War on our native soil has, in national memory, retreated into the cosy sentimentality of the view of the Blitz as evidenced in the return of Goodnight Sweetheart (BBC1) in which Nicholas Lyndhurst plays a time traveller who slips between two different lives, and wives, in 1940s London and the present day. It is a one-gag show (almost all the humour depends upon the anachronism) in which the worst that happens in a bombing raid is that the head falls off a shop mannequin. Essentially this is a world in which war is not serious.
Neither was it to the members of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency who appeared in The War Machine (Channel 4). To those who produce new high-tech weaponry for the Ministry of Defence, war seems little more than an excuse for the development of new boys' toys. Indeed the character at the centre of the agency's Future Soldier programme began by admitting that he got many of his ideas from films like Robocop. Hence he had devised a new helmet which had computer images projected on its visor, a microphone for a voice-activated computer and two tiny cameras so that commanders back at base could see everything. The trouble was that the sun made the screens hard to see, the camera gears stuck and fell off, and the pictures failed if the control van got out of sight. At the end of the programme, the inventor was sacked. But a new team have been given until 2008 to make it work.
There was little cognisance in all this of what boys' war toys actually do. But later on Channel 4 in Saddam's Secret Time Bomb reporter Gwynne Roberts returned to the town of Halabja where 10 years ago he found forensic evidence that Iraq had gassed its own people. He took with him Professor Christine Gosden, a medical geneticist from Liverpool University, on a remarkably brave three day journey across Iraq to examine for the first time the effect of such gases on women and children.
Library footage showed harrowing shots of the 5,000 dead the day after the attack. But there were long-term effects too. A man displayed mustard gas burns which were still painful. Another 10 years on, he was slowly losing control of his legs. Others were covered in eruptions and lesions which made their skin look like that of an elephant. Others had respiratory problems so severe as to incapacitate them.
But that was not all. Children were being born with terrible deformities. Leukemia, Down's Syndrome, lung disorders and heart disease had all doubled, trebled or quadrupled. Cancers were unusually aggressive and rates increase among children each year. Prof Gosden examined a foetus in a hospital where most women miscarry. She pronounced it to be born with injuries consistent with chemical weapons. Her conclusion was "poison gases attack DNA, the code of life, which causes cells to replicate in deviant ways". Saddam had planted a genetic time bomb which is continuing to explode in their lives and which bears an uncanny similarity to the symptoms shown in Gulf War Syndrome.
The poisons were made with chemicals supplied to Saddam by Western countries which subsequently abandoned the victims to suffer in silence. And then tried to suggest that the answer was more bombing. In whose interests is it, one wonders, that we keep our images of war so compartmentalised?Reuse content