Friday, October 08, 2004

The truth behind the pictures
For those of you who saw Keith's post regarding the Pentagon's refusal to release images of coffins returning from Iraq, I'd like to point you to two columns from the Wall Street Journal.

The first was published several months ago, and was written by Ronald Griffin, whose son died in a truck accident in Tikrit. He is firmly committed to keeping the images out of the public eye, for the sake of the other families who have lost sons and daughters. He adamently insists that the pain and suffering of these families not be used for political leverage on the national stage.

"Steve Capus, executive producer of 'NBC Nightly News,' arrogantly and presumptuously spoke for me when he stated, 'It would seem that the only reason somebody would come out against the use of these pictures is that they are worried about the political fallout.' Well I am that 'somebody,' and as I looked at those pictures the tears were not running because of my worry about political fallout. In all the criticism there has never once been put forth a single argument of how having the media coverage lifted would be of benefit to the loved ones of these heroes. We are never taken into account. We are the collateral damage in this all so obvious ideological struggle [...] Had the media ban not been in effect, we, the families of fallen soldiers, would not have had these moments to ourselves. Without the ban, it is conceivable that I could have viewed a procession of flag-draped coffins as they disembarked from the aircraft. But how would the families of those other fallen heroes, who would be unable to come to Dover because they lived in Iowa or North Dakota or Arizona, feel when they viewed on TV their loved ones arriving? Would they feel the honor that was being bestowed upon them from all those other Americans? Or would they suffer further when the pictures were used in the context of criticism?"
The second comes from today's OpinionJournal, and points out the absurdity of the argument that the images must be released in order for the public to understand the true costs of the war:
"Prof. Begleiter, who teaches at the J-school at the University of Delaware, told me in an e-mail--courteously and freely--that he filed suit because the Pentagon's policy of 'keeping the images secret has been inconsistently applied.' It has 'periodically made some images public, including some from Afghanistan,' but is not permitting dissemination of images of coffins from Iraq. 'I am making this request,' he explained--with the e-mail equivalent of a straight face--'to settle the policy.' Oh, and 'to force the government to either deny or grant the public the ability to properly assess the cost of war.'
So there you have it. Prof. Begleiter's suit is in the service of the public--an act of civic duty--done to steer rudderless Americans (War dead? What war dead?) in the direction of The True Picture. 'I believe the picture should be complete,' he told me. 'Images of war casualties are an age-old component of the cost of war.'
So: Without Prof. Begleiter and his exquisite concern for every part of the jigsaw, without his selfless Samaritan's lawsuit against the Pentagon, without these pictures of coffins draped in flags--lowered daily from the belly of a transport plane--We, the People, Would Not Know.
If you read this and choke, you've probably lost a son in Iraq."
I offer these to you in the interest of open debate. Read Keith's piece, and the comments that follow, and then read these two OpinionJournal pieces.

Personally, I come down on the side of the latter. I cannot believe that the supposed gain from releasing these images, and having them in every news broadcast regarding casualties in Iraq from now until the last (think CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, 24/7), outweighs the suffering it will inflict on the families of the fallen, and the dishonor to the dead that will be done by the political opportunism of those opposed to the war when they get their hands on these pictures and video. It simply doesn't make sense to me that the public is stupid enough not to know that 1000 deaths is a high cost, or that there is any other reason we need to see these images. Like today's WSJ editorial, I think it is summed up nicely by what Mr. Griffin wishes he could say to the journalism professor sueing to get these pictures released: "If I were to talk to Prof. Begleiter, I'd say: 'Hey, you don't need to see the pictures. The American public doesn't need to see them. If they don't already know about the war in Iraq, and that people are dying there, then shame on them.'"

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