Sunday, April 2

Looking War in the Face

It's been a long hard week for me at Winds of Change, banging my head against the brick wall of Islamic Reform. Capping it off is Armed Liberal's objection to the photo on the front page of today's LA Times.

I wanted to repost my comment here for ease of future reference, since this issue has come up so often before:


During the Second World War (Note to Michael Reynolds: WWII was when we went to "make orphans" in Hitler's Europe) LIFE published several pictures of dead or wounded soldiers. Among them was a famous photo of dead GIs at New Guinea, lying on the beach half buried in sand. There was also a photo of a bandaged British soldier with facial injuries, not too different from this one. Heavily criticized for publishing these images, some editor said, "The dead have died in vain if the living refuse to look at them." (Note to Michael Reynolds: He didn't say "Boo hoo.")

The merits of that aside, I'm not crediting the Los Angeles Times with having any such philosophical intention. LIFE also published photos of enemy dead killed in action, and of Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen. I doubt if you'll see LAT lingering over Saddam's victims, or the civilian victims of "insurgent" terrorism, and I think they'd chew their own rosy pink toes off before they'd show a photo of dead jihadists littering the sand after a failed attack.

So what are we supposed to conclude from seeing something like this on the front page? It's pretty clear that some on the other side see it as a welcome piece of propaganda, not a lesson in realism. As previously pointed out, they would not welcome a photo essay on partial birth abortion, that being the wrong sort of propaganda. And if a photo of a suicide bomber who was shot dead before he could detonate were shown, they would join the screams of protest about "insensitivity". Not that they're going to see anything like that in the LAT.

Armed Liberal says the thing speaks for itself. I suppose it does, knowing the LAT and knowing the disgusting, hypocritical, and selective use that such images are put to. But so long as we don't go down and wallow in that sty ourselves, I don't think we should see depictions of reality as inherently objectionable or even as bad taste. Otherwise we buy into the view that the purpose of the media is to present a selectively edited cartoon to dupe the ignorant masses.

One more thing: There's nothing necessarily wrong with propaganda, within reasonable limits, so long as it highlights reality rather than distorts it, and so long as the person engaging in it knows the difference between right and wrong and - just as importantly - has a rational and honest sense of proportion. When I was a kid a saw a sickening photo (courtesy of LIFE again) of a black lynching victim who had been chained to a tree and murdered with a blow torch. If more kids saw that picture the Ku Klux Klan would be hiding in Costa Rica.

So the dead have not died in vain, so long as humane people understand why they died.

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