Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Fear of Pictures

"4,000 U.S. Deaths, and a Handful of Images", read the title of a recent article in the New York Times (27 July 2008) about the censorship of photographs of dead American soldiers in Iraq. Here's an excerpt:

"If the conflict in Vietnam was notable for open access given to journalists — too much, many critics said, as the war played out nightly in bloody newscasts — the Iraq war may mark an opposite extreme: after five years and more than 4,000 American combat deaths, searches and interviews turned up fewer than a half-dozen graphic photographs of dead American soldiers.

It is a complex issue, with competing claims often difficult to weigh in an age of instant communication around the globe via the Internet, in which such images can add to the immediate grief of families and the anger of comrades still in the field.

While the Bush administration faced criticism for overt political manipulation in not permitting photos of flag-draped coffins, the issue is more emotional on the battlefield: local military commanders worry about security in publishing images of the American dead as well as an affront to the dignity of fallen comrades. Most newspapers refuse to publish such pictures as a matter of policy.

But opponents of the war, civil liberties advocates and journalists argue that the public portrayal of the war is being sanitized and that Americans who choose to do so have the right to see — in whatever medium — the human cost of a war that polls consistently show is unpopular with Americans."

Looks like a complex issue, doesn't it? So what is there to do? "Simplicity is the only thing that works in a complex world", says Carne Ross, a former British diplomat. Well then, plain and simple: War means to kill and to get killed. To show war like it is includes showing pictures of the ones who got killed. Without restrictions.

That the people in charge of the U.S. army do not want pictures of dead American soldiers being displayed is hardly a surprise for they know that what we will remember are images. And, since images are likely to set free emotions, that spells danger - for these emotions are beyond the reach of the military.

The issue is not complex, the issue is simple: Whoever will see what war is really like will not support it.

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