Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cost of War

According to an AFP article "Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday lifted a ban on media coverage of the return of flag-draped coffins of fallen soldiers from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, reversing a controversial policy dating back to 1991."

There are many reasons, valid and contrived, for why the ban was imposed in the first place. And many reasons why it should or should not be lifted.

Gates said that he lifted the ban in order to allow the families to make the decision themselves. Makes sense. However, what if people (families) use something that should be a solemn and respectful thing to promote their own political views? One photo can be used over and over - crop it, blow it up, whatever, it is possible to make one photo look like many. In the photo accompanying the article above, all you see is a cargo hold full of flag draped coffins. The photo is actually from the first Gulf War. Yet, just looking at it, especially without a caption, it could easily be confused for a casualty from the current war.

Ralph Begleiter, a journalism professor at the University of Delaware who sued the Pentagon to force the release in 2005 of pictures taken by military photographers at Dover, said lifting the ban was important so the "American people could see the cost of war" and that without the photos that aspect is "invisible, undebated and undiscussed by American people." What I find sad about this statement is that the "cost of war" is there in every list of names published in a paper or magazine or scrolling on the screen on TV. The "cost of war" is there in the fresh graves at Arlington and other military and community cemeteries around the country. If the "cost of war" is not debated or discussed by American people it is not because it is invisible.

Is it just that people don't see it? Have people become numb to the "long" war? Have they become cushioned from the "cost" because of some false sense of security? Have they lost sight of the fact that they can feel "safe" in their homes because there are others willing to pay the "cost" for them? Will seeing a photo of a flag draped coffin change any of that?

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