MoD commissions report on how to 'sell wars to the public'

First published 30th Sep 2013

Wootton Bassett, June 2009
Repatriation ceremony in Wootton Bassett, June 2009

Reducing the visibility of military causalities may be one way to ‘sell wars to the public’ according to a Ministry of Defence strategy report recently obtained by the Guardian through the Freedom of Information Act.

The report, written in November 2012 by the MoD’s development, concepts and doctrine centre suggests that the Armed Forces ‘should have a clear and constant information campaign to influence the major areas of press and public opinion’ in order to ‘alleviate the effects of risk aversion’. In order to support such a campaign the paper suggests a number of options including reducing ‘the profile of repatriation ceremonies’.

The Every Casualty Campaign, in advocating that every casualty of armed conflict should be publicly acknowledged, would discourage such a media strategy that seeks to purposefully obfuscate the human costs of military action from the British public. The report has received ‘scathing reactions’ from ex-servicemen and the families of military dead, according to an article published in the Guardian on 26 September, with one former soldier saying that lowering the profile of repatriations amounted to “hiding the bodies”. 

Additional strategies suggested for increasing the public’s acceptance of military engagement include the increased use of mercenaries (contractors), and the use of unmanned military vehicles, or drones. According to the report:

Neither the media nor the public in the west appear to identify with contractors in the way that they do with their military personnel. Thus casualties from within the contractorised force are more acceptable in pursuit of military ends than those from among our own forces.

The seeming dehumanisation, not only of contractors, but of the act of waging war - through the use of drones and other ‘autonomous systems for unmanned vehicles’ – has troubling implications for future military actions. In particular it seems to point to government’s increased ability to wage wars completely detached from both public support, and even more worryingly, public knowledge of military or civilian losses. The CIA’s covert drone war in Pakistan (which has cost the U.S. billions of dollars but no military lives) is just one example of where such technology is already being employed to wage a war away from the public gaze and immune to the concerns of public support.

Every Casualty Campaign member, The Bureau for Investigative Journalism, is hoping to draw attention to the hidden human cost of the drone war through its Naming the Dead initiative. Having already identified over 250 civilian casualties of U.S. drones, TBIJ - which is also a member of Every Casualty's International Practitioner Network - is bringing transparency to this under-reported conflict. Every Casualty supports Naming the Dead and calls on states to ensure that all casualties of armed violence are promptly recorded, correctly identified, and publicly acknowledged.