The First Casualty

May 11, 2009

The first casualty when war comes is truth

So said Senator Hiram W Johnson in 1918, and over 90 years later, it still rings true. 

Written under a cloud of despair, ‘The First Casualty’ (Revised Edition, 2002) by Phillip Knightley laments what he sees as a dilution of truth within spheres of war reporting.  He cites a correspondent’s patriotism, military censorship, and the inability and indolence of the press to analyse official press releases as some of the reasons for this perceived demotion of the truth.  His anger, and later dismay, that truth is indeed ‘the first casualty,’ seeps through the pages, and lead to him predicting that “governments [and] their spin doctors … will find further justification for managing the media in wartime … [and that] control of war correspondents will be even tighter.”  

Indeed, Knightley’s prediction of tightening control on war correspondents leads him to despondently associate this with the demise of the war correspondent, and the death of his hero status.

Picking up on this is a comment piece by Kevin Myers in Friday’s Belfast Telegraph entitled ‘Why the Falklands is proof that truth is the first casualty of war’.  Referring to an article in last month’s Torygraph  he picks away at the misleading language, concluding that the 22 men who supposedly “saw off Argentine invaders” and gave them their first bloody nose in fact surrendered meekly after just two hours with only one man slightly wounded.   Referring to the power of myth, Myers points out that looking back at history which is ours, we inevitably exaggerate and puff it up.  With reference to 1916, he concludes

And no memory is immune to the mighty power of myth. Australian social historians were able to chart the change in the recollections of Gallipoli veterans, as the events in the truly myth-laden film ‘Gallipoli’ became indistinguishable in the veterans’ minds from their own experiences.

The power of myth is not that it is based on actual historical events. Its power derives from the needs of the people who pass on the myth. Thus Royal Marines want to revel in a victory nearly 30 years ago, though it simply did not happen.

Equally, Irish republicans wanted their own mythic, martial giants to rival the British heroes like Wellington and Nelson, and so have conjured them out of the motley band of 1916.

We tell tales. We all do. But we should remember. They are just tales. And when we turn baseless myths into icons of national identity, we are trading in a currency that is liable to inflation; for there are always those who will exult in a more extravagant and bloodier version of the myth, usually with contemporary political consequences.

One has to look very hard under the surface if one is interested in real truth.  Be that history, religion, football, whatever.  In each of these examples, there is always a side to be took.  And when bias comes into it, truth gets distorted, it gets exaggerated or played down, depending on whether it suits us or not.


Sophie Scholl – The Final Days (2005). “Decency, Morals, God”

April 27, 2009

Last night I watched Sophie Scholl – The Final Days, and would encourage you to watch at least part of the film, this fascinating clip below.

Sophie Scholl and her brother have been arrested for their involvement in the White Rose movement, distributing leaflets criticising the Nazi regime and Hitler.

After thorough interrogation their guilt is proven, and here (2mins 3os in) we see a conversation between Scholl and Investigator Mohr, who treats her in this as intellectual equal, dealing with issues of morality, conscience and God.

The White Rose movement holds high significance, showing clearly that there was opposition to the Nazis from within Germany, thought painfully highlighting its infrequency and lack of strength.

I was in Cologne a few years ago where the actions of the White Rose movement are now celebrated annually.

Article on Sophie Scholl from the Catholic Herald can be found here


“Why we can’t go to war with North Korea” according to one American

April 24, 2009

This simplistic article highlights numerous reasons why the US shouldn’t go to war with North Korea. However whilst he illustrates why a war isn’t a good idea (and it isn’t) he implies that any interference in the goings on of NK is none of the USA’s business, even if they do bomb Japan.

Fascinatingly enough, he quotes Santanya’s well known phrase, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” to illustrate his point about the mistakes of the Korean War. However, he should also imply that phrase to the Isolationist policy the US had in the 30s and early 40s which allowed a dictator far too much room to manoeuvre and almost brought about a restructuring of world order. With the new totalitarian regime possessing nuclear weapons, this is no time for America to be isolationist, and thankfully Obama seems to recognise this