Can Photos From Gaza Help Blaze The Path To Peace?
Amy Goodman, iconic host of the popular independent Pacifica news program, Democracy Now, has been quoted frequently stating:
“I really do think that if for one week in the United States we saw the true face of war, we saw people's limbs sheared off, we saw kids blown apart, for one week, war would be eradicated..."
It's easy to argue that graphic images of the carnage of war evoke lasting impressions on those who view them. Few people can forget the horrific photos from Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bomb or the suffering faces and emaciated bodies from the Holocaust. Indeed some of history's most memorable and haunting photographic images arise from war. For people of my era, who lived through the time of Vietnam, the image of naked nine year old Kim Phuc, running, arms in air, screaming, her back seared from napalm, is carved into our memories. Many believe as I do, that Kim's photo, taken by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, for which he earned a Pulitzer Prize, swayed public opinion enough that it helped to end the war.
Interestingly, audio tapes of a cynical Richard Nixon, famous for his hatred of media and his belief that it conspired to take him down, reveal Nixon thought Ut's photo was altered. But it wasn't altered. It was painfully real.
One can't emphasize enough the unique ability media has to influence public opinion. In America, and most countries, media is routinely used by governments to manipulate consensus for, or opposition to, public policy. The George W. Bush administration was particularly adept at using corporate media and right-leaning independent media to push acceptance for attacking Iraq. But once the war began, Bush, Cheney, et al, were equally adept at keeping the visual images of Iraqi deaths from the public eye; quite a feat since some reports estimate Iraqi casualties to number as high as one-million. Of course, embedding compliant journalists made censoring graphic photos a fairly simple task.
But it wasn't only images of dead and wounded Iraqis that Bush, Cheney, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and submissive photo journalists hid from the American people. They also hid the highly emotional images of flag-draped coffins of American troops being transported home to their families. Only after a successful ruling of an October 2004 Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed by University of Delaware Professor Ralph Begleiter, were more than 700 photos of flag-draped military caskets released in April 2005. But it wasn't until February 2009, during the Presidency of Barack Obama, that the ban on viewing coffins was officially lifted.
One might presume that since President Obama lifted the ban, he was more inclined toward transparency, but nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout his first term as President, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were still being waged, few photos of civilian or military casualties were seen by the public. The same is true of photos of the many casualties, including civilians, of Obama's covert and highly controversial weaponized drone attacks. Photos of drone casualties are never broadcast and difficult to find . If one googles "US drone attack photos," "US drone attack victims," or similar word combinations, hardly any drone victim photos on English language websites appear. Hence most Americans, upon hearing the words weaponized drones, don't conjure images of bloodied dead children, strewn body parts and decapitations, although they should, because that is the job of the drones.
Bottom line: war is heinous and perverse. As Amy Goodman posits, seeing images of sheared off limbs and blown apart kids should evoke a righteous revulsion for war. The limp and bloodied body of a child is a travesty, a crime, and for most people (sadly not all), nearly impossible to justify - which is why those who orchestrate war try so hard to conceal its results.