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.
Operation Pillar of Defense
In Israel's recent incursion into Gaza, dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas and Israel faced off in an uneven battle. Hamas' long range missiles, most of which were intercepted by Israel's state of the art American-made defense system, flew into Israel as far as the areas around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, reportedly taking the lives of six Israelis and injuring many more.
For its part, Israel bombarded Gaza using American-made F-16 fighter-bombers and American-made Apache helicopter gun ships that repeatedly dropped American-made bombs into heavily populated areas. As of now, the eight long and brutal days of bombing, resulted in 170 Gazan deaths and reportedly over 1000 wounded.
Journalists Under Fire
As is often the case in the middle east, the incursion into Gaza caught the attention of the world. Journalists from across the globe made their way into Gaza to cover Operation Pillar of Defense. Unlike other battles, fought in remote regions spread across a vast mass of territory (think Afghanistan), Gaza's war zone was the impoverished, densely populated small strip of land that has long been controlled by Israel. In this condensed arena, journalists were in just as much danger as Gaza's civilian population, and they suffered greatly for being there. Israel attacked their hotels and dropped bombs on their cars, killing several Palestinian journalists and injuring many more. As a result, Israel is facing accusations from several fronts of purposely targeting journalists, but it rejects all such charges.
The most vocal challenger of Israel's aggression is Abby Martin, a TV anchor for Russia's RT station. After Israel accused Martin of being a terror sympathizer, Martin hit back at Israel on her show in a no-holds-barred lashing for Israel's bombing of RT's office in Gaza. She excoriated Israel for verbally attacking her after she characterized it as an apartheid state, and she pummeled Israel for deliberately targeting journalists. It's a performance worth watching for its fearlessness in confronting Israel directly - which American journalists and the American government lack the courage to do.
Despite the extreme dangers for journalists covering Operation Pillar of Defense, one positive (which is equally a negative) was the fact that it was fought in so confined an area that journalists didn't need travel great distances to get their stories. Reaching dead and injured victims or locating the charred and damaged remains of homes, businesses and mosques was often a matter of following explosions as they happened. Journalists were able to arrive on scene in a short enough time to photograph the dead and wounded and document the brutal events while they were still fresh. As a result, a large number of gruesome and disturbing photos made their way to newspapers and online news sites around the world. Many of the photos were of fallen children, which increased the already widespread and loud condemnation of Israel for being overly aggressive and reckless in bombarding areas populated by innocent civilians - including children.
Israel, which sees itself as the world's perpetual victim, an increasingly implausible portrayal, went on an all-out media offensive against journalists who photographed the casualties. Understanding how incriminating images of massive explosions, battered bodies, demolished buildings, dead babies and grieving families could be for Israel, Israel deployed every available surrogate to appear on as many international media platforms as possible to parrot the story that Israel had been forced to defend its people against the relentless assault by Hamas.