Caitlin Johnstone: Re-Reading John Pilger

To go over a 2016 article by the renowned journalist now, in 2023, is like watching someone placing flags next to recently planted seeds that would eventually grow into the towering problems our world now faces.

July 16, 2015: The guided-missile destroyer USS Preble sails in formation with U.S. and Australian warships in the Indian Ocean during Talisman Saber, a bilateral exercise intended to train Australian and U.S. forces in planning and conducting combined task force operations. (U.S. Navy, Alonzo M. Archer)

By Caitlin Johnstone

Listen to Tim Foley reading this article.

In March of 2016 the renowned Australian journalist and filmmaker John Pilger published an article titled “A world war has begun. Break the silence.” which urgently warned of the U.S. empire’s aggressive escalations against Russia and China. Re-reading parts of it in 2023 is like watching someone placing flags next to recently planted seeds that would eventually grow into the towering problems our world now faces. 

It’s like listening to a time traveler warning people from the past about a grave mistake they were about to make. Pilger points to U.S. provocations in Ukraine, NATO militarism and the encirclement of China and warns of the surging risk of nuclear war, noting that nuclear warhead spending “rose higher under [Barack] Obama than under any American president.” 

“In the last 18 months, the greatest build-up of military forces since World War Two — led by the United States — is taking place along Russia’s western frontier,” Pilger wrote. “Not since Hitler invaded the Soviet Union have foreign troops presented such a demonstrable threat to Russia.”

“Ukraine — once part of the Soviet Union — has become a C.I.A. theme park,” wrote Pilger. “Having orchestrated a coup in Kiev, Washington effectively controls a regime that is next door and hostile to Russia: a regime rotten with Nazis, literally. Prominent parliamentary figures in Ukraine are the political descendants of the notorious OUN and UPA fascists. They openly praise Hitler and call for the persecution and expulsion of the Russian speaking minority.”

“In Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — next door to Russia — the U.S. military is deploying combat troops, tanks, heavy weapons,” Pilger said. “This extreme provocation of the world’s second nuclear power is met with silence in the West.”

“What makes the prospect of nuclear war even more dangerous is a parallel campaign against China,” Pilger continued. “The United States is encircling China with a network of bases, with ballistic missiles, battle groups, nuclear-armed bombers. This lethal arc extends from Australia to the islands of the Pacific, the Marianas and the Marshalls and Guam, to the Philippines, Thailand, Okinawa, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India. America has hung a noose around the neck of China. This is not news. Silence by media; war by media.”

Pilger highlighted the way his home country Australia was being roped into Washington’s war preparations against China, a trend which has since grown much worse as the drums of war grow louder.

“In 2015, in high secrecy, the U.S. and Australia staged the biggest single air-sea military exercise in recent history, known as Talisman Saber,” he wrote. “Its aim was to rehearse an Air-Sea Battle Plan, blocking sea lanes, such as the Straits of Malacca and the Lombok Straits, that cut off China’s access to oil, gas and other vital raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.”

Pilger wrote all this while preparing to release his excellent film The Coming War on China, which would come out later that year. In it, he shows how the U.S. has been surrounding China with war machinery in a way that would be considered an act of war if it was happening near American shorelines, and drives home the seriousness of the prospect of nuclear conflict.

Everything Pilger warned about turned out to be everything he said it was. A war in Ukraine has erupted from the spark of the U.S.-backed coup in 2014 and Russia’s fear of an increasingly expansionist and militaristic NATO, while the U.S. military encirclement of China has been rapidly increasing as hostilities between the two superpowers accelerate toward a breaking point, facilitated in no small part by the continent-sized military base known as Australia. What were only background stories in 2016 now dominate the headlines of today. 

I bring this up because I think it’s useful to show that we’ve been on this track toward global conflict between major powers for years, and it’s been unfolding in ways that some saw coming from miles away. Much of Pilger’s work could be called prophetic, but Pilger is no prophet — he’s just a journalist with an ear to the ground who’s been critically scrutinizing the behavior of the empire for decades. He was able to accurately mark the trajectory our world has been on earlier than most and it has continued along that same trajectory with frightening speed ever since.

If you can see the trajectory that an object is on, you can determine where you need to stand in order to obstruct its path. The fact that we’ve been on a linear trajectory toward global conflict between nuclear-armed states all these years shows that opposing that trajectory is of existential importance for every living organism on this planet. And yet the media still want us focused on celebrity gossip and party politics and Donald Trump.

World war is still closing in on us. We still need to break the silence and oppose it. Our rulers have been steering us in this direction for a long time now, and they’re not going to turn away until we make them.

Caitlin Johnstone’s work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following her on FacebookTwitterSoundcloudYouTube, or throwing some money into her tip jar on Ko-fiPatreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy her books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff she publishes is to subscribe to the mailing list at her website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything she publishes.  For more info on who she is, where she stands and what she’s trying to do with her platform, click here. All works are co-authored with her American husband Tim Foley.

This article is from Caitlin’s Newsletter and re-published with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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15 comments for “Caitlin Johnstone: Re-Reading John Pilger

  1. Francis Lee
    September 9, 2023 at 05:31

    Perhaps I am being somewhat naive but it seems to me that the western powers-that-be have a few loose screws and fittings in their war plans. Apparently, and according to the US/EU ‘s invincible war machine, NATO can launch a massive strike against the Eurasian bloc apparently without any reply. Hmmm?

    Anyone with a minimum of common sense should be a little circumspect about these somewhat dubious claims. Firstly, the Russians have a powerful war machine both on land and with long-range systems and state of the art long-range missiles in hardened silos. Additionally, the are Russian submarines, bristling with nuclear missiles roaming the oceans with the same first and second strike capacity. Then, at any time there are nuclear bombers fully loaded and in the air at any one time. Only a fool can believe in the notion of a winning nuclear war. Alas with have enough fools who do believe.

    ” … nuclear weapons, unleashed in any large-scale attack, bring a sure destruction, one so massive as to rule out any successful attempt. Defence in conflict, a traditional mode of thinking, is here no longer plausible, In a nuclear war , the long standing ”norm” of reliance on defence has become a self-deception, a most human and understandable one, and one that is rooted in an aversion to the new reality.” My journey at the Nuclear Brink” by William J.Perry. 2015.

    Perhaps we should enrol political idiots such as the German airheadAnnalena Baerbock or Josef Borrell for a little education in this respect.

  2. September 9, 2023 at 01:23

    For a decade now the only story that was worth any news coverage was climate change. It is accelerating so much faster than anyone thought possible – yeah that’s what an exponential curve tends to do. The question now becomes, ‘Will climate change take down the the US before the US takes down the world?

  3. September 8, 2023 at 14:41

    Obama, subtle and smooth, did more to create today’s disasters, domestically and internationally, than even the Clintons (close), Biden (a tool), Bush II, Cheney, etc. It’s a shame populists from both the left and right of the political spectrum permit themselves to be divided and manipulated when their common enemy is the Deep State and its tools.

    • J Anthony
      September 9, 2023 at 06:08

      Yes! I lament this every day. There is so much to be concerned about that affects us all, yet we allow ourselves to be so easily divided via elitist power-games.

  4. Frank Lambert
    September 8, 2023 at 14:38

    John Pilger is one of the best filmmakers and truth tellers in the world, and is a first-class humanitarian whom I have the greatest admiration for. He has been right on so many issues all along, and his warning film which Caitlin acknowledged may come to pass as the Exceptional Hubris of the Imperial States of America is intoxicated with the quest to rule this planet and eventually outer space.

    To add to Mr. Pilger’s and Ms. C. Johnstone’s concern for the world, I highly recommend the book, “The Globalization of NATO, by the scholar, Madhi Darius Nazemroaya, which was published in 2012. Since then, as you readers know, NATO has gotten worse, adding more nations, and planning a surprise attack on the Russian Federation.

    I highly recommend it for you history buffs like me. It can be ordered from or where it was published.

    I just hope China has the moral strength and moral courage to back their ally, Russia, in an all out war, as they are co founders of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization)

    The Anglo-American dominance in the world is life-threatening and more and more countries are beginning to see that Russia and China are now the hope of the world to keep the peace, as they are the only two nations who can defend themselves against the world’s “only super-bully” and will not be defeated like the superman & the samurai were in WWII.

    • Ian Perkins
      September 9, 2023 at 06:31

      I strongly suspect it is Pilger’s immense humanity and integrity that make him so ‘prophetic’: his vision isn’t clouded by ideology.

  5. Rudy Haugeneder
    September 8, 2023 at 10:38

    2024 promises to be an interesting year, the word interesting is, of course, a cursed word.

  6. James White
    September 7, 2023 at 15:02

    It is incredible what a mess Joe Biden has created all over the world in record time. World War 3 was something we had gotten over some 20-30 odd years ago but Biden showed us all how quickly it could be revived. As Biden’s boss noted on his VP performance review, ‘never underestimate Joe’s ability to fuck things up.’ Nevertheless, the sheer destruction Biden has unleashed is staggering. Global hyperinflation, pending food shortages and a proxy WW3. In the U.S. open borders, rampant crime and homelessness, a wounded economy. Trump drives people insane but none of these existential threats existed until Biden took over. There is a mass psychosis in the Western world that installed Biden and the assorted loser heads of European countries and above all, the E.U. The only sane leader in NATO is Viktor Orban. Erdogan can be reasonable but his constant duplicity makes him unreliable. NATO, the U.S. and Europe are now existential threats to humanity. As the author notes, this has been brewing for some time but it seems like it all arrived overnight. The biggest problem is that the people who wanted Biden, Scholz, Macron, Sunak and Von der Leyen to lead us into the abyss are stubbornly in denial about the error of their ways. The first step to recovery is to recognize that you have a problem. The way things are going now, we may never get there.

    • firstpersoninfinite
      September 8, 2023 at 00:11

      Oh yes, the old soft shoe: “The biggest problem is that the people who wanted Biden, Scholz, Macron, Sunak and Von der Leyen to lead us into the abyss are stubbornly in denial about the error of their ways.” Why would anyone vote for anyone to “lead us into the abyss”? You had me going until you made this and a few other statements pushing right-wingers over anyone else. No one wants Biden or any other of those people you mentioned. They are symptoms of unopposed nihilism as much as those whom you claim to be the better possibilities. If you join the Irish mob, not being Irish doesn’t excuse you for joining. It’s still a mob. It’s mob work. Anyone claiming that the choice ahead isn’t futile is only working for those fomenting futility. Pilger’s studied wisdom deserves to be recognized. I’m going to go watch “The Coming War on China,” and when I’m done, I don’t expect that the Nero or the Caligula that both major parties will serve up next as the only reality available to us besides the fuktopia they’ve already given us, will be worth the time or effort. Instead of playing cheerleader for John of Patmos, (author of The Book of Revelation), it might be time to fill your hand with sand and throw it into the eyes of your oppressors rather than coddling one or the other – as if that could make any difference.

      • Mikael Andersson
        September 8, 2023 at 06:19

        In the case of Australia there is no choice. The ALP / LNP is of one mind and it’s “all the way” with the USA in unquestioning obedience. It’s a few years now since 1975 and no political party wants the be dismissed. We don’t have an alternative. In the USA there is a limited alternative. I’m not a yank and I don’t care a jot for their domestic politics. I only care about their international behavior. And it benefits me to have a POTUS who will stop WWIII. I hope they replace Biden with Trump and that Trump does what he has said repeatedly – stop the USA proxy war on Russia in Ukraine in its tracks. That’s good for me, my people, my country and my planet. John Pilger predicted it. I’m living it. And I want WWIII to stop. A shame that Albo / Dutts don’t.

      • Duane M
        September 8, 2023 at 08:02


      • James White
        September 8, 2023 at 11:00

        ‘fill your hand with sand and throw it into the eyes of your oppressors.’ To what end? Appealing to physical violence is no solution to WW3 or anything else. According to Ukraine’s (formidable) ministry of propaganda we are already in WW3. Posting under an alias is likewise a flailing, futile gesture. Why not put your real name behind your opinion? I would take Orban or Putin over what passes for leadership in NATO countries. I sent Cornel West $50, as his stated priority is ending our role in the WW3 proxy. Also sent Bernie a contribution in 2016. Any port in a storm. It’s the oligarchy that must go.

        • firstpersoninfinite
          September 9, 2023 at 00:25

          To blind the Global Capitalist Elite for even one second would hardly be violence to them when their eyes are never taken off of us for even a single second. My real name doesn’t matter, and my alias took me eons of space-time to earn. Getting rid of the oligarchy controlling our society will require a Spanish Revolution of proletarian forces world-wide. But no one, and I mean absolutely no one, offers a choice better than any other until that begins to happen. Let’s roll! I also sent Bernie money – nothing happened. I’ll support Cornel West at all times. He is a superlative intellectual with spiritual authenticity. It is faith in our country’s endless hegemony over the world that needs to go. And that is now a thought crime to the powers that be.

    • J Anthony
      September 9, 2023 at 06:11

      Actually the borders aren’t open, incarceration of “illegals” and deportation has continued apace under Biden. Too much FOX News.

    • Robert
      September 9, 2023 at 09:35

      Wonderful summary of the Biden presidency. It’s quite astonishing what he has wrought in 2.5 years. The world can recover from our current position, but if Biden gets 8 years I don’t think reversal/recovery in my lifetime is likely.

      And we all know that its not the demented Biden making the decisions. We do know that his ideologue extremist cabinet members are running the show without adult supervision. We can identify the worst of the worst. …. Blinken, Sullivan, Myorkis, Austin to name a few. But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, more buried in the D.C. permanent burocracracy/deep state making life and death decisions. Think of the odious Victoria Nuland as one example.

      I’m generally an optimistic person but I’m not optimistic at the moment.

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