The most important article I’ve read in years: Pilger on Western propaganda
I haven’t posted in a while now, but this article, “Silencing the Lambs: How Propaganda Works” published 9-10-22 by veteran progressive journalist John Pilger (online at MintPress News), is too important to let slide by. Go and read it yourself in its entirety, or continue reading for my version (slightly edited for brevity and clarity).
Pilger says, “In the 1970s, I met one of Hitler’s leading propagandists, Leni Riefenstahl, whose epic films glorified the Nazis. We happened to be staying at the same lodge in Kenya, where she was on a photography assignment, having escaped the fate of other friends of the Fuhrer. She told me that the ‘patriotic messages’ of her films were successful because of what she called the ‘submissive void’ of the German public. Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie? I asked. ‘Yes, especially them,’ she said. I think of this as I look around at the propaganda now consuming Western societies.
Of course, we are very different from Germany in the 1930s. We live in information societies. We are globalists. We have never been more aware, more in touch, better connected. Really?
Or do we live in a society where brainwashing is insidious and relentless, and perception is filtered according to the needs and lies of state and corporate power?
The United States dominates the Western world’s media. All but one of the top ten media companies are based in North America. The internet and social media – Google, Twitter, and Facebook – are mostly American owned and controlled.
In my lifetime, the United States has overthrown or attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, mostly democracies. It has interfered in democratic elections in 30 countries. It has dropped bombs on the people of 30 countries, most of them poor and defenseless. It has attempted to murder, often successfully, the leaders of 50 countries. It has fought to suppress liberation movements in 20 countries. The extent and scale of this carnage is largely unreported and unrecognized; and those responsible continue to dominate Anglo-American political life.
As my playwright friend Harold Pinter said, ‘US foreign policy is best defined as kiss my ass or I’ll kick your head in. It is as simple and as crude as that. What’s interesting about it is that it’s so successful. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, and remorseless, but few people have actually talked about them. The U.S. has exercised its power worldwide [for the benefit of elite corporate power] while masquerading as a force for good. It’s a brilliant act of hypnosis.’ I asked Pinter if the ‘hypnosis’ he referred to was the ‘submissive void’ described by Leni Riefenstahl, and he said, ‘It’s the same. We don’t recognize the propaganda, and for the most part accept and believe it. That’s the submissive void.’
In our systems of corporate democracy, war is an economic necessity, the perfect marriage of public subsidy and private profit: socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. The day after 9/11 the stock prices of the war industry soared. More bloodshed was coming – great for business. Today, the most profitable wars are called ‘forever wars’: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and now Ukraine – all are based on a pack of lies. Iraq is the most infamous, with its weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. Nato’s destruction of Libya in 2011 was justified by a massacre in Benghazi that didn’t happen. Afghanistan was a convenient revenge war for 9/11, which had nothing to do with the people of Afghanistan.
Today, the news from Afghanistan is how evil the Taliban are – not that Joe Biden’s theft of $7 billion of the country’s bank reserves is causing widespread suffering. Recently, National Public Radio in Washington devoted two hours to Afghanistan – and 30 seconds to its starving people.
At its summit in Madrid in June, NATO, which is controlled by the United States, adopted a strategy document that militarizes the European continent and escalates the prospect of war with Russia and China. News of the resulting war in Ukraine is mostly not news, but a one-sided litany of jingoism, distortion, and omission. I’ve reported a number of wars and have never known such blanket propaganda [and suppression of dissenting journalists].
In February, Russia invaded Ukraine as a response to almost eight years of killing and criminal destruction in the Russian-speaking region of Donbass on their border. In 2014, the United States had sponsored a coup in Kyiv that got rid of Ukraine’s democratically elected, Russian-friendly president and installed a successor whom the Americans made clear was their man. Before this, American ‘defender’ missiles aimed at Russia were installed in eastern Europe, Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, accompanied by false assurances all the way back to James Baker’s ‘promise’ to Gorbachev in February 1990 that NATO would never expand beyond Germany. Ukraine is the frontline. NATO has effectively reached the very borderland through which Hitler’s army stormed in 1941, leaving more than 23 million dead in the Soviet Union.
Last December, Russia proposed a far-reaching security plan for Europe that was dismissed, derided, or suppressed in the Western media. On February 24th of this year, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy threatened to develop nuclear weapons unless America armed and protected Ukraine. This was the final straw. On the same day, Russia invaded – according to the Western media, an infamous, unprovoked act. The history, the lies, the peace proposals, the solemn agreements on Donbass at Minsk counted for nothing. On April 25th, the U.S. defense secretary, General Lloyd Austin, flew into Kyiv and confirmed that America’s aim was to destroy the Russian Federation – the word he used was ‘weaken.’ America had got the war it wanted, waged by an American bankrolled and armed proxy and expendable pawn. Almost none of this was explained to Western audiences.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is wanton and inexcusable. It’s a crime to invade a sovereign country. There are no ‘buts,’ except one. When did the present war in Ukraine begin and who started it? According to the United Nations, between 2014 and this year, some 14,000 people have been killed in the Kyiv regime’s civil war on the Donbass. Many of the attacks were carried out by neo-Nazis, labeled as ‘nationalists’ by the New York Times. Watch an ITV news report from May 2014, by the veteran reporter James Mates, who is shelled, along with civilians in the city of Mariupol, by Ukraine’s Azov (neo-Nazi) battalion. ‘The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment,’ said Andreiy Biletsky, founder of the Azov Battaltion, ‘is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival, a crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.’ Since February, a campaign of self-appointed ‘news monitors’ (mostly funded by the Americans and British with links to governments) have sought to maintain the absurdity that Ukraine’s neo-Nazis don’t exist.
Airbrushing, a term once associated with Stalin’s purges, has become a tool of mainstream journalism. In less than a decade, a ‘good’ China has been airbrushed and a ‘bad’ China has replaced it: from the world’s workshop to a budding new Satan. Much of this propaganda originates in the U.S., and is transmitted through proxies and ‘think-tanks,’ such as the notorious Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the voice of the arms industry, and by zealous journalists such as Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald, who called those spreading Chinese influence ‘rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows’ and called for these ‘pests’ to be ‘eradicated.’
News about China in the West is almost entirely about the threat from Beijing. Airbrushed are the 400 American military bases that surround most of China, an armed necklace that reaches from Australia to the Pacific and southeast Asia, Japan, and Korea. The Japanese island of Okinawa and the Korean island of Jeju are loaded guns aimed point blank at the industrial heart of China. A Pentagon official described this as a ‘noose.’
Palestine has been misreported for as long as I can remember. To the BBC, there is the ‘conflict’ of ‘two narratives.’ The longest, most brutal, lawless military occupation in modern times goes unmentioned.
The stricken people of Yemen are media unpeople. While the Saudis rain down their American cluster bombs with British advisors working alongside the Saudi targeting officers, more than half a million children face starvation.
This brainwashing by omission has a long history. The slaughter of the First World War was suppressed by reporters who were knighted for their compliance and confessed in their memoirs. In 1917, the editor of the Manchester Guardian, C.P. Scott, confided to prime minister Lloyd George: ‘If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow, but they don’t and can’t know.’
Vladimir Putin is Adolf Hitler, Xi Jinping Fu Man Chu. Epic achievements, such as the eradication of abject poverty in China, are barely known.
In recent years, some of the best journalists have been eased out of the mainstream. The spaces once open to mavericks, truth-tellers and journalists who went against the grain, have closed.The case of Julian Assange is the most shocking. When Julian and WikiLeaks could win readers and prizes for the Guardian, the New York Times, and other self-important ‘papers of record,’ he was celebrated. When the dark state objected and demanded the destruction of hard drives and the assassination of Julian’s character, he was made a public enemy. Vice President Biden called him a ‘hi-tech terrorist.’ Hillary Clinton asked, ‘Can’t we just drone this guy?’”
Pilger then mentions good news sources like “Consortium News, founded by the great reporter Robert Parry, Max Blumenthal’s Grayzone, MintPress News, Media Lens, Declassified UK, Alborada, Electronic Intifada, WSWS, ZNet, ICH, Counter Punch, Independent Australia, and the work of Chris Hedges, Patrick Lawrence, Jonathan Cook, Diana Johnstone, Caitlin Johnstone, and others who will forgive me for not mentioning them here. But when will writers stand up, as they did against the rise of fascism in the 1930s? When will film-makers stand up, as they did against the Cold War in the 1940s? Having soaked for 82 years in a deep bath of righteousness that’s the official version of the last world war, isn’t it time those who are meant to keep the record straight declared their independence and decoded the propaganda? The urgency is greater than ever.
John Pilger has twice won Britain’s highest award for journalism and has been International Reporter of the Year, News Reporter of the Year and Descriptive Writer of the Year. He has made 61 documentary films and has won an Emmy, a BAFTA the Royal Television Society prize and the Sydney Peace Prize. His “Cambodia Year Zero” has been named as one of the ten most important films of the 20th century. This article is an edited version of an address to the Trondheim World Festival, Norway. He can be contacted at http://www.johnpilger.com.