The following is a review of the documentary “The War You Don’t See” which I highly recommend seeing if you can find a copy. I originally wrote this for Media Roots, but never finished it. I have reworked it with edit suggestions by Abbey Martin. “The War You Don’t See” is not available in America. It was originally scheduled to debut at the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico but was mysteriously cancelled at the last minute.
Review of John Pilger’s
“The War You Don’t See”
John Pilger’s powerful documentary, “The War You Don’t See,” explores what the media’s role has been during today’s rapacious wars, like those of Iraq and Afghanistan. What Pilger reveals is both frightening and sad: the so-called “Fourth Estate” of the media, once thought of as a bulwark against corruption in government and big business, is now no more than a cheerleader and mouthpiece for what has become the Corporate State.
Interviewing with western news reporters, Pilger questions the efficacy of today’s media in living up to its duty of critically analyzing the government narrative while providing unbiased information to the public. In response, he is met with exasperated replies like that of David Manion, editor in Chief of ITV news, who says, “I don’t think you are suggesting that we [the media] should completely dismiss the words of arguably the second most powerful man in the western world [Dick Cheney].”
Manion completely abdicates his responsibility of fact-finding when he states, “…we allowed the viewers to make up their [own] minds as to whether this[Cheney] was a man telling the truth or not.” With responses such as these, it becomes apparent that the Fourth Estate has been rendered a neutered servant to government/corporate power and agendas.
Major media outlets have simply become unthinking stenographers of the ‘official word’, not daring to ask substantive or probing questions about government/social policy. Television, print, and radio have been reduced to hollow conduits through which runs the government/corporate PR machinery, continuously pumping out lies and spin in order to generate legitimacy for its criminal acts. Bradley Manning exposed the inner workings of this deception with his access to U.S. state department cables from embassies and consulates around the world:
The non-PR-versions of world events and crises …like everything from the buildup to the Iraq War during Powell, to the actual content of “aid packages”: for instance, PR that the US is sending aid to Pakistan includes funding for water/food/clothing… that much is true, it includes that, but the other 85% of it is for F-16 fighters and munitions to aid in the Afghanistan effort, so the US can call in Pakistanis to do aerial bombing instead of Americans potentially killing civilians and creating a PR crisis.
Edward Bernays, who coined the term ‘public relations’ and pioneered modern propaganda as a form of psychological warfare, declared once that “the intelligent manipulation of the masses is an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country.” The ability of the U.S. to wield ‘soft power’ by way of effective propaganda techniques is ever-evolving, and the ability of the Corporate State to frame the public debate and spread the Big Lie through its control of the nation’s digital media stream has consequently dumbed down the public discourse on important subjects.
In speaking about the advancement of nonstop digital news feeds, British reporter Rageh Omar explains that “twenty-four hour news is the easiest to manipulate, because it’s a giant echo-chamber.” Constant 24/7 repetition of the Big Lie all across the nation’s digital media stream ensures the successful brainwashing of the masses.
Author Chris Hedges experienced firsthand the mind-numbing shock of our corporatized culture when he moved back to America after having spent twenty years outside of it:
I remember when I was twenty years outside the United States, I moved back to New York City, and I was overwhelmed by the electronic hallucinations that bombarded me in my public and private space. And so, I retreated into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I could contemplate objects or paintings that didn’t move. You need to spend significant amounts of time with print material to grasp complex thoughts, and that requires silence. It requires an absence of noise. It requires an absence of moving images. And the less we do that, the more — the shallower or the more manipulated we become.
And those pulling the levers of the mass media machine are the über-wealthy and power elite who have one foot in government and the other in the corporate world. In their quest for profit and control, the reality and facts of the world are politically malleable tools.
Investigative journalist Mark Curtis explains that the relationships western governments cultivate with oppressive foreign regimes are accompanied by a sophisticated PR operation touting foreign policy objectives of “promoting democracy, human rights, and economic development.” However, these fake altruistic claims hide an insidious agenda. Actual government planning files clearly state the intended policy is based on “controlling oil resources, creating an international economy that works in the interests of corporations, and maintaining their power status.” If one looks at the current influx of multinational oil firms into Iraq, the intentions of military intervention are made obvious.
When investigative journalists report the truth, such as Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Charles J. Hanley who personally went to Iraq in 2003 and found no WMD after visiting every site named by Bush officials, they are simply blackballed and shut out of the mainstream media.
Of particular concern is the symbiotic relationship between the military industrial complex, driven by the profit-seeking objectives of corporations, and the major news conglomerates which, if not directly owned by military weapons manufacturers, receive advertising dollars from them. This intertwined relationship has been called the Military-Industrial-Media Complex. For instance, GE happens to be one of the largest defense contractors in the world and owns NBC. Another example is Lockheed Martin, which spends large sums of money advertising on CNN.
In his book War made Easy, Normon Solomon explained that “a military-industrial-media complex … now extends to much of corporate media. … Often, media magnates and people on the boards of large media-related corporations enjoy close links — financial and social— with the military industry and Washington’s foreign policy establishment.”
Pilger adeptly illustrates this perverse alliance with a string of TV clips in which news commentators are seen gushing and fawning over the extreme efficiency and performance of various industrial-killing weaponry. This groveling self-worship within the military-media complex is especially disturbing when recalling the images shown earlier in the film of children’s limp bodies being pulled out of rubble from Afghan villages obliterated by hi-tech armaments. With the ongoing censorship of such massacres and the sanitizing of western news reporting, Americans have become desensitized and normalized to war. The fact that over a million Iraqis have been snuffed out is simply not reported in the MSM (mainstream media), nor the fact that Iraq’s infrastructure remains crumbling and destroyed from the invasion.
Professor Melvin Goodman, former CIA analyst, explains that “pentagon officials have contracts with news organizations in terms of how to manipulate the news” as well as “pentagon officials involved in press releases to the media in which intelligence is used to manipulate public opinion (a violation of the charter of any intelligence organization).” Goodman claims that 80-90% of what you hear and read is ‘officially inspired’, meaning influenced by the ‘official’ narrative of the government. With 90% of the media in the hands of six corporations, can there be any doubt that the majority of news emanating from the self-serving interests of the corporatocracy’s military-media complex is all-pervasive. The dawning of the twentieth century has seen propaganda from the Corporate State taking on a truly global initiative. There also exists a revolving door between top military brass and defense contractors, making conflicts of interest inevitable and systemic. The degree to which utter moral decay and corruption has overtaken the American Empire is emphasized in an interview Pilger conducts with Julian Assange, whose character assassination by the U.S. government is currently playing out in the news:
Assange: Looking at the enormous quantity and diversity of these military and intelligence insider documents… what I see is a vast, sprawling estate — what we would traditionally call the military intelligence complex or military industrial complex. And that this sprawling industrial estate is growing, becoming more and more secretive, becoming more and more uncontrolled.
This is not a sophisticated conspiracy controlled at the top. This is a vast movement of self-interests by thousands and thousand of players all working together and against each other to produce an end result which is Iraq and Afghanistan and Columbia… and keeping that going…
We often deal with tax havens and people hiding assets and transferring money through off-shore tax havens. So I can see some really quite remarkable similarities. Guantanamo is used for laundering people to an off-shore haven, which doesn’t follow the rule of law. Similarly, Iraq and Afghanistan and Columbia are used to wash money out of the U.S. tax base and back in.
Pilger: Arms Companies
Assange: Arms Companies… yep.
Pilger: What you’re saying is money and money-making is at the center of modern war, and it’s almost self-perpetuating.
Assange: Yes, and it’s becoming worse.
The insanity behind America’s over-extended and bloated military war machine is highlighted when Pilger’s asks why the U.S. is in such a permanent state of war, when there is, in reality, no other country strong enough to stand up to it. The answer given by a government official to justify America’s never-ending militarism is “asymmetrical threats which transcend all geographic boundaries.” In other words, we wage war with an ever-shifting, nebulous enemy whom the Corporate State continually redefines. In reality, we create our own enemies to suit the interests of the elite who hold power. As the saying goes, state-sponsored war is simply terrorism with a bigger budget. The ‘War on Terror’ begets more of the same; it’s a self-perpetuating process. To quote Chalmer’s Johnson, “‘Blowback’ does not mean just revenge but rather retaliation for covert, illegal violence that our government has carried out abroad that it kept totally secret from the American public (even though such acts are seldom secret among the people on the receiving end).”
Carne Ross was the only official who expresses a higher form of moral consciousness in Pilger’s film when he states that he feels “actual shame running through [his] body” for what he did when working for the British government. He says, “…we should all be accountable to each other. That’s the only way to have a civilized society, with some kind of transparency and accountability with each other… with people holding others accountable for what they do, and that applies to journalists as much as it applies to anybody.”
In a world where resources are dwindling and the environment is showing clear signs of collapse, such a nihilistic war-mongering economy can only pull civilization down with it into chaos and barbarism. The remaining hope for mankind to survive the future and avoid the catastrophes of war and terrorism is for his ethical sense to evolve beyond what his scientific and technological capabilities have wrought. The war you don’t see is the true destructive and evil face of war whitewashed by a propaganda machine operating 24/7 to control and steer public sentiment in favor of underlying corporate interests. As Abraham Lincoln said, “He who molds the public sentiment… makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to make.” Pilger’s documentary is one of the most important to have come out in the last decade and is essential viewing for those who really want to better understand the machinations of the corporate-controlled political economy dominating our society.
Here is an entertaining video done by Diran Lyons using the art of political video remixing. Donnie Darko happens to be one of my all-time favorite films.