The Many Worlds of John Pilger

The great Australian journalist, author, war correspondent, scholar and documentary filmmaker John Pilger died on 30 December 2023. From 1962, he was based mainly in Britain. He was also a visiting professor at Cornell University in New York.

Pilger was a fierce critic of American, Australian and British foreign policy, which he considered to be driven by a colonialist agenda. He criticized his native country’s treatment of indigenous Australians. He first drew international attention for his reports on the Cambodian genocide carried out by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

Pilger’s career as a documentary film maker began with The Quiet Mutiny. In 1970 on LZ Snuffy, near the border of Cambodia, grunts of 5/7 First Cav tell of their disillusionment with the war, their frustration and fears, hoping only to survive the purposeless combat and to return home unscathed. The candid interviews, combined with footage of the grunts in the muck of Snuffy, or on tense or boring patrols, or briefly in the rear, convey the growing rift between the comfortable remfs and stateside politicos, and the American troops actually fighting and dying in Vietnam—for what?

Pilger contrasts the laughable daily military press conference, “the 5 o’clock follies’,” with the equally surreal world of haggard grunts on Snuffy visited by cheerful Donut Dollies, or attending a USO show in the rear, only to be flown back into the thick of war’s folly.

In 1993 Medic had the good fortune to read Pilger’s book Hero’s, a vivid, and at times blackly amusing account of the many ordinary people he witnessed coping in difficult and often brutal conditions—dissidents in the Soviet Union and those struggling for universal freedoms in Vietnam, Cambodia, Africa, the Middle East and Central America. In 1994, while living in New Zealand Medic wrote to Pilger, who wrote back a lovely reply. In 1994, while backpacking Cambodia, Medic left a phone message for Pilger at his UK TV studio about the upcoming trial of a former Khymer Rouge for the kidnapping and murder of three Australian backpackers, which he had expressed interest in.

John Richard Pilger, who grew up in Sydney, Australia, twice won British journalism’s highest award for his work all over the world, notably in Cambodia and Vietnam. He was International Reporter of the Year and winner of the United Nations Associated Peace Prize and Gold Medal. For his broadcasting, he won France’s Reporter Sans Frontières, an American television Academy Award, an Emmy, and the Richard Dimbleby Award, given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. In 2003, he received the Sophie Prize for “thirty years of exposing deception and improving human rights.” His documentaries have gained awards in Britain and worldwide, including multiple BAFTA honors.

A steadfast supporter of Julian Assanage, in our present time of moral dislocation his courage and truth-telling will be deeply missed.


The Guardian


The Sydney Morning Herald / December 2022: Backpackers’ Murderer Gets Life