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April 2, 2003

Truth: The First Casualty

A Classic Reissued

Twenty-five years ago saw the first release of Phillip Knightley's book The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker, which covered the reporting of wars from the Crimean, claimed by Queen Victoria as "popular beyond belief" but which Knightley described as being like all wars: a catalogue of blunders, needless killing and official lies, to Vietnam. A revised edition has now been released, extending the period to include the events of the 1991 Gulf War and Kosovo. John Pilger, a renowned war correspondent, film-maker, writer and playwright from Australia, now based in London, says in his introduction:

During the First World War, Prime Minister David Lloyd George told C. P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian: "If the people really knew [the truth] the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don't know and can't know." The truth was reported, insisted The Times correspondent, Sir Phillip Gibbs (knighted for his services), "apart from the naked realism of horrors and losses, and criticism of the facts."

Robert C. Millar, a United Press correspondent covering the Korean War in 1952, was less subtle. "There are certain facts and stories from Korea," he said, "that editors and publishers have printed which were pure fabrication . . . Many of us who sent the stories knew they were false, but we had to write them because they were official releases from responsible military headquarters and were released for publication even though the people responsible knew they were untrue."

Almost every word of these testimonies could apply to the wars of our time, especially the Gulf War of 1991 and the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Chapters covering these have been added to this new edition, making Knightley's work the most comprehensive j'accuse of journalism as propaganda in the English language . . .

Evatt Foundation full review. (Also interesting for an Australian perspective of current events.)

The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker, from the Crimea to Kosovo, Johns Hopkins University Press

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