Nearly every day brings more bad news from Central Command in Iraq. Guerilla attacks happen with frightening regularity and we are no closer to forming a new government than we were at the beginning of the war. But it seems like the average person has no idea why this is, or even that between three and six American soldiers die in Iraq each week on average.
It is no coincidence that there are no photographs or video of flag-draped coffins for the news. For more than 10 years, the Department of Defense has forbidden photographing or videotaping soldiers’ remains being sent home, a practice that was commonplace in Vietnam and World War II.
According to Lt. Olivia Nelson of Dover AFB in Delaware, where the majority of bodies of American soliders from Iraq are sent home for burial, this is done “out of respect for the families,” since letting the media in would not show proper reverence for the dead. However, none of the bodies there are identified by the media, which leads to questions about the lack of respect videotaping truly entails.
A picture is worth a thousand words, especially in war. There are no pictures of the honor guard at Dover that carries the body off the plane. There are no pictures of the bodies waiting to be identified to bring home the true costs of the war.
The Department of Defense is well aware of this. Since the first Gulf War’s reporting pools, press access to the military has been eroded and weakened. Between embedded reporting, Centcom briefings and threats against any newspaper publishing bad news, the situation in Iraq has been virtually censored. Blocking access to pictures of remains coming home is just par for Rumsfeld’s course.
Pictures of caskets and body bags remain as some of the most powerful images of our past wars. Seeing coffins draped in American flags brings home the cost of the Iraqi situation more than any article in the New York Times ever will. By not allowing the public to see these pictures, the military is practicing a form of censorship that is insidious and even unpatriotic.
George Wilson, veteran war correspondent, put it best: “Restricting access to Dover is part of a piece… It’s designed to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. That’s not limited to this administration, but it has accelerated.”
Unfortunately, the Department of Defense seems to be forgetting that the American public has a right to see the negative in this war too.