How Jessi became America's sweetheart

JESSICA Lynch is a real all-American heroine. As wholesome as Mom's apple pie. As cute as Tweetie-pie. And as phoney as John Wayne's war record.

JESSICA Lynch is a real all-American heroine. As wholesome as Mom's apple pie. As cute as Tweetie-pie. And as phoney as John Wayne's war record.

Her homecoming this week was stage-managed with all the razzmatazz of a Hollywood premiere.

Hers is the face that launched 1,000 news photos and a million T-shirts.

"Some day," her granny is supposed to have said when she was little, "all Wirt County will know Jessi Lynch." Today more people have heard of Wirt County because of little Jessi than for any other reason – and granny's a bit of a celeb herself.


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Movie and TV companies across the United States are falling over themselves to make the movie of Jessica's 20-year-old life, or at least her big adventure in Iraq.

But the real movie of Saving Private Lynch has already been made. It was – as they used to say of that other fantasy show Ripcord – "filmed as it actually happened".

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The storming of Iraq had not been quite the instant success that George W and his people had been led to expect. Some of the good folks back home were even beginning to doubt if it was such a brilliant idea.

If a real victory couldn't be manufactured, a propaganda victory was required.

Enter Private Jessi. Not just any old soldier missing in something like action, but – what a heaven-sent opportunity! – a pretty teenager from the heart of America.

Injured, but not disfigured. And very conveniently located, in a hospital bed.

I know the war in Iraq was a media event like no other. There were more journalists, more cameras and more immediate coverage than in any previous war anywhere.

But even so, it is surely not normal practice for soldiers engaged in a daring rescue under fire to film as they go?

Yet this bit of action was all carefully filmed.

The conclusion is obvious: it was not an especially daring mission and the participants were not under fire. It was not, in fact, a rescue at all.

It was, as the BBC demonstrated in detail in the documentary War Spin on May 18, a pure publicity stunt. The only shots were the ones edited together for release to the media.

The event itself occurred on April 1 – an apt day for an attempt to fool the world.

The world is not fooled. But most of America seems to be, which was the aim. The Pentagon and the Bush administration don't give a monkey's what the rest of the world thinks anyway.

***

IT'S hardly news, of course, that the first casualty of war is the truth.

That fact was remarked on by Aeschylus, a Greek dramatist who lived 500 years before Christ.

History has a great tendency to view the winning side's propaganda as "truth" while condemning the other side's spin as… um… propaganda.

Winston Churchill learned the fine art of economy with the truth at the sharp end in the Boer War. He put it to undeniably brilliant use between 1940 and 1945.

His manipulation of information and publicity was more skilful and effective than that of Goebbels. It is at least arguable that it helped to win the war and was thus a Good Thing.

The cynical manipulation of Jessica Lynch, however, has no such justification. Like most works of America's current rulers, it stinks.

Now, while governments both sides of the Atlantic go spinning like Spiderman on speed, those who try to reveal the real truth come under attack.

Private Jessi, TV star, collects medals, book and movie offers. Not that I blame her – she is a pawn in the hands of much bigger players. Conveniently, she apparently has no memory of what really happened to her.

Meanwhile, the honest reporters of the BBC who brought the real story of her "rescue" to light have been bitterly condemned for it in the States.

Just as they have at home for trying to unpick the government's web of lies over the whole pretext for invading Iraq in the first place.

And that is a very smelly kettle of fish indeed.

***

THE row over the BBC's reporting of this fishy business may have cost David Kelly his life. It is, however, a distraction – probably a deliberate one – from the real issue, which is how and why the government lied its way into war.

That point has been rightly made by Clare Short, Robin Cook and Glenda Jackson. Funny how the real Opposition is not the Conservatives, or even the Lib Dems, but the government's own former ministers.

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