4,000 US Deaths, and a Handful of Images

A New York Times story of this headline raises important questions about freedom of the press in reporting an unpopular war, which has now generated over 4,000 US fatalities and over 170 UK military deaths, including two from Northern Ireland. Figures are disputed about the number of Iraqi dead but seem likely to be in the hundreds of thousands.

The NYT reports that:
"The case of a freelance photographer in Iraq who was barred from covering the Marines after he posted photos on the Internet of several of them dead has underscored what some journalists say is a growing effort by the American military to control graphic images from the war.

Zoriah Miller, the photographer who took images of marines killed in a June 26 suicide attack and posted them on his Web site, was subsequently forbidden to work in Marine Corps-controlled areas of the country. Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the Marine commander in Iraq, is now seeking to have Mr. Miller barred from all United States military facilities throughout the world. Mr. Miller has since left Iraq."

Amid all the clamour among some sections of the press for homecoming parades for the troops (to which I have no objection, by the way), is it not worth focusing on the true cost of war to both the ordinary soldier and the civilian population where war is fought? To censor this reality does a disservice to the ordinary soldier, as well as to those ordinary people who live and die in a theatre of war that they simply call home.

A masterly study of the history of war correspondence and the struggle fought by good journalists to tell the truth, warts and all, of war, can be found in Philip Knightley's The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth-maker from the Crimea to the Gulf War II

Knightley's book details the attempts over the last couple of centuries of the military to control the press reporting of wars, right up to the hugely effective technique of 'embedding' during the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Now, apparently, even this tactic has not proved effective enough for the liking of the US military. The NYT article presented me with the new verb of 'to disembed', reporting that: "increasingly, photographers say the military allows them to embed but keeps them away from combat."

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