Silencing the Lambs — How Propaganda Works
By John Pilger
Information Clearing House-- n
the 1970s, I met one of Hitler’s leading
propagandists, Leni Riefenstahl, whose epic
films glorified the Nazis. We happened to be
staying at the same lodge in Kenya, where she
was on a photography assignment, having escaped
the fate of other friends of the Fuhrer.
She told me that the “patriotic messages” of her
films were dependent not on “orders
from above” but on what she called the
“submissive void” of the German public.
Did that include the liberal, educated
bourgeoisie? I asked. “Yes, especially them,”
I think of this as I look around at the
propaganda now consuming Western societies.
Of course, we are very different from Germany in
the 1930s. We live in information societies. We
are globalists. We have never been more aware,
more in touch, better connected.
Or do we in the West live in a Media Society
where brainwashing is insidious and relentless,
and perception is filtered according to the
needs and lies of state and corporate power?
The United States dominates the Western world’s
media. All but one of the top 10 media companies
are based in North America. The internet and
social media – Google, Twitter, Facebook – are
mostly American owned and controlled.
In my lifetime, the United States has overthrown
or attempted to overthrow more than 50
governments, mostly democracies. It has
interfered in democratic elections in 30
countries. It has dropped bombs on the people of
30 countries, most of them poor and defenceless.
It has attempted to murder the leaders of 50
countries. It has fought to suppress liberation
movements in 20 countries.
The extent and scale of this carnage is largely
unreported, unrecognised, and those responsible
continue to dominate Anglo-American political
Harold Pinter Broke the Silence
In the years before he died in 2008, the
playwright Harold Pinter made two extraordinary
speeches, which broke a silence.
“best defined as follows: kiss my arse or
I’ll kick your head in. It is as simple and
as crude as that. What is interesting about
it is that it’s so incredibly successful. It
possesses the structures of disinformation,
use of rhetoric, distortion of language,
which are very persuasive, but are actually
a pack of lies. It is very successful
propaganda. They have the money, they have
the technology, they have all the means to
get away with it, and they do.”
In accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature,
Pinter said this:
“The crimes of the United States have been
systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless,
but very few people have actually talked
about them. You have to hand it to America.
It has exercised a quite clinical
manipulation of power worldwide while
masquerading as a force for universal good.
It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly
successful act of hypnosis.”
Pinter was a friend of mine and possibly the
last great political sage – that is, before
dissenting politics were gentrified. I asked him
if the “hypnosis” he referred to was the
“submissive void” described by Leni
“It’s the same,” he replied. “It means the
brainwashing is so thorough we are programmed to
swallow a pack of lies. If we don’t recognise
propaganda, we may accept it as normal and
believe it. That’s the submissive void.”
In our systems of corporate democracy, war is an
economic necessity, the perfect marriage of
public subsidy and private profit: socialism for
the rich, capitalism for the poor. The day after
9/11 the stock prices of the war industry
soared. More bloodshed was coming, which is
great for business.
Today, the most profitable wars have their own
brand. They are called “forever wars”
— Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and
now Ukraine. All are based on a pack of lies.
Iraq is the most infamous, with its weapons of
mass destruction that didn’t exist. NATO’s
destruction of Libya in 2011 was justified by a
massacre in Benghazi that didn’t happen.
Afghanistan was a convenient revenge war for
9/11, which had nothing to do with the people of
Today, the news from Afghanistan is how evil the
Taliban are —not that U.S. President Joe Biden’s
theft of $7 billion of the country’s bank
reserves is causing widespread suffering.
Recently, National Public Radio in Washington
devoted two hours to Afghanistan — and 30
seconds to its starving people.
At its summit in Madrid in June, NATO, which is
controlled by the United States, adopted a
strategy document that militarises the European
continent, and escalates the prospect of war
with Russia and China. It proposes “multi domain
warfighting against nuclear-armed
peer-competitor.” In other words, nuclear war.
It says: “NATO’s enlargement has been an
I read that in disbelief.
The news from the war in Ukraine is mostly not
news, but a one-sided litany of jingoism,
distortion, omission. I have reported a number
of wars and have never known such blanket
In February, Russia invaded Ukraine as a
response to almost eight years of killing and
criminal destruction in the Russian-speaking
region of Donbass on their border.
In 2014, the United States had sponsored a coup
that got rid of Ukraine’s
democratically elected, Russian-friendly
president and installed a successor whom the
Americans made clear was their man.
In recent years, American “defender” missiles
have been installed in eastern Europe, Poland,
Slovenia, the Czech Republic, almost certainly
aimed at Russia, accompanied by false assurances
all the way back to James Baker’s “promise” to
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in February 1990
that NATO would never expand beyond Germany.
NATO on Hitler’s Borderline
Ukraine is the frontline. NATO has effectively
reached the very borderland through which
Hitler’s army stormed in 1941, leaving more than
23 million dead in the Soviet Union.
Last December, Russia proposed a far-reaching
security plan for Europe. This was dismissed,
derided or suppressed in the Western media. Who
read its step-by-step proposals? On Feb. 24,
President Volodymyr Zelensky threatened to
develop nuclear weapons unless America armed and
On the same day, Russia invaded — an unprovoked
act of congenital infamy, according to the
Western media. The history, the lies, the peace
proposals, the solemn agreements on Donbass at
Minsk counted for nothing.
On April 25, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin
and confirmed that America’s aim was
to destroy the Russian Federation — the word he
used was “weaken.” America had got the war it
wanted, waged by an American bankrolled and
armed proxy and expendable pawn.
Almost none of this was explained to Western
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is wanton and
inexcusable. It is a crime to invade a sovereign
country. There are no “buts” — except one.
When did the present war in Ukraine begin and
who started it? According to the United Nations,
between 2014 and this year, some 14,000 people
have been killed in the
Kiev regime’s civil war on the Donbass.
Many of the attacks were carried out by
Watch an ITV
news report from May 2014, by the veteran
reporter James Mates, who is shelled, along with
civilians in the city of Mariupol, by Ukraine’s
Azov (neo-Nazi) battalion.
In the same month, dozens of Russian-speaking
people were burned alive or suffocated in a
trade union building in Odessa besieged by
fascist thugs, the followers of the Nazi
collaborator and anti-Semitic fanatic Stepan
Bandera. The New York Times called the
“The historic mission of our nation in this
critical moment,” said Andreiy Biletsky, founder
of the Azov Battaltion, “is to lead the White
Races of the world in a final crusade for their
survival, a crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”
Since February, a campaign of self-appointed
“news monitors” (mostly funded by the Americans
and British with links to governments) have
maintain the absurdity that Ukraine’s
neo-Nazis don’t exist.
Airbrushing, once associated with Stalin’s
purges, has become a tool of mainstream
In less than a decade, a “good” China has been
airbrushed and a “bad” China has replaced it:
from the world’s workshop to a budding new
Much of this propaganda originates in the U.S.,
and is transmitted through proxies and
“think-tanks,” such as the notorious Australian
Strategic Policy Institute, the voice of the
arms industry, and by journalists such as Peter
Hartcher of TheSydney Morning
Herald, who has
labeled those spreading Chinese influence as
“rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows” and
suggested these “pests” be “eradicated.”
News about China in the West is almost entirely
about the threat from Beijing. Airbrushed are
the 400 American military bases that
surround most of China, an armed necklace
that reaches from Australia to the Pacific and
south east Asia, Japan and Korea. The Japanese
island of Okinawa and the Korean island of Jeju
are like loaded guns aimed point blank at the
industrial heart of China. A Pentagon official
described this as a “noose.”
Palestine has been misreported for as long as I
can remember. To the BBC, there is the
“conflict” of “two narratives.” The longest,
most brutal, lawless military occupation in
modern times is unmentionable.
The stricken people of Yemen barely exist. They
are media unpeople. While the Saudis rain down
their American cluster bombs with British
advisers working alongside the Saudi targeting
officers, more than half a million children face
This brainwashing by omission is not new. The
slaughter of the First World War was suppressed
by reporters who were given knighthoods for
their compliance. In 1917, the editor of
TheManchester Guardian, C.P.
confided to Prime Minister Lloyd George: “If
people really knew [the truth], the war would be
stopped tomorrow, but they don’t know and can’t
The refusal to see people and events as those in
other countries see them is a media virus in the
West, as debilitating as Covid. It is as if we
see the world through a one-way mirror, in which
“we” are moral and benign and “they” are not. It
is a profoundly imperial view.
The history that is a living presence in China
and Russia is rarely explained and rarely
understood. Vladimir Putin is Adolf Hitler. Xi
Jinping is Fu Man Chu. Epic achievements, such
as the eradication of abject poverty in China,
are barely known. How perverse and squalid this
When will we allow ourselves to understand?
Training journalists factory style is not the
answer. Neither is the wondrous digital tool,
which is a means, not an end, like the
one-finger typewriter and the linotype machine.
In recent years, some of the best journalists
have been eased out of the mainstream.
“Defenestrated” is the word used. The spaces
once open to mavericks, to journalists who went
against the grain, truth-tellers, have closed.
The case of Julian Assange is the most
shocking. When Julian and WikiLeaks
could win readers and prizes for TheGuardian,
The New York Times and other
self-important “papers of record,” he was
When the dark state objected and demanded the
destruction of hard drives and the assassination
of Julian’s character, he was made a public
enemy. Vice President Joe Biden compared him to
a “hi-tech terrorist.” Hillary Clinton asked,
“Can’t we just drone this guy?”
The ensuing campaign of abuse and vilification
against Julian Assange — the U.N. rapporteur on
torture called it “mobbing” — brought the
liberal press to its lowest ebb. We know who
they are. I think of them as collaborators: as
When will real journalists stand up? An
inspirational samizdat already exists
on the internet: Consortium News,
founded by the great reporter Robert Parry, Max
Blumenthal’s The Grayzone, Mint
Press News, Media Lens, DeclassifiedUK,
Alborada,Electronic Intifada, WSWS, ZNet, ICH,CounterPunch, Independent
Australia, the work of Chris Hedges,
Patrick Lawrence, Jonathan Cook, Diana
Johnstone, Caitlin Johnstone and others who will
forgive me for not mentioning them here.
And when will writers stand up, as they did
against the rise of fascism in the 1930s? When
will film-makers stand up, as they did against
the Cold War in the 1940s? When will satirists
stand up, as they did a generation ago?
Having soaked for 82 years in a deep bath of
righteousness that is the official version of
the last world war, isn’t it time those who are
meant to keep the record straight declared their
independence and decoded the propaganda? The
urgency is greater than ever.
John Pilger has
twice won Britain’s highest award for journalism
and has been International Reporter of the Year,
News Reporter of the Year and Descriptive Writer
of the Year.He
has made 61 documentary films and has won an
Emmy, a BAFTA and the Royal Television Society
prize. His ‘Cambodia Year Zero’ is named as one
of the ten most important films of the 20th
century. He can be contacted at
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