The Science of War: Back to First Principles

By Brian Holden Reid | Go to book overview

9

THE IMPACT OF THE MEDIA ON THE PROSECUTION OF CONTEMPORARY WARFARE

Brigadier C.L. Elliott MBE

A list of the significant changes to warfare this century might contain three items. That warfare has involved the mass of a population for the first time in recent history. That soldiers and citizens have suffered the terrible fury of new chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. That war has ceased to be a distant thing on some foreign field, but has acquired an immediate and visual urgency on the home front through the ability of the modern media to describe the battle soon after it happens, or even as it is happening.

This essay is about one aspect of the last in the list, the impact of the news media on the ability of a government and its servants to go to war, and a clue to its importance is its inclusion with the other two. The argument is in four parts. First, I shall stretch a canvas by examining the style, form and method of the modern news media. A ghost of the final image will be hinted at by introducing three assertions: that the pursuit of drama precludes analysis; that the media does not tell or portray the truth, always; that an adversarial relationship inevitably develops in war between authority and the media. Second, these assertions will then be tested against three case studies-Vietnam, the Falklands and the Lebanon (with a glance at Northern Ireland and the Iran-Iraq war). These have been chosen because they illustrate the breadth of the argument and because they occurred long enough ago for calm analysis now to be made. If proven, a picture can then be

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