Posted tagged ‘Afghanistan’

“Damage – All Kinds (L.A. Times Photos)

April 18, 2012


Damage  – All Kinds (On Reading About L.A. Times Photos of GIs Posed with Body Parts)

I started to write this morning about good guys–that if you want to be the good guy, you have to be the good guy. (Which in my garbled piece meant  not being the puerile guy or the vicious guy or the depraved guy.  Also that even if you have, at times, to make corpses–and a part of me hated to give even that concession–you could not play with the corpses.)

As I wrote, I pictured the faces of soldiers–the  roundness of youth framed by no-hair smiling sheepishly over camo’ed shoulders and too much gear.  Faces whose trained stocky bodies carried children, fed stray animals, tried to comprehend old men in headdress.  Sometimes, down cheeks hollowed, sometimes smeared with strain.  Soldiers so young each separate eyelash showed up dark and individual.

I saw smirks too on some of those faces.  (Smirks from other hateful photos came to mind.  Abu Graib.)   Smirks that turned  faces into baboon bottoms as they sat over the double folded limbs of prisoners, stripped.

More photos came in to the picture–faces marked with worry , loss; photos of metal shins, plastic knees; recent one of a vet, looking used up, lying on a rug beside his dog.  (Did I say loss?)

And though I myself still had a pretty clear idea about some of the parameters of good guys  – i.e.that  they cannot play with corpses, that they absolutely cannot play with corpses–all my words began to jumble in a kind of rubble, smoke, and all I really could picture were ricocheting pathways through the brain, ricochets maybe of bullets, but maybe only of power, loss, fear, rage.  Resulting in great damage, both direct and collateral.


Having a very hard time today writing my 18th draft poem for National Poetry Month.   I am also posting this for Imperfect Prose.

What’s prompted this is today’s news about the 2010 photos (just coming out now in the L.A. Times) of  U.S. soldiers posed with body parts of Afghan suicide bombers.  (I haven’t seen the photos.)  

What I’ve come up with is not in any way intended to be disrespectful of our troops overseas.  I know that the soldiers in the photos are not typical, nor is their conduct.  But I’m first very worried  about whether that conduct (i.e. the photos) will put other soldiers in further danger.  And also I’m just concerned, sickened.  It’s a terrible situation, gone on too long, and for some deployed again and again–especially too long.  

Hating War – Supporting Obama

December 1, 2009

I hate war.   But anyone listening to Obama’s speech at West Point tonight must acknowledge the care he has taken over his decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan and the deep and pained sense of moral responsibility that was present in his eyes and voice.

The choices are terrible   As a New Yorker especially, I would like all of these dangers to simply go away, to not exist now or ever.   I hate that intermittent  feeling that I really should move  (soon) so as not to be at the epicenter of a devastating attack.  Living in Manhattan through 9/11 and in the post-9/11 years, one wonders whether history will look back at New Yorkers as people who were blind to the writing on the wall, like Pompeians living just below Mount Etna, or German Jews in the 30’s.    (Unlike many German Jews, most of us could leave.)

Obama makes one conscious that these kinds of dangers will not dissolve on their own.  Will war fix them?  I don’t know.  I wept when Bush called the terrorist attack of 9/11 an act of war rather than a crime,  in part because I did not want any kind of war to be waged, and in part because I simply had a harder time trusting Bush’s judgment.   My disagreement with him on other issues, and his difficulty in conveying knowledge or thoughtfulness, made it hard for me to ever be swayed by him.

I worry now that Obama’s continuation of the war feels very short in terms of reaching long-term goals.  (At the same time, I also really don’t want U.S. involvement in the conflict to be longer.   Aside from my general pacificism, anything long-term feels like an occupation, doomed from the start.)

But in the end, I find myself anxious to trust Obama’s judgment.     It is clear that he has thought deeply, explored details, is knowledgeable, and is guided by a clear and well-articulated moral compass.   (He’s like the oldest child in the family, the one who both studies up and leads.)    Listening to him also makes me very anxious that nothing untoward or violent happens to him.  His speeches are sometimes imbued with such a strong sense of destiny and purpose, that it is hard not to worry about his personal safety.

I try to feel better about it all thinking about girls in Pakistan, Afghanistan.  There was a wonderful set of videos earlier this year in the New York Times about a school girl in Swat Valley, the daughter of the headmaster of a girls’ school.  The girl, fierce in her pursuit of an education, was inspiringly articulate; her father’s bravery incredible.   One has to hope that these efforts can somehow help her and girls like her–that is, all girls and women who live or may live in Taliban or Al Quaeda dominated territory.  Ultimately, one feels that it is only through the education of women in these parts of the world that lasting progress towards peace can be made.  Obama, ever the diplomat, did not mention the plight of women in these extremist Islamic cultures, but between his wife, two daughters, and Hillary in the front row, one has to hope he’s giving thought to that as well.

Obama Truly At Dover

November 1, 2009

After all the silliness, I want to comment on something truly newsworthy—Obama’s late-night, early-morning trip to Dover, Delaware (October 29), to salute the 18 fallen soldiers whose remains were returned from Afghanistan.  Maureen Dowd has an interesting article about it this morning (November 1, 2009 – “Port Mortuary’s Pull”).  (For video footage involving one soldier’s casket, whose family gave full permission for filming, see

Apparently, Liz Cheney, and others on the right are accusing Obama of using the moment as a photo op.  Dowd quotes Cheney as saying, to a Fox News radio host, “I think that what President Bush used to do is do it without the cameras.”  Dowd goes on to point out that Cheney’s right:  “There were no press cameras at Dover in the previous administration. There was also no W.”

What Cheney and others also fail to note is how small a portion of Obama’s participation was actually covered in the supposed photo-op:  a part of the “dignified transfer” of one soldier out of eighteen, a meeting with a chaplain and all of the families; all through the night.

I’m not saying that the loss of one night’s sleep is a huge sacrifice.  I’m just trying to further emphasize the ridiculousness of Cheney’s statement, and of any statement trying to cast doubt on Obama’s sincerity. Any person with an ounce of neutrality can see the somber gravity of Obama’s expression; it’s as clear as the blowing of that early morning wind.

Talk About Sanctimony

September 5, 2009

Talk about sanctimony.   See e.g. the N.Y. Times “Lens” blog segment called “Behind the Scenes:  To Publish or Not” by David Dunlop about the decision of the Associated Press to publish the photograph of a mortally wounded marine over the objections of his immediate family members.

The photograph was part of a series by Julie Jacobson, a photographer embedded with a Marine unit in Afghanistan.  The series shows the soldier on patrol in the streets of an Afghani village, and then the solider on the ground minutes later, tended by a fellow marine, after his leg has been taken by a rocket-propelled grenade.  The series includes photos of fellow marines mourning the soldier, before his gear, at a memorial service.

The soldier’s father, when shown the photograph of his mortally wounded son, asked that it not be published, telling A.P. that by distributing the photo, it would be dishonoring the memory of his son.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote to A.P. on the family’s behalf, saying, “why your organization would purposefully defy the family’s wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling.”

But, after what Santiago Lyon, head of the phography division at A.P. called “a healthy discussion…the decision we came to was that — as a journalistic imperative — the need to tell this story overrode some of the other considerations.”

Why am I not surprised?

A.P. and the photographer Jacobson acknowledge that the shock value of the photo was a strong factor in their decision to publish.  (Duh.)  As Jacobson said,  “it is necessary to be bothered from time to time.”  [Italics added.]

Okay, I understand A.P.’s position (which I’m going to accept is a good faith position and not simply as a cover for the photographer’s wish for fame and kudos, and A.P.’s wish to sell newspapers.)    I was very against the Bush administration’s refusal to allow flag-draped caskets to be filmed;  I felt it was a way to lessen the impact of the war at home, and that it, in fact, dishonored the sacrifice of the lost soldiers.

I’m also sure that Jacobson, embedded with the troops, grew to truly care about them and their sacrifice, and that she feels very strongly about the value of her work in bringing much needed attention to them.

So I understand (and I’m willing to believe) that A.P. and Jacobson really do want to show how awful war is, and to emphasize the burdens and terror suffered by the troops.

What I don’t get is how A.P. decided that the collective “bothering” of casual readers  (who can, if they want to get a better view, click a button to expand the image to full screen proportions) outweighed the additional specific anguish that they were causing the soldier’s family, the people who were closest to that soldier’s face and figure, who have a claim in his remains.  (The arrogance and sanctimony of that decision is so mind-blowing that it frankly tends to shake one’s willingness to believe that A.P. and Jacobson really are acting solely in good-faith, and are not swayed by unexamined narcissism.)

Yes, the photo makes the point about the omnipresence of terrible death in war.  But, in the face of the family’s objections, wouldn’t the image of the living soldier, with the phrase, “he was mortally wounded ten minutes later” do the trick?

Lyon of A.P. babbled that the death “becomes very personal and very direct in some way, because we have a name, we have a home town, we have a shared nationality and we have, to a certain extent, a shared culture and some common values.”  But couldn’t A.P. have illustrated the “shared culture” business by showing the soldier at, for example, his high school prom?

Jacobson, whom you sense is just desperate to defend her position (and is clearly devoted to a photo which she must view as one of the greatest of her career),  notes that the other marines in the squad had no objection to the idea of publication.  (I’m guessing the photo “bothered” them less since they were actually on the scene.)   Yet I wonder in this specific case if the marines were informed of the objections of their compatriot’s family.  Somehow I can’t quite hear them saying to Jacobson, “the family’s against it?  So what?”

The final appalling piece to me of this story is the sanctimony of the New York Times.   The Times, during the slow news days of Labor Day weekend, manages to re-publish the picture (again in clickable full screen proportions). In this case,the Times is not even reporting the poor soldier’s death or the terrible burdens faced by troops in foreign wars.  No, with pompous self-regard, it is republishing the photo simply to discuss the burdens of those in the Press.   (The burdens of dealing with family wishes, societal strictures as to appropriate conduct, good taste, compassion, common sense, honor.)

Shame on you, Times.