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Nuclear War if Necessary: An Interview With Frontline Filmmaker, John Pilger

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John Pilger speaks out
John Pilger speaks out
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At 76, legendary investigative filmmaker John Pilger shows no sign of slowing down. Pilger, who started his career as a war correspondent in Vietnam, has been a strong critic of Western aggression and support for dictators, tyrants, and state-sponsored mass murder in the name of Western interests. Pilger's award-winning career as a documentary filmmaker began with "The Quiet Mutiny," set in Vietnam, and has continued with over 50 documentaries since then, including "Year Zero," which documents the bloody aftermath of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. Pilger has twice won Britain's Journalist of the Year Award. His documentaries have won many awards in Great Britain and around the world.

In this extended interview, I spoke with John Pilger about his new film in progress on the impact of nuclear testing around the world, the massive nuclear buildup now taking place under the auspices of the Obama administration, and the ongoing and expanding policy of the U.S. to control and restrain China by any means necessary, which includes full nuclear dominance from air, sea, land, and space.

Dennis Bernstein: It is always good to talk with you, John. We know that you're working on a film now about the potential of nuclear war in this century, as a result of a massive U.S. nuclear buildup in Asia to contain the Chinese. This is also an incredibly important film, in the context of the new potential for confrontation with Russia, both in Syria and the Ukraine. Talk about the film.

John Pilger: Well, the film is really about the U.S., or rather the Obama administration's so-called "Pivot to Asia." That's the name of a policy that will see two-thirds of U.S. naval forces re-based to the Asia Pacific region by 2020. The reason for this is China. The U.S. sees in a risen China, an economically strong China, a new threat. There isn't a threat, in my opinion.

China is a very big country, and last month, I think, was the U.S.'s biggest trading partner. It is the workshop of the world, and it has influence, in its own sphere. They've done nothing, until recently, to suggest that China has any interest, other than in continuing to improve its economic position. I say until recently, because China has made very significant defensive moves in response to an encirclement of China by the United States, by U.S. bases, warships, nuclear armed bombers, battle groups and so on, that extends all the way from Australia through the Pacific, up through Asia, the Philippines, Korea, Japan, across Eurasia, to Afghanistan and India.

And this menacing, if you like, of China by hundreds of U.S. installations, military installations, many of them upgraded for example with the Aegis missile system, such as the new base that has just been built on Jeju Island, a Korean island, 400 kilometers from Shanghai ... This base, which will have ...

DB: And the buildup of the base, I understand, is on a pristine bay, where the sea blossoms, and the creatures underneath thrive. They put this base in an extraordinary place of extreme beauty, despite seven or eight years of protests to try to resist it.

Pilger: No. That's absolutely right. Well, I filmed there recently and your description is absolutely accurate. I mean Jeju Island, like Okinawa, the two of them are very similar in the resistance of the peoples to the drive to war, to a war with China, in that region. The people around Gangjeon Village, which is where this base has now been completed, have spent, as you say, up to 10 years protesting that the base should not be built. And this is an island that is listed by the United Nations, it's Heritage listed, it's pristine. It's an unusual -- considering its geographic position -- it's an unusual tropical island with extraordinary marine life. And all that in this part of Jeju Island has been swept aside for a base that, in effect, points missiles right at China.

And the same thing is happening in Okinawa. Okinawa, which has suffered pretty much in silence as far as the rest of the world is concerned since the Second World War, is an occupied state of Japan. It's very different from the rest of Japan because the Okinawans are an indigenous people. But it has 32 American military installations on it. It's an island of fences. It's an island where people can't really go about their business without confronting a sign that says they are trespassing. It's an island where schools have to endure American helicopters and planes screaming overhead, constantly. It's almost as if the entire island and its people have been occupied and militarized all this time.

But what's inspiring about Okinawa is the way people have resisted this, and the way that they have on Jeju. And they have resisted it quite successfully. They've elected a governor who is for the first time probably in post-war Japanese history has opposed a major issue that the Tokyo government has supported. But all of this activity has China in mind. It is about the new enemy, the new threat. It is manufacturing a threat.

If you cast your mind back to the way the Iraq invasion was brought about, it was brought about largely with propaganda at first, where the media promoted the completely false notion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and that he was a threat. Well, now we see almost daily some kind of story that China is a threat. Many of these stories are now concentrating on the Spratly Islands, which are in the South China Sea, where China is building airstrips. And we've had many stories saying, rather hysterical stories saying, "Look, here's China being aggressive. This is the reason why China clearly is a threat." When in fact this is the truth being inverted. China is building these airstrips, and it's only begun to build them in the last few years, in response to the encirclement of China by the U.S.

Now, in the film I'm making I've been to many of these places to talk to people, and I'm also relating it to the ... what happened in the Marshall Islands, what happened to Bikini when the U.S. tested its first nuclear weapons between 1946 and 1958 and have left those islands contaminated, many of the people mutated, people ill, people with thyroid cancer.

The history of this so-called "Pivot to Asia," this move into the Pacific, really needs to be told. These days we're often denied this historical context; we're denied an understanding of the immediate past so we can make sense of the present. To understand this completely unnecessary and very dangerous campaign against China by the U.S., one has to go back to see what happened in the Marshall Islands. Of course, right in the Marshall Islands is a U.S. base on the Island of Kwajalein. It's called the Ronald Reagan Missile Test Site. And it's about Star Wars. It's about building some kind of U.S. space weaponry.

But almost everything that this base does is also aimed at China. And much of this is not reported. Most people don't know about this. In the same way that as we head toward dangerous situations, I mentioned the 2003 invasion of Iraq, we are denied this critical knowledge. And that's why understanding what happened in the Marshall Islands, understanding what is happening now in Okinawa, on Jeju Island, in the South China Sea, where the news gives us these jargon words that are sheer propaganda " You have American admirals and generals forever saying, "We have the right to freedom of navigation." And what does that mean?

Freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and the East China Sea is the right of the United States to patrol the waters, the coastal waters of China. A right that the United States would never give the Chinese if it wanted to patrol the coastal waters of California.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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