 2010
What I find so fascinating about the reporting of the War on Terror is the way almost all of it ignores history – as if it is a conflict happening outside time. The Yemen is a case in point. In the wake of the underpants bomber we have been deluged by a wave of terror journalism about this dark mediaeval country that harbours incomprehensible fanatics who want to destroy the west. None of it has explained that only forty years ago the British government fought a vicious secret war in the Yemen against republican revolutionaries who used terror, including bombing airliners.
But the moment you start looking into that war you find out all sorts of extraordinary things.
First that the chaos that has engulfed the Yemen today and is breeding new terrorist threats against the west is a direct result of that conflict of forty years ago.
Secondly it also had a powerful and corrupting effect on Britain itself. To fight the war both Conservative and Labour governments in the 1960s set up international arms deals with the Saudis. These involved bribery on a huge scale which led to the Al Yamamah scandal that still festers today.
To fight the war in secret the British government also allowed the creation of a private mercenary force. Out of it would come today’s privatized military industry that fights wars for dictators throughout Africa and is deeply involved in fighting against the insurgency in Iraq.
The key figure behind Britain’s involvement was called Colonel David Stirling. He brought Britain into the war, created the mercenary amy, and set up the Saudi Arms deal. Stirling was one of the main characters in a documentary series I made called The Mayfair Set, and a large part of the first episode tells the inside story of Britain’s role in the Yemen war in the 1960s. I thought I would put up that section plus a brief background to our whole involvement in Yemen.
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