His talk was called `Power and Propaganda` and was well attended with a near full house of 650 at the Assembly Rooms, one of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s biggest venues.
As the Festival Fringe guide put it “Journalist, film-maker and author, John Pilger is one of only two to win British journalism’s highest award twice. For his documentary films, he has won an Emmy and a BAFTA. His epic Cambodia Year Zero is ranked by the BFI as one of the ten most important documentaries of the 20th century. "John Pilger unearths, with steely attention to facts, the filthy truth and tells it as it is" (Harold Pinter). "Pilger’s work has truly been a beacon of light in dark times" (Noam Chomsky).”
John reminded the audience that the day of his talk Sunday August 9th 2015 was the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.
He is currently making yet another film, this time a documentary about the coming conflict between the USA and China. He has just returned from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean near the Equator where the Americans conducted atomic tests every day for 12 years leaving the islands badly contaminated and barely habitable. He said while on the plane he had looked at the cover of a glossy magazine with a picture of a model in a bikini which reminded him of where the name bikini meaning swimsuit came from. The name for the bikini design was coined in 1946 by Parisian engineer Louis Réard, the inventor of the bikini. He named the swimsuit after Bikini Atoll, where testing on the atomic bomb was taking place.
John spoke of the very strange feeling of walking through the deserted and irradiated Bikini Atoll. You’re constantly reminded of the atomic blast.
John made the point that the so-called `peacetime` since the Second World War was really phoney as around one third of the members of the United Nations have been attacked – mainly by the United States and its allies.
He talked of the encirclement of Russia by the United States which has been portrayed in the mainstream media as Russian aggression. This is an inversion of the truth. The takeover of Russia’s’ neighbouring states by NATO which is now threatening Russia’s neighbour (and non NATO member) Ukraine as well. It is a Western and not a Russian aggression. The real target of all this is Russia itself.
He spoke of his mixed feelings about the information age we now live in. Yes, much very useful information is available on the Internet but we still tend to get bombarded by `pseudo information` by the mainstream broadcasters.
He opined that the recent massacre of the 38 Western tourists in Tunisia by Seifeddine Rezgui who were mostly British was directly linked to the Western attack on Libya in 2011 which was so enthusiastically backed by British PM David Cameron. AP reported that Rezgui was said by a senior official at the Tunisian interior ministry to have been in Libya in January this year. Continuing with the theme of Western culpability he pointed out that the rise of first Al Qaeda and now ISIL in Iraq came about as a direct result of the American led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He had travelled through Iraq before the war of 2003 and that while Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a brutal dictator the country at least had a decent standard of living while now it is ruins.
The occupation had adopted a deliberate divide and rule policy of setting Sunni and Shia against each other. Disappointingly, he noted, was the fact that most British people greatly underestimate the numbers of Iraqis killed in the 2003 invasion. A typical response is about 10,000 when more scientific analyses like the Lancet report of 2006 gave an estimate of 654,965 excess deaths related to the war, or 2.5% of the population.
Turning to matters closer to home he compared Scotland’s current recession with that of Greece and how the Greek people had been betrayed. Greece and Scotland are two countries with relatively small populations – Scotland around 5 million and Greece a little under 11 million. The Greek people had voted in the anti-austerity party Syriza and then in a referendum rejected the austerity package proposed by the EU. Yet austerity was forced upon them. This is a betrayal.
Regarding Scotland he said that half the families in Scotland are on tax credits and many dependent on food banks.
After speaking for around half an hour he took questions from the audience. The first question asked how we get to the truth about the state of the world. John replied that we now have the technology (the Internet) to circumvent the mainstream. He said he did his research on the Marshall Islands from two books and what he found on the web. It was up to us to get at the truth.
When someone from the audience complained they were too old for campaigning he smiled and said that “The too old argument doesn’t work!” This drew much laughter. John himself, I hope, won’t mind me mentioning is now 75. He first came to Britain as a young reporter from Australia via Italy in 1963 during the middle of one of the coldest winters on record. Wearing only a thin jacket his first consideration at the time had been to go somewhere, anywhere, that was warm. Luckily for us he decided to stay.
Going back to Scotland he said that the First Minister of Scotland Nicolas Sturgeon should make clear to the Americans that the majority of Scottish people are opposed to the Trident nuclear programme.
He was asked if anyone could make a film meaning of course independent, citizen journalism. He said of course and cited the example of Amica Films who are based in Primrose Hill, London.
In response to another question he said that tobacco giants like Phillip Morris have successfully intimated the government of a small country like Togo while the British American Tobacco company is considering suing the Australian government.
The following question asked whether big corporations were going to take over the world. John opined that big corporations don’t actually run the world by themselves though they often successfully collude with governments. He gave the example of Serco which is a huge company that operates security and transport including the NorthLink ferries from Scotland to Orkney and Shetland. Serco could not operate without the cooperation and collusion of governments and with the coming of TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) big corporation will have the right to sue governments if they fell their profits are threatened.
The final question was about the practicality of prosecuting those deemed to be war criminals. World leaders like George Bush and Tony Blair started the 2003 Iraq War using bogus information about nonexistent WMD. The questioner related of how American journalist Danny Schechter had asked Dr Henry Kissinger in front of a packed audience of notables: in 1977 at Boston’s Museum of Science. Henry Kissinger, who had just departed as President Gerald Ford’s Secretary of State thanks to the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, was the guest of honour in what was to be his Harvard homecoming after all those years `playing America’s Machiavelli ` as Danny puts it . His talk was billed as off the record.
The fascinating scene is when Danny Schechter confronts Kissinger with a question on behalf of some students as to how Kissinger can justify himself to his own children after his policies caused the deaths of six million people in South East Asia.
Dr K was not amused and snarled: “Meest-er... Schechter, it is easy to challenge people who must make tough decisions, I vill not stand here and be lectured by you or any-vun! I have no apologies to make.” He then stormed off in a huff. Amazingly it was Danny who got the boos from the well-heeled audience and not the mass murderer Kissinger. In fact, Henry got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 (and in 1995 a knighthood from Britain) causing one commentator Tom Lehrer to opine that satire was now obsolete.
John thanked the questioner for his impressive Kissinger impersonation and said that many ex statesman like Kissinger were wary of travelling to certain countries. He gave the example of General Augusto Pinochet who was held under house arrest in Britain from October 1998 until March 2000 when he was released by then Home Secretary Jack Straw.
With the hour long event over John then signed copies of his many books, A Secret Country, Hidden Agendas, Freedom next Time and Heroes etc. for the appreciative audience.
Always a popular speaker many people had selfies taken with him before he had to travel back to London where he is based.
John’s next documentary currently under production should be out some time next year. The public will probably appreciate it more than their governments will.
For more information see John’s website www.johnpilger.com