Monday, April 6, 2009
So here it is: the first photos of the coffin of an American soldier returned to Dover Air Force Base. This is an issue that has raged since the ban on such photos in 1991. The NYT reports that this is "Air Force Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers of Hopewell, Va.... Sergeant Myers, 30, was killed by an improvised explosive device near Helmand Province in Afghanistan on April 4, according to the Defense Department."
The new policy states that families must give permission for the photos which is an improvement over full media access, or non-access, to such occurrences. I can see both sides of the debate on this issue: one side cites this as a private moment and emotional moment for the family. The other side sees it as a free speech issue. As is often the case, it is all more complex than that.
That the family must consent to the photographs is an important point. The bodies in the returning coffins are not publicly identified so pressure is removed from the families to actually be there when they arrive. If the soldier has been identified publicly it is because the family has given consent, as in this case.
The problem lies primarily in the fact that the media is apt to use these photographs as a propaganda tool against the war and against our soldiers currently serving. The NYT has the quotes, both pro and con, from a few military families on the issue here.
The comments on the NYT post (linked above) seem to be favorable to the new photo policy, even while there are still some nutroots out there stilll blaming George Bush for it all.
It seems to me that the Pentagon has covered the bases as best they can on this issue. By turning the decision over to the families seems to be the right call, however, one must still be cautious of media manipulation. There is no doubt that these photographs can be used as a propaganda tool and that would be a total disservice to all; I am reminded of Cindy Sheehan; while I in no way want to minimize her loss, I also felt that she diminished the accomplishments and the honor of service of her son by her actions by turning him into a tool for the anti-war left.
The bottom line is that an image on its own simply reminds us of the sacrifice of our soldiers. It should not be used as a political statement either for or against the war.
(Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times)