By Caitlin Pike
Martin Bell returns to television screens on Friday night (13 January)n with a documentary arguing the media makes it easier for politicians to go to war by censoring the reality of conflict.
Launching a new series of Channel 4’s 30 Minutes, Bell also argues war is an unreliable and unjustifiable means of solving conflicts in the 21st century.
In the programme, Iraq – The Failure of War, Bell interviews soldiers, politicians and fellow journalists who have experienced the devastation of war at first hand.
Contributors include General Sir Rupert Smith, Lord [Denis] Healey, Robert Fox and General Sir Michael Rose, who commanded the UN force in Bosnia in 1994.
Bell told Press Gazette: “I very rarely make programmes but when Channel 4 asked me if I had anything on my mind I said as a matter of fact I did.
“I had a lot of points I wanted to make about the war in Iraq. I knew there was a lively debate going on within the military because they talk to me, but they are not allowed to express it in public so we got the old soldiers to do it.
“There is also a well-merited attack on the media because of television’s refusal to show war as it is – and the good taste censorship that all the networks impose. It is much easier for politicians to go to war because people don’t realise what war is.”
Bell has spent the best part of 50 years experiencing war at first hand.
Initially as a soldier, then as a war correspondent, and most recently as an ambassador for UNICEF.
He said his views on war have evolved from supporter to sceptic: “Nearly 50 years of observing man’s inhumanity to man have changed me in more than just the obvious ways. I used to be quite gung-ho about war – I thought it was often necessary to resolve disputes. But now I believe war doesn’t work – it achieves nothing at great cost.”
Bell claims that the Iraq war fails his tests for military success – it was not sufficiently supported at home and it was of dubious legality.
Unlike wars of the past where military force has been the last resort, he argues that this was not an obligatory war and that the longer the occupation continues the more combustible the insurgency will be.
As a former MP, Bell also expresses his doubts about the politicians who led us to war. He is confounded by the lack of military experience in the Commons: not a minister or junior minister in office today has served as part of the armed forces. Lord Healey highlights the “very silly and dangerous” plans for war and pins the blame on a lack of experience.
Bell believes that the aftershocks of the war in Iraq could be a turning point for Britain’s stance on war. He hopes that more cautious politicians, more truthful journalism and more sceptical chiefs of staff could secure a peaceful future.