Since his death on December 30, tributes have been pouring in for John Pilger, an Australian journalist who gave voice to the voiceless and had a talent for putting human tragedies into a political context.
Starting his career in the late 1950s working for daily newspapers in his native Sydney, Pilger became an investigative reporter for The Daily Mirror in Great Britain, where he was voted journalist of the year in 1967 and 1979, and a documentary film-maker who was known for his critical war reporting.
During the Vietnam War, Pilger documented U.S. atrocities and was among the first to break the story that U.S. soldiers were fragging their own officers.
When the Vietnam War ended, Pilger was among the first Western reporters to enter Cambodia, producing a documentary watched by 150 million viewers that showed how massive U.S. carpet bombing resulted in the Khmer Rouge genocide from 1975-1979.
In the 1990s, Pilger produced a film exposing Indonesia’s genocide backed by the U.S. in East Timor, and another featuring an interview with Nelson Mandela that described a new “economic apartheid” in South Africa that kept many black people in poverty.
A champion of Julian Assange, Pilger wrote eight books and made additional films exposing a) the deadly effect of U.S. sanctions on Iraq; b) the hypocrisy of U.S. and British leaders that waged war on Afghanistan after 9/11; c) the terrible consequences of U.S. political interference in Latin America; d) the negative effects of health care privatization in Great Britain; and e) U.S. saber rattling towards China that was threatening the outbreak of a world war.
In late October, Pilger sat down for one of his last interviews with Brad Wolf, a former Lancaster, PA attorney. Pilger was testifying before a war crimes tribunal headed by Wolf and other peace activists that seeks to hold defense contractors accountable for war crimes.
During the interview, Pilger decried the role of the mainstream media in “beating the drums of war” and “promoting myths that lead to endless wars.”
These myths, he said, are “little different from the era of the First World War I when the media claimed that German soldiers were eating babies in Belgium and things like that.”
The fake atrocity stories told more recently have been about Saddam Hussein and the Russians.
According to Pilger, understanding how media propaganda works can be empowering. The War Crimes tribunal, he said, could lead to “an insurrection of banned knowledge” that would force people to look in the mirror and could affect real change.
The media today, Pilger said, is an instrumental element of the military-industrial complex, with its conglomerates intimately tied to the major arms companies.
While some of the media’s reporting may be factual, it leaves out so much. An example is the lack of reporting on U.S. provocations towards China, which, “if carried out the other way, would cause major hell to be paid.”
Over the last decades, Pilger said, that “the U.S. has consolidated a chain of military bases around China’s eastern seaboard and industrial heartland from which it was probing China’s coastline with drones and low-draft U.S. ships.”
Pilger further lamented the U.S. propaganda directed against Russia that was conditioning the public to view it as an enemy. Pilger said that he grew up amidst a constant propaganda barrage in the First Cold War, and was “again hearing lie after lie about Russia every day.”
Unfortunately, Pilger said that people in the West are susceptible to the messaging because they don’t have the time to deconstruct the false narratives and to find out the truth and have been conditioned from birth to view Russia negatively and as a national security threat.
The fate of Seymour Hersh is indicative of growing censorship in the media, Pilger said, as Hersh was “once able to publish his scoops in The New York Times and other mainstream media, but is now confined to self-publishing.” Most of the American public consequently “may not be aware of the U.S. role in blowing up the Nordstream II pipeline, which Hersh exposed.”
Pilger said that “one of the greatest dangers of the military-industrial complex today is the runaway development of Artificial Intelligence (AI),” which is making war look scarier and scarier and easier to carry out.
“The Air Force is currently advertising its development of autonomous control systems that control multiple drone aircrafts simultaneously. Swarms of drones is considered the next phase in the electronic battlefield” that will terrorize people worldwide.
Pilger began his career reporting in Vietnam, which served then as a testing ground for high tech weapons systems without regard for the civilian population. The same disregard for civilians can be seen in today’s human laboratories—Gaza and Ukraine—which are bonanzas for some of the same arms manufacturers that grew rich off the Vietnam War.
Pentagon Officials Flocking to Join Venture Capital Firms
A few days after Pilger’s death, The New York Times ran an article by Eric Lipton entitled “New Spin on a Revolving Door: Pentagon Officials Turned Venture Capitalists,” which could be introduced as evidence in Wolf’s tribunal.
It profiled a glitzy event at the Ronald Reagan library in Simi Valley, California, that brought together Pentagon officials, Congressmen and women and military officers who have joined venture capital firms and are trying to use their connections in Washington to cash in on the potential to sell a new generation of weapons.
Lipton wrote that “Retiring generals and departing top Pentagon officials once migrated regularly to the big established weapons makers like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Now they are increasingly flocking to venture capital firms that have collectively pumped billions of dollars into Silicon Valley-style startups offering the Pentagon new war-fighting tools like autonomous killer drones, hypersonic jets and space surveillance equipment.”
Among the a-listers at the gala were Mark T. Esper, Defense Secretary under President Donald Trump who now works for Red Cell, a venture capital firm that has invested in new military startups like Epirus, whose anti-drone technology he pitched to top Pentagon officials.
Another attendee was Doug Philippone, a former Army Ranger and co-founder of the defense sector venture capital firm, Snowpoint Ventures who helped build the Pentagon sales of Palantir, a leading AI firm that has helped run the war in Ukraine.
The New York Times identified at least 50 former Pentagon and national security officials working in defense-related venture capital or private equity as executives or advisers who in many cases continue to interact regularly with Pentagon officials in the hopes of securing major military contracts. They also regularly meet with members of Congress to push for policy changes or increases in military spending that could benefit firms they have invested in.
In the last four years, at least $125 billion of venture capital has flooded into startups that build defense technology, according to data assembled for The Times by PitchBook, which tracks these investments, compared with $43 billion in the prior four years.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is among the few critical voices on Capitol Hill who stated that “the growing role of venture capital and private equity firms makes President Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex seem quaint. War profiteering is not new, but the significant expansion risks advancing private financial interests at the expense of national security.”
Though welcome, these latter comments are understated and show disregard for the huge loss of life resulting from endless U.S. wars that Pilger’s reporting helped document.
If more people watched Pilger’s documentaries and followed his work, we would see more protests outside events like the Reagan library gala, and more shaming of the men and women inside who have so much blood on their hands.
Esper is also now co-chairman of a commission set up by the Atlantic Council that is studying ways to accelerate the Pentagon’s embrace of new technology. The Atlantic Council staff set up a series of 70 briefings for Pentagon and congressional officials to promote their ideas. The staff director of the report, Stephen Rodriguez, is an executive at a defense venture capital firm. He also serves as an adviser to Applied Intuition, a software startup and military contractor that helped fund and promote the report. Funding for the Atlantic Council report also came from several other venture-backed defense startups and Mr. Philippone’s Snowpoint Ventures. ↑
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of five books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019), The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018), and Warmonger. How Clinton’s Malign Foreign Policy Launched the U.S. Trajectory From Bush II to Biden (Clarity Press, 2023).
He can be reached at: email@example.com.