Expose the Cost of War

In recent weeks there has been a flurry of controversy surrounding photos taken of the caskets containing the bodies of soldiers who died in Iraq. For years, the Pentagon has strictly enforced a ban on distribution of photographs of the coffins of soldiers, but last week, the pictures of at least 288 caskets of soldiers who died in Iraq or Afghanistan were released over the Internet. The White House and Pentagon have been trying in earnest to crack down on the media outlets who distributed these photos. Over 700 American men and women have been killed during the war in Iraq. The image of their caskets returning home for burial should serve as a grave reminder to all of us of the cost and consequence of war. But, it does not remind anyone of anything, for it is an image kept from the eyes of the American public. The policy of no photographs of caskets existed before the Iraq war, and the Bush administration claims that this measure is taken to protect the privacy of the soldiers’ families. However, nothing about photographing the soldiers’ caskets invades the privacy of their grieving loved ones. These pictures would forever keep Americans aware of just how terrible war is, and show us the cost of the war beyond the billions of dollars. And that is exactly why the administration would rather have these images never reach the eyes of Americans. Negative associations with the war and its White House and Pentagon masterminds would not bode well for the administration come this November. Such a visible political motivation for Bush and company to hide the dead soldiers from us makes it easy to be cynical when they claim they are doing it for the mourning families. Our country as a whole is disconnected from the happenings in Iraq. In April 2003 the coalition declared the war to be effectively over, and from that point Americans have largely turned their attention elsewhere. Since that time, more that three times as many soldiers have fallen; April 2004 has seen more casualties than any other month of the war. The reason for this is obvious: hundreds of fatalities and billions of dollars are easy to forget about when they exist in our minds merely as numbers. But, in the same way that 87 billion dollars cash would impact most people if they took a gander at it, so would the caskets of our fallen soldiers be a sobering image for America to see. The Bush Administration has been unwavering in its enforcement of this ridiculous rule. They would love for us as citizens to be likewise inexorable in our support of the war. Two defense contractors employed by the government recently lost their jobs for sending pictures of the arriving caskets to the loved-ones of those who lay within them. I am not so certain that the families of these soldiers would believe that their privacy is being protected when even they cannot take some comfort in seeing that their loved-ones remains are being cared for respectfully. In this situation, the government benefits while both the soldiers’ families and the general public are kept in the dark. The power of the still photograph cannot be over exaggerated. These images may cause some to waver in their support of the war, and for some they might only fortify their resolve. But regardless of which direction the photos would sway us, we, as Americans, deserve to be reminded that our nation’s sons and daughters are dying. General Robert E. Lee once said of war that “it is well that war is so terrible—lest we should grow too fond of it.” Never should we forget the price that we are paying in Iraq. Most of us know the casualties in Iraq only as numbers, if we know them at all. We all need to be reminded of just how many Americans are returning home in a flag-draped casket, and no matter how many times we see it on a news ticker, a picture is worth a thousand words.