Seeing the photograph
of a dead U.S. soldier in Iraq that appeared in the Times this morning was indeed a sobering experience. I've certainly seen plenty of combat photographs of past conflicts, but the fighting in Iraq and the 4,000 dead U.S. soldiers and uncountable Iraqi dead that lay in its wake have been kept so distant from our eyes back here that it's wrenching to see it now. We speak of our dead as "fallen heroes" and those who (until very recently
) would have us stay indefinitely talk of honoring their sacrifice by "winning." By not seeing these victims, we do not see the horror and sordidness that death in war entails.
Journalists say it is now harder, or harder than in the earlier years, to accompany troops in Iraq on combat missions. Even memorial services for killed soldiers, once routinely open, are increasingly off limits. Detainees were widely photographed in the early years of the war, but the Department of Defense, citing prisoners’ rights, has recently stopped that practice as well.
And while publishing photos of American dead is not barred under the “embed” rules in which journalists travel with military units, the Miller case underscores what is apparently one reality of the Iraq war: that doing so, even under the rules, can result in expulsion from covering the war with the military.
“It is absolutely censorship,” Mr. Miller said. “I took pictures of something they didn’t like, and they removed me. Deciding what I can and cannot document, I don’t see a clearer definition of censorship.”
The Marine Corps denied it was trying to place limits on the news media and said Mr. Miller broke embed regulations. Security is the issue, officials said.
“Specifically, Mr. Miller provided our enemy with an after-action report on the effectiveness of their attack and on the response procedures of U.S. and Iraqi forces,” said Lt. Col. Chris Hughes, a Marine spokesman.
News organizations say that such restrictions are one factor in declining coverage of the war, along with the danger, the high cost to financially ailing media outlets and diminished interest among Americans in following the war. By a recent count, only half a dozen Western photographers were covering a war in which 150,000 American troops are engaged.
In my lifetime I cannot remember a war that has been so devastating to U.S. troops and interest and so little covered.
More photos from Iraq and previous wars here.
Our sensitivities are spared. The war goes on.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that the Pentagon and the administration believe that Americans lost stomach for the war in Vietnam because of the images from Southeast Asia beamed into living rooms every night. But as the photo essay linked to above shows, the horrors of war were not disinfected before they were shown to the folks back home in WWII. During Vietnam, the images simply underscored the realization of people that they had been lied to in entering the war, lied to during the conduct of the war, and lied to to keep us there. It wasn't the imagery, it was the lies.
We know the lies that fuel our presence in Iraq. What we don't have is the visual record of the meaningless death.
Labels: Iraq, Iraq war propoganda