October 19, 2004

Pilger Visits, Shows War Documentary

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Yesterday afternoon, Prof. John Pilger, a Frank H. T. Rhodes Class of ’56 Professor, addressed his first “class” at Cornell. His classroom, the Cornell Cinema Theater in the Straight, was filled with students, faculty and Ithacans.

Prof. Emeritus Terry Turner, anthropology, introduced Pilger as “a world-renowned journalist, writer and filmmaker.” Pilger is a regular contributor to the BBC, ABC and a diversity of international publications, and is a bestselling author.

After a screening of his newest documentary, Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror, the Australian journalist fielded audience questions. In Breaking the Silence, Pilger analyzes the motivations behind the United States Government’s military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how the military intervention in the two countries has affected citizens’ lives there.

The documentary’s opening sequence features graphic images of wounded Afghani and Iraqi citizens while excerpts of speeches by President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair play concurrently. Pilger, who narrates the 51-minute film, interviews with senior members of the Bush administration, international human rights workers, historians and victims’ families.

Through Pilger’s lens, relief efforts in Afghanistan are seen as inadequately funded, citizen injuries and casualties are commonplace, and the American war against Iraq was unjustified. Several prominent members of the Neoconservative movement, including Douglas J. Feith and William Kristol, come off as aloof warmongers.

When the movie ended, Pilger stood to audience applause, and answered several questions about American foreign policy, the upcoming elections in Iraq and the United States, and his oeuvre.

An audience member asked Pilger to comment on filmmaker Michael Moore and his documentary contributions.

“Moore’s documentaries have been able to crash in the mainstream and have slipped past the barriers of those who guard debate,” Pilger said. “I don’t think that they’re particularly radical films. They have a lot of common sense in them, and they’re well made.”

Documentaries can be persuasive, he emphasized.

“Documentary can change peoples’ views or alter their perceptions almost overnight,” Pilger said.

He has received, among numerous accolades, a George Foster Peabody Award and an Emmy. An accredited war correspondent, he has covered conflicts in Biafra, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Egypt, India, Vietnam and the Middle East. He has written nine books, a play, and holds several honorary doctorate degrees.

Pilger and former Congress member Cynthia McKinney were appointed Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 University Professors in July 2003. Controversy surrounded their selection. Campus conservatives complained about the professors’ political beliefs, and the two were informed of their appointments before the provost, then-President Hunter R. Rawlings III and the Board of Trustees formally approved their nominations.

Archived article by David Gura
Sun Staff Writer