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Censorship American-Style: Hiding US War Dead

By Dave Lindorff

The Obama administration's freak out, as expressed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, over the Associated Press Agency's belated circulation of a photograph of a dying US soldier in Afghanistan, Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, is the latest of example of the hypocrisy of US authorities who claim to be concerned about the feelings of American military families, while really simply desiring to censor the war's horrors from the eyes of the American people.

Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard, fatally wounded in Afghanistan, AP Photo

The truth: Americans until only the last 18 years, have been able to see the carnage of war as it has been felt by our own troops from as long ago as there were cameras. Pioneering photographer and war chronicler Matthew Bradey brought home the horrors of the US Civil War with photos like this one of dead Union and Confederate soldiers after the Battle of Antietam.

Matthew Brady photo of the dead at the Civil War Battle of Antietam

In World War II, while the military tried to prevent publication of the photos of dead American troops at first, by 1944, President Roosevelt lifted the ban, hoping that the images would fire up American resolve on the home front.

Dead GIs on the European front in WWII

Although it was a much less popular war, photos of American dead were plentiful from the Korean War.

Army chaplain prays over US dead in Korea

Vietnam was awash in press photographers, and the Pentagon never banned them from depicting American casualties.

Dead US soldier carried to waiting helicopter in Vietnam

In fact, when American policy-makers talk about the "lesson of Vietnam," they generally aren't talking about the real lesson of not sending American troops to fight unpopular wars, or of not intervening on the side of corrupt regimes in wars of national liberation, or of not fighting in wars where there is no chance of the US winning. They're talking about the "lesson" of not letting the American people learn the real nature and cost of the war in question.

That's why journalists--and particularly American journalists--since Vietnam have been kept on short leashes, and why they are vetted by Pentagon officials and hired media "experts" before they are allowed to be "embedded" with units in the field. It's why the Reagan administation had a navy destroyer turn its guns on, and threaten to sink a small boat carrying reporters trying to make its way to Grenada to cover the US invasion of that island. And it's why since the Gulf War in 1990-91, photographs of American battlefield dead have been banned.

AP deserves credit for finally breaking the ban and offering its photo of a dying soldier, shot in a firefight with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan--even if the news agency did wait three weeks to offer the photo to subscribers. The real shame is that so few American newspapers and electronic media organizations chose to run that photo.

Gates claims that AP was "insensitive" to the dead soldier's relatives, but it's hard to see how that can be. The real insensitive thing would be to try to hide his death from the public, as the Pentagon wanted to do. Hell, if the Afghan War is worth fighting, it should be worth dying for, and if it's worth dying for, and if young soldier Bernard gave his life for his country, his death and the manner of his death should not be hidden from his countrypeople. We should all see the terrible price he paid acting in our name.

Were the photographers and news organizations who showed American soldiers dead on the beach in the Pacific in World War II being insensitive?

Life magazine photo of dead marines on a beach in the Pacific in WWII

Were the photographers and news organizations who showed America's dead in Vietnam being insensitive?

Dead US soldier in a dry rice paddy in Vietnam

Were the photographers and news organizations who showed America's dead in Korea being insensitive?

Dead marines in Korea

Was the photographer and news organization which dared to break the ban and publish a photo of America's dead in the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq being insensitive?

I don't think so.

Moreover, there is a terrible double standard at work here, if news organizations accept the censorship or deem it inappropriate to show dead American bodies, but go ahead and show dead bodies of the enemy—photographs that the media seem to have no problem publishing (though surely it must be painful for their families).

US troops abuse a dead Viet Cong soldieer

Dead Iraqi fighter

After all, if all we see are dead enemy fighters, it might give the false impression that the war in question--in this case the Afghanistan War, or what might now be called Obama's War--is a one-sided affair where the only terrible casualties are those suffered by the "enemy," not by "our boys."

Dead Taliban fighter

Enough with the censorship! If we are going to be a warlike nation, if we are going to have a public that cheers everytime the government ships off men and women to fight and kill overseas in countries that most Americans cannot even locate on a globe, then let's make sure that everyone at least gets to see the blood and gore in full, including our own, and of course, also the civilian casualties of our military.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-area journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work can be found at

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John J.Coghlan

Censorship is understandable. It was photographs that swayed public opinion against the Vietnam War, that forced the government to end the war. They don't want that to happen again. The big problem is not just censorship, but the full use of propaganda by our government. They don't need government programs to do this. The corporate owned media does just what they are suppose to do, without even being told.

more "bloody" and disturbing than any of these photos, based on my memory, which may or may not be accurate. The impact of the US war, visuals with "dinner" for Americans, hastened
and increased the protest of the population. Hence, we don't see it anymore. Include the rarity of civilian deaths and injuries in
photos from Iraq and Afghanistan. I recall seeing some on
Dahr Jamail's blog from Iraq - the photos that were not too disturbing for me to look at. As an artist, I keep the visuals "forever" and can't erase them. Most notably, the little girl on the Vietnam road with napalm burning on her skin, from the NYTimes at the time, during the War, called
the American War in Vietnam, and the piles of the dead in the concentration camps when the US troops went in. Also, the photos of civilians, Jews, being shot in German occupied countries. Some very great photos were taken by Robert Capa and others)during several wars: Spanish Civil War, WWII,and others.
Photos end civilian support for government wars overseas. (And it was tv footage and photos of police dogs attacking Black people in Birmingham, AL, and cops using water hoses on people that made civil rights "visible"
to the majority of people in the US who didn't know or didn't want to know, in the 1960s.)

John J.Coghlan

Visual images are more powerful than the written word. Religious images, of Angil's on high, helped to in-slave Europe, for a thousand years, during the Middle Ages. Pictures generated support for WW2, and they created opposition to the Vietnam War.

For weeks the American Public were bombarded with images of the World Trade Center disasters. The television pictures said, look what they did to us. What are we going to do about it?

Those same pictures also told intellectuals, architects, structural engineers, and scientists that the story's that we were being given defied the laws of physics, and the laws of common sense. The photographs taken at the Pentagon, clearly showed that what we were told could not have happened.

Our Federal Government did not even look at all the evidence, or interview the witnesses at the crime scene. This is the standard procedure of all small police departments around the country, when a crime is committed. Within two days they had a full story of exactly what happened and who was responsible. They continually showed pictures of all the hijackers on TV, and than a video tape of Osama Bin Laden confessing to the crime. These images were so pounded into peoples minds that they hardly payed any attention when the Bin Laden tape was found to be a fake, and when many of the supposed hijackers were found to be alive and living in the Middle East.

The 9/11 Commission was put together, by George Bush, to collaborate the governments story, and that is what they did. I am not putting forward any theories of what could have happened on that day. I am just saying that a full and independent investigation is eight years overdue.

John J.Coghlan

A Zogby poll regarding 9/11 was conducted in August 2007. The results indicated that 51% of Americans wanted Congress to probe Bush/Cheney regarding the 9/11 attacks. Many people in this country, and around the world still have a long list of questions regarding 9/11. Their is never a peep in newspapers or on Television about any of them.

Very little has been written on the 8Th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. None of the articles asked any questions. A few of the stories were, Attacks Were Defining Moment for Obama , How 9/11 Should Be Remembered, and Nation Marks 9/11 With Acts Of Volunteerism. Not a word was said about the volunteers during 9/11 who are dead, dieing, sick, and disabled because the Bush Administration lied to them and told them that the water was safe to drink, and the air was safe to breath. Many did not put on masks because of this reassurance. The government had tested the air, and they were well aware that it was highly toxic. It was important to get Wall Street open as soon as passable, and rescue workers and volunteers were considered expendable.

Christy Todd Whitman who told the lies, that cost so many their lives, and has damaged the health of so many more, has never been held to account. The government not only has refused to accept responsibility, but they have not even given health care to the people that they did this to. The deaths that will be caused from pollution from the World Trade Center may someday surpass the deaths caused by World Trade Centers collapse itself.

If the Bush Administration would lie about something that they new would cause so much death and misery, what else would they lie about?

We were lied into war. They lied to us about Saddam Hussein's involvement in 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, yellow cake uranium, and our president stood in front of the nation and said, "We do not torture." Remember those grotesque torture pictures that we all looked at a shot time ago. May be we should take another look the pictures from eight years ago. I think we are all aware that everything since 9/11 that has been told to us, by the Bush Administration, was a lie. Could it be that everything before and during 9/11 could be a lie as well?

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