Flying the Flag, Arming the World

“One of the biggest manufacturing industries in Britain at the close of the 20th century is arms... Its future is uncertain and depends to a large degree on secret deals with some of the most corrupt and brutal regimes on Earth.”

Following his revelations about the genocide committed by General Suharto’s regime in East Timor in Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy, John Pilger put the Indonesian dictator firmly under the spotlight in Flying the Flag: Arming the World. The documentary, which tells the story of arms sales to Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq, traces the British government’s history of selling weapons to countries with appalling human rights records.

Pilger is told by Conservative MP Alan Clark, a former Minister of Defence, that Hawk aircraft sent to Indonesia as “trainers” could be utilised offensively and assurances from the regime there that they have not been used in East Timor are “worthless”. He also investigates how British Intelligence mysteriously took over the arms manufacturer Astra to get round the Thatcher government’s reluctant embargo on supplying Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

At an arms fair in Paris, Pilger finds a British salesman trying to sell a Russian missile to a group of Chileans and is told by another how a new type of cluster bomb sprays lethal dust on its victims.

Rae McGrath, of the Mines Advisory Group, UK, tells him that the British government voted at the United Nations Security Council in favour of an international moratorium on the export of landmines as long as it did not apply to British mines. 

Turning to Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine, Pilger says the money spent on it would restore a national housing programme and the transport system, virtually end homelessness, pay the National Health Service’s outstanding bills and ensure that no one died waiting for an operation.

He concludes: “For people in other countries, the issue is one of life and death – death from British cluster bombs, life denied by money squandered on British arms they don’t need. Is the end of this century going to mark the British as people whose great manufacturing reputation has been reduced to that of making magnificent tools of death?”

Flying the Flag: Arming the World (Network First, in The War Machine week, Central Independent Television), ITV, 15 November 1994

Producer-director: David Munro (51 mins)

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The John Pilger archive is held at the British Library