Review: Hidden Agendas by John Pilger - The news that isn't on TV


"Only the truth is revolutionary". Whoever first coined this phrase displayed a deep insight into the true nature of politics and political ideas. What passes for political debate in the mainstream media seldom moves beyond the soundbite and the clever turn of phrase. Only a handful of journalists or commentators ever appear to delve beneath the surface and to question what we are all expected to take for granted - Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, John Pilger...

In this, his latest book, Pilger continues in this fine tradition and more than lives up to the reputation for fearless honest writing which he earned with books such as Heroes and Distant Voices.

Opening with an apposite quote from Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four': "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past", Pilger takes us on a whirlwind tour through a world of intrigue, high capital and power - a world too far-fetched even for Orwell's brand of fiction.

Except that Pilger's world is the real one - it's a world where, for example, the price of one British Aerospace Hawk is roughly the amount needed to provide 1.5 million people in the Third World with fresh water for life. Pilger describes the one pleasure to be had at arms fairs "in helping the salesmen relieve their verbal constipation. They have great difficulty in saying words like 'people' and 'kill' and 'maim'. I have yet to meet one who has seen his products in use against human beings".

In a damning chapter entitled 'Arming The World' the verbal constipation and real-life newspeak surrounding the British arms trade is exposed - a trade run mainly by and for governments. Among the 'friendly countries' (so described by then Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd) which have been supplied with their weapons of mass destruction by the British are Indonesia, Zaire, Turkey, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq. When Margaret Thatcher ordered the nation to "Rejoice!" during the Falklands War in 1982 she omitted to mention that the first Harrier aircraft lost was shot down by Argentinian fighters using British ammunition.

Today Britain and the United States between them supply more than half of all the weapons sold in the world; almost half of British research and development funds are allocated to defence and much of the sordid trade is tied up in an ingenious scam known as the Aid for Trade Provisions which accounts for more than half of all British 'aid' to the developing world.

Basically this amounts to the British government advancing hundreds of millions of pounds annually to governments on the understanding that this money will be used to buy arms from British companies. Since the end of the Second World War, the arms trade has caused the deaths of an estimated twenty million people.

Among the 'Unpeople' of the world exposed by Pilger in this book are the 750,000 Iraqi children who have died since the 1991 Gulf War as a result of the economic sanctions imposed by the Western economic powers, the further half a million children who, according to UNICEF, die beneath the burden of unrepayable debt owed by their governments to the West. (One Filipino child dies every hour, in a country where more than half the national budget is given over to paying just the interest on World Bank and IMF loans.)

A chapter is devoted to the Liverpool dockers and their titanic struggle in defence of their jobs, the tremendous international solidarity which was shown for their cause, the almost total media blackout of this "important and dramatic story" - "less the dispute Britain forgot than one that Parliament and the media simply did not want people to hear about".

The leadership of the dockers' union, the TGWU, and of the Trades Union Congress did all in their power to enforce their role as 'industrial policemen' - "dissipating workers' anger, refusing to take industrial action and threatening the dockers that if they did not comply with management they would be sacked".

The heroes of the dispute were the ordinary men and women of Liverpool - the dockers, their friends and families who stood firm, refused to back down and proved that working class solidarity is alive and well and residing in the heart of Liverpool and ports from the United States to Australia and Japan, where shipping companies who did business through Liverpool found their ships blacked and delayed.

As a lesson in what the working class are capable of, this chapter alone makes the book worth reading. There is more in it, much more. Buy it. Read it. As Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timorese leader in exile, is quoted in the introduction: "The hope for peace and justice in the world comes only from the tireless crusade of the common citizen".

Sean Maguire 

This article is from Workers Solidarity No 57 published in March 1999