Yesterday marked an important day for news media and proponents of the free press. That is, for the first time in 18 years the press will be able to show to the public the true cost of war. Beginning in 1991, during the Gulf War, George H. W. Bush’s administration banned the media from publishing photos of the war dead. What better way, after all, to subdue and placate the population than to completely dehumanize the massive loss of human life? This propaganda tactic of camouflaging the human cost of war was used by Bill Clinton and, more prominently, George W. Bush during their aggressive wars. Never mind that the families may have wanted to publicize the photos of these fallen heroes–we need to garner support for our bloody wars. We can’t do that if we’re showing the flag-draped caskets, now can we?
I’m glad Obama’s administration and Robert Gates have chosen to reverse this perverted policy. But, to be sure, the change only allows the media to publish photos of the coffins arriving in Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. We should recognize that for what it is, which is a completely sanitized glimpse of the horrors of war, unapologetically censored by the American media and government.
In our endeavors to openly discuss the wars, we should keep in mind not to become complacent as we all too often do when talking about such things. An honest account of war should include even the images we do not wish to see. Would it have sufficed to simply say the atrocities at Warsaw were wrong and regrettable? Would anyone argue that censoring the ghastly photos of Nazi brutality is equitable and appropriate for civilized society? No, of course not. They are there to show the kind of suffering that no person should ever have to go through again; they are there to remind us that we, as human beings, can never again tolerate those tragedies. We should not continue to support the censorship of graphic images that arise from war. They should serve to remind every one of us that no war comes without an ultimate cost that no person should bear.