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September 6, 2013

“The first casualty of war is truth”


THE FAMOUS MISATTRIBUTED QUOTE:

“The first casualty of war is truth.”
       Attributed to
Hiram Warren Johnson (1866-1945)
       American politician who served as US Senator for California from 1917 to 1945
       This popular aphorism
is widely attributed to Johnson, sometimes in the form “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” Typically, it’s alleged to be something he said in a speech in the US Senate in 1917 or 1918, around the time when Congress was debating whether to approve President Woodrow Wilson’s proposal to have America declare war on Germany and enter World War I. However, as noted by quotation experts like Barry Popik, neither version of the line appears in Johnson’s recorded speeches. 
      
Popik’s authoritative post about “The first casualty of war is truth” on his “Big Apple” site also notes two documented uses prior to 1917. One is in a speech made in 1916 by British politician Philip Snowden. Interestingly, the other was in a speech made a year earlier Snowden’s wife Ethel. Both Snowdens cited the line as an existing saying.  
       Many websites and books claim that Greek writer Aeschylus (456-524 B.C.) penned a version of the aphorism centuries earlier, usually cited as “In war, the first casualty is truth.” But as Popik and other quote mavens have pointed out, no such quote exists in any of the written works of Aeschylus. Of course, when it comes to attributions of famous quotations, a common casualty is fact-checking, especially now that alleged “quotes” are often posted and reposted without any on the Internet. 
       Cartoon by Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Paul F. Conrad (1924-2010)


THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR CONUNDRUM:

“Truth was always the first casualty of war. But there was a time when there was a sense that in the big things – and there is no bigger thing than the leading of a country into war – our leaders would not dissemble. Or, let us be frank, lie. That ended with Iraq…And yet -- How can we stand back when chemical weapons are being used by mad Assad whose stockpile is rumoured to contain up to 1,000 tonnes of the stuff?”
      
Lindy McDowell
       Irish newspaper columnist 
       In
an opinion piece published by the Belfast Telegraph, September 04, 2013, concerning proposals by US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron for a military strike against Syrian President Assad over his alleged use of chemical weapons against Syrian rebels. (Cartoon by Eric Allie, Caglecartoons.com.)


THE PEACETIME CONUNDRUM:

“Experience shows that the first casualty of peace is such wisdom, if any, as has been learned in war.”
      
Richard Henry Tawney (1880-1962)
       British economic historian
       In his book Why Britain Fights (1941)


THE VIETNAM WAR VARIATION:

“The first casualty of war is innocence.”
       Poster tagline for
Oliver Stone’s film Platoon (1986)


A JOURNALIST’S LAMENT:

“The oldest cliché is that truth is the first casualty of war. I disagree. Journalism is the first casualty. Not only that: it has become a weapon of war, a virulent censorship that goes unrecognized in the United States, Britain, and other democracies; censorship by omission, whose power is such that, in war, it can mean the difference between life and death for people in faraway countries.”
      
John Pilger
       Australian journalist and documentary filmmaker based in London
      
In an address he gave at Columbia University in 2006


ANOTHER JOURNALIST’S LAMENT:

“The first casualty of war is room service.”
      Jason Burke
       British journalist and author
       Quoting a legendary quip by his fellow journalist
Chris Buckland in the book On the Road to Kandahar (2006)


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