But the first casualty of war isn't just truth. It's more specific. As John Pilger, taking us beyond the safe liberal version of that easy maxim, reminds us:
The oldest cliché is that truth is the first casualty of war. I disagree. Journalism is the first casualty. Not only that: it has become a weapon of war, a virulent censorship that goes unrecognised in the United States, Britain and other democracies; censorship by omission, whose power is such that, in war, it can mean the difference between life and death for people in faraway countries, such as Iraq.All of which indicates a damning level of assistance from the mass media in that greatest of crimes and deceptions.
As a recent campaign-funded ComRes poll suggests, public recognition of the numbers killed in the Iraq war has been massively manipulated and media-massaged.
As detailed by Joe Emersberger, two questions were put to a representative sample of 2021 British adults (24-27 May 2013).
The first asks:
How many Iraqis, both combatants and civilians, do you think have died as a consequence of the war that began in Iraq in 2003? Please just give your best estimate.
The responses are summarized below:
Up to 5,000………………44%
5,001 - 10,000…………..15%
10,001 - 20,000…………..7%
20,001 - 50,000…………..8%
50,001 - 100,000………..11%
100,001 - 500,000………10%
500,001 - 1,000,000……...4%
Don't know/Not stated…….0.3%
The second question asks:
What percentage of Iraqi deaths as a result of the war do you think were civilian ie non combatants? Please give a percentage from 1-100. Please just give your best estimate.Astonished by the findings, Channel 4 News chief correspondent Alex Thomson believes the poll "shows [a] public perception wildly at odds with reality."
The results were widely dispersed. Fifty percent thought that less than half Iraqi deaths were civilians.
As his own summary of the data notes:
Two-thirds (66 per cent) of the public estimate that 20,000 or fewer civilians and combatants have died as a consequence of the war in Iraq since 2003.
One in 10 (10 per cent) think that between 100,000 and 500,000 have died and one in 20 (6 per cent) think that more than 500,000 have died.
According to public estimates, the mean number of deaths in Iraq since the invasion is 189,530.
Women in Britain are more likely to underestimate the number of deaths in Iraq since the invasion than men. Half (53 per cent) of women think 5,000 or fewer deaths have occurred since the invasion compared to one-third (35 per cent) of men.
Perhaps that last figure is the most startling – a majority of women and more than a third of men polled say fewer than 5,000 deaths have occurred. That figure is so staggeringly, mind-blowingly at odds with reality as to leave a journalist who worked long and hard to bring home the reality of war, speechless. If we believe the results, then war-makers in government will take great comfort, as will the generals who work so hard to peddle the lie of bloodless warfare, with all the cockpit video propaganda video news releases and talk of “collateral damage” instead of “dead children”. Equally – questions for us on the media that after so much time, effort and money, the public perception of bloodshed remains stubbornly, wildly, wrong. [My emphasis.]
And yet, besides the mass level of public unawareness, what does this really say about our media's own disgraceful performance?
As Thomson states, "equally - questions for us in the media". Yet, shouldn't that be so much more than just "equally"? Shouldn't it be "predominantly"?
It's expected that those so geared-up for such mass killing are equally up for the propagandist presentation of it. But where that kind of blanket screening of death and suffering is happening, shouldn't it be the primary and urgent task of an honest, vigilant media not only to check the lies and mendacity of the politicians and military, but also the complicit role of their own media organisations and associates in facilitating all that distortion?
Thomson writes as a journalist genuinely outraged and not a little perplexed by the media's 'failures' here. Yet, while approving of his humanitarian sentiments, why the "speechless" astonishment?
Someone of Thomson's ability to see through so much other establishment criminality and subterfuge can surely recognise the kind of powerful forces and pressures serving to keep media presentation of such issues safely policed and moderated.
That includes not just obvious state-supportive media, the BBC, but also Channel 4 News, whose lead presenter Jon Snow recently commented:
"it is eternally controversial..from my own experience reporting in Iraq the IBC count has always seemed very low..I try not to use it....The Lancet figure may be more truthful...I doubt we can be more accurate in reality than say that credible sources believe more than half a million died and at least four million were displaced."If Jon Snow and Alex Thomson have key doubts about the veracity of 'accepted' figures, why have Channel 4 News been continuously running the government-favoured Iraq Body Count number?
Shouldn't that be a crucial question in its own right?
Again, we (or, at least, some of us) can see the dark motives of a political-military machine that, expediently, 'doesn't do body counts' - an outrageous crime in itself. But what does it say about our 'vanguard' media that it also hasn't made the body count, and official negation of it, a pressing, vital issue?
And always remember, we're not talking here about some standard piece of political shenanigans. We're talking about the deaths, the lives, the memories, the historical witnessing of hundreds of thousands of human beings.
How could such a staggering crime and cover-up be so routinely admonished and ignored?
Besides starting to amplify the much higher death figures, hitherto suppressed, that's the key, self-examining question the media itself should be posing in the wake of this invaluable poll.