You expect lies, but usually they’re found out once a war is over. But in this war the lying is so inept that it gets rumbled the next day. So the news starts “Oh, apparently that uprising we yelled about all through yesterday didn’t happen” or “Ah, yes, that chemical weapons factory turned out to be an all-night petrol garage”.
The military briefings must be given by one of those pathological liars you get in pubs. One day the press conference from Washington will begin: “Guess what, I won an Olympic swimming medal once. I had to swim underwater so no one could see me because I was in the secret service.”
The presenters who front this bilge should say: “We’re here to bring you 24-hour rolling cack that’s been made up. The minute it’s made up, you’ll hear about it. And there’s some breaking cack being made up right now, apparently Saddam has filled some clouds with anthrax and he’s forcing giants in the Republican Guard to blow them towards Bournemouth. We’ll bring you more as soon as it’s made up.”
One of the sickest examples is the squirming over how 55 civilians came to be killed in a market. Their investigations are going on, they tell us. Because it’s a great mystery how, in a city in which 300 cruise missiles a night are exploding with “shock and awe”, anyone might have been blown up. Working that out must be like living through an episode of Inspector Morse.
The most likely explanation, says Jack Straw, is that the Iraqis did it themselves, and the exploded missile with an American serial number found at the site was probably put there by wily Iraqis. Or maybe the Iraqis have built a replica Baghdad somewhere in the desert, where Saddam is forcing his people to blow themselves up so it can be filmed to make the Americans look bad.
Another persistent myth is that, as one report told us, “the main objective of the coalition forces is to get food and medicine into Basra”. If the reporter is asked why, despite this generosity, the Iraqi people still don’t seem to trust us, he’ll probably say: “I expect it’s because most people in Basra are, at the moment, on a diet. And they may resent the coalition for putting temptation in their way.” I suppose that the Americans are hoping that eventually the people of Basra will come round and say: “They might have blown my mate’s leg off, but credit where it’s due, once they got here they gave him some very soothing cream for his stump.”
On Tuesday night, a news report told us that anti-war protests had “melted away”. To prove this, the reporter announced: “One night before the war Parliament Square was packed with protesters, but now there’s just one lone man with a wet banner.” Did it really not occur to this reporter that the reason there were no demonstrators was because on Tuesday night there was no demonstration? Perhaps he does sports reports where he says: “Support for Manchester United has melted away. On Saturday afternoon there were 60,000 people at Old Trafford, but the following morning there were just a couple of cleaners.”
The terrifying thing is that the people who seem to fall for the propaganda most of all are the governments who make it up in the first place. The result is that the first two weeks of this war can appear like the first four years of Vietnam with the film speeded up. They expected to be welcomed, and when they weren’t, they almost pleaded: “Can’t you see? We’re here to liberate you.” So when civilians oppose them the generals declare they’re “Republican Guard” in civilian clothing. So the whole population becomes a potential enemy, the troops get edgy and fire on women and children. And, as in Vietnam when Kissinger bombed Laos and Cambodia, the Americans are already threatening Syria and Iran.
So I don’t follow the line that “We must support the war to back our troops”. If teenagers run off to join the mafia, you don’t say: “I was against them going but now they’re there we can’t undermine them by saying they should come home.” The only consistent way to support the troops’ safety is to demand that they come home and go back to starting fights in pubs in Colchester as normal.
Because when the Stars and Stripes flies in Baghdad, that isn’t the end. Millions of Arabs won’t walk away like a football manager after losing a match, muttering, “Well our defence let us down but good luck to Donald Rumsfeld in the next round.” Because the country will be under the control of the President who, as he was about to announce the war had begun, threw his arms into the air and yelped: “I feel good.”
Who knows how nutty he’ll be next time? The war on Iran will begin with George Bush announcing: “Fellow Americans, get on up like a sex machine. We will not rest until I’ve been taken to the bridge.”