Who Gets to Decide Who Sees War Photos?

This past week saw a lot of discussion about the AP’s decision to run a photo of a mortally wounded marine. Some, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, balked – he called their insensitivity “appalling.” Others felt it was a true depiction of war, which is – of course – brutal. Regardless, the images that are coming out of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are nowhere near as searing or evocative as those seen in the Vietnam era. This could be my perception, undoubtedly clouded by the fact that I distrust the government that got us into the mess in the first place, but when photos of coffins of dead soldiers have been banned, you know that we’re not getting the full story.

The controversial photo shows Cpl. Joshua Bernard with his legs severely mangled (or gone) after he was hit by a grenade in an ambush in Afghanistan in August. He died soon after. The photographer, Julie Jacobson, later wrote in her journal about showing the marine’s comrades the photos she’d taken that day:

“They did stop when they came to that moment,” she said. “But none of them complained or grew angry about it. They understood that it was what it was. They understand, despite that he was their friend, it was the reality of things.”

Incidentally, the AP held the photo for three weeks before deciding to publish it. And those who think it was a decision based on sensationalism or money are, I believe, woefully misinformed. Apart from Gates and the military and family objections, I’d really be interested to hear what soldiers fighting over there think – if they object to real and raw, sometimes gruesome, images coming out, or if they see them as a testament to their sacrifice and tangible evidence that real lives are being lost every day.

In his blog, journalist and ASU professor Tim McGuire hits the nail on the head – and he doesn’t think families get to decide what photos are seen in the media.

In Salon, Michael Winship thinks the photo reminds us of a war that’s now gone on longer than World War I and II combined.

Watch a photo montage of the day of the ambush, narrated by Julie Jacobson here.

By the way, if you haven’t seen The Hurt Locker, you should.

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