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The Photo and the Secretary

The decision of the Associated Press to run a photograph of a dying U.S. Marine drew fire from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.  In a letter he released publicly, Gates called the AP decision “appalling.  The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency.”  The AP said it decided to make the image public because it “conveys the griminess of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it.”

Gates is more upset about the image of a dying Marine gaining currency than he is about the multiple wars in which the U.S. is currently engaged.  The Bush regime especially has been adept at controlling and sanitizing the images of war, prohibiting photos of flag-draped caskets or military burial services.  As if war were a distant abstraction, without bloody, fatal consequences.

What is “appalling” of course, and beyond any rational “judgment and common decency” are the wars themselves, in Iraq – built on lies – and in Afghanistan – purportedly in revenge against a Saudi guerilla there.  Neither conflict can be justified or withstand scrutiny – moral or political – but that does not bother Robert Gates.  His brief is to run the wars, test the weapons, keep the military in fighting trim and try to minimize the psychic damage to the American soul.  That was why he protested the photo.  Psychic damage.

What we need is many more photos, of dead and wounded U.S. fighting men and women.  But also of Iraqi and Afghani civilians.  Why does AP not show us the torn and bloody children of our “muscular foreign policy”?  The American people are not nearly appalled enough by the wanton destruction committed in our name.  There is no strategy worth this carnage.  Control of petro resources cannot justify this ongoing murder.

AP needs to fill the pages of its clients’ publications with the wages of our sins of aggression.  Some Americans will not be affected, but the majority might be angry enough to speak up at last against these obscene “appalling” exercises in futility.  The consequences are real, to bodies and minds, of soldiers and civilians.  So we deserve to see those consequences for ourselves, to understand the policies rational planners like Gates and now his cohorts in the Obama regime have accomplished, flying in the face of “law… or constitutional right.”  Not to mention common decency.

JAMES McENTEER is the author of Shooting the Truth: the Rise of American Political Documentaries (Praeger 2006). He lives in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

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James McEnteer’s most recent book is Acting Like It Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty DepartmentHe lives in Quito, Ecuador.

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