The First World War was like no other war the country had seen before, or in fact since. It was a bloodbath, but the need was so great for national support that the truth was so often buried from the public to save them from the real horrors. There was huge pressure for press freedom, and throughout the war groups of correspondents including photographers and war artists were placed on attachment with the British armies in Flanders, the Middle East and Gallipoli.
To match this there was a growth in government controls, but it became apparent that they were not always necessary. The media themselves saw the importance of national patriotism and sense of duty, and the Great War saw the press in total commitment to the government’s war aims. The press often willingly participated in propaganda and mass conspiracy to keep the truth from the public, and to foster hatred for the enemy. The truth was poor planning and mechanised slaughter.
“The last war, during the years of 1915, 1916, 1917 was the most colossal, murderous, mismanaged butchery that has ever taken place on earth. Any writer who said otherwise lied. So the writers either wrote propaganda, shut up, or fought.”As the war progressed the death tolls became more horrific, but the press were far too ingrained in the mould of uncritical support to back off. It was seen to be in the best interest for everyone if it stayed in such a way. “If people really knew the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and can’t know. The correspondents don’t write and the censor would not pass the truth.”
In today’s modern society we are fully aware of the horrors that went on in the Great War, and indeed other conflicts long gone. This has had a huge impact on general opinion our nation has of war. The most recent conflict in Iraq showed proof of this, as we seemed to be a country divided. Huge rallies were organized in opposition to war, and millions signed petitions against action. The press were also divided. The Mirror lost many reader’s through its grave opposition to war, and was accused of lack of patriotism and support while The Sun kept up its usual standards of gaining support and moral for “our boys”.
There is still continuous questioning over any press coverage of the front lines, and the public are ready to be sceptical about any facts they are given. The government here and in America were striving for public support to invade Iraq, and with lies and cover-ups still emerging. Headlines early in the Iraq conflict said that Airborne forces captured an Iraqi airport in northern Iraq so that they can move supplies and troops in to create a northern front. What the public did not hear is that the airport was abandoned, and that it was captured almost a month before the war began, and that in two weeks, Special Forces practically rebuilt the airport to make it ready for moving supplies.
War reporting is stuck in a vicious cycle. The military and not telling the whole truth to the press, the press are not telling the whole truth to the readers, and the readers who reply on the media to know what is happening can not trust any of it. It will not be until the conflict is completely over in Iraq that the military and the media will give the public a full picture of what really happened, much like in World War One. “There are three kinds of lies; lies, damn lies, and statistics”.
Phillip Knightley, The First Casualty Don’t Mention the War, David Miller The Media and the Military, Peter Young and Peter Jesser The Media at war, Susan L. Camithers Reporters under Fire, Edited by Lamdrum R. Bolling