Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pondering the photo ban...

Lincoln’s birthday and the President’s Day holiday brought with them television shows covering the Civil War…and more than a few explorations of the impact war photography had on the publics view of that war.

The American Civil War was brought home to many because it was fought in their front yards…and to many more through battlefield photographs that showed the death and destruction that comes with conflict.

Upfront and personal.

The unimaginable became imaginable.

And real…oh so vividly, painfully real.

I thought of those Civil War photographs when I read this news report on the debate over whether to lift the current ban on showing the return of our war dead from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many military families who have lost a loved one support lifting the ban and I do too.

Not so we can posture and feel smug if we oppose these conflicts…not so we can put together photo essays calling for a continuation so that the fallen will not have died in vain.

But because what we don’t see is too often not real.

And war needs to be real to more than just those who serve and their families.

Upfront and personal.

The unimaginable must become imaginable.

And real.

Oh so vividly, painfully real.

So that we, like those Americans of long ago, will look at war through different eyes…as something real and ongoing and yes, with cost beyond measure.

Mayhap it is the lack of guarantees…of being able to control how photos are received by the mind and filtered through our values…that prompted this ban in the first place?

I don't know, but this is a policy discussion worth watching...

10 comments:

jsb16 said...

Given that Dubya started this ban at the very beginning of the conflict, I think that the photo ban had the same origin as Dubya's call (in October 2001) to go out and buy an SUV as a "patriotic" act: the previous administration wanted the horror and death involved in the war(s) to remain distant from the general public's mind.

SkeptikOne said...

Those of us who can remember the Vietnam war...there essentially was no protest until news media technology began to bring the war into living rooms during the six o'clock news/dinner hour...Once Americans saw....then the government couldn't get away with molding how we the people, thought about the war....The policy to ban the pics was changed precisely to shield the Government in a cya move, not to bandaid the sensibilities of citizens...

dinthebeast said...

I feel that perhaps at most, the individual families should be able to opt out of the photography if they so desire, but this has never been about respect for them or dignity for the fallen. It was an attempt to keep selling their war of lies by not souring the American public on it. That is what I would not want to have happen to anyone I cared about who was coming home in a coffin: I wouldn't want them to be used to sell the same war that killed them.
-Doug in Oakland

whatsername said...

I am 100% with you on this.

Dusty said...

The Vietnam war was dubbed "the living room war" because every night it was on your telly during the evening news. I remember Dan Rather reporting from a foxhole and I can still see it clear as if it happened yesterday.

If we allowed genuine reporting from the field of war we would be horrified at what does down and what happens withoout anyone blinking a fucking eye.

So yes, I want more graphic death and destruction on our tv's....so everyone knows wtf is going on and they can't delude themselves anylonger.

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Mike said...

Sorry ABB, but I'm going to break with you on this one...maybe because I'm retired military. My personal belief is the standard should be no photos unless the family elects to "opt in" and permit it. For every family who has lost a loved-one in the war and would be okay with it, there's another who most definitely would not be okay with it. It needs to remain the *family's* choice, not a third party's.

I've done casualty notification (fancy phrase for being the guy who gets to knock on the family's door and tell them what's happened) as well as buried three friends while on active duty. I can tell you, first hand, those families had absolutely no interest in seeing the death of their son/daughter/husband politicized.

Now, I fully understand that some familes want it to be public and open; more power to them. I reiterate, it should be *their* choice, not someone else's.

I adamantly do NOT believe in hiding the horrors of war, nothing is served by that. But seeing a coffin coveys considerably less impact than something like Michael Yon's photography during the war.

(For brevity's sake I'm not going to launch in to a philosphical discussion about the pros and cons of the average person seeing war's carnage in gory detail.)

Bottom line, and just my opinion, but let the families decide; not the local TV station or some toad in Washington.

pluky said...

My father served three combat tours during the Viet Nam war. I don't remember doing this, but one of my uncles tells me that I was riveted by the reporting on the evening news. That was the only part of broadcast I cared about at age six.

Bette said...

Perhaps it would be too difficult to institute a case-by-case policy, letting the family decide on how public the body's return is, but I really think that is the way to go.

I don't relish the idea of the media being attendant at my grief, but if that is what it would take to make people understand the cost of war, then I want them there (with the understanding that I will kick the hell out of them if they misbehave).

However, I'm in the minority among my military spouse friends (who happen to be solid liberals, if that matters). And I could never presume to insist that someone doesn't have the right to greet a loved one privately, even for a greater good. I sincerely hope that Secretary Gates listens to the people most affected before recommending any policy changes.

rychousmama said...

I agree that the ban should be lifted. There are still people who support a war, support sending missiles and ammunition to shoot at other people literally thousands of miles away. They don't see the effect it has on others and our own soldiers.
But what's really sad is that the few images of Iraqis' and Afghanis' dead bodies on the U.S. media don't seem to phase Americans.