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.
Editor’s Note: Pilger starts the interview with discussion of the naval base on Jeju Island. Women Against Military Madness is showing the film “The Ghosts of Jeju” this Monday with guest speaker Barry Riesch, who joined a delegation of Veterans for Peace earlier this year to protest the building of the base. “The Ghosts of Jeju,” Monday, April 11, 7 pm at 4200 Cedar Ave. So., Minneapolis.
t 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 fifty 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.
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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 7 or 8 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.
DB: When the Russians tried it the … it was “we’re going to have to go to nuclear war.”
Pilger: Well, when the Russians tried it … exactly. When the Russians tried it, it’s interesting that you mention that, Dennis, because when I was in Okinawa I visited and filmed a former U.S. Mace nuclear missile site. These were launch hubs built into the side of a mountain. It’s now being taken over by a religious organization. But recently, I think it was perhaps in October or November last year, one of the U.S. Air Force officers based there described rather graphically how an order was accidentally given during the Cuban missile crisis, during the crisis when there were Soviet missiles on Cuba, an order was accidentally given to fire these Mace missiles from Okinawa not at Russia, but at China.
So it must be very confusing for those who strategize this, because then it was one big communist threat. Well, the threat of communism appears to have receded but the countries remain. And they’ve been reconfigured into a different kind of threat now. There’s no threat from China, and there’s no threat from Russia. There’s a great deal of diplomacy that is needed.
DB: And we need to mention in this context, this new military alliance between the United States and Japan – and Japan with a sort of a maniac right-wing prime minister, who is sort of like a global nuclear salesman, among other things. And he is very much a part of this idea of running a strategic ring around China.
Pilger: Well, yes, I mean Japan as described by the author James Bradley as an American fist in a Japanese glove. Really the Japanese government does what the United States wants it to do. But this is exacerbated even more by the present very ultra-nationalist government of Japan that has made capital of a historic and tragic relationship with China, in which China has been the victim of Japan.
The refusal to acknowledge the atrocities that Japan committed in China before the Second World War, and later, has burnt deeply in China itself. But in Japan this refusal, this obstinance, has become part of a nationalist ideology. And probably the most worrying aspect of this is the possibility that the peace clause in the Japanese constitution, which says that Japan should never wage war or act aggressively toward another nation again, is removed. And the United States, which was instrumental in putting it in the Japanese constitution, wants it removed because Japan is really an outpost. Japan is the kind of Israel of Asia, for the United States.
DB: That’s a good way to put it, John Pilger. I’ve never quite heard it put that way.
Pilger: There are a few differences, but I think in general that it’s probably true.
DB: Let me come back to the film: It starts in Bikini and the Marshall Islands, correct? Talk about the tragedy of U.S. policy toward the Marshall Islands. Where are they on the world map?
Pilger: The Marshall Islands are a very remote place. It takes … really, the only way of getting there, apart from spending a lot of time on a boat, is to fly there. And you fly there on an airline that is basically flying there because there is a U.S. base there. So it’s an isolated place. And when you get there, you can see that this isolation has also prevented the outside world from knowing that the legacy of 12 years of tests from 1946 … and the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, who himself witnessed one of the tests as a child, calculated that the Marshall Islands experienced 1.6 Hiroshima explosions every day for 12 years.
Most of the people living downwind of those explosions – they weren’t all at Bikini but they were in that vicinity – suffered cancers, mostly thyroid cancers. And today, some of the people who were children there, remarkably, have survived – usually because their thyroid has been taken out. But they survived, many of them, in poverty without compensation and without, I think, without the world understanding or being able to draw the lesson from what happened in the Marshall Islands. I mean the biggest lesson, of course, is in Japan, where two atomic bombs were dropped on two Japanese cities.
But there’s an adjunct to that in the Marshall Islands, the way people were used as guinea pigs. And the scientists came from the United States over a period of twenty years, right through to … well, they’re still coming. They’re still coming. In fact the Department of Energy has a number of installations on Bikini. It has an office in the Marshall Islands where you can go and have a full body count if you’re worried about whether you’ve been contaminated or not. So the testing goes on. But the treatment of people, the help given to people – that came much later.
Otherwise people were left simply to be used as guinea pigs for a long time. And there’s a lot of documentation which I will show in this film that shows how all of this was deliberate. I mean the fact that we’re even debating nuclear weapons in 2016 is extraordinary. I suppose one of the problems is, and I contradict myself here, that we’re not debating them. That we used to. We had the great freeze movement in the 1980s. We had the “CND” movement, but it’s all gone silent.
But what hasn’t gone away is the danger of nuclear weapons. And especially when there are policies that provoke nuclear powers such as Russia, all the activity in Ukraine, which has been turned into a CIA theme park right next to Russia, are provocative. This is the world’s second biggest nuclear power, Russia. China is a nuclear power. And there is evidence that China is re-arming in a nuclear sense pretty quickly because it sees the United States targeting it.
Now the fact that we are not having this discussion, that people are not … that in this election campaign in the United States … I wouldn’t have thought that anyone’s said a word about it. I confess to not listening or wanting to listen to all of them … but I doubt if any of them …
DB: You point out in that there has been a huge buildup under Obama. You say nuclear warhead spending alone rose higher under Obama than any other American president. And this happens in the context of, well, a U.S. sort of engineered coup in the Ukraine, and once again it’s a potential nuclear face-off. So this is all of a piece, isn’t it?
Pilger: Well, yes. That’s the point I was making, that propaganda always leads to war, and that the world war that has begun is the propaganda war … a kind of censorship by omission. You simply leave out the most salient points of the information that people have, and have a right to. This information shows the utter hypocrisy.
Obama, when he went to Prague in the Czech Republic in 2009, made a very emotional speech in the center of the city, in which he pledged himself to help to bring about an end to all nuclear weapons. And it was not long after that that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Now it was not long after that that the Obama administration began, and the word is, “modernizing” the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Modernizing is a very nice euphemism because it means that you can cover what’s really happening, such as building more nuclear weapons, more warheads, more delivery systems, more nuclear factories.
It’s been estimated that over the next 30 years all this activity in modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal rather than, as Obama promised in 2009, helping to take away this shadow … all this is going to cost at least a trillion dollars. A trillion dollars is beyond my comprehension, but it sounds like an enormous amount of money. And already nuclear weapons as part of the military budget in the United States are a very significant part.
The U.S. has something like 7,500 nuclear weapons. Why it needs 7,500 nuclear weapons is beyond anyone’s ability to explain. There’s no reason for it. It is about what the U.S. Space Command said in 2000 when it used this extraordinary expression, “Full Spectrum Dominance.” That the U.S. would dominate space, would dominate the seas, the oceans, would dominate the land, would dominate everything. And that’s nothing new.
You only have to go back to 1946, 1947 and look at some of the documentation there of the National Security directives that called for … said that the U.S. policy was aimed at remaking the world in the U.S. image. That dominance has been there but it becomes dangerous, extremely dangerous, when a U.S. president, Barack Obama, launches a policy with the rather strange name “Pivot to Asia,” which means confronting the world’s third biggest nuclear power, while confronting the world’s second biggest nuclear power in Russia at the same time.
Dennis J. Bernstein is the executive producer of Flashpoints, syndicated on Pacifica Radio, and is the recipient of a 2015 Pillar Award for his work as a journalist whistleblower. He is most recently the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.