“It is the old wound, my king… It has never healed.”

Lancelot to Arthur, Excalibur

The always excellent Channel 4 News had a fascinating item tonight on the secret price being paid by American service personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. While returning troops have had a hero’s welcome and those who fell in action are given military honours, all well-publicised, those who have been wounded and maimed are sneaked in quietly, at night, well away from the public gaze. In addition the Pentagon’s figures for those wounded in these conflicts flatly contradicts the figures given by the US Army (the Pentagon doesn’t count mental trauma, nerve damage, friendly fire – and lordy, the yanks are bloody good at that! – vehicle accidents and a whole host of other injuries, thus cutting thousands from the official casualty list, somewhat like the way the British government manages to cut unemployment figures by counting them differently).

Is the Bush administration frightened to let Americans see maimed soldiers coming home that they need to sneak them in the back door, hidden from the delicate public view and has to massage the figures for a war they declared over back in May of 2003? And unlike those ‘honoured dead’ with those nice photo-ops of the Last Post, flag on the casket, smart, dress-uniform escort etc people with missing limbs, burns, well they stick around don’t they? Like some of those pesky Vietnam Vets…

Oh and there’s something Bush really doesn’t want to think about. The ‘V’ word. Not only still an open wound on the American psyche but a particularly touchy subject for the Thief in Chief who so famously avoided war service through his daddy pulling strings to get him posted to the National Guard (which he then skipped for the most part anyway). And, as the reporter noted, in a year when it is looking likely he may face a bona fide Veteran in the elections in the shape of Senator Kerry it must be even more worrying for Bush.

Of course, this hiding away of the not-so-telegenic war wounded is nothing new. Those of us of a certain age will remember the Falklands war. And the great photo-opportunity at the thanksgiving service Thatcher arranged for her re-election… Sorry, I mean for the Nation to give thanks after victory… And the fact that all those who had been horribly mutilated were brought into the great stone cathedral at a different time from everyone else, left after them and were kept at the back throughout, away from the cameras. But this raw, bleeding human face of war has a way of coming through again and again no matter how of the those in power – those responsible for these atrocities mark you – try to hide them from the public gaze. “Foul deeds will rise, tho’ all the Earth o’erwhelm them to men’s eyes.” Men like Simon Weston, so dreadfully burned in the Sir Galahad, have had to fight not only to get back their lives but to keep the knowledge of their continuing suffering before the public. And this is before we consider the mental traumas. And then there are the Iraqi civilians…