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Ten years following the cessation of the First World War, Arthur Ponsonby, a member of British Parliament published his ground-breaking study, Falsehood in War-Time: Containing an Assortment of Lies Circulated Throughout the Nations’ During the Great War. Ponsonby’s book begins with several quotes, the most well-remembered being “When war is declared, truth is the first casualty.” Although Ponsonby did not credit the author, most attribute the quote to US Senator Hiram Johnson who said in 1917, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” It is more likely however that Ponsonby was recalling Greek playwright Aeschylus who in the fifth century B.C. wrote, “In war, truth is the first casualty.”

Ponsonby, with an eye to the next terrible conflict between nations, set out to prevent such bloodletting with his slim but powerful volume. He declared,

“None of the heroes prepared for suffering and sacrifice, none of the common herd ready for service and obedience, will be inclined to listen to the call of their country once they discover the polluted sources from whence that call proceeds and recognize the monstrous finger of falsehood which beckons them to the battlefield.” 1

While Ponsonby recognized that most of the falsehoods of World War One had their origins in official propaganda, he also recognized the effect such propaganda had on the well-meaning masses. He wrote, “A sort of collective hysteria spreads and rises until finally it gets the better of sober people and reputable newspapers.”2 He points out that upon deciding for war, governments present one-sided justifications to support their actions. Ponsonby explains that while a moment’s reflection by any thinking person would reveal “such obvious bias cannot possibly represent the truth,” most people willingly delude themselves in order to justify their own actions.

- The First Casualty

"The first casualty when war comes is truth," remarked Hiram Johnson, "and whenever an individual nation seeks to coerce by force of arms another, it always acts, and insists that it acts in self-defense" (Locomotive Engineers Journal, February 1929, p. 109). Arthur Ponsonby earlier said: "When war is declared, Truth is the first casualty", but the first recorded use seems to be by Philip Snowden in his introduction to Truth and the War, by E. D. Morel. London, July 1916: "'Truth,' it has been said, 'is the first casualty of war.'" Samuel Johnson expressed a similar idea: "Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages." Cf. Aeschylus#Misattributed.
- Wiki: Hiram Johnson

“The oldest cliché is that truth is the first casualty of war. I disagree. Journalism is the first casualty. Not only that: it has become a weapon of war, a virulent censorship that goes unrecognized in the United States, Britain, and other democracies; censorship by omission, whose power is such that, in war, it can mean the difference between life and death for people in faraway countries.” - John Pilger, Australian journalist and documentary filmmaker
- Quote/Counterquote: “The first casualty of war is truth.”

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