A reader writes:
I have to agree with the dissenter of the day when he said that there should be some sort of warning before being subjected to those disturbing photos. I know for myself that not only could I not read that posting, but I couldn't read the one above it either because part of the photo would appear in my browser.
At no point did he say that those photos shouldn't be published and I'm not either, just that they shouldn't be published on the front page and some warning should be given that photos who some may consider disturbing appear after the jump. Besides, you've already set a precedent for this with other photos of a more sexual nature. I have seen "NSFW after the jump". If you've determined that sexually suggestive photos should be given that caveat, I don't see why violent ones shouldn't either.
When it takes a viewing of The Hurt Locker for people to understand and be disturbed by what is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, clearly something is wrong. We, the public, have been shielded from the suffering and horror faced by young men and women who chose for whatever reason to join the military. We do them and the entire military a disservice when our daily reminder is a well-intended formal portrait on the evening news rather than the reality and ugliness of combat.
I agree with your response to your reader. Let me say that I think his request was a reasonable one, but the case for publishing those photos in broad daylight is too profound to let the sensitivities of those whose stomachs are too weak to handle them influence the manner of their display.
The historical case for this approach to journalism is all too strong. The active coverage of war zones in Vietnam was one of the primary reasons why the protests against it were so spirited. Going back farther, you can see the folly of our American ancestors in the romanticizing of war, to the point where people viewed pitched battles as entertainment, not knowing the horror that they would soon witness as bodies were shattered by musket balls and artillery rounds.
Compare this to the Bush-era policy of not allowing the caskets of dead soldiers returning from a war zone to be filmed by camera crews. Why? Why not show the American public the awful price of war? Why are we hiding the inevitable results of armed conflict from the public? Is it because if they have to see dead American sons and daughters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, they might be a little less supportive of the war?
There is a photo that galvanized me against the war in Iraq shortly after we invaded Baghdad. It is shocking, graphic, grizzly, and heart-breaking all at once: it showed an Iraqi boy who'd had both his arms blown off by shrapnel from a tomahawk missile. He was in obvious pain, and disfigured horribly. It is terrible to look upon, but that is the price of waging war. Innocent people die. And it has been my experience (and yours as well it seems), that unless you shove these photos in peoples' faces, they will refuse to look at them.
If we truly believe a war (or in Israel's case, a pattern of military action) is just, we should be willing to look upon these photos and accept responsibility for them. Graphic photos such as the one you posted expose hard truths to those who view them, and force them to consider their opinion of the policies that created the circumstances for that photo to be taken.
When I first read your response to the Dissent of The Day I thought you were way out of line. But the more I thought about it the more I started to agree with you and your position to show the picture. I hated seeing that photograph. I was angry at you for having put it out in the open for me to see. By the same token the ability to edit my reality as I see fit is perhaps more dangerous and more disturbing possibility. The internet, while availing us of the opportunity to view all sorts of things we might otherwise not have seen or heard about also affords us the unique ability to see only what we want to see, to listen only to those with whom we agree.
For a generation raised on Grand Theft Auto and Second Life, it can be a challenge to bring the horrors of war and tyranny to full consciousness. My day came in 1992 when I saw my first graphic image of a Gulf War casualty, burned to a crisp at the wheel of his jeep. I saw it at a photography exhibit in Germany; we in the US only saw nightcam images of tracers from the planes far above the action. So we X-ers aren't much better on that front. Kudos to you for reminding us all of the brutality we must fight to end, and what's on the line when we choose to do so.
(Photo: one night's victims of sectarian murders in Baquba, Iraq, under US occupation, by Yussef Ali/Getty.)