23 August 1999 Delhi Diary

The Lie Of Things

The Lie Of Things
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
ONE of the comforting fallacies for us Indians anxiously watching the border hostilities is that 'we' deal in the truth and 'they' deal in lies. The reality is that both sides deal in lies and viciously spin stories through the media. This is the degrading but inevitable result of war even when it is undeclared. Indians in particular feel smug and revel in the belief that we are different, while they'll stoop to any dirty trick. Occupying the high moral ground comes easily to those living on the 'right' side of the Line of Control.

Two weeks into the Kargil conflict saw the country outraged to discover that the bodies of six Indian soldiers had been returned by Pakistan in a severely mutilated condition. Now read Siddharth Vardarajan in The Times of India: Virtually every newspaper carried the gory details,as supplied by the army,without waiting for independent confirmation. Strangely, such confirmation never arrived. The details revealed by the foreign minister, though horrific, fell short of what was originally alleged. Today, in fact, even though the government has stopped referring to the case as one of 'mutilation' and chooses instead to call it torture, the allegation of brutal mutilation has stuck. (The defence ministry is yet to clarify what exactly happened.) A couple of days after the horrific incident was plastered in the media, one editor told me he had reliable information which indicated that the allegation was exaggerated. Alas, so charged was the national mood he felt he couldn't take on the official version put out by the government.

In a seminal book, The First Casualty, Phillip Knightley establishes with scores of examples how during war governments regularly and habitually distort the truth in pursuit of the larger goal, namely victory. War is a corrupting business, it pushes governments to do things and say things which are morally indefensible. The classic story during the Vietnam war of an American official who when asked if he had told a lie the previous day, replied, No, it was a terminological inexactitude needs remembering.

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