When an Iraqi wedding reception is attacked by American planes, killing some 45 civilians, that is called "collateral damage," an accidental cost of war.
When an American Army Ranger is killed by another American soldier in a firefight in Afghanistan, that is called "friendly fire." And friendly fire can be so embarrassing to the top command that it may have to be kept secret from the family and from the world.
That is what happened in the case of Pat Tillman, an inspector general's investigation fully confirmed nearly three years later. Now we learn that accounts of the circumstances of Mr. Tillman's death were altered as they went up the chain of command. On whose orders? By the time the job was finished, four generals and five other officers had had some hand in concocting the elaborate lie.
What the Pentagon knew and what the White House knew remains to be disclosed. But clearly there was concern at higher levels about how Americans would react to the loss of a famous football star such as Tillman to American guns. So, on the basis of an invented story, Tillman was awarded a posthumous silver star for heroism and promoted to corporal.
Maybe this is all a product of the time we live in, when one alters reality when reality is too unpleasant to contemplate.
Another concocted story, but with a happier ending, was about Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was the subject of an Army fiction about fighting off Iraqi soldiers in an ambush. She said the story of the "little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting" was an entire invention.
Ms. Lynch has already been the subject of a television movie. "I am still confused as to why they chose to lie," she said in congressional testimony last week. And Tillman's brother, Kevin, speaks bitterly about how the Army, leaving the family in ignorance, used Pat to fashion an inspirational message.
Inspirational, but false.
When I think of these incidents, I think of the author Sissela Bok and her book, "Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life." She writes, "Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain."