Thursday, November 17, 2005
The First Casualty of War
It's been said that the first casualty of war is the truth. Of course, that was said long before the birth of the Information Age -- before corporate-owned 24-hour "news" channels (for some keen insights on this, watch Robert Greenwald's documentary Outfoxed), and long before the creation of the Internet. Now comes a report that an Italian documentary on the Iraq War has forced the U.S. Pentagon to retract a statement on its use of white phosphorus in Iraq. The Pentagon had originally stated that white phosphorus (an agent that will cause severe burns, skin irritations, and damage to organs or bones, if exposed to it) was only used for "illumination" during battle. However, when faced with footage from the Italian documentary showing white phosphorus shells being dropped on the city of Fallujah, during last year's offensive (and interviews with two American soldiers who witnessed the results of the chemical's use), the U.S. Defense Department, this Tuesday, changed its story and said the original statement was based on "poor information." (How much of this war is based on "poor information?") The Department admitted that in fact, the U.S had "used [white phosphorus] as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants, though not against civilians." Still, the documentary, produced by the state-owned RAI, refuted that as it showed the burned bodies of civilians -- including women and children. To that, the Department spokesman noted that the U.S. did not sign the section of the 1983 international treaty that barred the use of white phosphorus against civilians. My God! What's going on here? Sounds like a lot of cover-up and backpedaling to me. Not surprisingly, the Italian documentary received little press coverage here in the U.S., and no nightly network newscast even mentioned it. What has happened to the great tradition of American journalism? Do we now need to find the truth about our own country from foreign documentaries?