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The First Casualty Essay, Research Paper

Book Report

The First Casualty

By Phillip Knightley

Robin Reid

October 29, 2000

Persuasion and Propaganda

Miss Denise Childs

Knightley, Phillip. The First Casualty. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.

This book discusses the impact that the media, particularly the war correspondents, have had on society during and after wars between the years 1854 and 1975. It recounts wars from many different countries and raises questions on how correspondents should report, what they should report and when they should report it.

The author, Phillip Knightley, is a special correspondent on the Sunday Times in London. With his colleagues on the Insight team, he is author of The Philby Conspiracy, The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia, and The Pearl of Days. He has never heard a shot fired in anger, and hopes he never will. Though Knightley hasn’t experienced war, many authors were quoted and a vast amount of research was done which supported the credibility of the book.

In early wars, British officers brought their servants, chefs, dogs and wives to war with them. This showed their attitude. British felt heroic and noble for fighting. Special care was given to the way they looked and acted during a war, when it would seem war tactics might be more important. Then in Vietnam soldiers carried peace symbols, smoked pot from their guns and painted ?My God! How?d we get in this mess,? on helicopters.

War correspondents faced problems when war officials wouldn?t recognize they were there. Correspondents couldn?t find out or see what was happening. They asked other people for accounts, but everyone told stories differently. How accurate could each account be when they were hungry, tired and probably scared at the prospect of sudden death?

When correspondents were allowed on front lines and could witness, they often wrote things that caused uproars back home. If they wrote of pride, splendor and heroism, the reaction would be pride and support, but the stories were false. If they reported the truthful gory stories, few wanted to support the war.

War stories became popular. It came to the point where people were sent to countries to push them into a war, just to have something to report. Fake wars were also made. They took fake pictures, wrote fake stories and tricked people into believing the lies.

After Vietnam, reporters started to analyze their mistakes and ethics. They admitted to enjoying taking pictures of violent events and not feeling horror at death and atrocity. The Vietnam War was the best-covered war, because it was not censored. But, because of this there was a mass desensitization of death. And though there was greater coverage, this doesn?t mean there was any truth in it.

Correspondents didn?t look for a way to report truth or analyze how their reporting was affecting the world. Many had no journalistic experience to begin with and didn?t familiarize themselves with culture to be more understanding and accurate. They had no ethics. They ignored truth and many were persuaded to believe falsely.

I feel our society has been “persuaded” to believe these false reports about war for years. Our world was changed and formed on the basis of misinformation. This is why I feel everyone should get a chance to read this book. At first I felt the book was good for journalists or history buffs, but I now feel everyone should read it and understand the lies that were fed to us for centuries.


Knightley, Phillip. The First Casualty. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.

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