Iraq What We're Not Seeing: More Than 2,600 American Soldiers Have Died in Iraq since 2003. Chances Are, You Haven't Seen Many Photos like This One. David Carr Explores Some of the Reasons Why

By Carr, David | New York Times Upfront, October 9, 2006 | Go to article overview

Iraq What We're Not Seeing: More Than 2,600 American Soldiers Have Died in Iraq since 2003. Chances Are, You Haven't Seen Many Photos like This One. David Carr Explores Some of the Reasons Why


Carr, David, New York Times Upfront


When it comes to war photography, Vietnam remains the bloody yardstick. During the Tet Offensive in 1968 (weeks of intense battle which turned many Americans against the war), Time magazine ran a story with photos showing dozens of dead American soldiers stacked like wood (see photo below). Images like these, depicting the human cost of war, filled American newspapers and evening newscasts, bringing the war into living rooms across the country.

Today's war in Iraq is different. While pictures of Iraqi dead are ubiquitous on TV and in print, there are very few images of dead American soldiers. (We see pictures of the grievously wounded, but those are depictions of hope and sacrifice in equal measure.)

A survey last year found that in a six-month period in which 559 Americans and Western allies died, almost no pictures were published of the American dead in the mainstream print media.

Is there a taboo, political or otherwise, on the publication of photos of men and women who paid the ultimate price in Iraq?

There is a real public appetite for raw images of the war in Iraq. The War Tapes, a documentary filmed by National Guardsmen from New Hampshire in the deadly Sunni Triangle, has received awards and enthusiastic reviews. And Baghdad ER, HBO's gory look inside battlefield medicine, has been seen by 3.5 million viewers and was the network's most-watched news documentary in two years.

SANITIZING, OR PRACTICALITIES?

Yet, in part because the Bush administration has restricted access to returning coffins from Iraq, critics claim that a sanitized visual narrative is being constructed for an increasingly unpopular war. (The Pentagon says its ban on photos showing military caskets has been in place since 1991, to protect the privacy and sensitivities of grieving families.)

But some journalists say that it is practical, not political, realities that dictate what we see in the media.

First, there's the issue of security: As the war drags on, staying safe has become a huge challenge for many journalists, leading fewer to cover the war. …

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