Truth: the first casualty of war

All this week, we’ve been following the publication of Toby Harnden’s Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Real Story of Britain’s War in Afghanistan. He’s made a number of damning revelations about the MoD’s attempts to suppress and censor information relating to the war, and to details of the deaths of servicemen. In today’s article in the Daily Telegraph, he makes an observation that strikes us as deeply poignant and true:

I find it interesting that governments who send soldiers to wars in which men die horribly and get maimed then go to such lengths to suppress the details and claim that journalists writing the truth about what happened is a failure “to respect their memories”.

The MoD has repeatedly asserted that Harnden’s descriptions of the last moments of the lives of men killed by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) are in some way a dishonouring of their lives. This reasoning, it appears to us, is both savage and spurious.

To imply that telling the tragic stories of the end of these men’s lives is disrespectful is itself just about the deepest disrespect and dishonouring we can imagine. It is a betrayal of the supposed ideals for which they fought, and an elevation of a self-serving agenda above the dignity of human life. There is healing in telling our stories, because it gives us the opportunity to recognise our mistakes and to learn from them. In such a way do we find meaning in death and destruction.

The MoD, by obscuring that process, is only compounding the incompetence and neglect that has contributed to the deaths of so many men in Afghanistan. As the colloquial saying goes, it is adding insult to injury — and doing so in a manner so insidious as to try and appear to be protecting the memory of the soldiers under its care, even as it is actually desecrating them.

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