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"It was so peaceful a death, that I felt its reproduction would not be in bad taste. But there probably would be another school of thought on this."
February 4, 2008 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Before a hill, a figure rests, his hands folded. His face retains a unsettling demeanor of peace, or contemplation. Whatever thoughts come to his mind at this point, we shall never know, for he shall never awake from his slumber. [via]

On Sunday, February 3rd, 2008, the Associated Press published the photo of slain journalist Ernie Pyle.

Among those who recalled the incident, Richard Strasser was "The Army photographer who crawled forward under fire to make this picture later said it was withheld by military officials." Now in his eighties, he regrets not having sent a copy of the image to Pyle's widow.
posted by Smart Dalek (36 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
as someone who will be walking past ernie plye hall on IU-bloomington's campus later today, i thank you for this post.
posted by CitizenD at 8:18 AM on February 4, 2008


I was getting ready to post that myself. A sad image. I recently saw The Story of G.I. Joe (with Burgess Meredith playing Pyle) for the first time and thought it was a better-than-average WWII flick. Released near the end of the war, it was less gung-ho and more realistic than many war movies. Not too long ago, the PBS series History Detectives did a sequence about Pyle's typwriter, which was interesting.
posted by Man-Thing at 8:24 AM on February 4, 2008


For those that might have missed the earlier thread, 4000 "lost" Robert Capa negatives were recently unearthed in Mexico City, apparently in pristine condition.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:57 AM on February 4, 2008


Thanks for the post. It's stirring up thoughts about how Our Modern War has cameras everywhere recording this and that, and how much footage of it we'll probably never see for another sixty+ years.
posted by not_on_display at 9:07 AM on February 4, 2008


MetaFilter is an American weblog. Foreigners here, whether European or Asians, are mere tokens. Perhaps we should all give up the international pretense. The truth is that MetaFilter, for those of us not lucky (or, to be frank, unluckly) enough to live in the Texas or Alabama, is fast becoming a domestic concern with an ever-decreasing regard for what happens in the (enormous) rest of the world. Whereas (the few remaining) foreigners here are curious about America, Americans here seem boringly and predictably obsessed with themselves. Is isolationism the growing trend on this board? It certainly seems so. Say the word, by the way, and you can have it all to yourselves, no hard feelings.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:39 AM on February 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


What?
posted by cortex at 9:43 AM on February 4, 2008


PeterMcdermott, I have three words for you:

America, Fuck Yeah!

maybe all u furriners cud poast sum innersting stuhf bout yur kuntrees sted uf jist dissin' us borin unkulterd eyesolashionist innbread nukle draggers.
posted by prodigalsun at 9:49 AM on February 4, 2008


PMD: What was that all about?

Myself, I'm glad he never sent a picture to Pyle's widow. She had enough mental and emotional issues as it was. That picture might have sent her completely around the bend.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:57 AM on February 4, 2008


Now, having just read the Dave's Poll thread, PeterMcdermott, Touche, very well played, sir!
posted by prodigalsun at 9:58 AM on February 4, 2008


Good post. It made me unusually sad for some reason. The photo at the top of this page always chokes me up too. An apropos quote from Pyle, found on the blog I linked to:

You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don't ask silly questions.
posted by marxchivist at 10:00 AM on February 4, 2008


You should all be so lucky as to live in "the Texas".
posted by Burhanistan at 10:04 AM on February 4, 2008


Oh, pmd get over yourself. All experience is local, all politics is local, ... at least at first.
And then the dispersion happens. Read what you like, write what you like.

??
posted by sea at 10:07 AM on February 4, 2008


Peter McDermott, though you have a point, this previously withheld photo was taken during World War II on foreign soil (specifically, Ie Shima island). American was not the only country who lost men and women during that war (or even during that battle and Okinawa), and the fact that distressing photos are withheld from the public during times of war by is not exclusive to America.
posted by misha at 10:13 AM on February 4, 2008


Context is golden.
posted by noble_rot at 10:14 AM on February 4, 2008


Some more context.
posted by Zero Gravitas at 10:28 AM on February 4, 2008


Boy, that contextual stuff is real interesting, Peter. I'd like to hear your explanation / justtification, and I bet I'm not the only one.

<> Bloody foreigners! <>
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:35 AM on February 4, 2008


I wonder if PMD's point includes that, a post about say, a Belgian journalist with no international reputation, would say "Belgian journalist" and "Belgian Army"? USA is the default country on Metafilter, no doubt, much like "Man" is the default human. [NOT FOREIGNIST] certainly [NOT HUMANIST]
posted by Rumple at 10:56 AM on February 4, 2008


Confusion over cross-thread reference having now been at least moderately cleared up, it would be totally okay to discuss stuff like Pyle, Strasser, the ethics of wartime photography, etc, rather than Peter's comment, eh?
posted by cortex at 11:00 AM on February 4, 2008


We don't show pictures of "our" dead from wars; only pictures of the "enemy" dead (or being hanged or shot or blown up).

We can't even show pictures of the coffins returning (recall that flap a few months ago?)
posted by PhiBetaKappa at 11:01 AM on February 4, 2008


I get it....foreigners killed Pyle. Those bastards! Anyways, lets not derail this thread with anymore of griping about membership make up, thats what Meta is for.

Thanks for posting this. I wonder how Pyle would have liked his death photograph, which by all appearances seems to have been posed to make for a serene and non-violent death. That is, it wasn't the truth of what had happened.
posted by Atreides at 11:02 AM on February 4, 2008


Some more context.

Boy, that Miguel could be an annoying blowhard.

Come back, Migs!
posted by languagehat at 11:09 AM on February 4, 2008


Pyle was hit in the head with a machine gun bullet, and he died instantly, without pain. No violent death is "serene" and being hit by a machine gun bullet certainly isn't "non-violent", but it was among the quicker and more clean ways of dying in WWII.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:38 PM on February 4, 2008


I'm probably wrong, but that shot of Pyle looks very posed. It reminded me immediately of Matthew Brady's Civil War work, much of which was posed and arranged.
posted by blaneyphoto at 12:47 PM on February 4, 2008


I agree, Steven, but the manner in which they apparently posed him after he was killed certainly implies a serenity to his passing, which I was trying to suggest in my first post. He's not fallen face down in the dirt or sprawled backwards with open eyes and mouth. Its like the counter to the posed pictures of Antietam, where the bodies were arranged to better effect the shocking nature of the pictures. The truth of his death conflicts with his journalistic goal of telling the folks at home what war was really about.
posted by Atreides at 12:47 PM on February 4, 2008


Peter, I think you should have linked to the earlier snark that you're trying to rebut.
posted by imperium at 12:48 PM on February 4, 2008


Sorta jinxed?
posted by Atreides at 12:48 PM on February 4, 2008


The truth of his death conflicts with his journalistic goal of telling the folks at home what war was really about.

I would disagree; if anything, it illustrates a series of cold ironies which few people consider to any great extent. Life can be fleeting - frighteningly so, and the shuffle or "organized" conflict can reduce any person into a pawn or statistic. Brutality, whether provoked, or in reluctant retaliation, can be as harrowing as starvation, sickness or freezing. But death is something we can't escape, even through allegories or platitudes. Few monuments can truly help wash away the guilt and shame of a horrendous, or stupid event. But if we can also consider the quiet passing of others, how faces can vanish through age, or blind fate, then in turn we can better understand what's meant - in collective terms- by the notion of "humanity".
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:07 PM on February 4, 2008


The truth of his death conflicts with his journalistic goal of telling the folks at home what war was really about.

I don't agree with that. Pyle was indeed trying to tell folks at home what the war was really about, and part of that was that he talked about casualties. One of the most amazing sections of "Brave Men" was where he wrote about walking on Omaha Beach a couple of days after the invasion, before all the dead bodies had been cleaned up.

Death is a part of war, and Pyle didn't try to disguise that. He certainly knew that he could be killed at any moment; once in a while he brooded about it a bit. He also wrote about friends of his, other journalists, who had been killed.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:24 PM on February 4, 2008


but the manner in which they apparently posed him after he was killed

Is there any citation for the notion that he was in fact posed? I understand that he looks unusually peacefully arranged, and I realize that the idea of a posed wartime photograph is far from unheard of, but is there something backing up the idea that that's what happened in this case? From the article:

Roberts went to the scene, and despite continuing enemy fire, crept forward—a "laborious, dirt-eating crawl," he later called it—to record the scene with his Speed Graphic camera. His risky act earned Roberts a Bronze Star medal for valor.

That does not sound like a situation where posing the body would have been on the priority list, but I realize that's as much interpretation as is the it-was-posed argument, barring something more specific settling it. But my impression is that this is a notable photograph for the twin reasons of subject and serendipitous arrangement.
posted by cortex at 1:33 PM on February 4, 2008


Confusion over cross-thread reference having now been at least moderately cleared up, it would be totally okay to discuss stuff like Pyle, Strasser, the ethics of wartime photography, etc, rather than Peter's comment, eh?

Bah. This notion pales in contrast to the anticipation I was feeling for a really, really classic flameout. We can talk about pictures any old time, but spontaneous combustion is something you've got to keep a keen eye out for.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:22 PM on February 4, 2008


I think I know the source of confusion here. The way I heard it, Pyle was driving around, and stopped to talk to some infantry marching on a road. A Japanese machine gun opened up on them, and they all jumped into a ditch, Pyle along with everyone else.

Eventually the fire stopped. Pyle stuck his head up to take a look, and was struck with a bullet in the middle of his forehead and died instantly.

Once fire was lifted, I think the men he was with would have laid his body out straight, and that's how he was when the cameraman found him.

So the body isn't the way it was just after he died, but it isn't a case of deliberate posing by the cameraman, either.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:36 PM on February 4, 2008


Thanks, Steven, that's what I considered to be the sequence of events concerning Pyle's death and arrangement. It was a poor choice of words to say he was posed, but he was positioned. My suggestion is that he might have preferred the memorial picture of him be taken prior to this, rather than after.
posted by Atreides at 3:14 PM on February 4, 2008


Eventually the fire stopped. Pyle stuck his head up to take a look, and was struck with a bullet in the middle of his forehead and died instantly.

Perhaps someone yelled "GET DOWN" and he jumped up and started dancing.
posted by Rumple at 5:33 PM on February 4, 2008


This is cool and I wouldn't have found it otherwise; thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:18 PM on February 4, 2008


Surely the inspiration for the name of the traffic reporter in The Simpsons.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:51 PM on February 4, 2008


I've long been a fan of Pyle's prose - he's definitely one of those people that make you wonder what he'd have written about had he made it home from the war. Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II is a good read - but you can also find 40 of Ernie Pyle's columns online.

Also, re: PMD - feeding Obvious Trolls never does work.
posted by batgrlHG at 11:41 PM on February 4, 2008


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