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"If we’re big enough to fight a war ...
August 8, 2014 7:05 PM   Subscribe

… we should be big enough to look at it." From The Atlantic, The War Photo No One Would Publish
posted by flapjax at midnite (94 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
If it's not obvious from the context, there is an extremely graphic photo below the fold on this page.
posted by zachlipton at 7:18 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Well yes, it's war. It does tend toward the graphic.
posted by angerbot at 7:25 PM on August 8 [8 favorites]


Good thing we have an internet today. The potential profligacy of horrific photos has will dissuade many from waging wars.
posted by Renoroc at 7:30 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


The quote that sticks out for me is "The media took it upon themselves to 'do what the military censorship did not do.'"

Only now instead of inconvenient photos, it's entire schools of thought that are swept under the stenographer's rug.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:32 PM on August 8 [13 favorites]


Can someone please describe the photo?
posted by viggorlijah at 7:43 PM on August 8


viggorlijah, from the article:

The Iraqi soldier died attempting to pull himself up over the dashboard of his truck. The flames engulfed his vehicle and incinerated his body, turning him to dusty ash and blackened bone. In a photograph taken soon afterward, the soldier’s hand reaches out of the shattered windshield, which frames his face and chest. The colors and textures of his hand and shoulders look like those of the scorched and rusted metal around him. Fire has destroyed most of his features, leaving behind a skeletal face, fixed in a final rictus. He stares without eyes.

It is horrific.
posted by torisaur at 7:52 PM on August 8 [8 favorites]


Can someone please describe the photo?

A man entirely reduced to ash while trying to climb out of a truck. You can still make out his basic human form and bared teeth. It's pretty obvious that he burned to death in a horrific amount of pain.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:54 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


Fifty years earlier Life published a very similar photograph. I remember seeing it in a WWII book as a kid and it left an indelible impression. I consider that a good thing.
posted by stargell at 7:55 PM on August 8 [11 favorites]


The potential profligacy of horrific photos has will dissuade many from waging wars.

The problem is, the people who are actually responsible for starting wars don't tend to be dissuaded by displays of atrocity. I keep hoping that sufficient weight of appalled public opinion will deter them at least a little, but my cursory study of history leaves me unwilling to lay any money on it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:56 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


But we're winning, right?
posted by uosuaq at 7:57 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Can someone please describe the photo?

The photo is like something out of The Terminator. The Arnold style robot terminators. Picture one of them in full robot form (ie without the flesh covering) trying to climb out a window, grimacing as it tries to get out. You are looking in at him from outside the window. Only his head and arms are visible. Now on top of that, overlay a thin layer of burned - something. You and I know it is flesh, but it looks more like fibreglass insulation than flesh, visibly fibrous instead of smooth. It is not a solid layer so in some places the skeleton is fully exposed. The photo is black and white so you can't see any colour, just the various textures. One part of his head is perfectly smooth, possibly burned down to the skull. It isn't a picture that will give nightmares, but you get the feeling it will stay with you for a while.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:58 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


But we're winning, right?

Absolutely.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:59 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


We're back in black today so we have the opportunity to top this photo.

Every paper and newscast in the nation should be leading with things like this if we're at war. If the cause isn't worth even looking at this kind of suffering it's not worth causing it.
posted by Justinian at 8:10 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


I just posted an ask for news sources that exclude this kind of graphic imagery. I feel very strongly that they should not be part of general front page news reporting but given their own space, and on the web clearly indicated.

They're overwhelming - if a picture is worth a thousand words, these pictures are screams. They need a lot of literal and mental white space around them to comprehend them. Otherwise, they end up being shock photos, dulled by repeated exposure, or they obliterate any context because of the emotional intensity of the photograph.

My facebook feed has people posting photographs of horribly murdered people from Gaza, ISIS and Cambodia. The person sharing the images is trying to provoke an intense emotional reaction to the news item they're sharing. It's facebook - I'm not expecting graphic images of violence, and I feel that pushing these images at people without a choice, by sharing them without a "click to see image" or putting them on a magazine cover or a frontpage newspaper is not just miserable for me but also bad journalism.

They need context, and they also need readers who have agreed to see them. Otherwise it's like shoving a picture of a dead baby in a woman's face at an abortion clinic - you're not trying to share information and experiences, you're provoking emotional trauma to win an argument.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:14 PM on August 8 [13 favorites]


I almost accidentally clicked on it and I'm really glad I didn't (was just flying through, clicking, clicking...). I would've appreciated a warning or something - yeah, it's obvious, I guess, and that's how I caught myself, but a warning would be very appreciated from this scanner/casual reader.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:27 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I don't recall seeing even one graphic photo from any of our post-9/11 wars. The only really graphic accounts I've even read were the ones of Pat Tillman's death by friendly fire in Jon Krakauer's book, "Where Men Win Glory." The only honest video account I know of is the "Collateral Murder" video provided by Chelsea Manning and released by Wikileaks- the one that caused Obama's "voluntary" withdrawal when the Iraqi government got so angry they effectively decided to kick US troops out of the country.

My impression was that every American news outlet had agreed to complete military censorship of coverage from war zones in the form of "embedding," where journalists live with and have all their movements controlled by military units, and are made dependent on them for survival.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:29 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


Its really more like Pompeii meets body worlds.
I've had enough to drink that my first reaction to this is anatomical and not emotional. I'm going to come back and actually read TFA later. I will bring a hankie.

Thank you for sharing this.
posted by The Legit Republic of Blanketsburg at 8:29 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


> Can someone please describe the photo?

> It is horrific.

> Fifty years earlier Life published a very similar photograph. I remember seeing it in a WWII book as a kid and it left an indelible impression. I consider that a good thing.


Perhaps this says something about (my) consumption of graphic media, or at least certain depictions, but I found the photo from 50 years ago a lot more disturbing, because that severed head looked more, well, human. The modern photo looks like a screencap from a film, with the dead man appearing more like a zombie crawling from wreckage than the burnt remains of a human. The pose, the framing, seems too good.

> Good thing we have an internet today. The potential profligacy of horrific photos has will dissuade many from waging wars.

In that same vein, I wonder if the internet has ruined a certain population, those who were young and stupid and wanted to get grossed out by real images of terrible things, to show their peers how brave they were. There are websites dedicated to that sort of thing, whose names I have happily forgotten, but I witnessed in high school. The world is full of terrible images, and now they're so easily accessible. Some, perhaps many, will never come across them, and for that I am glad. Maybe this image and more like it will get them to get involved with anti-war movements, or write letters to their politicians, or at least vote for the least war-hawk-ish candidate.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:06 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I feel very strongly that they should not be part of general front page news reporting...

I couldn't disagree more. Refusing to acknowledge the horrors of war just allows politicians to keep starting them without being thrown out of office.

IMO, the world would be a better place if photos like these were shoved into everyone's faces. If that traumatizes you, great! Now do something about it.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:07 PM on August 8 [30 favorites]


"My impression was that every American news outlet had agreed to complete military censorship of coverage from war zones in the form of "embedding," where journalists live with and have all their movements controlled by military units, and are made dependent on them for survival."

This is actually a long-held journalistic standard in the U.S., beginning with daily newspapers and holding over into other media. Because newspapers were delivered to the home and put out on news stands and generally available to children and to casual passersby who may or may not want to see gross things, there has been, for a very long time, a strong, strong prohibition against certain kinds of blood and gore. It's also seen as disrespectful to the dead or dying. Someone with more newspaper experience can probably be more clear, but generally you can't put dead bodies on the front page (or in color on interior pages) unless they're inside body bags. You don't publish full-color blood from a murder/death/military shooting scene, but black-and-white blood is okay on interior pages. You don't publish people in the process of dying, which is why it was a big, big, big fucking deal when the New York Times decided to publish (on the front page, above the fold, in color) pictures that included people jumping from the Twin Towers. That is just about the strongest statement a newspaper can make: This story is SO IMPORTANT that we will break the front-page photo rules about death.

That's why a lot of the more graphic war photos, through history, have come not from the wire services or the big daily newspapers, but from the weekly newsmagazines and photo specialist magazines (Time, Life, Newsweek); they are contained inside the magazine and have wide circulation (and can be in color) but are not considered as casually available as newspapers, and the editorial lead time is greater so there's more time to consider and curate.

Also, from a commercial standpoint, people (used to) cancel their newspaper subscriptions over three major things: graphic photos of death, crime stories about rape,* and the crossword puzzle. (*So frustrating. For a long time, publishing the fact that a rape occurred was guaranteed to get you a thousand canceled subscriptions because MURDER WAS FINE but people didn't think rape was an appropriate topic for "a family newspaper.")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:24 PM on August 8 [25 favorites]


Look at the photograph.
posted by entropone at 9:24 PM on August 8 [20 favorites]


Subjecting people to horrific images of things they can't do anything about isn't right. People should have the right to look at what they want and not look at things that upset them.
posted by bleep at 9:28 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Mission accomplished, folks.
posted by Mr. Six at 9:28 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


bleep: Subjecting people to horrific images of things they can't do anything about isn't right.

Well, that's just the thing, isn't it? We can't do anything for the soldier in that photo, but maybe we can take actions to make sure there aren't as many like him in the future.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:39 PM on August 8 [17 favorites]


I couldn't disagree more. Refusing to acknowledge the horrors of war just allows politicians to keep starting them without being thrown out of office.


If the picture of a naked girl running, screaming in agony from the napalm burns she received, can't caution politicians or outrage the public, then it's extremely naive to think any amount of horrific photography well do a damn bit of good.

If you want to turn the public against war, institute a universal draft. Otherwise you're just pissing in the wind.
posted by happyroach at 9:40 PM on August 8 [11 favorites]


What we need is to not have a system where the entire populace being against a war doesn't make it go away. Psychologically tormenting individuals isn't going to make that happen.
posted by bleep at 9:43 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Of course, if the anti-war side goes the route of shoving pictures like this in everyone's face and shouting "Behold the horrors or war! We have to stop this!" the pro-war side will simply pick up pictures of whatever atrocity the supposed enemy has committed and shout "Look what our enemy is doing! We must fight!" And that's often pretty effective.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:43 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I understand the premise to the article. This is an unpublished, graphic photo from a war 23 years ago, yet we should re-litigate its exclusion from the popular press and national dialogue? Why now?

Granted, I'm not old enough to have a complete historical perspective, but weren't graphic photos censored in the popular press during the American interventions in Vietnam, Korea and WWII? I'm sure there are graphic photos from these earlier wars, but were they published at the time in the mainstream press? Did they change the national opinion of the conflict at the time, or serve as a historical footnote or point of debate when published much later after the conflict?

In other words, the media, then and now, are unwilling to declare their independence from the easy, convenient, and generous source their stories, clicks, and eyeballs that they depend on to survive: the military units in which the are imbedded and the adventurous foreign policies that generate those conflicts.

It seems like this is not "The War Photo No One Would Publish" but "Just Another War Photo No One Would Publish Until Much Later, Like All The Other Ones."

On preview, Eyebrows McGee provides a pretty good answer to many of my questions, thanks for that.
posted by peeedro at 9:50 PM on August 8


Jesus, I wish photos like this would turn the tables on the way war is perceived, but did the Abu Ghraib photos really do anything to change the perception of our questionably legal operations on foreign soil? Same with the pictures of the Blackwater contractors' (an even more questionably legal operation) charred bodies hanging from that bridge in Falluja?

War may have always been this brutal but we now have innumerable ways to catch brutality that can be broadcast around the globe in a manner of seconds. I fucking wish this would change things, but I have a sinking hole in my heart that says otherwise. The barbaric images of the "enemy" will always be written off as part of the price of war, while similarly barbarous images of US and allied troops (and, of course, paid psychopathic mercenary forces such as Blackwater/Xe Services/Academi) will continue to add to the label of savages the US government and people love to slap on anyone who dare do to us what we do to them in tenfold.

Fuck war.
posted by item at 10:03 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


IMO the honorable thing is to look at the photo. The soldier died because of us. The least can do is see what our passivity has done.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:12 PM on August 8 [11 favorites]


Mitrovarr: Of course, if the anti-war side goes the route of shoving pictures like this in everyone's face

I don't think the only two options are "total media blackout" and "shoving pictures like this in everyone's face." There are shades of gray in between, and I think it's appropriate to ask if the status quo, where we don't see these pictures unless we're trying to find them, is the right balance.

And, if the pro-war side tries to respond by showing us things our adversaries are doing? Good. We should know about those, too. Let people make informed decisions about whether to support our foreign conflicts.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:17 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I pre-screen now for dead children. I used to be able to handle films where a child died, but now they leave me on the floor paralysed with tears, and fragile for days afterwards. I am intensely grateful for the ability to find spoilers for most media and prescreen my own consumption, because I haven't got the constitution to handle child death and harm, and so I need to store up my resources for when I have to deal with child death and harm in real life, and avoid media with it. This is a pretty widespread thing - the new parents avoid the evening news trope - but I'm fine with taking the responsibility to prescreen myself.

However, it shouldn't happen though in public media that can't be screened - general news coverage and magazine covers, social media that can't be filtered reasonably.

And this idea that we bear witness to the dead by looking at photos of their horrific death? Is just - we don't, when it's a shock photo. We don't when the point of the photo is to cause horror and nothing more, and that's what gory photos do. They overwhelm by their level of distress to the point where we can't see the wider context.

A photograph like this belongs with an essay, with respect and narrative around it.

The girl running from the napalm is a good example of a photograph that is startling and informative - the look of pain on her face, the fully-dressed soldiers hanging back - but it's not graphic violence. There were shots taken that same day of a baby with flesh stripping off in its mother's arms, close-ups of children with skin peeling off. They're more intense immediately in their shocking impact of pain, but they don't have the same balance of a story, the vignette quality that makes Nick Ut's photo so classic in photojournalism. You're just in horror, with no ability to see the wider story.

Photographs in media are editorial decisions. Using graphic violence on the front page or whatever the web equivalent is, is shitty journalism. It doesn't honor the dead, or move the reader or tell a better story than taking those same powerful images and putting them within a context and for a willing reader.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:25 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


> Of course, if the anti-war side goes the route of shoving pictures like this in everyone's face

I don't know for sure that it's an American saying that - my guess is it's likely and if so, this attitude is literally incomprehensible to me. Americans paid for this to happen. The vast majority of Americans voted either Republican or Democrat, both of which enthusiastically supported this war.

And yet you get angry at the anti-war side for "shoving pictures like this in everyone's face". The very idea that you can get angry for seeing photos of the crimes your country has committed, but express not the slightest anger about the crimes themselves - this idea is intolerable.

Frankly, every American should be forced to see this picture every morning until they give waging war on countries that offer them no threat.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:27 PM on August 8 [22 favorites]


Jesus, I wish photos like this would turn the tables on the way war is perceived, but did the Abu Ghraib photos really do anything to change the perception of our questionably legal operations on foreign soil?

Yes. The Abu Ghraib abuse had been reported in the media months before the photos came out, and no one paid any attention to the story. The images dramatically changed the way people talked about the occupation.
posted by asterix at 10:40 PM on August 8 [13 favorites]


Huh. I saw this picture, or on just like it, just after the war in a war photo album and I've remembered it ever since (I though it was from the convoy retreating from Kuwait). We always talk about civilian casualties, but the non-civilian casualties in the Iraq wars have always bothered me. Most of these guys were probably forced to be in the military and would have been shot for deserting. They had to sit there defenseless and get pummeled by heavy artillery and aerial bombardment. Awful.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:41 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


One of my greatest crimes was stealing a few books from the library back in the day. Photobooks. At first I thought this was the photo I had posted on my wall, but realized it was another burned soldier/face/head.

This one from Gaudalcanal:
One of those pictures, made by a 25-year-old LIFE photographer named Ralph Morse, instantly struck a nerve with the magazine’s millions of readers. Seven decades later, it remains one of the most unsettling images to emerge from any war. Morse’s picture (the first in this gallery) of a severed Japanese soldier’s head impaled on a tank captures more graphically and immediately than volumes of words ever could the relentless and often casual barbarity of war.

Read more: Guadalcanal: Rare and Classic Photos From a Pivotal WWII Campaign | LIFE.com http://life.time.com/history/guadalcanal-world-war-2-rare-and-classic-photos/#ixzz39s5ZmG4s
I wonder if Golden Eternity is thinking of the one I linked (as that, too, is what I was thinking - Iraq War, Burned Soldier on Vehicle/Machine)...

Shortly after the Iraq War II, I got as many photos of dead children as I could find and posted them on my board at work to try to force my Republican coworkers to deal with the realities of what they were perpetrating in their politics.

War politics gets me in trouble with a lot of people because I get angry at the senselessness of it, and the hypocrisy by damn near everyone (including myself at points in time when I'm less sensical in my certain political moods :\ )

These images are stark reminders of the cost, but it's sad when they become propaganda, not for peace but to justify more war to "defend *your* side" from the "barbaric" OTHER.

Fuck war. Fuck it to hell.
posted by symbioid at 11:00 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Or what stargell said. Clearly - that image we both posted left an impression on us, and if I'm right about Golden Eternity, then that image also burned itself into their memory (no pun... ok, maybe just a wee tiny little dark humor pun intended -- it's my coping mechanism).
posted by symbioid at 11:05 PM on August 8


It's a matter of finding the point at which exposure to the pictures is shocking enough to be effective yet being wary of the possibility of overexposure leading to numbness and the callous blindness we as human beings resort to when we hit sensory overload. We all feel helpless to change the horrors here - we vote, we scream, we write letters, we carry signs, but the wars continue and the innocent continue to die screaming, on fire, wondering what on earth happened.

I'd like to vote for more exposure and, frankly, those who want to remain sheltered from the sight of such things irritate me a little, though they shouldn't because I'm sure they're too delicate of sensibility to be able to deal with such ugliness; I've been accused of lacking understanding of PTSD and all sorts of other things, so I'm sure that's the case here (even though I have a diagnosis of PTSD of my very own - just for the record). The pictures make me physically ill and the tears flow, just like they do for everyone else. But in the long run I still think the more we actually see and comprehend about the specific, ungodly agony that human beings suffer in a war situation the more likely we'll someday be able to put a stop to it.

I just want to be sure we don't confuse this man's photo with something from a video game or a movie or TV show, and I want to be sure that each and every photo like this stands alone and shocks the hell out of everyone looking at it. Let us not become so used to pictures of the suffering that we no longer react.
posted by aryma at 11:15 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Something the U.S. media had a lot of trouble covering, that many of you will remember, is the death of Nikolai Ceaușescu, the Romanian dictator, in 1989. Many Romanians refused to believe he was dead, thinking it was a ruse to draw out opposition members, and so the picture of him dead in a gutter was widely run in Romanian media. That photo WAS the story, and US media really struggled with how to run it. Chances are you saw it in black and white on an interior newspaper page (as it was a dead body's recognizable head, which breaks 90% of American media photo taboos) but in color either in Life magazine or in your high school history textbook two years later.

Saddam's hanging was another one that presented a challenge to U.S. media. And going way back, Matthew Brady's photographs of Civil War battlefields, the first major photographic records of war ... It wasn't clear if those belonged in newspapers, art galleries, government reports, or ash heaps. People did not know how to react to them or how to display them, and there's a great deal of angst around it in contemporary accounts. (They were eventually displayed in art galleries but treated as something in between an art show and a freak show.)

Personally I am of the "curate it and warn me" school. I will usually steel myself and look, but I want to know in advance what I'm going to be looking at. I'm still not wholly comfortable with the NYT's editorial decisions after 9/11 in terms of what photos they chose ... I understand why, but it was so shocking and upsetting for me as am already-traumatized subscriber ... I don't know.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:38 PM on August 8 [9 favorites]


If you are for a particular action, you should damn well be willing to see what the outcome of that action is. If it's war, you should have to see the consequences of that war.

I didn't want to look at the photos, but did anyway--as mentioned above, it's the honorable thing to do. I am anti-war and think US civilians who are for it are the scum of the earth. But my tax dollars went to killing those people and if I cannot even bring myself to look at what our glorious empire has wrought, who am I?
posted by maxwelton at 11:49 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


"I don't recall seeing even one graphic photo from any of our post-9/11 wars."

This in not true at all. Warned; Highway of death which is where this picture came from.

There were plenty of pictures and I remember this one well.
posted by vapidave at 12:11 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]



Shortly after the Iraq War II, I got as many photos of dead children as I could find and posted them on my board at work to try to force my Republican coworkers to deal with the realities of what they were perpetrating in their politics.


a friend of mine once talked of making a movie that would be nothing but one second images of one hundred thousand random people. It was to be called Iraq War Death Count, one hundred thousand being the lowest estimate of Iraqi dead in that initial 1991 conflict.

He calculated it would be at least twenty-five hours long.
posted by philip-random at 12:29 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:37 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


WAR CRIMES: A Report on United States War Crimes Against Iraq to the Commission of Inquiry for the International War Crimes Tribunal by Ramsey Clark and Others
7. The United States used prohibited weapons capable of mass destruction and inflicting indiscriminate death and unnecessary suffering against both military and civilian targets.
[⋮]
One seven mile stretch called the "Highway of Death" was littered with hundreds of vehicles and thousands of dead. All were fleeing to Iraq for their lives. Thousands were civilians of all ages, including Kuwaitis, Iraqis, Palestinians, Jordanians and other nationalities. Another 60-mile stretch of road to the east was strewn with the remnants of tanks, armored cars, trucks, ambulances and thousands of bodies following an attack on convoys on the night of February 25, 1991. The press reported that no survivors are known or likely. One flatbed truck contained nine bodies, their hair and clothes were burned off, skin incinerated by heat so intense it melted the windshield onto the dashboard.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:01 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


A) I have certainly seen this photo previously, and almost surely before 9/11
B) The story actually details who chose to publish the photo within a year of initial shutter exposure
C) Therefore the link headline, "The War Photo No One Would Publish" is totally inaccurate, and should be more correctly "The War Photo Initially Denied American Publication" or something along those lines
D) A lie about the photo is the basis on which this current link prompts our interest
E) I am disappoint
F) Still war is happen
G) Rinse, repeat
H) Profit (Possibly correctly assigned to A, B, or C. Your interlocutor regrets the error)
posted by mwhybark at 1:50 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


On reflection, a less-ironic and distanced reiteration: war journalism cannot be anti-war, as war creates the war journalism economy.

This picture could no more stop the war that generated it, published the day of the man's death or a year after, than the demonstrations against that war back home before it was launched. The demonstrations were numerous, historically large, and generally not covered in US media.
posted by mwhybark at 1:58 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


"This picture could no more stop the war that generated it, published the day of the man's death or a year after, than the demonstrations against that war back home before it was launched. The demonstrations were numerous, historically large, and generally not covered in US media."

I agree with all of this. Reinstating the draft without an educational [read wealth] exemption would be my start to ending the adventures that my country seems so willing to send the poor and brown to.

"as war creates the war journalism economy" and fun to watch if you aren't on the wrong end.

It wasn't always so. Walter Chronkite in a famous broadcast pretty much ended our involvement in Viet Nam. Though it took six years after that.
posted by vapidave at 2:22 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I'm almost certain I've seen that photo before, in a book about the Iraq War made available in my high school library, early 90s. I also remember we had books with images of corpses from WWII, the Vietnam war and also pictures of lynchings in the American South. These images aren't quite as suppressed as people make out. IMO they also probably make less of a difference than people think.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 2:31 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Well, as pointed out in the article, that picture was published by the press in the UK at the time. Since then, the UK government has basically supported all US military action in the area.
posted by Vortisaur at 2:44 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


The Photo That Won World War II: Dead Americans at Buna Beach

In addition to the photo (graphic but not so much as the one in the FPP) contains a discussion on wartime censorship and how the decision to publish came about.
posted by TedW at 3:10 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


Of note is that they published the picture of dead American soldiers in order to drum up support for a war that people were growing complacent about. More about it here.
posted by TedW at 3:15 AM on August 9


This picture could no more stop the war that generated it, ..., than the demonstrations against that war back home before it was launched

I was only 13 at the time, so my memory might be wrong, but I don't remember any protests, and this site seems to agree.
posted by ambrosen at 3:16 AM on August 9


I don't remember any protests, and this site seems to agree.

What on earth? From your link-
Thing hotted up as the threat of war became reality on 16 January. 100,000 marched in San Francisco; in the same city 1,000 people were arrested in a single day of protests. In Washington, 250,000 marched. Bank windows were bricked and a fence torn down outside the FBI building. In Los Angeles, blood and oil was poured on the steps of a federal building.
I was in that march in SF. If you want to say it was ineffective, or that there were too many puppets, or that it was underreported in national media, fine, but saying it didn't happen, and then providing a link that mentions it, is odd.

(I'm assuming you're referring to the US, and not one of the many other countries that site lists as having had demonstrations, but either way it's odd.)
posted by hap_hazard at 3:30 AM on August 9 [8 favorites]


Huge apologies. I only read the first couple of screenfuls. And now I feel very stupid and arrogant.
posted by ambrosen at 3:49 AM on August 9


Isn't this the same society (America) that would not show the the returning coffins of returned servicemen.?
posted by adamvasco at 4:04 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


The problem with such photographs is that they lean on the horror of violent death to shock rather than teach. The bodily outcome of violent death is most often awful, and we cannot help feeling something in each and every one that turns us away from looking, even if that feeling loses out to the morbid pryfulness to look or is already heavily numbed. It is still there for each and every body.

And what are we meant to think when we do look? "Isn't that awful?" Well yes, it is, in a bodily way, awful. But the shockingness of such images stop us from thinking further. They say that the image is all, and what you see is what you must understand: this is the body, this is the subject of your thoughts. Some hope that seeing such things will turn us off war upon sight alone.

Yet few make war because they believe it will be bloodless, rather the opposite. War is most often about killing your enemy, turning their bodies into the shocking dead. Even the most hateful foe becomes a violently killed body. And should we look at pictures of their body and turn away? And should we think that war, on balance, is wrong?

I have an image of the head of a man killed in war. An explosion tore through his body, pulling his head off and setting it down on nearby rubble. Yet the explosion was self-caused, it was 1945, and the man was a member of the SS. I have a horror the same as you looking at his head lying there, but knowing who he was and what he might have done, I can only answer my fears with, "and that he might have killed himself sooner!"

Shocking images don't answer to right or wrong, good outcome or bad. They just play on our inborn fears. Even the mangled body of the most awful man will disgust us. Though I hope that we understand their life disgusts us even more.
posted by Thing at 4:31 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


"I don't recall seeing even one graphic photo from any of our post-9/11 wars."

This in not true at all. Warned; Highway of death which is where this picture came from.

There were plenty of pictures and I remember this one well.


That is from the 1991 gulf war.
posted by knapah at 4:51 AM on August 9 [5 favorites]


I've seen this picture before. I don' remember where, but it was in print; probably in a magazine. I was in high school or college, so it was sometime in the 90's. I am absolutely certain that it's been published previously.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:00 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I am absolutely certain that it's been published previously.

If you RTFA, you'll see this:

The Observer in the United Kingdom and Libération in France both published it after the American media refused. Many months later, the photo also appeared in American Photo, where it stoked some controversy, but came too late to have a significant impact.

I reckon it might've been one of those publications that you saw the photo in.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:34 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


If you're into up-to-the-moment graphic images, then check out Vice's latest dispatch from an ISIS-entrenched journalist. More severed Syrian soldier heads than you can shake a stick at.

I think this article's argument overlooks a huge point: while graphic images might theoretically dissuade one from war, they can absolutely provoke one into war.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:45 AM on August 9


If you RTFA, you'll see this

I did RTFA, and I did see that, but if there were in fact media outlets that published it, the headline is dishonest. Why not "The War Photo No American Media Outlet Would Publish"? Conflating "No One" with "No Americans" is kind of obnoxious.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:02 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Trace that photo back and forward.

In 1980, dead in a war we funded to punish Iran for overthrowing our puppet government.

In 1988, dead in a poison gas attack.
There was little love for what virtually all of Washington recognized as an unsavory regime, but Iraq was considered the lesser evil. Sealed by National Security Decision Directive 114 in 1983, the tilt included billions of dollars in loan guarantees and other credits to Iraq.

Sensing correctly that it had carte blanche, Saddam's regime escalated its resort to gas warfare, graduating to ever more lethal agents. Because of the strong Western animus against Iran, few paid heed. Then came Halabja.

Unfortunately for Iraq's sponsors, Iran rushed Western reporters to the blighted town. The horrifying scenes they filmed were presented on primetime television a few days later. Soon Ted Koppel could be seen putting the Iraqi ambassador's [feet to] the fire on Nightline.

In response, the United States launched the "Iran too" gambit. The story was cooked up in the Pentagon, interviews with the principals show. A newly declassified State Department document demonstrates that U.S. diplomats received instructions to press this line with U.S. allies, and to decline to discuss the details.
In the early nineties, dead in a war we waged to protect our allies in Saudi Arabia -- a democratic paradise full of religious tolerance, gender equality, and a ruthless theocratic monarchy that beheads people for sodomy -- from our friendly, gentle dictator. Sometimes as an Iraqi soldier. Sometimes as a civilian dying from a gas attack -- Saddam performed them well into 1992. And then we let him clean up the little revolution mess we started, even though we knew we weren't going to drive to Baghdad. Our hands, you see, must stay clean.

Only ten years later after a consistent bombing campaign, dead in war we waged to attempt to control Iraq's oil resources. I mean, to destroy WMDs that we sold them in the 80s because they gassed their own people! with our money and our WMDs. I mean, to bring peace and freedom to Iraq. And what's true in 2003 remains true today: our glorious, ethical, sensible wars are a Mission Accomplished.

So I hope this picture haunts you for every moment of your waking life if you pay taxes in the US. We should consider the actions of our government today. We destabilized Iraq of our own free will. We destabilized Syria with our own free will. We are trying to play chess with entire nations. Millions of people are dying from weapons we either helped pay for or gave as a gift.

Today the Peshmerga are being beat with US weapons that have fallen into the wrong hands. Libyans are dying as warlords descend to devour everyone in the power vacuum we helped create there. We're promoting peace through strength:
The American weapons sales total was an “extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totaled nearly $31 billion.

A worldwide economic decline had suppressed arms sales over recent years. But increasing tensions with Iran drove a set of Persian Gulf nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman — to purchase American weapons at record levels.
...
The agreements with Saudi Arabia included the purchase of 84 advanced F-15 fighters, a variety of ammunition, missiles and logistics support, and upgrades of 70 of the F-15 fighters in the current fleet.

Sales to Saudi Arabia last year also included dozens of Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, all contributing to a total Saudi weapons deal from the United States of $33.4 billion, according to the study.
The "increasing tensions" should be helped by our billions of dollars of advanced weaponry. Can we see our young man, someday soldier, who will have our help in losing his life?

But if we are wrong again, and our soldier burns alive as an "unfortunate part" of our geopolitical calculus, let's hope we are not confronted with any of this on our Facebook feeds. A respectable society should have certain standards.
posted by tripping daisy at 6:03 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


This in not true at all. Warned; Highway of death which is where this picture came from.

There were plenty of pictures and I remember this one well.


This. As discussed above American newspapers have always been reluctant to publish graphic images, but that doesn't mean the images don't get published and are unavailable.

I also think some of the claims that seeing a graphic image would automatically make people be anti war are naive. A lot of people might look at that particular image more as a symbol of what happens if you fuck with the military might of the US, say (similar to how ISIS is deliberately releasing its own graphic images). There's not just one way to receive a graphic image, and we now have about 150 years of graphic war photography -- if the images were going to end war, that would have happened by now.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:36 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Steve Bell included the corpse in a cartoon at the time if I remember rightly.
posted by Segundus at 6:38 AM on August 9


Who but a sentimental numbskull would have his opinion of anything changed one bit by such a picture? Killing enemy soldiers is what war is. And a fuel-air ordnance attack is probably on the gentle end of the quick-painless to slow-agonizing continuum of war deaths -- preferable to bleeding out from a dozen shrapnel wounds after a mortar burst, dying of dysentery from contaminated water in the trenches, what have you. People don't fight war because they don't know war is terrible, they fight war because (for better or worse) they think the terribleness is worth it.
posted by MattD at 6:39 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I wonder if I could commission G. Bush to paint this image for me?
posted by The Vice Admiral of the Narrow Seas at 6:44 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


My memory of this photo is that it was in color. I gambled and googled "gulf war color photo burned corpse" and eventually came up with this version, which is what I remember seeing (minus the frame and writing by Jarecke).

"I don't recall seeing even one graphic photo from any of our post-9/11 wars."

Then you haven't been paying attention. There haven't been many to get widespread attention, but there have been some.

The first images that come immediately to mind: one AP photo showing the burned and hanged bodies of 4 contractors (from their Pulitzer-winning portfolio), Gary Knight's photo from the battle of Dyala Bridge, Chris Hondros' photo of a girl screaming after soldiers killed everyone else in her family's car, and this AP photo of Joshua Bernard's death in Afghanistan (there was much controversy after the publication of that image as I remember and as that link describes).

Now I'm a photojournalist and keep up on these things, but all of these photos have been relatively widely published and awarded and discussed. There are serious concerns about the sorts of pictures that get made in the Iraq/Afghanistan embed program. There's also probably a good conversation to have about how far a widely-published photo reaches in our current media environment. Publication in Time magazine, for instance, used to mean millions of eyes and now I'm sure it has far less reach.

I've also spent time with a few American soldiers after their deployments and seen the sorts of photos they have and what gets published (such as what I've linked above) pales in comparison to what these soldiers have shown me. There are some horrific slideshows on youtube with death metal soundtracks and picture after picture of corpses, usually made by soldiers from their own battlefield photos. I don't want to search for those...
posted by msbrauer at 6:55 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


This picture confirms what I always suspected: people died in the first gulf war.

Quite the startling revelation.
posted by jpe at 7:06 AM on August 9




See also My Country, My Country by Laura Poitras.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:23 AM on August 9


You're so edgy, jpe! [swoons]
posted by five fresh fish at 7:24 AM on August 9


The hand-wringing over this one newsworthy, well produced photograph seems really old fashioned in the Internet age. There are all sorts of places that show daily photos of the worst of human carnage. And not just shock sites like LiveLeak or the old Ogrish. Mainstream sites like Reddit's /r/WTF, the #5 most popular subreddit with 4 million subscribers (including me) there to look at a mix of funny non-sequitur images, unfortunate pornography, and the occasional very gory accident or war photo.

The desensitization implicit in the ready availability of violent images is troubling to me. But a single news photo about the horrors of war, that seems.. necessary to informed democracy.
posted by Nelson at 7:29 AM on August 9




To follow from my earlier post.
Propoganda by controlling the media is nothing particulary new in the USA.
New York Times Dec 2009
In a reversal of an 18-year-old military policy that critics said was hiding the ultimate cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the news media will now be allowed to photograph the flag-draped coffins of America's war dead as their bodies are returned to the United States, but only if the families of the dead agree.
So you fought a war largely out of sight and often out of mind - no draft and refused to allow publication of pictures of flag draped boxes ostensiously 'To protect the feelings of the Families''.
Earlier (2004) a ban had been temporary lifted following a FOIA request.
msbrauer has a perfectly valid point above but the media should have a responsibility to show the results of what is being done in the voters name and with their taxmoney.
posted by adamvasco at 7:32 AM on August 9


Just because there are all sorts of places on the internet that show daily photos of the worst of human carnage does not mean that I, or other MeFites, visit those places.

It is an editorial decision, but I think a brief warning, like [graphic] respects the reader and gives them a decent warning.

Also, choosing not to look at a war photo does not mean dishonoring them, what poppycock.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:32 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


This is actually a long-held journalistic standard in the U.S., beginning with daily newspapers and holding over into other media. Because newspapers were delivered to the home and put out on news stands and generally available to children and to casual passersby who may or may not want to see gross things, there has been, for a very long time, a strong, strong prohibition against certain kinds of blood and gore.

What, unlike foreign countries where newspapers materialise out of thin air in consenting-adults-only zones? Other papers published this and other graphic photos despite being subject to those same pressures, so the question is what is different about the papers in the U.S. that makes them so reluctant. And the answer is an unappetising mix of jingoism and timidity.
posted by forgetful snow at 7:37 AM on August 9


Good thing we have an internet today. The potential profligacy of horrific photos has will dissuade many from waging wars.

Perhaps some. But if shock and horror had any mass effect, there would not have been any wars at all since 1862.

And it didn't start with photography. Graphic depiction of the pity of war dating back to the ancients hasn't put much of a dent into the enterprise. War, it appears, is in our nature.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:37 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Who but a sentimental numbskull would have his opinion of anything changed one bit by such a picture?

What? Are you seriously saying that people shouldn't be horrified by what their tax dollars are funding? The hell.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:13 AM on August 9 [8 favorites]


What, unlike foreign countries where newspapers materialise out of thin air in consenting-adults-only zones? Other papers published this and other graphic photos despite being subject to those same pressures, so the question is what is different about the papers in the U.S. that makes them so reluctant. And the answer is an unappetising mix of jingoism and timidity.

Sidestepping the question of whether or not it is good or bad, I don't think it's controversial to note that US newspapers and broadcast tv show very little gore or sex compared to parts of Europe and Latin America, while we are also happy to consume enormous amounts of cartoonish violence in our media (eg Transformers, or the sanitized combat footage). It's a longstanding part of how US culture works and goes deeper than jingoism though that is certainly an element.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:22 AM on August 9


"Who but a sentimental numbskull would have his opinion of anything changed one bit by such a picture? "

Sometimes it's a different thing to KNOW something and to SEE something. Pictures of the Birmingham police using firehoses and police dogs on nicely-dressed, churchy-looking protestors, including children, really helped change a lot of minds in the North. People knew, intellectually, that black Americans were protesting for civil rights and that authorities were breaking up their protests, sometimes violently. But actually seeing the images turned a lot of people from, "Wow, that's too bad" to "HOLY SHIT THIS MUST BE STOPPED."

Not all images all the time, and not all people all the time, but sometimes seeing an image can force a visceral realization of something that was too intellectualized in text to get you emotionally involved.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:35 AM on August 9 [11 favorites]


How to Take a Picture of a Severed Head
What are major news organizations doing sending jihadi-approved photos from inside the Islamic State?
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:51 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Sometimes it's a different thing to KNOW something and to SEE something...But actually seeing the images turned a lot of people from, "Wow, that's too bad" to "HOLY SHIT THIS MUST BE STOPPED."

The FT and the WSJ today share a Reuters picture of Yazidi and Christian refugees of ISIS. It looks no worse than a slightly overcrowded family vacation. It wouldn't move anyone to action.

The many (too graphic for mainstream media) pictures of what ISIS is doing to Yazidis and Christians, on the other hand, just might, even in war wearied America. Judging from commentary here, not too many really want to see those pictures, which fall pretty squarely into the HSTMBS category. Partly, I expect, because seeing them and doing nothing will make you feel terrible.

Of course, Doing Something will likely involve action which will almost certainly have someone reprising the role of the subject of the 1991 picture.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:37 AM on August 9


I recall seeing this in the papers, or somewhere, at the time. Since I lived in NYC then, and still don't speak french, I know it wasn't in the French paper mentioned. I wonder where I came across it. It was and is really startling image. And compared to all the other images from that war it was so jarring in how close to death it was, when CNN kept showing the green lights of missiles as if it was a computer game.
posted by dabitch at 9:39 AM on August 9


Who but a sentimental numbskull would have his opinion of anything changed one bit by such a picture? Killing enemy soldiers is what war is. And a fuel-air ordnance attack is probably on the gentle end of the quick-painless to slow-agonizing continuum of war deaths -- preferable to bleeding out from a dozen shrapnel wounds after a mortar burst, dying of dysentery from contaminated water in the trenches, what have you. People don't fight war because they don't know war is terrible, they fight war because (for better or worse) they think the terribleness is worth it.

Sure thing, Eugene B. Sledge.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:36 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Electronics alter what we see these days and how we get to see things. We sometimes have photos that have been photo shopped and presented as "news" when in fact it is propaganda. The we have horrible photos that some tabloid places are glade to make available, as in this gallery of ISIS Atrocities...
But even back to the Civil War, photographs were "played with" and bodies posed since taking photos then required stillness to take the shots and thus no battle shots but mostly death scenes.
posted by Postroad at 12:03 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I was only 13 at the time, so my memory might be wrong, but I don't remember any protests

I was only 12 at the time and I MARCHED in the damn protests in Seattle. Pretty sure they actually happened and weren't just my pubescent hallucination.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:33 PM on August 9 [8 favorites]


I wonder if I could commission G. Bush to paint this image for me?

If you don't mind him adding that little doggie of his in the background I bet he'd do it.
posted by Renoroc at 1:36 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


I was teaching a course on Pacifism and Just War Theory just around 2000 when this photo showed up on the back of Adbusters magazine; I brought it to class, not just because it was *informative* (which, I would argue, it is), but also because these soldiers were retreating when burned alive (as I recall).

I absolutely think that citizens of a country that has gone to war are responsible for knowing what will happen as a result of their country's actions. I also think that such photos make clear that "the enemy" is human -- we "know" that, but it's important to know in an affective way, and for many of us, seeing such photos brings this kind of knowledge.

Finally, I think folks are being needlessly pedantic about the claim that "no one" printed the photo -- for reasonable purposes, if it doesn't end up in one of the mainstream papers (now news sites and blogs), it *hasn't* been printed. We make use of this sense of "no one" all the time colloquially, and it's a bit of a derail to focus on that here.
posted by allthinky at 1:38 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]


I was only 12 at the time and I MARCHED in the damn protests in Seattle.

In that poster's defense, they immediately apologized for the mistake. On the other hand, I think it's more salient that they don't remember what were actually many large-scale protests, and I think it's because they were presented as "look at this bunch of hippies that nobody cares about." What was in the media at the time was a bunch of "Saddam killed the Kuwaiti incubator babies"/'nintendo-war' night vision footage of 'precision strikes'/rah-rah Patriot Missile infomercial/heroic Stormin' Norman crap.

What I took from the experience (particularly because in SF the anti-war marches degenerated into regularly scheduled looting/rioting) was that it doesn't work- which was borne out by the even-more-massive, media-marginalized rallies against Gulf War II. It might work differently in Europe, but here I think it's easy enough to figure "welp, none of those puppet-wielding black-bloc-embracing Mumia-freeing riff-raff are going to vote for one of the Bushes anyway, so who gives a fuck what they think."
posted by hap_hazard at 1:59 PM on August 9


it doesn't work- which was borne out by the even-more-massive, media-marginalized rallies against Gulf War II.

The anti-Vietnam war and civil rights movements in the sixties had an impact. The anti-apartheid movement eventually had an impact. In Ukraine the 'Euromaidan' protests had a big impact. Protests were not going to stop the Iraq war, but they absolutely should have gone on anyway. I have great memories of the marches I went on in San Diego. The older ladies from the Methodist church were the greatest. How could they be more effective? I think you just have to get more of the country behind it. It took a long time to turn the country against Vietnam as I understand it. Gay rights has taken a long time, but the majority of the country is probably behind it now.
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:17 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


The first Gulf War was mostly shown to Americans via black and white videos from the gun sights of "smart bombs". No people, no blood, just flashes of greenish light showing how great the war for Kuwaiti democracy was going. When I was 14 years old I took a trip with my family to New Orleans and remember seeing xeroxes of Jarecke's photo that had been wheatpasted on telephone poles by activists. It left an indelible impression on me.
posted by warreng at 2:41 PM on August 9


That photo was all over British newspapers at the time. It had a lot of influence on how the public saw the first and especially the second Gulf War. Massive demonstrations against, for what it was worth.

I also can't handle photographs of child casualties at all.
posted by glasseyes at 6:04 PM on August 9


That charred dude was among the thousands caught in the so called "Turkey Shoot" that was the Iraqi army's attempted retreat, right?


Think on the appropriateness of that term for a moment, and then think of the nature of the folks who conceived the term, and of those who laughed about it later. We did not see that particular image, but they showed us plenty of others from that massacre. And we were satisfied with what we had wrought. I don't think this especially heinous image from Turkey Shoot would have altered that.
posted by notyou at 7:10 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


The Marianas Turkey Shoot occurred in World War 2 which may be where the term came from. I'm guessing slangy terms for battles and such go back to the dawn of warfare. I'm actually less concerned with the soldiers coping that way than with the politicians who order them to do it.
posted by Justinian at 7:55 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


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