The sanitisation of war

When I was younger I used to read small colorful comic books about war called, Commando. You can buy them concatenated as huge volumes in bigger bookshops. Gripping and predictable stories from all wars about fighting and destruction. I couldn’t get enough of it, the struggle between good and evil laid bare by Tommies with stubble pitted against skinny and monocled Jerry officers with leather gloves. Great stuff, honestly. Like with most things in life though I eventually grew out of it, I can’t remember when or why in particular but for some reason one day I was into reading Dick Francis.

I grew up, but as I look around me the real stories of our current wars still seem to take on the same Commando comic theme. Huge tabloid lettering laid onto pictures of ‘OUR BOYS’ in action. Enemy kill counts and detailed tales of bravery and valour, all complimented with big regimental cap badges and motto’s.

The very same simplicity that attracted me to stories of war in the first place is being used in the next generation to flog copy of tabloid rubbish to the masses. It’s an effective and fairly cynical tactic, although not new if one remembers the shameful coverage of the Falklands Conflict.

What bothers me most about this kind of sanitisation is the effect it’s had on how we’ve have come to view warfare. Not as a horrific and destructive waste of life and culture, but as a kind of triumphalist entertainment that leaves the reading itching for more excitement. Pictures of soldiers firing from the hip are great for paper sales, recruitment figures and flag waving, but behind the comic book stubble lies a terrifying pit of betrayal and damage for everyone involved.

We are simply kidding ourselves as adults in very much the same way that Commando Comic writers did as children. The idea that ‘OUR BOYS’ and ‘Harry the Homecoming Hero’ are somehow made of steel and will overcome evil with British grit and determination is ludicrous. Don’t get me wrong, I love the armed forces as much as the next bloke. But turning them into comic book heroes to hide the inconvenient reality of war will only exacerbate the disappointment of our eventual defeat. Worse still, it’ll make it easier for small religious men in suits to wage war with other peoples children.

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