Who is John Pilger? Born in Australia in 1939, he worked as a reporter for the Sydney Daily Telegraph, then relocated in 1962 to Britain, where over the years he made a name for himself as a foreign correspondent, TV journalist, documentary maker – and, not least, as one of a small number of prominent scribes (among them Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, and Howard Zinn) who are famous for their anti-Western rancor. As is so often the case with such figures, his anti-Western rancor hasn’t kept Pilger from receiving honorary doctorates from several leading Western universities and from collecting a long list of major Western awards – an Emmy, a Peabody, a BAFTA, two nods for “Journalist of the Year,”multiple prizes from the UN, an award from Reporters without Borders, and a human-rights prize from Norway, among others.
We saw yesterday that even after 9/11 Pilger couldn’t see Americans as ever, ever being victims. That atrocity and its aftermath evoked some of Pilger’s most wretched writings. It’s one thing to consider the whole “War on Terror” misguided or botched, and to deplore the collateral damage caused by coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq; it is quite another to look upon the utter savagery of Saddam or of Taliban jihadists, as Pilger did, with apparent indifference. (Indeed, Pilger openly declared that he was on Saddam’s side.) For him, as one critic wrote,
the people of Iraq, the terrorists, the psychopathic death squads, only exist in the dim and distant background. If they are mentioned at all…they are products of Western policy. They lack all agency. To all intents and purposes they are the absent party. They are non-persons; hapless nobodies…..There’s obviously a kind of racism at play here: only Westerners matter; and only then if they can be blamed.
It gets worse. In 2010, Pilger endorsed a book, The Politics of Genocide, in which Edward S. Herman and David Peterson denied the monstrous 1994 annihilation of the Tutsi in Rwanda by the Hutu majority. According to Herman and Peterson, the shoe was on the other foot: the Tutsi, in fact, had massacred the Hutu. Pilger called the book a “brilliant exposé of great power’s lethal industry of lies.” As one former admirer of Pilger commented: “In the Rwandan context, this is the equivalent of asserting that the Nazis never killed Jews in death camps – indeed, that it was really Jews who killed Germans.”
In Pilger’s view, we weren’t even the good guys in the Cold War: complaining in one 2005 essay about the history syllabi then in use at Oxford and Cambridge, he mocked the references to Soviet “expansionism” and the “spread” of Communism and protested the fact that “there is not a word about the ‘spread’ of rapacious America.”
Of course he loves Cuba, which he first visited in 1967. In a 2011 article, he depicted that initial exposure to the Castros’ island as a fun, colorful, fiesta-like experience. The Cubans he met were uniformly delightful and friendly – but, he added, “the hardship of their imposed isolation left smiles diminished and eyes averted once the music had stopped.” And whose fault was that isolation? One guess. America’s, naturally. In fact, everything that went wrong with the Castro Revolution, it turns out, was America’s fault: the increasing poverty, the decrease in food supplies, the crumbling of infrastructure, etc., etc. Also, while America’s relations with the rest of the world are driven by a sheer lust for power, don’t you know, Cuba’s international relations are motivated by pure altruism: the “revolution,” Pilger maintained, echoing the Castros’ ludicrous propaganda, “sends tens of thousands of doctors across the world for the sole purpose of helping other human beings: an epic internationalism.”
And he was at least as fond of Hugo Chávez as he is of the Castros. More on that tomorrow.