This documentary examines the extreme poverty and apartheid-like living conditions of Aboriginal peoples in Australia’s Northern Territories. The film’s title refers to the town of Utopia, identified as the most disadvantaged community in one of the world’s richest countries. Pilger tours homes one of the local doctors. Most have no kitchen, electricity, or indoor plumbing. Utopia’s many homeless live in tents or in the open air.
The extreme poverty is responsible for health problems more typical of Dickensian England. Examples include trachoma (an eminently treatable Third World eye disease leading to blindness); rheumatic fever; “glue ear” (chronic otitis media), leading to hearing impairment in 70% of the town’s primary students; cockroach infestation of the ears; malnutrition; and epidemic levels of diabetes and heart and renal disease.
One-third of Australia’s aboriginal people die before age 43.
According to Pilger, Australia’s First Nations people (who first settled Australia 65,000 years ago) have a proud history of resistance against British colonization. However owing to their lack of modern weapons, British troops massacred, imprisoned and tortured tens of thousands.
One of the cruelest government colonization strategies involved the systematic kidnapping of Aboriginal children to be raised in residential schools. As in other British colonies, the goal was to hasten assimilation by eradicating first nations customs and culture.
Although the program allegedly ended in the 1960s, in 2007 the conservative Howard government concocted a (later discredited) pedophile ring scare to justify the invasion and occupation of Northern Territories communities by Australian troops. Residents were given a choice between handing over leases to their homes or losing their government benefits. Over the next several years, the government removed dozens of children from indigenous home, with no legal justification, no appeal rights, and no option to regain parental rights.
A few months after the Norther Territory National Emergency was declared, an Australian mining company coincidentally announced the discovery of large uranium deposits in the targeted communities.
A subsequent Australian Crime Commission Report revealed the Northern Territories had the lowest incidence of child abuse in Australia.
Two things I’ve learned over the years about John Pilger films are 1) there’s virtually no link between the film’s title and its content 2) they all include include considerable hidden history not taught in public schools. .
The main focus of this documentary is US empire building in the Pacific and its disastrous effect on US-China relations.
A good third of the film concerns the US annexation of the Marshall islands following World War II, followed by the cynical US government decisions to use residents (referred to as “savages” in classified documents) as radiation guinea pigs in atmospheric nuclear tests. .
After bombing some of the islands daily for 12 years, residents were forcibly returned to Rongelap despite dangerously high water and soil radiation levels. The US government then subjected them to repeated scans and blood tests to assess their response to the irradiated food they were eating.
As more and more developed cancer and produced offspring with birth defects, they begged the US government to move them. When the Americans declined, they appealed to Greenpeace International, which deployed the Rainbow Warrior to move them to an uncontaminated island in 1985.
The Marshall Islands are also home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Site. The latter forms part of a ring of strategic nuclear bases surrounding and aimed at China. This “noose” includes bases in Okinawa Japan (which are strongly opposed by local residents), South Korea, the Philippines and Australia.
Much of the film concerns the US occupation of China prior to the 1949 revolution (which I was totally unaware of), in large part to protect a thriving opium trade that was second only to slavery in providing capital wealth to the US corporate elite.*
The film also totally debunks common myths the US government promotes to justify their encirclement of China.
Myth 1: China aims to replace the US as the primary global empire.
Fact check: China has no interest in “converting” foreigners to their way of life as the US does. They simply refuse to be economically or politically controlled by US interests, like so-called US allies are. In Western Europe, for example, countries with nominal independence are forbidden to pursue foreign policy contrary to US interests.
Myth 2: Mao was an implacable enemy of the West.
Fact check: Mao Zedong secretly sought to establish diplomatic relations with Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower. After State Department officials who delivered Mao’s messages were fired as traitors, there was no on left in the State Department who could speak Mandarin.
Myth 3: China has a capitalist economy.
Fact check: China has a free market economy. According to Pilger, they reject the “capitalist” label because their billionaires aren’t permitted to influence or control government operations as happens in the US.
*Roosevelt derived his wealth from his maternal grandfather Warren Delano, dubbed the US opium king. Former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles derived his wealth from his great grandfather’s opium smuggling. All the Eastern Ivy League universities were founded with opium money.
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.