The War You Don’t See
Produced and directed by John Pilger
Americans now have the opportunity of seeing Australian John Pilger’s critically acclaimed The War You Don’t See on YouTube. The groundbreaking documentary was effectively banned in the US when Patrick Lannan, who funds the “liberal” Lannon Foundation, canceled the American premier (and all Pilger’s public appearances) in June 2010. Pilger provides the full background of this blatant act of censorship at his website. After watching the film, I believe its strong support of Julian Assange (who the US Department of Justice is attempting to prosecute) is the most likely reason it wasn’t shown in American theaters.
Pilger’s documentary centers around the clear propaganda role both the British and US press played in cheerleading the US/British invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. It includes a series of interviews in which Pilger confronts British and American journalists (including Dan Rather) and news executives regarding their failure to give air time to weapons inspectors and military/intelligence analysts who were publicly challenging the justification for these invasions. The Australian filmmaker focuses heavily on the fabricated evidence (Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and links to 9-11) that was used to convince American and British lawmakers to go along with an illegal attack on a defenceless nation (Iraq).
Making News Executives Squirm
Pilger also confronts the British news executives (from the BBC and ITV) for reporting — unchallenged — Israeli propagandist Mark Regev regarding the May 2010 Israeli attack (in international waters) of the international peace flotilla and murder of nine Turkish peace activists (including six who were executed in the back of the head at point blank range).
Although none of the news makers offer a satisfactory explanation for their actions, British news executives show obvious embarrassment when Pilger forces them to admit they knew about opposing views and failed to offer them equal air time. In my view, the main value of the film is reminding us how essential it is to hold journalists to account for their lack of objectivity. Too many activists (myself included) have allowed ourselves to become too cynical about the mainstream media to hold individual reporters and their editors and managers accountable when they function as government propagandists instead of journalists.
The War You Don’t See was released in Britain in December 2010, in the context of a Parliamentary investigation into the Blair government’s use of manufactured intelligence to ensnare the UK into a disastrous ten year foreign war. Government/corporate censorship is far more efficient in the US, and the odds of a similar Congressional investigation occurring in the US seem extremely low.
Edward Bernays: the Public is the Enemy
The film begins with a thumbnail history of modern war propaganda, which Pilger traces back to Edward Bernays, the father of public relations. Bernays, who began his career by helping Woodrow Wilson to “sell” World War I to the American people, talks in his famous book Propaganda about the public being the “enemy” which must be “countered.”
Independent Journalism is Hazardous to Your Health
The most powerful segment features the Wikileaks gunship video released in April 2010, followed by Pilger’s interview with a Pentagon spokesperson regarding this sadistic 2007 attack on unarmed Iraqi civilians. This is followed by excerpts of a public presentation by a GI on the ground at the time of assault, who was denied permission to medically evacuate two children injured in the attack.
The documentary also focuses heavily on the Pentagon’s deliberate use of “embedded” journalists to report the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the extreme threat (often from American forces) faced by independent, non-embedded journalists. According to Pilger, a record 240 independent journalists were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Palestine, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has killed ten independent journalists since 1992. The War You Don’t See includes footage of a recent IDF attack on a Palestinian cameraman, who miraculously survived, despite losing both legs.
Pilger goes on to talk about the deliberate bombing of Al Jazeera headquarters in Kabul and Baghdad, mainly because the Arab network was the only outlet reporting on civilian atrocities. This section features excellent Al Jazeera footage of home invasions of two civilian families — in one case by British and the other by American troops — who were brutally terrorized and subjected to torture tactics.
The Interview that Got the Film Banned
The film concludes with a brief interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who discusses the increasing secrecy and failure of democratic control over the military industrial intelligence complex. Assange presents his view that this complex consists of a network of thousands of players (government employees and contractors and defense lobbyists) who make major policy decisions in their own self-interest with virtually no government oversight.
Pilger and Assange also discuss the aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers by Obama, who has the worst record of First Amendment violations of any president. They also discuss the positive implications of the willingness of military and intelligence insiders to leak hundreds of thousands of classified documents. It shows clear dissent in the ranks about the blatant criminality that motivates US foreign policy decisions.