Thursday, June 7, 2007 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES
2007-06-07

"Resisting the Empire": Documentary Filmmaker John Pilger on Struggles for Freedom in Israel-Palestine, Diego Garcia, Latin America and South Africa

DONATE →
This is viewer supported news

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 fifty 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 week marks the fortieth 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 forty 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 US military base, used to launch air strikes 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 US 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 in terms of an alleged link with Al Qaeda.

Today, we spend the hour with John Pilger, a reknowned investigative journalist and 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 over fifty 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.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: This week marks the 40th year of the 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 air strikes 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 US 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, and award-winning renowned investigative journalist, author, documentary filmmaker, who can tie all 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, and South Africa. Welcome to Democracy Now!, John. It is 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 a mission, 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 I’ve — the title Freedom Next Time comes from, I suppose, looking at a number of struggles where people have glimpsed freedom. Uh, in some cases have touched it, as in South Africa, but it is 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 uh, 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: Apartheid died in South Africa. The political apartheid died, uh, with the release of Nelson Mandela and the elections in 1994. But economic apartheid was actually reinforced. Uh, and the evictions you mentioned flow directly from that. The ANC government consciously took this position to go with, uh, a form of neo-liberal 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 5 million children suffering from very severe malnutrition. Uh, 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, uh, and, and actually what has happened is that a, 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. Uh, they are on boards. They own some of the new rising entrepreneurial companies. But basically they are a cover for the continuation of white economic power in South Africa.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, but you also mentioned that in 1997 you had interviewed Nelson Mandela and he talked about the laws that they are implementing to be able to close the economic gap. What happened in terms of the, 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 decided in the last 10 years before, before apartheid was officially abandoned and before they came to power, of a series of what they call historic compromise. Well that all sounds very well, but what it meant was compromising with, uh 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. Um, it didn’t mean, it was one of those wonderful historic split seconds where 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 in 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 1950’s said. And it’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 uh, and the multinational corporations —

JUAN GONZALEZ:–sugar coated bullets

JOHN PILGER:–Yeah! This is the grown-up way you take a country. This is the way, and if you do that, then you will be part of the community, and there Thabo Mbeki, a favored son at some of the great economic confabs around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: We are 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 US military base there, perhaps, if they know that. We will look at Israel and Palestine. We will also look at well, the US-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 has 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. 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 US military base at the archipelago’s largest island of Diego Garcia. Let’s turn to an excerpt for background. This film, "Stealing a Nation", produced by John Pilger.

NARRATOR: 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 is one of America’s biggest military bases in the world. There are more than 2,000 troops, 2 bomber runways, 30 warships, and a satellite spy station.

B-1 and B-52 long-range bombers extended their reach from the British base in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

NARRATOR:From here the United States has attacked Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon calls it an indispensable platform for policing the world. [explosions] 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 eighteenth 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 dumped them in the slums of Mauritius 1,000 miles 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 and weren’t allowed back or gone for health care, 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. The message was clear: You are next unless you go. Finally, two ships, evocative of so many expulsions like this, two ships took the remaining–mostly women and children–and dumped them in Mauritius. 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 US overseas base was built, the longest runways. Afghanistan was attacked from there. Iraq was attacked from there. There is 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. The hypocrisy as well. You might remember it is now 25 years since Margaret Thatcher sent the Royal Navy down to the Falkland Islands to rescue 2,000 white Falkland Islanders and kicked the Argentines out. There were 2,000 Chagos islanders whom the British army kicked, uh the British government, kicked out themselves. Of course the key difference was that the Chagos islanders are black. Again, that is 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 the documents are, as I say, incredible. You have the senior legal adviser to the British Foreign Office, the document head 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. Of course, they didn’t. Other documents, which we got out of the Freedom of Information Act in this country showing how the US wanted these islands swept–that was the word that was used–swept of people completely. 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’ve 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 the clip.

NARRATOR: They said the islanders did not really belong to the Chagos but were merely temporary contract workers. Foreign Office memorandum, July 1965

"People were born there. In some cases there parents were born there too. The intention is, however, that none of them should be regarded as being permanent inhabitants of the islands."

NARRATOR: So how would they be regarded?

The legal position of inhabitants would be greatly simplified, from our point of view, though not necessarily from theirs, if we decided to treat them as a floating population.

NARRATOR: Foreign Office memo, November 1965

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 challenges on it.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of "Stealing a Nation". Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: This whole saga of what has happened to Diego Garcia is a direct echo or reflection in terms of my own experience, having been born in Puerto Rico and the, what happened to the island of Vieques, the same thing in the 1940’s, the U.S. 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 people off the island, and as a result, there was a continuing battle that finally triumphed a few years 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: Let me tell you how uh, how, how the Blair government fought this for 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, Blair government knew they could not go further in the court, so they invokes 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, 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 is the end of it, and the Queen decreed that the islanders would never go home. But what is important since then, is that 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 is the word it 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 US base is. Now, if you look back at the old files, the U.S. didn’t want them. There is 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 US 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 US defying the Supreme Court; the High Court is the same, and we have a standoff at the moment.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And who does it work on the island of Diego Garcia? In other words, does the United States bring in laborers from other countries?

JOHN PILGER: Yes, it brings in the usual cheap contract workers. How ironic, it goes back to what they call the original inhabitants, the floating and contract population. They bring in people from the Indian subcontinent, and of course Filipinos and others. They security vet them and so on and so forth.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn from Diego Garcia to another story you have covered for many years. This week is the 40th anniversary of the Arab-Israeli war in 1967. There is 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 US and British backing of Israel at the time and perhaps wasn’t known as well at the time. You have done several films, "Palestine is the Issue", and 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 are worth more and those 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 is no such thing as Palestinians. They never existed."

JOHN PILGER: Well, when you first quoted the BBC of the Arab Goliath and Israeli David, I’m afraid that is still the view. There was, uh, 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 watched TV news, 92% of them thought that the settlers, the illegal settlers, uh, were Palestinians. And the clear, and the clear message from this report was that the more people watch 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 toward 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, uh, is, 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, uh, no! I mean, the title was meant to–I made this film, "Palestine is Still the Issue 30 years ago, uh, and in calling the new film the same, "Palestine is Still the Issue", is meant to say that it’s still the issue, that the basic issues are still there. It is about justice for the Palestinians, their right to return to their homeland, the right to live decent lives, the right to have all the things that we take for granted. And of course, as anybody who has been there, who has a fair mind, would see that Israelis would claim the same rights almost immediately, certainly claim the same rights of security once the Palestinians haven’t had it. I think we, 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, 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: In your viewpoint, what is 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 has does that relate to your overall theme of this book of empire and the importance of understanding empire in the world?

JOHN PILGER: I think I started to realize what I was first sent to Vietnam as a foreign correspondent, and by naivete started to crumble pretty quickly that basically the main so–what we call the mainstream media, that amorphous thing, is an extension of great power. Yes, there are exceptions and very fine exceptions, but we have 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 in Israel with anti-Semitism, and I’ve been on the, I’ve been at the tail wind of this, with massive e-mail campaigns and so on. Very intimidating. It’s worked on the BBC to a great deal — to a great extent, rather. Uh, when, 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, of, 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 he, is just about to be released in the United States is called "The War on Democracy". When we come back from break, we will play a clip from this film 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.

[AUDIO MONTAGE FROM FILM TRAILER]

BUSH: America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice.

NARRATOR: In 1998 Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela. His social reforms provoked hysterical attacks.

He is being taken prisoner. This is a coup.

NARRATOR: In April 2002, his government was overthrown.

We suspend the president and all members of the supreme court.

Democracy, Democracy.

This is a dictatorship. Chavez is the rightful president.

They took me away. I thought I was going to die.

NARRATOR: A huge public outcry saw him restored to power.

It is very important to understand that the United States did not support that coup.

NARRATOR: Never believe anything until the has been officially denied.

We will intervene whenever we decide it is in our national interest to intervene. And if you don’t like it — lump it.

NARRATOR: Since 1945, the United States has attempted to overthrow 50 governments.

Isn’t history taught in the classroom of the role of the U.S. government in human rights violations.

The doctrine was that you use virtually any method necessary to get what you want.

Torture and killing. Killing. Killing. Get used to it, world. We are not going to put up with nonsense.

NARRATOR: Now the people of Latin America are fighting back.

As I go around Latin America, there is a fervor sparking up everywhere.

This is the United States flag. We are against this.

NARRATOR: John Pilger unearths the filthy truth and tells it as it is.

This isn’t just Chavez’s struggle; it’s our struggle.

NARRATOR: The truth in Pilger’s hands is a weapon used against evil and injustice.

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 have done for cinema that will be shown on television later. It opens in the U.K. on the fifteenth of June. It is 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 is the story of the backyard, 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 in Britain, but how the grassroots are becoming part ofa new movement, and how this threatens the United States. There is something of a deja vu of Nicaragua, where I also made a film in the early 1980s. Uh, and, but that was a small, isolated country of 3 million people. This is, these are some very powerful countries, especially Venezuela, which is a supplier, of course, of much of the United States’ oil. Uh, so it’s, it’s really saying the empire fights back.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you interview Chavez?

JOHN PILGER: Yes I did, I spent several days with Hugo Chavez. I don’t normally interview serving politicians, and I found him refreshing. I have to say, he answered all my questions. Uh, he didn’t demur from anything, when I asked him about the poverty remaining in Venezuela. He um,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 uh, 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 uh 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 is 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, what’s, you had the collapse of the Soviet Union, our government cannot say that anymore. They have to deal with the reality, as you say, that these are popular movements 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, uh, that the forces in these various countries are coming together, in a sort of a common front against the American empire?

JOHN PILGER: There has 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 nineteenth century, countries like Venezuela, with its great son, the liberator Simon Bolivar, won independence. Most of the history of Latin America, the struggle against the Spanish, then against to some degree against the European invasion, and then against the Americans, the North Americans, has been, 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 US, using the rather thin cover of communism, has been able to crush them. 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 it’s 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, in the 19th and early part of the 20th century. So it is a coming together. I have to say it is quite an exciting time. There are pitfalls. It’s not going to plan, exactly, here and there. But it is clearly that 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 is 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 remember when you did a series of films on Cambodia — ground-breaking, award-winning films. Was it a series of five of them?

JOHN PILGER: Yes, I made five films. The first one, "Year Zero, the Sound of Death in Cambodia", is, as someone pointed out, was at one point, as 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 six — in 60 countries, but not in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: This was about Pol Pot’s genocide?

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, 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, it was shown, as you point out, at around one o’clock in the morning. And it was shown just enough for it to win an Emmy.

AMY GOODMAN: So it had to be shown once, it was shown, even if they moved the time to after midnight.

JOHN PILGER: It was shown here in New York at WNET, good old WNET. I think it was shown also in — I am sorry, I forgot the name — San Francisco. Which, uh, another one of my films, "Palestine is Still the Issue", is still being rejected by PBS. PBS has often been the most difficult to get my films shown.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think accounts for this — your films being shown all over the world–but this difficulty in breaking the sound barrier in the United States?

JOHN PILGER: I think it is because it is close to home. It is 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 on to 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 US bombing and the rise of Pol Pot. It 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 at Vietnam that showed that the bombing of Cambodia by Nixon through the early '70s, late ’60s and early ’70s, was five times greater than we thought was. And if you look at the CIA files of that period, they are saying in effect that it is giving the Khmer Rouge the kind of power that they never had. Well this, 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 Hugo Chavez saying the empire is in it’s dying days — and 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, do you see as just an abnormality? Or do you see it as the empire consolidating its reactionary nature?

JOHN PILGER: I think both are probably happening. There is no doubt that there is a crisis within the empire. But I think those who think it is about to fall apart, and collapse under the weight of its own contradictions and all that, they, they are wrong. The U.S. economically is still the great power. Militarily, there is nothing like it. I think there are two sides of the empire, and one we’re starting now to get a glimpse of, and that is the Russians are saying, hang on, you are building these so-called defense shields all around us again, but only closer. We don’t want that. And that is the beginning of a new struggle.

AMY GOODMAN: John Pilger, we will 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 will be with John Pilger tonight interviewing him at a public interview at New School on West 12th Street at 7:00 p.m.

Show Full Transcript ›
‹ Hide Full Transcript

Creative Commons License The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.