Saturday, 5 September 2009

POV: To Publish or Not?

After 3 weeks of deliberation, the Associated Press released a graphic photograph by Julie Jacobson of Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard shortly after he was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade during a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan. Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard was mortally wounded and died shortly thereafter.

The New York Times has the whole story here.

Naturally, both the knee-jerk and the well reasoned outrage at AP's decision to publish such a photograph have been the subject of many op-eds, newspaper articles, commentary and blog posts. It is not the first time (nor the last) that the issue is whether the public is better served by seeing what really happens in war, or whether it's better to shield us from the ugliness of war, and to protect the privacy of the American families who lose loved ones in these conflicts.

In this case, the father of Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard specifically requested AP not to show the photograph, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates intervened personally to ask not have the photos published.

It's a tough call, isn't it? But I reluctantly side with those who believe that showing such images conveys to the viewing public the atrocity, the complexity, the brutality, and the sacrifices of war. We should not allow ourselves to be anesthetized by deliberate governmental or military censorship, often disguised by proclamations of "respect for the families". These are the same people who send our children to war, knowing full well how horrific it is. Mr. Gates pleaded with AP not to show the image of this (in his words) "maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers...." Yet, children like Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard have been sent to war by Mr. Gates and his predecessor by a mere stroke of their pens...and precious lives have been lost, and will continue to be lost.

Every day we see photographs of Iraqi corpses, Palestinians horribly maimed, Afghan women with horrific burns, Congolese civilians beheaded, and many others. They are also loved ones and have families too, yet we show them in our publications without even thinking twice. Yes, sometimes, a gentle soul at one of the newspapers inserts a caution before the graphic images...but they still end up on our front pages, don't they?

Yes, sometimes war is necessary and sometimes it's forced on us...and having taken the momentous decision to send our own to war, we should accept, and see, its atrocious consequences.

Finally, why hasn't the AP shown similar photographs during the previous Administration? If it did, perhaps we wouldn't be in this mess.