In 2003, when John Pilger first published his study of emerging 21st-century imperialism, the UK was on the brink of launching itself into the Iraq War alongside the US, with Australia following not long afterwards. Thirteen years on and the full after-effects of that decision are all too plain, and as such the re-printing of this compelling book seems timely, with a new introduction by Pilger that takes into account the emergence of IS, austerity Britain and the revolutions in Ukraine against the ‘propaganda machine’ of a billionaire-controlled, rolling 24-hour news culture: “News is a smear and a scare campaign of the kind I grew up with during the first Cold War.”
The book’s focus on the Western superpowers’ habit of cherry-picking despotic regimes of choice looks first at Indonesia, whose US-backed Suharto regime first overthrew a democratically elected government before instigating a 30-year period of genocide and miserable living and working conditions in the interests of building a ‘global economy’. We then overview the superpowers’ obliteration of Iraq in the pursuit of vanquishing Saddam Hussein. We read of civilian near-starvation situations as government sanctions block vital aid packages amid constant bombing (along with an ominous warning from one UN official that, if the sanctions continue, a new generation may rise up that view Saddam as being ‘too lenient’ to the West – this in 2003).
In the chapter ‘The Great Game’, Pilger takes time to consider the case studies of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yugoslavia, raising plenty of valid points (particularly on how for years US and UK oil interest were courted in Afghanistan) but the chapter seems a little unfocused as a whole, and Pilger is clearly at his best when centering on a single issue at a time. He closes the book with a moving visit to his native Australia to uncover the appalling treatment of its Aboriginal population, from the dark days of the ‘stolen generations’ to the modern appropriation of indigenous culture whilst its peoples live in poverty. Pilger does offer some hope for the future, however, whilst also giving study to Australia’s controversial refugees policy.
Much has changed in the world since this book was originally published, too much to be summed up in the space of an introduction, and one can’t help but feel a full updating would serve this new edition better (an epilogue would also have helped the reader draw some firmer conclusions and, perhaps, further spur them to action). Nevertheless, this passionate book ably demonstrates Pilger’s fearlessness as a reporter in pursuing injustice (a transcript of his interview with a US Secretary of State official is a particular highlight), and will further cement his well-earned reputation as one of the world’s outstanding journalists as well as opening a few readers’ eyes.
Festival of Debate – John Pilger
Thu 27 Oct | 7:30pm | Crucible Theatre | £10/£9
Part of Off The Shelf Festival of Words
John Pilger is one of the world’s best-known investigative journalists and documentary filmmakers. At this talk with extended audience Q&A, John will talk about the updated version of his 2001 book, The New Rulers of the World. From the propaganda of the War on Terror to a look at the collective punishment called austerity, he fearlessly unearths the truth and reveals the illusions of modern imperialism.
Buy tickets to this event here.
You can purchase The New Rulers of the World from Verso:
Words: Jordan Cullen