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The lies and hypocrisy of the America-hating John Pilger

Gerard Jackson

Monday 17 April 2006

The Australian-born British journalist John Pilger has a natural flair for self-promotion and moral posturing. In about 40 years or so he has established a reputation among leftwing journalists and academics as a fearless enemy of injustice, Western hypocrisy and exploitation. Like I said, he’s got a flair. He’s also a liar, a political bigot and a callous humbug. A man who uses the misery of Third World victims of domestic oppression to malign the West in general and the US in particular.

Watching this ideological ghoul exploit the misery and pain of others in order to advance his own hateful agenda is a truly stomach-turning experience. War on terror: the other victims was the portentous title of one of his post 9-11 articles which was nothing but a viciously dishonest diatribe against America’s justified response to bin Ladin’s terrorist network of which the Taliban was an integral part, not that he bothered to mention that fact. Pilger immediately set the tone and direction of his article when he began with:

The irresponsibility of this conflict is breathtaking. It is not about terrorism. As Blair and Bush stoop to the level of the criminal outrage in New York, British forces are little more than mercenaries for the hidden agenda of U.S. imperial ambitions.

That’s right, foks, America’s response to the atrocities committed against New York and the Pentagon is nothing but a cover for its “imperial ambitions.” This is exactly the kind of malignant propaganda that the defunct Soviet Union would have come out with if it still existed.

To understand how Pilger could have made such a base statement one needs to know more about him and there is no better place to start than the Vietnam War, which is when I first became familiar with his prejudiced and dishonest style of reporting. From day one it was clear that Pilger intended to report entirely from Hanoi’s angle, with the communist totalitarian North being portrayed as a liberating angel and the South and its American allies being painted as corrupt murderous thugs. Yep, there’s no doubt about it, Johnnie boy is quite a cutie pie.

Pilger’s revealed his communist sympathies with the simple statement that to Australian papers in the ‘60s that the “enemy was merely Communism.” Focus for a moment on the adverb merely. When Pilger made this statement in 1982 it was already known that communist regimes had murdered scores of millions of their own hapless subjects, that the mad Marxist-Leninist Pol Pot had recently murdered a third of Cambodia’s population. And yet Pilger’s response was a sympathetic “merely”, meaning that communism was not the real enemy at all.

Despite the awful fact that communist regimes murdered more than 100 million people Pilger has never condemned communism. For him the real enemy, the “Great Satan,” is America. This has always been his message and it always will be.

In all the years he covered the Vietnam War he didn’t give the slightest indication of ever disagreeing with the North’s invasion of the South or the systematic campaign of terror it waged for years against defenceless peasants. On the contrary, he devoted his reporting to relentlessly pushing Hanoi’s anti-American propaganda. Notwithstanding the numerous well organised massacres that Northern troops and their Viet Cong allies frequently carried against Southern villages, Pilger never once reported these crimes.

However, in an interview with The National Times (12 January 1980) Pilger brazenly lied when he arrogantly said: “I’ve been criticising the [North] Vietnamese for years.” He then went on to equate the North Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia with the “Allied liberation of Nazi Germany.” In his fervid imagination North Vietnamese communist troops were just the same as those American troops who stormed the Normandy beaches.

Unfortunately, lying is second nature to Pilger, particularly when it comes to protecting political gangsters like the ones who run Vietnam. In his documentary Cambodia — Year 1: A Second Report he fulminated against the West for the delays and confusion in getting food to starving Cambodia.

As always, with the leftwing likes of Pilger it’s what they leave out that matters. (This is usually called lying by omission). And what he left out was the embarrassing fact that his North Vietnamese mates, those caring, liberating angels, were levying very expensive tolls on the relief agencies’ barges that were carrying food, including powdered milk for children, and essential medicines.

Some how or other, Mr Pilger, the man on the spot, failed to notice that his comrades had imposed a savage tax on foreign aid for suffering Cambodians. He’s never explained how he overlooked this vicious protection racket when even the international press reported the scandal.

Pilger’s lying is so brazen at times that I seriously wonder whether he’s pathological. He told The National Times interviewer that “the fact” that communist “Vietnam supplied more relief than all the Western agencies put together did not surprise [him].” Fact my foot. It’s a complete and utter lie and he knows it.

Nearly all of the food shipped into Cambodia by communist Vietnam went to feeding its 200,000 occupying troops. A real fact that many journalists reported at the time, with the exception of Mr Integrity himself. Another fact that he chose not to report is that those supplies that did get through to Cambodians came from Western governments, despite being constantly harassed by Vietnamese communist thugs.

His attitude to the “boat people” is particularly revealing. When interviewed byThe Australian (30 November 1979) he was asked why his documentary Year Zero praised the communist Vietnamese “without noting the equally tragic situation of the boat people.” He responded with this little gem:

I was writing stories about the boat people long before it became a fashionable topic, so it angers me when people make that sort of accusation, because it is patently false.

Now Pilger’s response is a lie in the sense that he gave the impression that he was writing sympathetically about their plight and had condemned the communist regime for its cruelty. His line on the boat people was the vicious leftwing one that they had it coming. In his article Revenge on Vietnam (The New Statesman, 20 July 1979) he tries to lead the reader to the conclusion that it was America who expelled the boat people, causing about 250,000 to die at sea. (Come, come, you didn’t actually think he would point the finger at his Hanoi mates, did you?)

According to his perverse logic the international outrage at Hanoi’s murderous actions was really an American plot “to justify the American war and give credence to other, similar ventures, and then delight in the spectacle of Vietnam in isolation, an ‘international pariah.’” That’s right, folks. In Pilger’s putrid leftwing mind the communist Vietnamese were the real victims, not the people they callously drove into the South China Sea, and international outrage at what Hanoi did was engineered by the US to embarrass the new People’s Democracy.

To him, the indignation was really “the subterfuge of concern for the boat people”, another aspect of the “American blockade of Vietnam.” There you have it! America, the “Great Satan,” made ’em do it.” (By the same token, RAF attacks on Germany must have made the Nazis kill the Jews. Therefore, Churchill and not Hitler is really responsible for the Holocaust).

Pilger then elaborated this absurdity with the obscene argument that “the tragedy of the boat people...is the product of America’s racist war against Vietnam…” This makes Pilger no better than a Holocaust denier. No wonder I always think of David Irving when ever I read Pilger.

But Pilger is as slippery as they come. Knowing the certainty of his article being used as evidence of his lying hypocrisy he inserted the caveat: “[T]hese choices were brutal and cannot in any way be condoned.” (Notice how calls the decision to drive an estimated 250,000 people to their deaths and more than a million into exile “choices”). No, Pilger, it doesn’t wash. A throwaway line out of several hundred cannot hide the wretched fact that your disgusting article was nothing but a cunning apologia for Hanoi’s cruelty.

Massacres that Pilger managed to overlook

Here are a couple of systematic communist atrocities that the compassionate Pilger didn’t think merited reporting. There was, for example, the Tay Loc massacre where scores of men, women and children were murdered by the Viet Cong in an act of calculated butchery. Then there was a bus carrying 22 peasants that the Viet Cong stopped. They murdered everyone of them.

These atrocities were part of a calculated reign of terror planned and authorised by Hanoi and ruthlessly waged against South. And yet Pilger did not report one of them The Hue massacre is probably the most shocking example of the North’s barbarism. On January 30, 1968, the Vietcong, on instructions from Hanoi, broke the Tet truce by launching an offensive against the South.

Hue, an administrative centre just south of the border, was over run by communist forces who quickly set about their cold-blooded business of calculated mass murder. Thousands of were thrown into trenches and then buried, even though some were still alive

Fortunately some journalist came to realise the immorality of not reporting the systematic carnage that the North was carrying out against the South, understanding that by not reporting it they were making themselves a party to these crimes. One of those reporters was Uwe Siemon-Netto and the following is his mea culpa to the English magazine Encounter, 1979:

Having covered the Viet Nam war over a period of five years for West German publications, I am now haunted by the role we journalists have played over there. Those of us who had wanted to find out knew of the evil nature of the Hanoi regime. We knew that, in 1956, close to 50,000 peasants were executed in North Vietnam. [As Nguyen Manh Tuong stated at the 1956 National Congress in Hanoi: ‘It is better to kill 10 innocent people then let one enemy escape.’] We knew that after the division of the country nearly 1 million North Vietnamese had fled to the South.

Many of us have seen the tortured and carved-up bodies of men, women and children executed by the Viet Cong in the early phases of the war. And many of us saw, in 1968, the mass graves of Hue, saw [take note, Mr Pilger] the corpses of thousands of civilians still festively dressed for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. Why, for Heavens sake, did we not report these expressions of deliberate North Vietnamese strategy at least as extensively as of the Mai Lai massacre and other such isolated incidents that were definitely not part of the U.S. policy in Viet Nam?

What prompted us to make our readers believe that the Communists, once in power in all of Viet Nam, would behave benignly? What made us, first and foremost Anthony Lewis, belittle warnings by U.S. officials that a Communist victory would result in a massacre? Why did we ignore the fact that the man responsible for the executions of 50,000 peasants, Truong Chinh, was — and still is — one of the most powerful figures in Hanoi?

What made us think that he and his comrades would have mercy for the vanquished South Vietnamese? What compelled, for example, Anthony Lewis shortly after the fall of Saigon to pat himself on the shoulder and write, ‘so much for the talk of a massacre?’ True, no Cambodian-style massacre took place in Vietnam. It’s just that Hanoi coolly drives its ethnic Chinese opponents into the sea. That’s what Nasser threatened to do to the Israelis, no massacre intended, of course.

Are we journalists not in part responsible for the death of the tens of thousands who drowned? And are we not in part responsible for the hostile reception accorded to those who survive? Did we not turn public opinion against them, portraying them, as one singularly ignoble cartoon did in the United States, as a bunch of pimps, whores, war profiteers, corrupt generals or, at best, outright reactionaries?

Considering that today’s Vietnam tragedy may have a lot to do with the way we reported yesterday’s Vietnam tragedy; considering that we journalists might have our fair share of guilt for the inhuman way the world treats those who are being expelled by an inhuman regime which some of us had pictured as heroic, I think at least a little humility would be in order for us old Viet Nam hands, Mr Lewis included. And if I did not strongly believe in everybody’s right of free expression at any time, I would even admonish him to keep quiet about Indo-China, at least for a while.

Robert Elegant, who had been a journalist in Vietnam, wrote in a similar vein to Encounter, August 1981, about the shabbiness and dishonesty of much of the ‘reporting’ from Vietnam. CBS Morley Safer’s vicious response to Elegant’s confession revealed how sensitive leftwing journalists are to any criticism of their bigoted reporting. The rancorous Safer used a whole radio segment in a vindictive and fruitless effort to discredit Elegant. To my knowledge, Pilger wisely said nothing.

But I think it’s only fair to leave the last word on Pilger’s Hanoi comrades to the Vietnamese dissident Nguyen Chi Thien who described to The Australian (September 1998) the appalling conditions he endured during his 12 years in Hanoi’s Gulag. He called the suffering of the Vietnamese people an “outside prison” and called on the world’s democracies to pressure Hanoi to end its “cruelty and barbarity”. Now guess which particular Australian journalist turned a deaf ear to Nguyen’s plea?

Gerard Jackson is Brookes’ economics editor

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