John Pilger (1939-2023)
by Lekha Adavi

John Pilger, died at the age of 84 years on December 30th, 2023. Throughout his life, Pilger was a scathing critic of Western Imperialism of USA, UK and Australia, and wanted to expose them.

Pilger extensively covered wars on people across many nations through his journalistic pieces and documentary films, which was a narration through people’s voices. His first documentary in 1970, ‘A Quiet Mutiny’, was on the collapse of morale among American soldiers deputed at the Vietnam. He was a first-hand witness to the atrocities perpetrated by the US Army against the Vietnamese people and write vociferously to bring justice to the people. Witnessing the oppression of the people in Vietnam and Cambodia made him a staunch anti-imperialist.

His documentary “The War on Democracy” (2007), revealed how deeply the USA intervened against the democratically elected governments in Latin America. This documentary became an account of the 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, which had staged protests resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths, leading to an emergency broadcast of counter-revolutionary generals which was later exposed to have been filmed even before any violence took place! The documentary narrates about the kidnapping of Chavez, the complete liquidation of their constitution, and the mass movement on the streets of Venezuela which defeated the coup. The documentary is shown to be a victory of the oppressed and in defense of democracy.

Pilger chronicled the history of coups supported by the US, tracing them from Guatemala to Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Chile. He interviewed survivors of violence, from Christian missionaries who were raped as retaliation for speaking out against the genocide in Guatemala, to supporters of Allende in Chile, who were tortured by Pinochet's tyranny. The documentary revealed the deliberate goals of US foreign policy in these nations, which included crushing any aspirations for a better life among the economically poor and the working class in Latin America. The film shows how the people were punished to such an extent that they were discouraged from ever wanting to "rise up" or even vote for a politician who might represent their interests.

A committed activist for pro-people democracy, he stood by the American people and marched alongside them from Alabama to Washington after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. After four years of investigation in Britain, he made a documentary ‘Thalidomide: The Ninety-Eight We Forgot’ (1974), on the working-class victims who consumed the notorious drug prescribed to women during pregnancy. After the injustice was highlighted, the victims of the drug were able to receive special settlements.

He reported on stories from East Timor and made a documentary on their struggle for independence from Indonesia, titled – “Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy” (1993). He also made several documentaries on his home country – Australia – to bring forth the indigenous past and present of the country. “The Secret Country” (1983), the bicentenary trilogy “The Last Dream” (1988), “Welcome to Australia” (1999) and “Utopia” (2013) were some of his films in this theme.

Be it Palestine, Iraq, Bosnia, Syria or even Ukraine, Pilger spoke through his words and images to free the world from imperialism. The world will sorely miss Pilger for standing with the oppressed people and being a mirror against all forms of injustices and oppression. Rest in power, John Pilger! 

John Pilger