More Than a Casualty


“All participants lie in war. It is natural. Some often, some all the time: UN spokesmen, Croats, Serbs, Muslims, the lot. Truth is a weapon more than a casualty. Used to persuade people of one thing or another, it becomes propaganda. The more authoritative the figure, the bigger the lies; the more credible his position, the better the lies. Why waste time listening to an officer in a headquarters crank out the party line when you could see the reality of a situation for yourself in the dirty bunkers up the way? That others chose not to go to the scene of fighting was understandable. It was dangerous and frightening. On one level there was no match between death and 600 words on page fourteen. If you went, then you went for yourself. If you did not that was fine too; and, ironically, editors were probably happier with lies from names their readers recognized as power figures, than with real talk which they wrote off as ‘colour.’ Colour? At the front it was always laid out before you in black and white. No room for pretence and posture in the dying places, only an awful purity; the fear of death which democratizes the emotions, the struggle for survival which distils the life-force into a concentrate. Basic humanity. No colour there.”

— Anthony Loyd in My War Gone By, I Miss It So (1999); in the fourth sentence above, Loyd alludes to the quote, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” This is variously attributed to the Greek playwright Aeschylus, as well as to Samuel Johnson, who in 1758 wrote, “Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.” Also, in 1918, U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson noted in a speech, “The first casualty, when war comes, is truth.” Although many debate its origins, few question its accuracy.

The photo above is from the dust jacket of Anthony Loyd’s book. It was taken in 1995, days before the end of the war in the Balkans, by Gilles Peress. A Muslim soldier weeps after finding his home in a recaptured Bosnian village. His family had been executed by Serbs years earlier.