Pilger’s Rap Sheet on the Criminal Elite

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The head of the British Independent Television Authority once called Pilger “a threat to Western Civilization.” Kiji Noh reports.

John Pilger in The Truth Game (1983). (johnpilger.com)

By Kiji Noh
Pearls and Irritations

John Pilger was always on the side of the oppressed. He denounced Empire and all its violent predations – war, genocide, exploitation – as well as its endless lies and propaganda.

Till his death on Saturday, he fought tirelessly for the freedom of Julian Assange, and his last article, “We are all Spartacus,” published in Consortium News, was a call to stand with the imprisoned publisher. 

Pilger gave voice to the invisible and the voiceless: the hungrythe poorthe handicappedthe conscriptedthe sanctioned & bombedthe dispossessedrefugees, the chemically experimented onthe structurally adjustedthe coupedthe famine-expendable, the colonizedthe genocidedthe silenced, shining a light in the hidden, dark recesses of the hell of Empire.

He fought racismwarprivatizationneocolonialismneoliberalism, globalizationpropagandaadvertisingnuclear madnessU.S. coups.

His filmography and writing is a rap sheet of the unceasing criminality of Empire and Capitalism.

Arguably giving him the best homage he could receive, Sir Robert Fraser, head of the British Independent Television Authority once called Pilger a “threat to Western Civilization.”

Pilger was also prophetic: in 1970, he chronicled the insurrection of troops against the Vietnam war in The Quiet Mutiny. In 1974, and again in 2002, he spoke out that Palestine Is Still the Issue, demanding that “the occupation of Palestine should end now.” He warned about Japanese militarism and revisionism.

In 2014, he warned that Ukraine, a “C.I.A. theme park”, was preparing “a Nato-run guerrilla war that is likely to spill into Russia itself.” Seven years ago, when only a few were aware, and even fewer were speaking out – in short words and articles – he released a full-length, full-throated documentary warning the world that the U.S. was escalating catastrophically to The Coming War With China.

Pilger was not only a powerful critical journalist and world-changing filmmaker –Cambodia Year Zero is considered one of the most influential documentaries in the 20th century. He was also a craftsman, a poet, artist –- he understood the power of language and understood that in a medium restricted by word counts, every word counts.

But it was Pilger’s rich, resonant delivery – like a Shakespearean actor – that always struck me. It contained the unmistakable, unimpeachable courage of moral integrity: a voice that knows it is speaking the truth.

You will hear many things about him in the days to come, but Pilger’s own words are most insightful. (The following from an interview with Michael Albert at Znet.)

On the form of journalism:

“In all these forms the aim should be to find out as many facts and as much of the truth as possible. There’s no mystery. Yes, we all bring a personal perspective to work; that’s our human right. Mine is to be skeptical of those who seek to control us, indeed of all authority that isn’t accountable, and not to accept “official truths”, which are often lies. Journalism is or ought to be the agent of people, not power: the view from the ground.”

On making a difference:

….the aim of good journalism is or ought to be to give people the power of information – without which they cannot claim certain freedoms. It’s as straightforward as that. Now and then you do see the effects of a particular documentary or series of reports.

In Cambodia, more than $50 million were given by the public, entirely unsolicited, following my first film; and my colleagues and I were able to use this to buy medical supplies, food and clothing. Several governments changed their policies as a result. Something similar happened following the showing of my documentary on East Timor – filmed, most of it, in secret… Did it affect the situation in East Timor? No, but it did contribute to the long years of tireless work by people all over the world.”

On social media:

“Ironically, they can separate us even further from each other: enclose us in a bubble-world of smartphones and fragmented information, and magpie commentary. Thinking is more fun, I think.”

On U.S. foreign policy:

I seldom use the almost respectable term, U.S. foreign policy; U.S. designs for the world is the correct term, surely. These designs have been running along a straight line since 1944 when the Bretton Woods conference ordained the U.S. as the number one imperial power. The line has known occasional interruptions such as the retreat from Saigon and the triumph of the Sandinistas, but the designs have never changed. They are to dominate humanity. What has changed is that they are often disguised by the modern power of public relations, a term Edward Bernays invented during the first world war because ‘the Germans have given propaganda a bad name.’”

On the economy:

With every administration, it seems, the aims are ‘spun’ further into the realm of fantasy while becoming more and more extreme. Bill Clinton, still known by the terminally naive as a ‘progressive’, actually upped the ante on the Reagan administration, with the iniquities of NAFTA and assorted killing around the world. What is especially dangerous today is that the U.S. ’s wilfully and criminally collapsed economy (collapsed for ordinary people) and the unchallenged pre-eminence of the parasitical ‘defence’ industries have followed a familiar logic that leads to greater militarism, bloodshed and economic hardship.”

On peace activism:

The current spoiling for a fight with China is a symptom of this, as is the invasion of Africa….I find it remarkable that I have lived my life without having been blown to bits in a nuclear holocaust ignited by Washington. What this tells me is that popular resistance across the rest of the world is potent and much feared by the bully – look at the hysterical pursuit of WikiLeaks. Or if not feared, it’s disorientating for the master. That’s why those of us who regard peace as a normal state of human affairs are in for a long haul, and faltering along the way is not an option, really.”

On the future:

“I’m confident that if we remain silent while the U.S. war state, now rampant, continues on its bloody path, we bequeath to our children and grandchildren a world with an apocalyptic climate, broken dreams of a better life for all and, as the unlamented General Petraeus put it, a state of ‘perpetual war.’ Do we accept that or do we fight back?”

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