Wednesday 22 January 2003

War journalists should not be cosying up to the military

by Robert Fisk

click here to visit his website It looks like a rerun of the 1991 Gulf War. Already American journalists are fighting like tigers to join "the pool", to be "embedded" in the US military so that they can see the war at first hand – and, of course, be censored. Eleven years ago, they turned up at Dhahran in Saudi Arabia, already kitted out with helmets, gas capes, chocolate rations and eyes that narrowed when they looked into the sun, just like General Montgomery. Half the reporters wanted to wear military costume and one young television man from the American mid-west turned up, I recall well, with a pair of camouflaged boots. Each boot was camouflaged with painted leaves. Those of us who had been in a desert -- even those who had only seen a picture of a desert – did wonder what this meant.

Well, of course, it symbolised fantasy, the very quality upon which most viewers now rely when watching "live" war – or watching death "live" on TV.

Thus, over the past four weeks, the massed ranks of American television networks have been pouring into Kuwait to cosy up to the US military, to seek those coveted "pool" positions, to try on their army or marine costumes and make sure that – if or when the day comes – they will have the kind of coverage that every reporter and every general wants: a few facts, good pictures and nothing dirty to make the viewers throw up on the breakfast table. I remember how, back in 1991, only those Iraqi soldiers obliging enough to die in romantic poses – arm thrown back to conceal the decomposing features or face down and anonymous in the sand – made it on to live-time. Those soldiers turned into a crematorium nightmare or whose corpses were being torn to pieces by wild dogs – I actually saw an ITV crew film this horrific scene – were not honoured on screen. ITV's film, of course, couldn't be shown – lest it persuade the entire world that no one should go to war, ever, again.

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