John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker who has spent the better part of his life documenting the destructive footprint of American empire and the resistance it has met. He’s made over 50 documentaries and is the author, most recently, of Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire, which looks at ongoing struggles in Afghanistan, Diego Garcia, India, Palestine and South Africa.
The renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger has spent the better part of his life documenting American empire and the resistance it has met. Pilger has made over 50 documentaries and is the author, most recently, of "Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire," which looks at ongoing struggles in Afghanistan, Diego Garcia, India, Palestine and South Africa. Pilger joins us for the hour to play excerpts of his documentaries and speak of the struggles he has covered. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: This week marks the 40th year of Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel seized during the Six-Day War. It has also been 40 years since the British government expelled the indigenous population of Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean, and made way for the third-largest military base, a base that is used to launch airstrikes against Afghanistan and Iraq. While Palestinian refugees still dream of the right to return, the exiled islanders recently won an appeal in British courts for their right to return to Diego Garcia. However, following their protracted battle with the U.S. and British governments, it is unclear whether they will be allowed to do so. At the same time, sections of the Bush administration are further stepping up their efforts to justify a possible attack on Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour with John Pilger, an award-winning, renowned investigative journalist, author, documentary filmmaker, who can tie all of this together. He has spent the better part of his life documenting the destructive footprint of American empire and the resistance it has met. John Pilger has made 57 documentaries. He is the author, most recently, of the book Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire, which looks at ongoing struggles in Afghanistan, Diego Garcia, India, Palestine, South Africa.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, John.
JOHN PILGER: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s nice to have you on this side of the Atlantic.
JOHN PILGER: Thank you. Good to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the main thesis of your book and your latest film, Resisting Empire.
JOHN PILGER: Well, the book is about empire, as you say. It’s about resisting empire. But it’s about how modern empire works, and especially through misinformation. It’s about double standards. It’s about censorship by omission, which runs through so much of the mainstream media. And it’s about that eternal struggle, if you like, of the struggle of people against power and the struggle of people against the abandonment of collective memory and historical memory. And the title, Freedom Next Time, comes from, I suppose, looking at a number of struggles where people have glimpsed freedom, in some cases have touched it, as in South Africa, but it’s yet denied to them. And it’s denied to them by the forces of empire.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I was particularly struck in the section on South Africa, where you talk about really the difference between the expectations that the population had once apartheid was eliminated and the reality. I think you mentioned at one point that about 700,000 people had been evicted in the 10 years from lands in the 10 years before the revolution triumphed, but yet more have been evicted since then, over 900,000, and that it’s even actually easier now to evict poor South Africans from the land than it was before the revolution.
JOHN PILGER: You may say apartheid died in South Africa—the political apartheid died with the release of Mandela and the elections in '94. But economic apartheid was actually reinforced, and the evictions you mention flow directly from that. The ANC government consciously took this decision to go with a form of neoliberal economy in South Africa, which almost by definition excluded the majority. Yes, there have been great advances. Water and electricity has gone through to some of the poorer townships. But you have now something like five million children suffering from very severe malnutrition. You have evictions. What you do have is some people in the black townships actually speaking nostalgically of the last years of official apartheid. Then they didn't have to pay for their water, their electricity. And I suppose what has happened is that a new elite, a new black elite—they’re known rather sardonically in South Africa as the "WaBenzie," because they prefer big silver Mercedes Benz to drive around in—they are on boards, they own some of the new rising entrepreneurial companies, but basically they’re a cover for the continuation of white economic power in South Africa.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But you also mentioned that in—I think it was in ’97, you had interviewed Mandela, and he had talked about the laws that they were implementing to be able to close the economic gap. What happened in terms of that period, when the ANC had a chance to actually move in the direction of eliminating that gap?
JOHN PILGER: I think the ANC—the ANC decided, in the last 10 years before apartheid was officially abandoned and before they came to power, of a series of what they call historic compromises. Well, that all sounds very well, but what it meant was, was compromising with the economic masters of South Africa, of compromising with the great corporations. It meant compromising on an international level with the United States, with the past and future great investors in South Africa. It didn’t mean—it was one of those wonderful historic split seconds where a whole leadership, led by Mandela, had this wonderful opportunity to actually defy the masters of the world and say, "No, we’re going to do it this way." That happens very rarely. And they didn’t. And again, I say, yes, there have been great advances. There have been in multiracial situations and in education and so on and so forth. But the majority of the people of South Africa remain more or less in the kind of poverty that they experienced before. And that’s not what the ANC’s Freedom Charter in the 1950s said. And that’s not what the ANC leaders said. I think, as unfortunately so often happens, they were seduced by the siren song of, you know, Davos and the multinational corporations and all those who said—
JUAN GONZALEZ: By the sugar-coated bullets.
JOHN PILGER: Yeah, this was the grown-up way you take a country. This is the way, and if you do that, then you’ll be part of the community. And there is Thabo Mbeki, you know, a favored son at some of the great economic confabs around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to look at Diego Garcia, an island that most people in this country know very little about, except that they know there’s a major U.S. military base there, perhaps, if they know that. We’ll look at Israel and Palestine. We will also look at, well, the U.S.-British relationship, where you have lived, in Britain, for many years, Tony Blair and George Bush together for the final time, perhaps, at the G8. But first we’re going to go to break.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour is the renowned filmmaker and author John Pilger. He has just come across the Atlantic from Britain. He’s made over 50 films. And we’re going to play an excerpt of one of them, which is called Stealing a Nation, which deals with the island of Diego Garcia, largely the Chagos islands. And in the last few weeks we read a headline about how natives of the Chagos islands in the Indian Ocean have won a major new legal victory in their long-term battle to return home. British forces expelled the islanders 40 years ago to make way for a U.S. military base at the archipelago’s largest island, Diego Garcia. Let’s turn to an excerpt for background, this film, Stealing a Nation, produced by John Pilger.
JOHN PILGER: This is Diego Garcia, the main island of the Chagos group in the Indian Ocean. It was once a phenomenon of natural beauty and peace. A paradise. Today it is one of America’s biggest military bases in the world. There are more than 2,000 troops, two bomber runways, 30 warships, and a satellite spy station.
NEWSREEL: B-1 and B-52 long-range bombers extended their reach from the British base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
JOHN PILGER: From here, the United States has attacked Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon calls it an indispensable platform for policing the world.
PILOT: Missile launch, right 3:00.
JOHN PILGER: Diego Garcia is a British colony. It lies midway between Africa and Asia, one of a group of unique coral islands. This is rare film taken by missionaries before the Americans came in the 1960s. Two thousand people lived in the Chagos islands, a gentle Creole population originally from Africa and India whose communities dated back to the late 18th century. They were thriving villages—a school, a hospital, a jail, a church, a railway, and, above all, a benign, undisturbed way of life.
AMY GOODMAN: Excerpt of Stealing a Nation by John Pilger. John, take it from there.
JOHN PILGER: Well, Stealing a Nation, I don’t often use the word "incredible," but when I started to look into this extraordinary story, I thought the—I thought it was incredible. It became especially so when a group of us found classified files in the Public Record Office in London, which revealed just how the American and British governments had conspired to expel the entire population of this British colony, all of them British citizens, and dump them in the slums of Mauritius a thousand away, and how the deal was set up. Britain got $14 million off the cost of a Polaris submarine as a thank you for giving them the Chagos islands. The Americans wanted Diego Garcia because it almost qualifies as the most perfect place in the world. It’s one of the few places in the Indian Ocean that wasn’t struck by the tsunami, which is why they wanted it. It is, quite literally, a paradise.
The expulsion was done with coercion, with trickery. People had gone to Mauritius to see relatives, weren’t allowed back, or gone for healthcare, weren’t allowed back. And then, finally, when they couldn’t really get the rest of the population to leave, they started killing their pets. They shot their dogs. And when the Americans arrived, they used American military equipment to gas the dogs. And the message was clear: You’re next unless you go. And finally, two ships—you know, it’s evocative of so many expulsions like this—two ships took the remaining mostly women and children and dumped them in Mauritius. And then the world heard almost nothing about them for quite some years, until the people themselves in Mauritius started to demonstrate outside the British Embassy there, and a long struggle began. In the meantime, as you said, the third-biggest U.S. overseas base was built, and the longest runways. Afghanistan was attacked from there. Iraq was attacked from there.
There’s something, I should say, to me, of a metaphor about what happened to Diego Garcia for so much of how power imposes itself and disregards the lives and resources of people, and the hypocrisy, as well. You might remember it’s now 25 years since Margaret Thatcher sent the Royal Navy down to the Falkland Islands to rescue 2,000 white Falkland Islanders and kick the Argentines out. Well, there were 2,000 Chagos islanders whom the British army kicked—the British government kicked out themselves. Of course, the key difference was that the Chagos islanders are black. And again, that’s a critical element of how power works and who has priority.
So now we bring it up to when these documents are found, and some of these documents are, as I say, incredible. You have the senior legal adviser to the British Foreign Office, the document headed, "Maintaining the Fiction," coaching British officials how to lie, how to describe an indigenous population as a floating population. Let’s rebrand them contract workers. They tried everything. You have other documents talking about how we should lie to the United Nations, saying that the islanders agreed to all this. And, of course, they didn’t. Other documents, which we got out of the Freedom of Information Act in this country, showing how the U.S. wanted these islands swept—and that was the word that was used—swept of people completely. And in the year 2000, after a long struggle and some tenacious work by a number of lawyers, one of whom, Richard Gifford, really only discovered the islanders when he went to Mauritius on holiday and heard about them—in the year 2000, the High Court invoked the Magna Carta, which says that you can’t be expelled from your homeland, something that George W. Bush might be interested in. That is the basis for all civilized law. And here we have now the islanders who have won an appeal.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to just play a clip, one more clip, from Stealing a Nation, where you discuss the British government making the claim that Diego Garcia did not have an indigenous population. This is a clip.
JOHN PILGER: They said the islanders didn’t really belong to the Chagos but were merely temporary contract workers. Foreign Office memorandum, July 1965:
VOICEOVER: [reading] "... people were born there and in some cases, their parents were born there, too. The intention is, however, that none of them should be regarded as being permanent inhabitants of the islands."
JOHN PILGER: So how would they be regarded?
VOICEOVER: [reading] "The legal position of the inhabitants will be greatly simplified, from our point of view, though not necessarily from theirs, if we decided to treat them as a floating population."
JOHN PILGER: Foreign Office memo, November 1965:
VOICEOVER: [reading] "There is a civilian population. In practice, however, I would advise a policy of 'quiet disregard'—in other words, let’s forget about this one until the United Nations challenge us on it."
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Stealing a Nation. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, this whole saga of what’s happened to Diego Garcia is a direct echo or reflection in terms of my own experience, having been born in Puerto Rico, and what happened to the island of Vieques, the same thing in the 1940s, the United States military moving in and throwing thousands of people off the land to create the biggest military base and training center for the Atlantic fleet. But, of course, they didn’t take everybody off the island. They took about two-thirds of the population off the island, and as a result, there was a continuing battle that finally triumphed a few years ago with the removal of the Navy from Vieques. What is happening now as a result of the court decision? Because, obviously, as you say, most of the population was removed from the island. The ability of the constituency to fight to maintain that?
JOHN PILGER: Well, let me tell you how the Blair government fought this, fought the islanders. The High Court in 2000, having said that the islanders had the right to go home, that this was all outrageous, they should go home, the Blair government knew that it couldn’t go further in the court, so they invoked something called the royal prerogative, which is the divine right of kings, basically, to decree. And this very important power, which George W. Bush, I understand, has now assumed, but this very important power Blair has used to go to war, it means that you bypass Parliament, you bypass the executive completely. You give the queen something to read, and that’s the end of it. And the queen decreed that the islanders would never go home.
But what is important, since then, is the High Court has come back, and here you have the judiciary now in Britain, as the executive becomes more and more concentrated in absolute power, the judiciary playing almost a traditional role, the High Court again came back and said, "This is repugnant." That was the word that’s used. This is repugnant. These islanders have their rights. Now, as of a couple of weeks ago, the court is saying they can go back to the Chagos islands, but they can’t go back to where most of them come from, and that is Diego Garcia, where the U.S. base is.
Now, if you look back at the old files, the U.S. didn’t want them. There’s plenty of room for them there. In fact, they could work on the base, in that traditional way, unfortunately, but they wanted to do that. The U.S. saw them as a potential national liberation movement. I have to tell you that this campaign has been led mostly by elderly women, extraordinary women, many of whom simply don’t want to die before they see their homeland again. So, it’s got to the point where they can go back to the outlying islands, but they can’t go back to where most of them come from. They’re going to need a lot of support. And it’s about a government defying the court. It’s like the U.S. defying the Supreme Court. The High Court is the same, and we have a standoff at the moment.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And who does the work on Diego Garcia? In other words, does the United States bring in laborers from other countries to do that?
JOHN PILGER: Yes, yes, it brings in the usual cheap contract workers. How ironic. It goes back to what they call the original inhabitors, the floating and contract—but they bring in people from the Indian subcontinent, and of course Filipinos and others. And they security vet them and so on and so forth.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn from Diego Garcia to another story you’ve covered for many years. This week is the 40th anniversary of the Arab-Israeli War in 1967. There are a lot of coverage all over the world now about what is happening there. I was surprised to see a BBC documentary that said the classic myth is the Israeli David to the Arab Goliath, but what that doesn’t include, the BBC said, is the U.S. and British backing of Israel at the time, and perhaps wasn’t as known as well at the time. You have done several films, Palestine is the Issue, then you went back years later and did another film, Palestine is Still the Issue. You have a chapter in your latest book, Freedom Next Time, "The Last Taboo," that begins with two quotes: Amira Hass, the Israeli journalist, well known, who has been on Democracy Now!, who said, "An ideology that divides the world into those who are worth more and those who are worth less into superior and inferior beings does not have to reach the dimensions of the German genocide to be wrong," and then you quote the Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir, saying, "There was no such thing as Palestinians. They never existed."
JOHN PILGER: Yeah. Well, you know, when you first quoted the BBC of the Arab Goliath and the Israeli David, I’m afraid that is still the view. There was—I quote at length in the book a pioneering study done by Glasgow University Media Group in which it asked a cross-section of television—viewers of television news in Britain, what they knew about the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict. And they found that, of young viewers—I think people under the age of 21 who watch TV news—92 percent of them thought that the settlers, the illegal settlers, were Palestinians. And the clear message from this report was that the more people watched television, the less they knew. And I think I have to say that, because I think Edward Said’s rather bitter lament just before he died, in which he blamed journalists, foreign journalists, for ignoring the history of the Palestinian struggle, never contextualizing it, never using the terms equally, like "terrorism" towards Israel as well as towards the Palestinians—almost never used towards Israel—his complaint stands today. And I think the fact that we still have so much misinformation about what is the world’s longest military occupation and one of the world’s longest struggles for basic justice is a reflection on the so-called media age in which we are said to live.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel like it changed from 1974, when you did Palestine is the Issue, to 2002, when you did Palestine is Still the Issue, the two documentaries?
JOHN PILGER: Well, the title, you know, the—no. I mean, the title was meant to—I made this film, Palestine is Still the Issue, 30 years ago, and in calling the new film the same, Palestine is Still the Issue, was meant to say that it’s still the issue, that the basic issues are still there. And it is about justice for the Palestinians, their right to return to their homeland, their right to live decent lives, their right to have all the things that we take for granted. And, of course, as anybody who’s been there, who has a fair mind, would see, then Israelis would claim the same rights almost immediately, and certainly claimed the same rights of security once the Palestinians haven’t had it. But I think, you know, our language has been so distorted. You know, you now have constantly in the United States, and to a great degree in Britain, Hamas, for instance, is reported always with the follow-on as the terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel. Israel is not reported as an organization—call it a terrorist if you like, I would—committed to the destruction of Palestine. And that is the news, day after day—the destruction of Palestine, the building of a wall through Palestine, the denial of the occupied territories, the encircling and imprisonment of the 1.4 million people of Gaza. In other words, we’re still asked to see, and with the very honorable exception of your own program and others, we’re still asked to see the Middle East in terms of Western/Israeli power, of its usefulness or its expendability.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And in your viewpoint, what’s the basis for why especially the media in the West have such a blind spot toward a fair portrayal of the situation in Israel? And how does that relate to your overall theme of this book of empire and of the importance of understanding empire in the world today?
JOHN PILGER: I think I started to realize when I was first sent to Vietnam as a foreign correspondent, and by naiveté started to crumble pretty quickly, that basically the main—what we call the mainstream media, that amorphous thing, is an extension of great power. And yes, there are exceptions, and very fine exceptions, but we’ve seen that time and time again. And with the—especially in the United States, with such an extraordinarily powerful, vociferous groups supporting Israel, associating any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism—and I’ve been at the tail wind of this—with massive email campaigns and so on, it’s very intimidating. It’s worked on the BBC to a great deal—to a great extent, rather. I think when you have that, then the media will then revert back to what it sees, interestingly, as the center. Well, it’s not the center. It’s really as an extension, an expression of government and power. Yes, personalities are criticized. George W. Bush is fair game, probably, now. Certainly, finally, Tony Blair is. But the system that produced them is not.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to award-winning filmmaker and author John Pilger. His latest book is called Freedom Next Time, and the documentary, the film that is just about to be released in the United States, is called The War on Democracy. When we come back from break, we’ll play a clip for you. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest today is the famed filmmaker John Pilger. He’s just come from Britain. His latest film that is being released—and I correct myself—not in the United States, but in Britain, and we’ll talk about why in just a minute, is called The War on Democracy. This is a clip.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice.
TEXT: "In 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected President of Venezuela. His social reforms provoked hysterical attacks."
WAYNE SIMMONS: He should have been killed a long time ago.
ALAN COLMES: By whom?
WAYNE SIMMONS: By anyone.
ANA ELISA OSORIO: [translated] He is being taken prisoner. This is a coup.
TEXT: "In April 2002, his government was overthrown."
CABINET MINISTER: [translated] We suspend the president and all members of the Supreme Court.
CROWD: [translated] Democracy! Democracy!
WOMAN ON STREET: [translated] This is a dictatorship. Chavez is the rightful president.
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ: [translated] They took me away. I thought I was going to die.
TEXT: "A huge public outcry saw him restored to power."
ROGER NORIEGA: It is very important to understand that the United States did not support that coup.
TEXT: "Never believe anything until it’s been officially denied."
DUANE CLARRIDGE: We’ll intervene whenever we decide it’s in our national security interest to intervene. And if you don’t like it, lump it.
TEXT: "Since 1945, the United States has attempted to overthrow 50 governments."
DIANA ORTIZ: Isn’t history taught in the classroom about the role of the U.S. government in human rights violations?
JOSEPH BLAIR: The doctrine that was taught was that you use virtually any method necessary to get what you want.
JOHN PILGER: Torture?
JOSEPH BLAIR: And killing.
JOHN PILGER: Killing.
JOSEPH BLAIR: Killing.
DUANE CLARRIDGE: Get used to it, world. We’re not going to put up with nonsense.
TEXT: "Now the people of Latin America are fighting back.
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ: [translated] I go around Latin America. There is a fervor sparking off everywhere.
JUAN DELFIN: [translated] This is the United States’ flag. We are against this.
TEXT: "Pilger unearths the filthy truth and tells it as it is."
MARIELLA MACHADO: [translated] This isn’t just Chavez’s struggle; it’s our struggle.
TEXT: "The truth in Pilger’s hands is a weapon used against evil and injustice."
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ: [translated] The American empire has reached its end. The great awakening has arrived.
AMY GOODMAN: The War on Democracy, just a trailer of that film that is being released in Britain by Lionsgate. John Pilger, talk about the film and then why we’re not seeing it here.
JOHN PILGER: Well, the film, The War on Democracy, is the first one I’ve done for cinema; it will be shown on television later. It opens in the U.K. on the 15th of June. It’s set in Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Central America and here in the United States. And it really is, I suppose, the story of empire, again, in the 21st century. But it’s the story of the backyard. It’s the story of that whole neglected terrain of empire. And it’s a very positive story, because it charts the rise of popular movements throughout Latin America—in Bolivia, in Argentina, in Ecuador and in Venezuela—and the meaning for democracy with these popular movements, how they are very different from the representative democracy that we like, that we subscribe to in this country and in Britain, but how the grassroots are becoming part of a new movement, and how this threatens the United States. There’s something of a déjà vu of Nicaragua, where I also made a film in the early 1980s, but that was a small, isolated country of three million people. These are some very powerful countries, especially Venezuela, which is a supplier, of course, of much of the United States’s oil. So, it’s really saying the empire fights back. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Did you interview Chavez?
JOHN PILGER: Yes, I did. I spent several days with Chavez. And I don’t normally interview serving politicians, and I found him refreshing, I have to say. He answered all my questions. He didn’t demur from anything, when I asked him about the poverty remaining in Venezuela. I found him a man of extraordinary good humor. What was interesting about him is that he would go to—I mean, his energy is limitless. He would do something like 10 or 12 major meetings around the country a day, and he would turn up carrying a pile of books of Victor Hugo, Orwell, Dickens. And he would read them to the audience, and he would relate what these classics were saying about ordinary people. It is quite extraordinary to see this process of education. And I think it ran two ways: It was about the people, but it was also himself. We like to see all these movements in terms of single personalities, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Chavez’s great engine is a grassroots movement, and without them, he would not be powerful.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you, given the historical reality in Latin America, that there have been popular movements arising certainly throughout most of the 20th century, and for—at least during the Cold War, the United States was always able to argue, well, these are movements either instigated or inspired by communism, by the international communist movement. Obviously, once you had the collapse of the Soviet Union, our government hasn’t been able to say that anymore. They’ve had to deal with the reality, as you say, that these are popular movements that are dealing with the concrete conditions and contradictions of their own societies, where obviously the United States has a big role in the current realities of those societies. But to what degree do you sense, as Chavez said, that this general awakening is—that the forces in these various countries are coming together in a sort of a common front against the American empire?
JOHN PILGER: But there’s always been—as you suggest, there’s always been a tradition of great popular movements in Latin America. In my view, Latin America has a great deal to teach us. And perhaps because it’s had a great deal to teach us in the West, we’ve chosen to ignore them. In the 19th century, countries like Venezuela, with its great son, the liberator, Simon Bolivar, won independence. Most of the history of Latin America and the struggle against first the Spanish, then against—to some degree, against European invasion, and then against the Americans, the North Americans, has been largely ignored. And Chavez and Morales and others throughout Latin America and the great movements are part of that historical process. But this time, they’re ahead of the game.
The interesting thing in the past is the U.S., as you say, using the rather thin cover of communism, has been able to crush them. I mean, Castro was not a communist when he was declared an enemy—or at least he wasn’t a self-proclaimed communist when he was declared an enemy. The point about Castro and the point about all these people was that he was daring to be independent and daring to defy the United States. That can’t really happen as easily as before.
And what is also interesting is, for the first time in its modern history, not only are the indigenous people organizing, producing their own government, for example, in Bolivia, but there is a regional cooperation between countries, in which people barely knew anything about each other. The communications in Latin America were controlled by the British, for instance, through the 19th and early part of the 20th century. So it’s a coming together. I have to say, it’s quite an exciting time. There are pitfalls. It’s not going to plan exactly, here and there. But it’s clearly that old cliche about the Sandinistas: It’s the threat of a good example. And if you hear this campaign now being mounted in so much of the Western media against Latin America, it’s very evocative of the same campaign that painted tiny Nicaragua as a threat to the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Pilger, famed filmmaker, author, his book Freedom Next Time, his new film, The War on Democracy, but it’s not going to be broadcast here, at least at this point.
JOHN PILGER: I hope it will be.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain your history. I mean, I remember when you did a series of films on Cambodia, ground-breaking, award-winning films. I think you—was it a series of five of them?
JOHN PILGER: Yes, I made five films. The first one, Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia, was at one point, someone worked it out, the most watched documentary in the world. I don’t know if that’s correct, but it certainly was shown in something like 60 countries—but not in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: This was about Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia.
JOHN PILGER: Well, it was about Pol Pot’s genocide, but it was about what caused Pol Pot’s genocide. It was about the role that the bombing of Cambodia, the U.S. bombing, Nixon and Kissinger’s bombing, had played as a catalyst in creating—if not creating Pol Pot’s organization, certainly giving it the popular base that it never had before, and it wouldn’t have had without the bombing.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you got one of these films onto PBS in the United States, eventually, WNET in New York.
JOHN PILGER: Yes, yes, yes, it was shown, as you point out, at about 1:00 in the morning, but it was shown just enough for it to win an Emmy. So—
AMY GOODMAN: So it had to be shown once. It was shown, even if they had moved the time to after midnight.
JOHN PILGER: It was shown on WNET here in New York, good old WNET. And I think it was shown also in—I’m sorry, I forgot the name—in San Francisco, which—but another of my films, Palestine is Still the Issue, has been rejected by PBS. PBS has often been the most difficult one to get my films shown on.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think accounts for this, your film being shown all over the world, but this difficulty in breaking the sound barrier in the United States?
JOHN PILGER: I think it’s because it’s close to home. It’s putting a finger on the nerve. Because the PBS executives, back in 1980, when I came here offering to cut the first two films together, really to do anything that would get it out onto U.S. television, they watched it, they said they admired it, but they were deeply disturbed by the connection that it had made between the U.S. bombing and the rise of Pol Pot, which was quite ironic because the other day it was revealed—it was Ben Kiernan at Yale, produced some of the documents that Clinton had taken to Vietnam, which showed that the bombing of Cambodia by Nixon through the early '70s, late ’60s, early ’70s, was five times greater than we thought it was. And if you look at the CIA files of that period, they are saying, in effect, that it's giving the Khmer Rouge the kind of power that they never had. Well, this message, that the U.S. was linked with the rise of one of the great monsters of the 20th century—and, in fact, they actually supported that monster, they supported the monster’s representative in the United Nations for several years— that was anathema.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And your sense of the empire’s—that clip from Chavez saying that the empire is in its dying days, as you see—and you’ve been to all these countries around the world, where people are in resistance, do you perceive this Bush-Blair period as just an abnormality, or do you see it as really the empire consolidating its reactionary nature?
JOHN PILGER: I think the empire—I think both probably are happening. There’s no doubt that there is a crisis within the empire. But I think those who think that it’s about to fall apart and collapse under the weight of its contradictions and all that, they’re wrong. The U.S. economically is still the great power. Militarily, there’s nothing like it. I think there are two sides in the empire, and one we’re starting now to get a glimpse of, and that is the Russians are saying, "Hang on, you’re building these so-called defense shields all around us again, but only closer. We don’t want that." And that is a beginning of a new struggle.
AMY GOODMAN: John Pilger, we’ll have to leave it there. John Pilger, award-winning investigative filmmaker, journalist, author. His latest book, Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire. His film, The War on Democracy, hopefully coming to a theater near you, and a television station near you, as well. I’ll be with John Pilger tonight, interviewing him in a public interview at New School on West 12th Street at 7:00 p.m.
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