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Tuesday 6th
posted by Ben Chacko in Arts

John Pilger’s 60th film is a warning to the world, says BEN CHACKO

The Coming War on China, directed by John Pilger


THE Coming War on China, John Pilger’s 60th film, is a wake-up call.

Since the end of the cold war the idea of a truly global conflagration, in which great powers unleash the fires of hell upon each other, has come to seem unreal.

To so many of us, wars are things that happen to other people.

This isn’t because our countries aren’t involved — from the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, through the never-ending bloodbaths provoked since (none of the wars begun in Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2010 and Syria in 2011 have yet ended), the hand of the United States and key Nato allies such as Britain can always be detected.

But the bombs don’t fall on us and, as one of Pilger’s many interviewees remarks, we have become desensitised.

Most people know that the consequences of nuclear war would be unimaginably horrific.

Yet we continue to stockpile these terrible weapons, while the US increasingly talks of developing “tactical” nukes which would be easier to use, and most people don’t bat an eyelid.

This is no doubt why Pilger begins with the tale of the Bikini hydrogen bomb test and the exposure of the population of the island of Rongelap in the Marshall Islands to the effects of radioactive fallout.

The birth defects and lethal cancers the locals developed were carefully studied by US doctors. None of it was accidental.

As US Atomic Energy Commission official Merril Eisenbud said a year before the islanders were returned to their home: “That island is by far the most contaminated place on Earth and it will be very interesting to get a measure of human uptake.”

Having plumbed the depths of deception and cruelty, we are taken on a whistlestop tour of China’s rise, from superexploited colony through communist revolution to economic giant.

Not everything here rings true — Mao expressing a desire to work with the US in the middle of the second world war, when both were fighting the Japanese, is not evidence of heartfelt admiration.

But the ring of US bases around China is certainly tightening and Pilger’s dry questioning of US officials who claim the Chinese “fully accept” being hedged about by warships and missiles is a highlight.

So too are the human stories of resistance that emerge — of the South Korean priest who blocks a US base’s gates by saying mass there twice a day, of the peace campaigners on Okinawa or the Greenpeace heroes who evacuated the people of Rongelap when the US refused to.

These, Pilger tells us, are the “other superpower” — ordinary people who unite to defy the brute might of empires.

The US appears to be preparing for all-out war with China — and Russia, though this is less the film’s focus. At the very least, it is adopting a hyper-aggressive stance that could easily lead to conflict.

Stopping this nightmare scenario means recognising it. Pilger’s film shows humanity at the edge of a precipice. But it also shows us that we can step back from the brink.


• The Coming War on China will be on ITV at 10.35pm today. The DVD can be bought from John Pilger’s website (