Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sanitised war coverage on TV reflects our ambivalence to conflict

The Times: Ben Macintyre

There is, as Bill Rammell correctly points out, an extraordinary disconnection between the British people and the warriors sent to fight on our behalf. True, the 24-hour news media constantly pump information from the battlefront into our homes, but often that news is sanitised: it seldom shows the reality of modern war — the periods of boredom punctuated by moments of pure horror and fear.

The US ban on showing footage or photographs of soldiers returning in body bags is part of a wider feeling, shared in this country, that the public should not be exposed to such upsetting images. This may reflect a gentler and more humane society, but it also says much about our profound ambivalence about the real nature of war.

One effect of this is the absence of military heroes produced by the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. The actions and deaths of soldiers seldom last longer than a single news cycle. Those we celebrate have almost always saved the life of a comrade, rather than taken the life of an enemy. Because of our distaste for war, we would rather not know what war really involves: killing people, and being killed.
Many returning soldiers report feelings of profound estrangement from the rest of society. In more extreme cases, disabled soldiers have suffered discrimination or mockery from civilians.

Most, however, report a more subtle but morale-crushing lack of interest in what they have done on the battlefield.
General Sir Richard Dannatt, the former Chief of the General Staff, complained that returning soldiers often felt “devalued”. In more concrete terms, the sense of alienation may be measured in alcohol and drug addiction, divorce, suicide and imprisonment.

During the Second World War, everyone had a relative in uniform, and the bloody reality of conflict was brought home to millions in the Blitz. Even during the Falklands war, there was a broad sense of community with the Forces. Now that elemental bond between soldier and civilian is under chronic strain.

Mr Rammell puts this down to cynicism. But it is also a reflection of a risk-averse, squeamish, kinder society, unwilling to face up to the elemental nastiness of war.


  1. I'm not averse to this country fighting justified wars and if our guys need to go to war then so be it, but they MUST be properly equipped and funded. Anything less is a betrayal.

    This war in Afghanistan and the previous exploits in Iraq are and were unjustified and I don't need an arse like Rammell to tell me differently.

  2. Oh how I agree with the above. I only have to speak at work about my son who is out there and they look at me as if I am from a different world.... which I suppose I am. Being from a military background I look at this whole thing differently to the normal civilians who have never had anything to do with the forces. I can't even bring myself to write some of the comment s I've had made to me..... thye rally do not understand. Perhaps if it were reported on a truer level, both good and bad they would.

  3. Call me a cynic but I believe the reason we don't see the coffins returning thru Dover AFB anymore is political. It's easier to leave Americans "at the mall" than take a chance on generating the anger most of us felt during the Vietnam years watching our servicemen and women return in flag draped coffins by the thousands - roughly 58,000 of them in the end.

    I've read on the blogs of American servicemen and vets their feeling that they "went to war while America went to the mall."

    Granted, not as extreme a reaction as the Vietnam vets experienced. That was truly shameful and many of those former soldiers are making sure the men & women who return this time, living or dead, are shown the respect they deserve. We call them the Patriot Guard. They show up at welcome home ceremonies and are invited by families to participate in funerals of the fallen.

    Like the group of east coast civilians who turn up night & day, sunshine or snow-storm, to personally shake the hands of the military traveling thru their airport, most of the Patriot Guard are gray haired folks. I suspect those who aren't have a close association with their hairdressers ;) I love seeing those gray-haired-hippie-biker looking folks on their motorcycles, flags flying, or standing at attention, the flags now in their hands.

    It's my great fear that if we allow others to insulate themselves from the realities of war, what we see now as apathy will eventually lead to our downfall.


  4. Bill Rammell needs to realise that the majority of the British public do not believe we should have troops in Afghanistan at all.
    It is about time parliament realised that they are elected to carry out the wishes of the public, that is to bring all the troops home NOW.

  5. A very good post.
    I'm **right behind** the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are doing one heck of a good job, in extremely difficult circumstances, and fighting against a fanatical enemy.
    I believe that the public in the West need to HARDEN UP and **get behind and support the soldiers**. The public as a whole MUST learn that there are extremely good and valid reasons for the soldiers to be where they are. The main reason, of course, is that if the Taliban aren't stopped in Afghanistan, they will then be seen in the West.

    Did Sep 11 and the bombings in London, Madrid, Bali (twice) and the massacre in Beslan teach the world NOTHING? HAVE PEOPLE FORGOTTEN SO QUICKLY? If so, then **SHAME ON THOSE WHO HAVE.**

  6. What Catosays says is absolutely right.
    It is time the politicians listened to the British public rather than pursuing their own agenda.
    The conlict in Kuwait was justifiable that in Iraq and Afghanistan is not.
    All British troops should be brought home now.

  7. The government's FIRST duty is to protect the country and that is precisely what they are doing. The most stupid comments are those that suggest the government must bend to the will of a disinterested ignorant clueless public whose memory is short and who seem to think an open space next door to nuclear armed Pakistan is somehow not a major concern to the West!

    Anonymous at 10:06am knocks it out of the ballpark:-

    The main reason, of course, is that if the Taliban aren't stopped in Afghanistan, they will then be seen in the West.

    Did Sep 11 and the bombings in London, Madrid, Bali (twice) and the massacre in Beslan teach the world NOTHING? HAVE PEOPLE FORGOTTEN SO QUICKLY? If so, then **SHAME ON THOSE WHO HAVE.**

    Totally agree.

    Sadly it is the MSMs fault that such ignorant public views prevail since they have done their level best to skew it to suit the anti crowd. It is therefore zero surprise that we wind up with a sanitised version and a disconnected military.

    I'm proud of them. As are PLENTY. Perhaps it is time our military understood this also.

  8. Seems like a very small minority of ignorant comments has crept into here.

    This is the reason why our girls and boys are out in Afghan. To prevent this sort of thing happening, not just in USA but all over the world.

    This is a list of significant terrorist attacks from the first on the World Trade Centre in New York until that in London on 7 July. It does not include all terrorist attacks. Some of those listed were directly linked to Bin Laden or other Al Qaida leaders, but many were conducted by terrorists inspired by Al Qaida.

    During this period several planned attacks which might have led to significant loss of life have also been prevented, most notably a planned attack on Strasbourg Christmas Market in December 2000 and other attacks planned a year earlier against targets in the US and Jordan.

  9. 9/11, 7/7 etc were carried out by terrorists living in the West.
    The Western world needs to get tough at home and root out terrorists living in the UK, USA etc and prevent others coming into the Country.
    Fighting in Afghanistan will not prevent terrorists setting up in Somalia, Yemen or a number of other Countries or does the West invade those too so we have a truly Global conflict.
    There is far too much politically correct protection of individual "human rights" at the expense of the rights of the majority.