War, Culture, and the Media: Representations of the Military in 20th Century Britain

War, Culture, and the Media: Representations of the Military in 20th Century Britain

War, Culture, and the Media: Representations of the Military in 20th Century Britain

War, Culture, and the Media: Representations of the Military in 20th Century Britain

Excerpt

What is the role of the British media in our perception of warfare? How useful are the impressions which we glean from war films, television news reports and newspaper stories in helping us understand what soldiers, sailors and air force personnel do in the public’s name? What are the practical and political issues involved in bringing reports of armed conflict to our television screens? Who controls the information we are given? Are British military institutions fairly represented, and how are enemy forces portrayed?

These are some of the questions addressed in this collection of specially commissioned essays. This book is intended to provide students and general readers with a concise introduction to the main arguments and issues surrounding the presentation of war and the military in 20th century Britain, with representations ranging from those contained in the moving image media and newspaper reports, to those in military history and war-toys.

Towards the end of the Vietnam War the British broadcaster, Sir Robin Day, pondered whether “in future a democracy which has uninhibited television coverage in every home will ever be able to fight a war”. If Sir Robin envisaged that subsequent wars would not receive “uninhibited television coverage”, he was clearly correct when one considers the effort which went into media management in the Falklands and Gulf Wars. If, on the other hand, he thought television’s prevalence would inhibit future wars altogether, he was clearly mistaken. At the time of writing, British troops are deployed in operational roles both in Northern Ireland, as they have been since 1969, and in Bosnia as part of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR).

If this suggests that television has had little or no effect on the frequency of wars, it certainly does not mean, however, that television has had little effect on the prosecution or presentation of war. Governments and their militaries have always considered it important how the wars and conflicts in which they have been engaged were reported and presented to the wider public. The advent of television and, in particular, live television, with its striking visuals, ever-greater immediacy and mass audience, have brought appreciation of the media near the top of the priority list of politicians and commanders. This is partly, although not wholly, explained by a conscious response to the perceived role . . .

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