Ian Monk: WikiLeaks reveals new face of war

The British and American governments speak the language of withdrawal from Afghanistan while WikiLeaks dumps thousands of pages of classified material about the war across the internet.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

It is a massive intelligence breach that will undoubtedly cost lives.

The WikiLeaks revelation that civilians die in warfare is tragic but bereft of surprise. Civilians died in 9/11 and in 7/7. The same too in the Blitz and Dresden, in Iraq and Vietnam and virtually every war.

Equally it is no great revelation that Special Forces seek and destroy hit lists of Taliban and terrorist suspects. What else are they there for?

The biggest bombshell detonated by WikiLeaks' dossier is a PR one. Government messages are desperately spun to try to reconcile inevitable withdrawal with victory. Its near hopeless PR challenge is to describe what a victory might look like.

In Britain the clearest popular image of the war remains the dignity and devastation of the grieving families of Wootton Bassett.

WikiLeaks further shatters the PR mould by simply publishing its dossier, cleverly hooking up with liberal and anti-war elements of the world's press to set the tone of the debate. Access is free for all, including enemies.

History is written instantaneously and is not the victor's version.

The US government lives up to its bad guy caricature by calling in the FBI to trace those responsible for the WikiLeaks. But the genie is out of the bottle and around the world. Or those parts of it which allow free access to the internet.

Until recently war was by and large fought behind closed doors. During the Falklands conflict, a strict system of D-notices and censorship was in place. Breaches were punishable by jail and publication of unauthorised material virtually impossible.

Now, as WikiLeaks has demonstrated, the internet has changed the face of war forever.

It may or may not usher in a more peaceful and just world but it has massively upped the political and PR ante.

- Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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