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Cry 'God for Harry, England and St George'

In their acclaim for this new Prince Hal, the media have once again made themselves the useful idiots of disastrous military adventurism

By George Galloway

01/03/08 "The Guardian" -- - As the peerless John Pilger put it, the invasion of Iraq would have been impossible without the supine connivance of the British media. The BBC was as much a part of operations as the Black Watch.

Five years on and a further instance of the kind of collusion that embeds journalism in the sewer of state spin. Peter Wilby says the media were "suckered", but that's a charitable view.

The case for the media keeping mum about Prince Harry's deployment to Afghanistan is straightforward enough - protecting not only his security but that of those around him. If that were all there was to it, then there would be little to consider, except the extraordinary double standard of the British media, which means that some people's safety and privacy is deemed worthy of protection and others' not.

But a moment's thought should puncture the gushing, sentimental story of the media and the MoD uniting in the national interest - reporters and royalty, prince and paparazzi standing together against a common foe.

At the very least, news of this collusion has made life very difficult for reporters, especially conscientious ones, in the BBC and other news organisations. Many people across the world already believed the BBC to be complicit in the British government's crimes of war. Now the corporation has acknowledged that it colluded with the state to suppress and manipulate the news.

How will that improve the standing of British correspondents abroad? Or their safety.

But collusion certainly didn't end there. The media is ever a hungry beast, and it was inconceivable that it would fast for three months without the promise of bacchanalian orgy at the end of it.

And so the flipside of 10 weeks of radio silence is wall-to-wall Harry, as the pin-up of the armed forces, one of the lads, full of derring-do, a British hero on Afghanistan's plains straight out of Tennyson or Kipling.

For a military adventure which, now, even the US's senior intelligence officer concedes is staring into the abyss, this could not have come at a better time.

Over the last few months, I've asked at public meetings, on my radio show and on walkabouts, why people think we are in Afghanistan, what would define the "victory" which would allow us to withdraw with laurels. Our ambassador in Kabul - a double-barrel who might also have walked out of 19th-century page - says we are going to be there for 30 or 40 years.

Other countries, wisely, are none too phlegmatic about that prospect. Condoleezza Rice's last visit to Europe was part of the US's effort to put pressure on other Nato counties to commit more troops to the Afghan quagmire.

Then comes the scoop of the young prince forsaking Boujis, despatched to that place beyond the Khyber pass by his sovereign grandmother, and enduring hardship with cheerful Tommy. There were naturally a few touches to bring it into this century - instead of fixing bayonets, we're informed he helped bring down air strikes with a handheld computer, which could easily pass for a video game; no Latin motto on his cap, instead a psychotic, dehumanised epigram that could have come from Travis in Taxi Driver: "We do bad things to bad people."

All sections of the establishment have gained from this superbly well-executed piece of theatre (incidentally, I'm not doubting Harry's personal bravery, it's just that that is not the issue): the army has a star; the BBC and Fleet Street appear to have a heart; and the royal family have a newfound source of capital at just the time that the circus that is the Diana inquest heaps more and more ordure in their direction. Out with the images of partying in a Nazi uniform, in with the young warrior who lost his mother when young but who has now grown up.

So the greatest collusion of all by the media is in perpetuating the myths of this war and in helping to craft the perfect recruitment poster.

It's better than Kitchener's "Your country needs you." Skilfully and chillingly, it speaks to this century and through the most modern media.

It is going to play an enduring role in prolonging this futile adventure, and perhaps starting others, in a country which British armies have three times before staggered out of in defeat, leaving so many of their number behind. No one, not even Alexander the Great has successfully occupied Afghanistan; and Harry, whatever you think about him, is certainly no Alexander the Great.


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