Back in World War I, according to historian Margaret Anderson, many of the so called “German atrocities” in Belgium was in response to snipers. The German soldiers responded to what they assumed was an uprising by civilians; but some episodes were friendly fire incidents, and others were from the rag tag Belgian Army, whose uniform was easily mistaken for civilian clothing.

The British used the “atroity” stories to inflame the populace, and the result was to prolong World War I, when perhaps a good peace conference would have been a better alternative than the Battle of the Somme.

So much for the power of propaganda to kill. And, of course, one “side effect” of the overblown propaganda was the refusal of many to believe the extent of the Holocaust in the next war.

The rules of war were codified under the Geneva convention, in an attempt to protect civilians.

One: Soldiers should wear uniforms. If captured, they were treated humanely as Prisoners of war. Those not wearing uniforms were considered spies or criminals, and should be handled as such–which in a war zone often means immediate execution.

Two: Civilians should not be targeted by the military.

Three: It is a war crime to use civilians as hostages or as human shields.

Of course, in every war, such things are not followed: The Bataan Death March and the half million civilians killed in the cross fire or shot for revenge during the Japanese withdrawal from Manila are two examples that few people bother to note nowadays.

But one of the dirty little secrets of the “war on terror” is that too often those who are trying to impose a 7th century version of Islam on various countries and using terror to do so, rarely follow the rules of war.(They also don’t follow the rules of Islam, but that’s another story altogether).

One of the scandals in the West is that main stream media is willing to go along with the lies.

So although a person who is fighting without a uniform is indeed an “illegal combatant” and not protected under the Geneva convention, one would not know this from the outcry by those who protest Guantanamo prison.

Uh, fellahs, when the Afghans got hold of these guys, a lot of them ended up dead in the heat of battle, even after capture, but never mind. No one pays attention to atrocities of war if one can’t blame it on GWBush.

Yet the use of human shields for propaganda purposes is so widely used that no one bothers to even question the press why they are printing such dubious stories or gory photographs, while ignoring the very real atrocities on the other side.

Such a policy decided by the media has consequences: the demonization of Israel for civilian deaths caused by those who deliberately used family members or innocent bystanders deaths as propaganda is one result.

Another result is seen in the inability of the international community to confront the pirates in Somalia. Imagine the outcry when these guys get their wives and mothers to shoot at soldiers trying to arrest the pirates, and fill the front pages with all those nice dead bodies of “civilians”.

Those Somali pirates don’t care about dead people. They’re in it for the money, and they are equally willing to rob food going to starving kids.

One shouldn’t get the idea that this propaganda is only used by terrorists pretending they are Muslim.

Right now, there is a huge outcry against the government of Sri Lanka to hold a cease fire so that aid can reach Tamil civilians being used as human shields to protect the Tamil Tigers, a really nasty group that has caused a civil war in that small country.

Like most civil wars, this one has atrocities on both sides, but this one has killed about 70 thousand people, and it looks like it finally will be coming to an end.

Now, most of those caught in the crossfire are descendants of Tamils from India imported to work the fields for the British owners. They have relatives in India, and they did have grievances that could have been settled peacefully, but “militants” decided war was the way to go. What would be better way for a losing side to win than get a large country like India on their side?

From StrategyPage:

Aerial photos indicate that about two thirds of the Tamils in the no-fire zone have fled the area in the last few days. That leaves about 40,000 people in the zone, held at gunpoint by LTTE fighters, to serve as human shields, and provide photo ops of “atrocities” used as part of an international propaganda campaign to force Sri Lanka to stop fighting and negotiate. That won’t happen, but the LTTE is willing to kill lots of Tamil civilians in an effort to keep their cause alive.

So while the government of Sri Lanka has to cope with a hundred thousand refugees, they also have to cope with a press who won’t take sides, and who freely repeat the propaganda of the losing side in the name of being “fair and balanced”.

One indeed wishes the press simply to label the dead bodies appropriately so that their readers know that the “war crime” was done by those who kept the innocent hostage and used them as human shields.

That, or simply a moratorium on such photos, would spare lives in the long run, but don’t hold your breath.

War propaganda has a five thousand year history, and isn’t likely to stop soon.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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