On the road to Basra, ITV was filming wild dogs as they tore at the corpses of the Iraqi dead. Every few seconds a ravenous beast would rip off a decaying arm and make off with it over the desert in front of us, dead fingers trailing through the sand, the remains of the burned military sleeve flapping in the wind.
"Just for the record,'' the cameraman said to me. Of course. Because ITV would never show such footage. The things we see – the filth and obscenity of corpses – cannot be shown. First because it is not "appropriate" to depict such reality on breakfast-time TV. Second because, if what we saw was shown on television, no one would ever again agree to support a war.
That of course was in 1991. The "highway of death", they called it – there was actually a parallel and much worse "highway of death" 10 miles to the east, courtesy of the US Air Force and the RAF, but no one turned up to film it – and the only true picture of the horrors we saw was the photograph of the shrivelled, carbonised Iraqi soldier in his truck. This was an iconic illustration of a kind because it did represent what we had seen, when it was eventually published.
For Iraqi casualties to appear on television during that Gulf War – there was another one between 1980 and 1988, and a third is in the offing – it was necessary for them to have died with care, to have fallen romantically on their backs, one hand over a ruined face. Like those First World War paintings of the British dead on the Somme, Iraqis had to die benignly and without obvious wounds, without any kind of squalor, without a trace of shit or mucus or congealed blood, if they wanted to make it on to the morning news programmes.