John Pilger: The Most Lethal Virus is Not Covid-19. It is War.

Covid-19 has provided cover for a pandemic of propaganda, says John Pilger.

Armed Services Memorial. (Geograph/David Dixon)

By John Pilger

Britain’s Armed Services Memorial is a silent, haunting place. Set in the rural beauty of Staffordshire, in an arboretum of some 30,000 trees and sweeping lawns, its Homeric figures celebrate determination and sacrifice.

The names of more than 16,000 British servicemen and women are listed. The literature says they “died in operational theatre or were targeted by terrorists”.

On the day I was there, a stonemason was adding new names to those who have died in some 50 operations across the world during what is known as “peacetime”. Malaya, Ireland, Kenya, Hong Kong, Libya, Iraq, Palestine and many more, including secret operations, such as Indochina.

Not a year has passed since peace was declared in 1945 that Britain has not sent military forces to fight the wars of empire.

Not a year has passed when countries, mostly poor and riven by conflict, have not bought or have been “soft loaned” British arms to further the wars, or “interests”, of empire.

Empire? What empire? The investigative journalist Phil Miller recently revealed in Declassified that Boris Johnson’s Britain maintained 145 military sites – call them bases — in 42 countries. Johnson has boasted that Britain is to be “the foremost naval power in Europe”.

In the midst of the greatest health emergency in modern times, with more than 4 million surgical procedures delayed by the National Health Service, Johnson has announced a record increase of £16.5 billion in so-called defence spending – a figure that would restore the under-resourced NHS many times over.

But these billions are not for defence. Britain has no enemies other than those within who betray the trust of its ordinary people, its nurses and doctors, its carers, elderly, homeless and youth, as successive neo-liberal governments have done, Conservative and Labour.

Exploring the serenity of the National War Memorial, I soon realised there was not a single monument, or plinth, or plaque, or rosebush honouring the memory of Britain’s victims — the civilians in the “peacetime” operations commemorated here.

Strechters Bearer Sculpture. (Geograph/David Dixon)

There is no remembrance of the Libyans killed when their country was wilfully destroyed by Prime Minister David Cameron and his collaborators in Paris and Washington.

There is no word of regret for the Serbian women and children killed by British bombs, dropped from a safe height on schools, factories, bridges, towns, on the orders of Tony Blair; or for the impoverished Yemeni children extinguished by Saudi pilots with their logistics and targets supplied by Britons in the air-conditioned safety of Riyadh; or for the Syrians starved by “sanctions”.

There is no monument to the Palestinian children murdered with the British elite’s enduring connivance, such as the recent campaign that destroyed a modest reform movement within the Labour Party with specious accusations of anti-Semitism.

Two weeks ago, Israel’s military chief of staff and Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff signed an agreement to “formalise and enhance” military co-operation. This was not news. More British arms and logistical support will now flow to the lawless regime in Tel Aviv, whose snipers target children and psychopaths interrogate children in extreme isolation. (See the recent shocking report by Defense for Children, Isolated and Alone).

Perhaps the most striking omission at the Staffordshire war memorial is an acknowledgement of the million Iraqis whose lives and country were destroyed by the illegal invasion of Blair and Bush in 2003.

ORB, a member of the British Polling Council, put the figure at 1.2 million. In 2013, the ComRes organisation asked a cross-section of the British public how many Iraqis had died in the invasion. A majority said fewer than 10,000.

How is such a lethal silence sustained in a sophisticated society? My answer is that propaganda is far more effective in societies that regard themselves as free than in dictatorships and autocracies. I include censorship by omission.

Our propaganda industries – both political and cultural, including most of the media – are the most powerful, ubiquitous and refined on earth. Big lies can be repeated incessantly in comforting, credible BBC voices. Omissions are no problem.

A similar question relates to nuclear war, whose threat is “of no interest”, to quote Harold Pinter. Russia, a nuclear power, is encircled by the war-making group known as Nato, with British troops regularly “maneuvering” right up to the border where Hitler invaded.

The defamation of all things Russian, not least the historical truth that the Red Army largely won the Second World War, is percolated into public consciousness. The Russians are of “no interest”, except as demons.

The centrepiece of the Memorial comprises two large bronze sculptures, the work of Ian Rank-Broadley, representing loss and sacrifice. (Geograph/David Dixon).

China, also a nuclear power, is the brunt of unrelenting provocation, with American strategic bombers and drones constantly probing its territorial space and – hooray – HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s £3billion aircraft carrier, soon to sail 6,500 miles to enforce “freedom of navigation” within sight of the Chinese mainland.

Some 400 American bases encircle China, “rather like a noose”, a former Pentagon planner said to me. They extend all the way from Australia, though the Pacific to southern and northern Asia and across Eurasia.

In South Korea, a missile system known as Terminal High Altitude Air Defense, or THAAD, is aimed point-blank at China across the narrow East China Sea. Imagine Chinese missiles in Mexico or Canada or off the coast of California.

A few years after the invasion of Iraq, I made a film called The War You Don’t See, in which I asked leading American and British journalists as well as TV news executives – people I knew as colleagues — why and how Bush and Blair were allowed to get away with the great crime in Iraq, considering that the lies were not very clever.

Their response surprised me. Had “we”, they said – that is journalists and broadcasters, especially in the US — challenged the claims of the White House and Downing Street, investigated and exposed the lies, instead of amplifying and echoing them, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 probably would not have happened. Countless people would be alive today. Four million refugees would not have fled. The grisly ISIS, a product of the Blair/Bush invasion, might not have been conceived.

David Rose, then with the London Observer, which supported the invasion, described “the pack of lies fed to me by a fairly sophisticated disinformation campaign”. Rageh Omah, then the BBC’s man in Iraq, told me, “We failed to press the most uncomfortable buttons hard enough”. Dan Rather, the CBS anchorman, agreed, as did many others.

I admired these journalists who broke the silence. But they are honourable exceptions. Today, the war drums have new and highly enthusiastic beaters in Britain, America and the “West”.

Take your pick among the legion of Russia and China bashers and promoters of fiction such as Russiagate. My personal Oscar goes to Peter Hartcher of The Sydney Morning Herald, whose unrelenting rousing drivel about the “existential threat” (of China/Russia, mostly China) was illustrated by a smiling Scott Morrison, the PR man who is Australia’s prime minister, dressed like Churchill, V for Victory sign and all. “Not since the 1930s ….” the pair of them intoned. Ad nauseum.

Covid has provided cover for this pandemic of propaganda. In July, Morrison took his cue from Trump and announced that Australia, which has no enemies, would spend A$270 billion on provoking one, including missiles that could reach China.

That China’s purchase of Australia’s minerals and agriculture effectively underwrote the Australian economy was “of no interest” to the government in Canberra.

The Australian media cheered almost as one, delivering a shower of abuse at China. Thousands of Chinese students, who had guaranteed the gross salaries of Australian vice-chancellors, were advised by their government to go elsewhere. Chinese-Australians were bad-mouthed and deliverymen were assaulted. Colonial racism is never hard to revive.

Some years ago, I interviewed the former head of the CIA in Latin America, Duane Clarridge. In a few refreshingly honest words, he summed up “Western” foreign policy as it is ordained and directed by Washington.

The super-power, he said, could do what it wanted where it wanted whenever its “strategic interests” dictated. His words were: “Get used to it, world.”

I have reported a number of wars. I have seen the remains of children and women and the elderly bombed and burned to death: their villages laid to waste, their petrified trees festooned with human parts. And much else.

Perhaps that is why I reserve a specific contempt for those who promote the crime of rapacious war, who beckon it with bad faith and profanities, having never experienced it themselves. Their monopoly must be broken.

This is a version of an address John Pilger gave to a Stop the War fund-raiser, Artists Speak Out, in London.

John Pilger is an Australian-British journalist and filmmaker based in London. Pilger’s Web site is: In 2017, the British Library announced a John Pilger Archive of all his written and filmed work. The British Film Institute includes his 1979 film, “Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia,” among the 10 most important documentaries of the 20thcentury. Some of his previous contributions to Consortium News can be found here.  

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17 comments for “John Pilger: The Most Lethal Virus is Not Covid-19. It is War.

  1. David Petty
    December 15, 2020 at 11:12

    If only more ordinary people had more access to John Pilger’s journalism the whole world would be a much better place. And his unconvicted fellow countryman Julian Assange would not be serving a thinly disguised death sentence as a political prisoner in a high security English prison. Wake up everybody. Your future, your childrens’ future and your grandchildrens’ future is at stake here. This is not a game.

  2. Rob Roy
    December 15, 2020 at 03:45

    Thank you, Mr. Chuckman, for a very interesting comment.

  3. December 15, 2020 at 00:54

    A candid ,accurate summation of the lies and false reporting by the majority of the media. Thank you Mr. Pilger…..

  4. December 14, 2020 at 23:48

    Thank you, Mr. Pilger. You are the journalist I admire the most, and in this article you do not disappoint!

  5. December 14, 2020 at 23:48


  6. Danny
    December 14, 2020 at 19:53

    Thank you John Pilger for valuing the truth and stating it.

    • Maura
      December 15, 2020 at 08:09

      The war drums exactly.The orchestra supported and encouraged by the media.
      We are all in the audience and accountable

  7. David Otness
    December 14, 2020 at 19:13

    John speaks the truth unreservedly, and well that he does.
    His interview with Duane Clarridge of the CIA is one to make you stop drop-jawed and stunned at this soldier of empire’s cold and full certainty of his hubris’s righteousness. It affected me so much I had to bookmark it for future reference and further dispensation.
    Clarridge, it should be noted, was one of the principals of the Iran Contra scandal who was pardoned by one William Barr, then Attorney General of the US under George HW Bush.


  8. Meera Finnigan
    December 14, 2020 at 17:28

    Thank you John, for your truth speaking and remarkable endurance in reporting the facts and principled analysis in a world of propaganda and gross hegemonic self interest. Go well.

  9. Rob Roy
    December 14, 2020 at 16:49

    Thanks again, Mr. Pilger for the best in reporting. It’s a toss up whether these arrogant imperialists will get the nerve to tackle Russia or China in a hot war, but if they do, they will at last have comeuppance. They have murdered millions and millions of people who couldn’t stop them, I almost look forward to the day someone is stronger and as determined. Heaven forfend.

  10. Jack Siler
    December 14, 2020 at 16:48

    Thank you for a beautifully written account of the Truth.

    December 14, 2020 at 16:40

    Even though I am very anti-war, I can admire a great war monument.

    There are a number of them in the world, but the one that almost gives me chills is the gigantic “The Motherland Calls” in Volgograd (renamed from Stalingrad).

    Its gigantic size is justified in that it represents the bloodiest battle ever fought in the most destructive event in all of human history, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union.

    The USSR lost roughly a thousand times the entire American losses on all fronts in WWII. Maybe, that’s why America is so cavalier about war – it never really experienced it.

    The intensity of feeling of “The Motherland Calls” is enough to bring tears.

    I actually find the British Armed Services Memorial exceedingly sterile. It possesses a kind of oppressive ugliness.

    There is definitely a surreal quality to the sculpture groups, unpleasantly so. Nothing inspiring about any of it.

    Well done in terms of technical quality, but with a sickening sense of dreary nightmare figures set in a rigid stone framework that very much reminds me of Italian and German totalitarian architecture.

    Its creators have unwittingly reveled its emptiness of purpose and soul.

      December 15, 2020 at 03:44

      Sorry, but that “thousand times” the war deaths should, of course, have been a “hundred times.”

      I was quietly inebriated when I wrote that, a condition that is I fear becoming common at my stage and state of life.

      It is an enormous disparity still. All my other statements are accurate.

  12. December 14, 2020 at 15:54

    I’ll make this simple.

    There is no such thing as the United Kingdom.

    So the borders are going to be changing. First let Ireland get back it’s island that was invaded without mercy. A very serious genocide that was that seems to have been forgotten. Still, if not for it, I wouldn’t be typing this now!

    Afterwards, it is time for Scotland to get back its sovereignty.

    Remember what I said above. The United Kingdom does not exist because how could you be united if it wasn’t your choice in the first place?



  13. Lee C. Ng
    December 14, 2020 at 15:15

    Most books would agree that imperialism’s “success” depends much on collusion by its victims. Today western imperialism rides roughshod over much of the world because Russia and China refused to resolutely confront it. Instead both these two continental powers are more interestsd in accomodating and even collaborating with Imperialism. Otherwise they would’ve actively organized the many helpless victims of imperialism, from the Middle East to Africa and Latin America and elsewhere in the world to counter their tormentors. The old Cominterns were correct in that world imperialism could be defeated only world resistance.

  14. Anne
    December 14, 2020 at 11:56

    Oh I thank YOU Mr Pilger – I’ve admired your honesty from when you reported on those Vietnam travesties….

    The UK (my birthland, unfortunately) cannot, apparently let go of its imperialist-slaughter-mongering past. Nor can the USA….For the sake of the rest of humanity (outside NATO – they deserve all they get and more) let it all go down the drains…soon, very soon…

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