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The war pundits

The right-wing press denies dignity to our enemies and trivialises the horror of war.

The American media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner once said: "Sport is like a war without the killing." The bellicose right-wingers among the British press seem to have inverted the idea, presenting military conflict as a crude, point-scoring game.

"Hotshot sniper in one-and-a-half-mile double kill", said a Times headline on 2 May. The cavalryman Craig Harrison had "set a new sharp-shooting distance record by killing two Taliban machine-gunners in Afghanistan from more than a mile away". The Daily Star marvelled at the "amazing shots", which hit one Taliban soldier in the stomach and the other in the side. Both died immediately.

In April, Wikileaks published decrypted footage of a dozen Iraqis -- including two employees of Reuters -- being killed in Baghdad by a US air crew that falsely claimed to have encountered a firefight. The website's director, Julian Assange, compared the American soldiers' behaviour to that of people playing a "computer game". One laughs and boasts, "I hit 'em"; another responds, "Look at those dead bastards."

This kind of abstraction, which strips our military enemies of their humanity, is dangerous and shameful. The Jeffersonian notion that war is a great evil necessary to ward off a greater evil seems to have been phased out in favour of an insistence on the valour of our troops, set against the incomprehensible malice of our enemies.

Hence the Daily Mail's glee in reporting how Harrison had "killed 12 more rebels and wounded seven others", and that "scores of Taliban gunmen have fallen to the gun which has been nicknamed the Silent Assassin".

The papers' preoccupation with Harrison's "kills", which, "from a distance of 8,120ft, beat the previous record by 150ft", only serves to trivialise the reality that soldiers continue to lose their lives on both sides of the conflict.