The great Austrian satirist Karl Kraus at the height of WW1 was sitting at his desk trying to write one afternoon. He eventually began - ‘For those of you who want, or expect some thoughtful prose from me I’m afraid that these days, I just compare headlines’, he then went on to reproduce some of those headlines. One was a war report of recent casualities – the numbers of dead and how they had died, the numbers of injured, and how they had been maimed. The other was of a banquet held in Vienna – who was there, who the host was and what they all had eaten. Beginning a regular column for this site I recall that story from Kraus’s time.
For we have reached the height and perhaps the end of the war that our politicians have been fighting against all things social. It manifests itself in many ways from our headlining days. The Northern Rock story could only choose itself here of course (I shall return to the Rock and the fissure it sits in in future columns). But it is the details of another recent story, one that indicated the faltering nature of our revamped imperium, that I must turn to first. It too began with a headline. ‘Harry the Fighting Prince’ it read. The media had ‘discovered’ that his majesty was not out of harms way, but at the front - on active service in Afghanistan. It wasn’t unexpected that the ‘human interest’ approach of the BBC and ITN would be displaced by the majestic tabloid celebrations.
But the celebrations were short lived, as the next headline informed us ‘Prince Harry To Be Brought Home’. The reason, we learn, is that he would, as a result of this very same media attention ‘become a target’. Apart from the fact that you could be forgiven for thinking that there was something of a co-incidence between the celebrations and Prince Harry’s withdrawal; I’m very sure it did absolutely nothing for the morale of those left behind. If only they could go home just as easily.
At the moment the only way that can happen for the ordinary soldier before their end of tour of duty is when they are killed and their bodies are repatriated. Early on in this war when that happened, it too made headlines. Watching the BBC news on satellite, as most British commanders in field can do nowadays, they could if they chose to, plot the decline of the reporting of those fatalities – form headlines to foot notes. Even if they didn’t care to notice the men in the ranks certainly did. And I’m sure they feel about it in much the same way that we did here when a similar decline happened in the reporting and investigating of avoidable and needless death. Some may remember those news programmes well, were the decline in value placed on life here almost became a catchphrase:
“A man was found shot dead in Northern Ireland last night police say they are investigating a possible motive. - And now: cricket.”