Our wartime propaganda | Seumas Milne | Comment is free |

In the circumstances, it would hardly be surprising if public opinion had been turned after what has been a barrage of state war propaganda, as embedded Kiplingesque reporting from the Helmand frontline, military parades and a new Armed Services Day have been used to try and translate sympathy for British troops into support for foreign wars.

But it hasn’t happened. Today’s ICM poll for the Guardian and the BBC’s Newsnight shows 56% want all British troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, and 60% by 2011, against 36% who want them to stay until “they are no longer needed”.

That was interpreted by the Guardian’s headline writer today as “public support for war is firm, despite deaths” – on the assumption that the sharp increase in British casualties might have been expected to trigger a further drop in public backing for the eight-year-old Afghan occupation, and because opposition to the war had fallen from 2006.

But given the media’s increasingly intense emotional focus on British soldiers’ deaths during the current offensive – today’s Daily Mirror leads on last Friday’s fallen “band of brothers” and the Sun on Gordon Brown’s “this war is our patriotic duty” – I would have expected the opposite. In fact, the only time there was majority support in Britain for the Iraq war was during the initial months of attack and occupation, when British troops were seen to be in action and in greatest danger.

I was taken aback by a report on Channel 4 News at the weekend that I imagine would have ticked all the boxes in an MoD propagandist’s checklist: testimony that the dead soldiers all believed in what they were doing, senior officer testimony that one of the men killed was future officer material, and best of all, a montage of the photos of the dead men against a black backdrop with a British flag billowing gently, as if to say ‘these men died for the glory of Britain’. And Channel 4 News is imagined to be more hard-headed and critical. Stomach-churning.


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