“The War You Don’t See”

Salwa Al Khatib*

At a time in history when war is all we seem to see on the news, from Palestine, to Iraq to Afghanistan to Sudan and beyond, it seems unlikely that there are any wars that ‘we do not see’ as award-winning journalist John Pilger professes in his latest documentary film for the Cinema, “The War You Don’t See”.

A closer look at his new documentary reveals that there is a great war going on and has been going on since the first world war that we truly do not see.

Yet this war is not in one country or place, it is not about a particular conflict but rather about the image of “war” portrayed in the media, about the war that Rupert Murdoch, the BBC, CNN and co inflict on its viewers every day – the war against the truth.

Documentary films have done little to ‘change’ people’s views of war, not because they are not produced but rather because they are rarely if ever shown to the masses or broadcast by large TV networks, so Pilger’s latest film being broadcast on ITN, a mainstream Channel was a unique and rare occurrence.

When John Pilger makes a documentary it is hard to ignore. As much as many networks and broadcasters want to dismiss Pilger’s work, his ethics, minute details, and ferocious research into his subject makes him too credible to shove in the pile of ‘crazy leftists’ that others with similar objectives but different presentation find themselves in.

Pilger’s latest offering is an in depth look at how war has been reported in British and American news networks and the effects the media has had in allowing these wars to continue unquestioned by the masses.

“See all those people down there, light them all up… come on fire‛

As the film begins we see a clip from 2007 that was released by the infamous Wiki Leaks website in 2010 causing an uproar around the world: ‚See all those people down there, light them all up… come on fire‛ Says the soldier about the civilians in the streets of war torn Iraq just as the shooting begins, almost like a computer game not a real life event.

The fact that the clip was leaked by Julian Assange through Wiki Leaks and was previously hidden from the public by the large media conglomerates instantly puts the viewer in no doubt that major events relating to the war in Iraq were and are still hidden from their view by the mainstream. Pilger goes on to argue that that is precisely why whistle blowers such as Assange are indispensable in a time of war.

Pilger reveals that during the first world war (where 16 million people died and a further 21 million were wounded) British Prime Minister told the editor of the Guardian, ‚If people really knew the truth the war would be stopped tomorrow‛. However, as the film maker points out today we now have 24 hour news networks, bringing us light years away from the first world war, where camera’s were so new that‚ soldier’s would say hello mum when being filmed in the trenches.‛ Yet truth today is as much a casualty of war as it was then.

The journalist suggests that this has been made possible by the networks who follow orders rather than report what they see on the ground, and by the embedding of soldiers that has become ‘respected form of’ journalism, but does nothing more than show one view of war, that of those who are the aggressors and does not allow the journalist to see or report the ‘other side’ of the war, the side of those who are bombed and terrorized in their own homes by a foreign army.

The most important part of the film comes from Pilger’s own analysis of the power of propaganda during wartime and of the invisible and dangerous link between those that are supposed to deliver the truth yet instead deliberately corrupt, conceal and manipulate the facts in order to suite the interests of those in power.

The most conclusive summary to Pilger’s film ironically comes from propaganda mogul Edward Bernays whose following words also appeared in the first half of the documentary, ‚…intelligent manipulation of the masses is an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country…‛

The greatest weapon in modern times

If Bernays is right, then the greatest weapon in modern times is not Nuclear but mind- clear; if you can control the minds of the masses then that will yield you greater power than the most advanced weaponry.

The justification of killing hundreds of thousands in Iraq was made possible by the help of the mainstream media, and in retrospect may have never happened at all if it were not for the help of the media:

‚What the film demonstrates‛ says Pilger, ‚is that had the media, especially the US media, challenged and exposed the deceptions that led to the invasion of Iraq, the invasion might not have happened.‛

Pilger reveals a daunting truth, a truth that has successfully been swept under the carpet of media lies, lies that go unquestioned by the masses, and lies that result in the deaths of thousands and sometimes millions of lives.

The invaluable information delivered in this film should in no way take away from the fact that this is a beautiful piece of cinematic work. The simplicity in which Pilger delivers shocking and jaw-dropping information on screen makes this film such an easy viewing. Unlike many other documentaries in this genre, Pilger manages to reveal interesting factual information in a warm, non-patronizing manner.


It is difficult for other journalists to compete with Pilger’s artistic cinematic journalism nor should they try to. What makes this and the 57 other documentaries by Pilger classic is not simply his style on screen, or his well-written script, or enigmatic character but his life long desire to bring the truth to the masses; a desire that you cannot produce in front of a camera for a 60-minute documentary, but as the depth of ‘The War You Don’t See’ reveals, is born from a mission to improve the world and not just report it. PR


* Salwa Al Khatib is a Freelance Journalist.

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