Authors: John Pilger
Throughout his distinguished career as a journalist and film-maker, John Pilger has looked behind the âofficial' versions of events to report the real stories of our time.
The centrepiece of this new, expanded edition of his bestselling
is Pilger's reporting from East Timor, which he entered secretly in 1993 and where a third of the population has died as a result of Indonesia's genocidal policies. This edition also contains more new material as well as all the original essays â from the myth-making of the Gulf War to the surreal pleasures of Disneyland. Breaking through the consensual silence, Pilger pays tribute to those dissenting voices we are seldom permitted to hear.
John Pilger was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been a war correspondent, film-maker and playwright. Based in London, he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism's highest award, that of Journalist of the Year, for his work in Vietnam and Cambodia. Among a number of other awards, he has been International Reporter of the Year and winner of the United Nations Association Media Peace Prize. For his broadcasting, he has won an American television Academy Award, an âEmmy', and the Richard Dimbleby Award, given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
The Last Day
Aftermath: The Struggle of Cambodia
and Vietnam (with Anthony Barnett)
(with Michael Coren)
A Secret Country
FOR JANE AND DAVID
Punching through TV channels, I found myself watching a strange scene. A gang of literary lights was attacking a tall lanky sunburned young man with curare-tipped words. It was a very high-class panel book review programme. The young man looked bewildered but dignified. I had never heard of him, by name John Pilger, nor of his book,
The Last Day.
It was apparently his first book, the record of an historic event, the Retreat from the Embassy Roof, the suitably shameful end of a vilely shameful war. The literary lights, none of whom had attended that war (or probably any other), were really attacking John Pilger's viewpoint, not his facts or his prose. They seemed to think the Vietnam War had been a good thing.
The next day, I bought and read the book and wrote to the author, telling him how fine it was and that he should not pay the slightest attention to his critics. That was in 1975. They've been attacking him ever since. Which proves John's continuous success. (âYeah,' John might say, a unique drawled two-syllable sound that suggests he has been thinking it over calmly and almost agrees with you.)
After my fan letter, John came to see me. He said that Hugh Cudlipp, then editor-in-chief of the
(ah, the golden past), read my 1966 Vietnam articles in the
, called him in, gave him the articles and said, that's the story, go and get it. So began John's long devotion to the people of Indo-China. I am always convinced that my writing is useless
but it had done something very good if it got John to Vietnam. My 1966 articles appeared two years too early. I was repeatedly refused a visa to return to Vietnam. I had the painful honour of being the only journalist blacklisted out of that country and that war. Probably John did my work for me â though I must say I'd rather have been able to do it myself.
John is a compulsive worker, compulsive but not frenzied. He has plenty of material; he will never come to the end of it. Basically, it seems to me, he has taken on the great theme of justice and injustice. The misuse of power against the powerless. The myopic, stupid cruelty of governments. The bullying and lies that shroud
a mad game played at the top, which is a curse to real people.
Conscience has made John a brave and invaluable witness to his time. In many circles, conscience is regarded as oafish; in periods of crisis, it is considered treasonable. During the Vietnam War, contempt for conscience produced the term âbleeding hearts'. (Mrs Thatcher's âwet' was of the same order of contempt.) It is tiring to own a conscience, and it does not endear the owner to our rulers. Not surprisingly, John opposed the use of force in the Gulf War, urging continued use of sanctions. Considering the miserable end of that war, with Saddam Hussein still firmly in place in Iraq, uncounted thousands of innocents dead, and millions uprooted, it looks as if his conscience was a first-rate guide.
I have not followed all of John's work; there is too much of it. More than 30 documentary films, five books, hundreds of thousands of words of reporting. But I do not forget the documentaries I have seen and probably no one who saw it will ever forget the great film
, made with David Munro, that showed the world what Pol Pot had done to the Cambodian people. Like John, I think that Nixon and Kissinger were father and mother to Pol Pot and that successive US governments, tirelessly punishing Vietnam for having won that war, have extended their vengeance to the Cambodians. John never hesitates to blame the powerful in the clearest language; they never fail to react with fury.
John's range is wide. He has done noble service to the Aborigines of Australia, and condemned his own government in the process. He made a film, dangerously and secretly, on the Charter 77 members in Czechoslovakia. He went to Japan and discovered the poor.
Whoever thought of Japanese as being poor? (To me, those black-clad hordes pouring out of bullet trains in Tokyo always looked like African soldier ants, which move in packed narrow streams and eat their way through everything, dead or alive.) Suddenly, like a revelation, the Japanese became human: a gently smiling giant, John bent to listen to tiny, wrinkled old people, and it turns out that Japanese can be poor, neglected and out of it, in rich Japan, as anywhere else. Steadily, John documents and proclaims the official lies that we are told and that most people accept or don't bother to think about. He is a terrible nuisance to Authority.
We agree on every political subject except Israel and the Palestinians. Thinking it over, I believe this has to do with age. John was born in October 1939, an infant in Australia during the Second World War. He was eight years old when the Jews of Palestine, who had accepted the UN Partition Plan, were forced to fight practically with their hands to survive the first combined Arab onslaught and declared their state. Perhaps nobody can understand Israel who does not remember the Second World War and how and why the nation came into being. Since we cannot change each other's views, John and I declare a truce, for I fear the Arab-Israel problem will not be solved in my lifetime.
It is lovely and comforting to have a friend who is as angry about the state of the world as you are yourself. It means you can give it a rest, have some drinks, go to the movies, talk about surfing and snorkelling â our different favourite occupations â make each other laugh. All the fame and fuss about John have not affected him. Off screen and off print, he is a modest, easy, somewhat shy man. He takes his work very seriously, but not himself. And that is, in itself, a remarkable quality.
Some years ago, John made an unnoted documentary series
. He interviewed six or seven people, among them myself, dragooned by friendship into what I least like doing. I never saw the finished product and remember the names of only two of my fellow participants. I had never thought of myself as an outsider or an insider: the question did not arise. I wonder if Helen Suzman, at home in her own country saying âNo', thought of herself as an outsider. Or did Wilfred Burchett, an Australian, who said âNo' so much that the Australian Government peevishly took away his passport, think of himself that way?
It seems to me that John was simply interviewing people who had their own opinions and did their own work, whatever it was, as they saw fit. At most they could be called dissenters, but even that is rather grand, since we are used to dissenters paying with their life or liberty for their unpopular ideas. It occurred to me that this odd label had to do with the peculiar AussieâBrit relationship and the way they regard each other. And, as a result, John saw himself as an outsider.
Of course he is not. He belongs to an old and unending worldwide company, the men and women of conscience. Some are as famous as Tom Paine and Wilberforce, some as unknown as a tiny group calling itself Grandmothers Against the Bomb, in an obscure small western American town, who have gone cheerfully to jail for their protests. There have always been such people and always will be. If they win, it is slowly; but they never entirely lose. To my mind, they are the blessed proof of the dignity of man. John has an assured place among them. I'd say he is a charter member for his generation.
July 12, 1991
THIS BOOK SETS
out to offer a different way of seeing events of our day. I have tried to rescue from media oblivion uncomfortable facts which may serve as antidotes to the official truth; and in so doing, I hope to have given support to those âdistant voices' who understand how vital, yet fragile is the link between the right of people to know and to be heard, and the exercise of liberty and political democracy. This book is a tribute to them.