The War You Don't See

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The War You Don't See
Poster featuring a blindfolded man
Theatrical Poster
Directed by
Produced by
Written by John Pilger
Narrated by John Pilger
Music by Sacha Puttnam
Cinematography Rupert Binsley
Edited by Joe Frost
Release dates
  • December 13, 2010 (2010-12-13)
Running time
97 min
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The War You Don't See is a 2010 British documentary film written, produced and directed by John Pilger with Alan Lowery, which challenges the media for the role they played in the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel/Palestine conflicts. The film, which went on nationwide general release on December 13, 2010 (2010-12-13), had its premiere at the Barbican and was aired through Britain's ITV1 on December 14, 2010 (2010-12-14)[1] and later through Australia's SBS One on April 10, 2011 (2011-04-10).[2]


The film begins with footage of an unreported July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike and black and white stills of people who died during the U.S. occupation of Iraq. In his opening narration Pilger quotes World War I British Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s comment to Guardian editor C. P. Scott that, “If the people really knew the truth, the war would be stopped tomorrow.” He goes on to state that this film will draw on his own experience as a war correspondent to question the role of the media in conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Media historian Professor Stuart Ewen argues that Edward Bernays’s use of fear to win US public support for the First World War set a precedent used in the build up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Former CIA analyst Professor Melvin Goodman states that part of the Pentagon’s almost 1 billion annual propaganda budget is used to manipulate the news. US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Bryan G. Whitman states that most western media reports came from the 700 embedded reporters. Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather, former BBC world affairs reporter Rageh Omaar and former Observer journalist David Rose admit to not having done their jobs properly within this regard.

Independent journalist Dahr Jamail, supported by un-broadcast footage from independent filmmaker Mark Manning, argues that their is a massive unreported suffering of civilians. FAIR’s Steve Rendall relates the story of AP journalist Charles Hanley, whose January 2003 report debunking WMD sites in Iraq went unpublished, as an example of how independent journalism could have averted the war. Pilger confronts BBC Head of Newsgathering Fran Unsworth and ITV News Editor in Chief David Manion for their uncritical echoing of officials.

Public Interest Lawyers’ Phil Shiner details the unreported use of torture on Iraqi civilians such as the murdered Baha Mousa. Photographer Guy Smallman narrates the Granai airstrike which it is argued was played-down by the mainstream media in accordance with Edward S. Herman’s theory on unworthy victims. Pilger reports from the Armed Forces Memorial to show the extent of Britain’s unreported enduring imperial role in post-WWII peacetime, supported by historian Mark Curtis who believes that journalists could have prevented the war.

Former British Foreign Office diplomat Carne Ross testifies to the unreported suffering inflicted on Iraqi civilians by the post-Gulf War economic sanctions and bombing, which they argue went unquestioned by journalists reliant on official information channels. Glasgow University Media Group’s Professor Greg Philo analyses the intimidation of journalists reporting of the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. Pilger confronts Unsworth and Manion over what he views as the Israeli propaganda which dominated BBC and ITV coverage of the Gaza flotilla raid.

Former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney dismisses US President Barack Obama, who has failed to withdraw from Iraq, authorised US military action in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and approved the biggest military budget in history, as a war monger. WikiLeaks Editor in Chief Julian Assange puts money and money making by the military-industrial complex at the heart of the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Colombia and asserts that investigative journalists are viewed as the number one threat to these activities by the west.

Archive footage shows former U.S. soldier Ethan McCord narrating his discovery of two seriously wounded children in the aftermath of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike, which Whitman denies is one of a daily occurrences of such events in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pilger concludes in St Bride's Church, London, dedicating the film to the more than 300 journalists, including Sunday Mirror reporter Rupert Hamer, killed reporting the Iraq War in 2010[3] and quoting Claud Cockburn’s maxim “never believe anything until it’s officially denied” calls on his fellow journalists to be the voice of people not power.



The Guardian film reviewer Peter Bradshaw states that, "The force of his film is in its contention that the colossal scale of civilian casualties is, within the grammar of news, downgraded in importance so that it doesn't figure as news at all, but as all-but-invisible deep background to be ignored." "Pilger gives due respect to WikiLeaks," he concludes, "although his praise for al-Jazeera's independence is ironic, given that WikiLeaks has just revealed the possibility that the Qatar government is manipulating the channel."[4]

The Guardian television reviewer John Crace states that, "Pilger has never traded in anything other than black and white," and "Pilger's starting point is that all governments are shysters whose only interest is economic and all journalists are witless dupes," which, "had the feel of slight overkill," but "For all his lack of subtlety, he presents his case with passion and conviction." "What shone through," he concludes, "was that those we rely on to think clearly in times of war are often those most seduced by myopic machismo and that any sense of history gets instantly forgotten."[5] In the Financial Times, the journalist John Lloyd thought that individuals disagreeing with Pilger's interpretation were "ruthlessly marshalled into a narrative that gave them no quarter" and that by juxtaposing "two strongly put points of view" those watching "could have made up" their own minds. According to Lloyd, Pilger "showed, in his demolition of propaganda – which is what he calls government statements or politicians’ arguments – the mastery of the propagandist arts."[6]

Total Film reviewer Tom Dawson describes the film as a, "timely, potent doc," with, "an impressive range of interviewees, including 'embedded' war correspondents and whistleblowers," but concludes that, "it's the leaked footage of a US chopper attack on unarmed Baghdad residents that proves the film’s most disturbing scoop."[7]


  1. ^ "The War You Don't See". Dartmouth Films. Retrieved 2010-12-20. 
  2. ^ "SBS Documentary Index: The War You Don't See". SBS Television Online. Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  3. ^ Obituary: Rupert Hamer, Daily Telegraph, 10 January 2010
  4. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (2010-12-09). "The War You Don't See - Review". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-12-20. 
  5. ^ Crace, John (2010-12-15). "TV review: The War You Don't See – Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town – Beautiful Equations". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-12-20. 
  6. ^ John Lloyd ""Polemic in the hands of a master propagandist, Financial Times, 17 December 2010
  7. ^ Dawson, Tom (2010-12-20). "The War You Don't See". Total Film. Retrieved 2010-12-20. 

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