Actually, even “village” is probably too big a word for At Tanf. If the BBC mentions it at all, it is correctly as just a tiny settlement, surrounded by desert, right on the border of Syria, and used as a base by the Americans. Americans who are there, as we all know because the media tell us, to fight ISIS.

The truth is a little different. At Tanf sits on the main route between Damascus and Baghdad, so the American forces there are actually blocking a truly vital highway. And since the virtual defeat of ISIS last year (2017) by the Syrian and Iraqi governments there are no ISIS fighters near. At Tanf is surrounded by Syrian rebels supported by the Americans, and beyond that by the Syrian Army. Nobody there is fighting ISIS. The only effects of the American occupation are to tie up Syrian forces who could otherwise be fighting the remnants of ISIS elsewhere, and also to partially strangle the Syrian economy. This also impacts on the Syrian forces ability to fight ISIS, and further, has an unacceptable impact on civilians. There is no UN resolution justifying the presence of American troops in At Tanf, and the Syrian government regards it as a foreign occupation because that is exactly what it is. The UK media accepts the occupation as either acceptable or commendable, so barely mentions it. But try to imagine Syrian government troops taking over a large area around Leicester, completely blocking the M1 and A1 for months on end, with the excuse that they were fighting the IRA. That is precisely equivalent. Would you have heard about that on the BBC? And this is not a purely American matter: British SAS forces are also based there.

There are two key points to take away from this. The lesser one is that the “news” from Syria is a very twisted version of the truth. If what’s really happening there interests you, sites like Al masdar, Liveuamap and Southfront will provide you with a vastly better picture than the mass media.

The second, and far more important, is the example At Tanf provides of the maxim that “Truth is the first casualty of war”. Truth is actually an essential casualty of war, because people cannot be moved to fight wars unless there are at least two very strongly opposed views of reality. If two views are that strongly opposed, at least one of them must be wrong. Yet wars rely totally on such a divided understanding; it is a prerequisite of starting and maintaining wars that the populations of the respective adversaries swallow the propaganda, the lies, the half-truths, put out by their respective media and governments.

The most obvious, and the only reliable, point of reconciliation between such alternative views is the truth, whatever that might be. And criticising the alleged or actual lies told by the other side doesn’t even begin to solve the problem. If we desire peace, we need to be sure that we ourselves are dealing with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Even from a purely humanitarian viewpoint, the massively destructive actions of war should never be based on anything less. From a true Christian viewpoint, of course, all violence is excluded anyway. (See  the Sermon on the Mount, and Violence in Self-Defence here.)