John Pilger on the war in Ukraine

May 27, 2024
John Pilger at the Julian Assange hearing at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court 14 December 2010

The Guardian obituary of John Pilger last year did not mention his views on the war in Ukraine. John Pilger, the renowned Australian journalist who passed away in 2023 at age 84, was a vocal critic of Western foreign policy and media propaganda.

As early as 2014, Pilger presciently warned about the dangers of the U.S. and NATO’s involvement in Ukraine. In a 2014 article in The Guardian titled “In Ukraine, the US is dragging us towards war with Russia“, Pilger exposed how fascist forces were being unleashed by the U.S. and EU in Ukraine, tearing the country apart.

He wrote that “we in the west are now backing neo-Nazis in a country where Ukrainian Nazis backed Hitler” during World War II. Pilger described how the U.S. had orchestrated the 2014 coup against Ukraine’s democratically elected government, and was now attacking ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

He prophetically warned that “if Putin can be provoked into coming to their aid, his preordained ‘pariah’ role will justify a NATO-run guerrilla war that is likely to spill into Russia itself.” In the article, Pilger called out the Western media’s inversion of the situation, portraying the Russian-speaking victims of attacks as “separatists” and the neo-Nazi perpetrators as mere “nationalists.”

He exposed how Ukraine had been turned into a “CIA theme park” with the CIA and FBI overseeing savage attacks on coup opponents. Pilger revisited his 2014 warning about Ukraine in a 2022 article, noting that a “silent coup” of rampant militarism had taken over Washington.

He reiterated how fascist forces like the Azov Battalion, adorned with Nazi insignia, were spearheading Ukraine’s invasion of the Donbas with Western backing, killing 14,000 people.

The celebrated filmmaker also called out the silence and intimidation of the Western liberal intelligentsia on Ukraine. He noted how journalists who reported the truth about the Donbas were “silenced or even hounded in their own country. “Pilger was unafraid to challenge the “unprovoked” invasion narrative, arguing that NATO’s eastward expansion to Russia’s border and the arming of Ukraine constituted an extreme provocation to Moscow.

Understanding this, he wrote, was “anathema” and critics were smeared as “Putin apologists.”

In a 2023 essay, one of his last, Pilger lamented the West’s “silence filled by a consensus of propaganda” as the U.S. and China moved closer to war.

He recalled the “electric” opposition of writers and journalists to war in the 1930s, and called for a return to dissent and truth-telling in the face of lies and censorship.

Throughout his career, Pilger remained an unwavering critic of war. His final years saw him bravely countering the “raw propaganda” around Ukraine, as he had done with Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

We must recognise above all his profound moral courage.

In an age of Orwellian propaganda, rampant militarism, and the demonisation of dissent, Pilger was a lodestar of journalistic integrity.

He spoke truth to power no matter the cost to his own reputation or standing. While the mainstream press echoed state-sanctioned lies, Pilger stubbornly amplified the voices of the powerless.

With remarkable prescience, Pilger warned us a decade ago that U.S. meddling in Ukraine would provoke a disastrous war with Russia. He exposed the neo-Nazi currents in Ukraine’s pro-Western camp that were whitewashed by the media. And he never ceased calling for diplomacy, de-escalation, and détente.

History has vindicated John Pilger’s analysis on Ukraine, Russia, and the folly of U.S. militarism. Like Orwell, he understood that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

Pilger had the guts to be that revolutionary. The fact that Pilger was so relentlessly demonised and marginalised for his Ukraine reporting, despite his unimpeachable track record, is a damning indictment of our supposedly free press.

If we wish to honour Pilger’s legacy, we too must find the courage to break the silence, to stand apart from the crowd, and to speak out when lies threaten catastrophic wars.

Poorer for John Pilger’s passing, we honour his fight for a more just, peaceful, and truthful world.

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