Our local paper ran a piece in today's paper that led with 5 crudely scrawled hash marks and the title "5 Years in Iraq: Photographs recall unforgettable moments of a long war." (I don't know if that was the title it was distributed with or if a local editor's touch) by Jerry Schwartz with the Associated Press tag. Schwartz starts out with this query: "When you close your eyes and think of Iraq, what do you see in your mind's eye?
Before I launch into my rant, let me answer you Jerry. Here's what comes to mind:
copyright Michael Yon
Well, not to mention
Tommy Byrd (KIA Oct. '05)
Tim Watkins (KIA Oct. '05)
My son, Noah and Mykel Byrd, 20 yr. old widow of Tommy (photo copyright David Sanders, AZ Daily Star)
Memorial Service for SFC David Salie, Baqubah, Iraq 2005
3rd ID Warriors' Walk, Ft. Stewart (one tree for each 3ID soldier killed OIF/OEF)
Thomas Michael Martin (KIA Oct. 2007)
My youngest son wears this honor
In his "article", Schwartz talks about the "iconic" images that emerge from each war. It is a full color, full page spread. (I cannot find a link to it via google nor on the local paper's website... but if you find one, please email it to me or put it up in the comments and I'll add it to this post.) In our paper, it was a single column of text accompanied by the following pictures in full color.
(AP/Laurent Rebours) (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP/Los Angeles Times/ Luis Sinco)
(AP/US Militry via APTN)
The accompanying text includes the following descriptions:
"charred bodies hanging from a bridge"
"a Marine climbing a massive statue of Saddam"
"an Iraqi prisoner standing on a box"
"as much as the body counts and the sad tales of the wounded"
In discussing the images of previous wars, Schwartz first says "World War II, a triumph" and then describes the pictorial icon from that war as "Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima". He follows that with "Vietnam, a disaster" (no... not a withdrawal forced by politicians... not a negotiated settlement... but "disaster") and follows that with his choice of iconic images as "a general executing a Viet Cong prisoner" and "a napalm-drenched, naked young girl running screaming".
When I think of the iconic images of Vietnam, these come to my mind:
Final evacuation of the US Embassy, Saigon, 1975
Skulls of some of the estimated 2 million Cambodians (30% of the population) who died by starvation, torture or execution after US withdrawal from Vietnam)
So I dashed off the following to the local paper:
We would like to express our disappointment at the publication of the "5 Years in Iraq" hit piece in [your paper] today. While the core of the article was that the images of Operation Iraqi Freedom are memorable, and featured the pictures of Saddam's grubby face, a detained father and his young son and the statue of Saddam, the accompanying text claims that the images of Abu Ghraib and the weary "Marlboro Man" and his subsequent return home to "hard times and post-traumatic stress disorder" are the most demonstrative images of "a long war". What a blatant slap at our military and their successful efforts in Iraq!
Oddly, Mr. Schwartz doesn't include or mention Michael Yon's photo of a US soldier carrying the tiny body of the dying Farah after al Queda drove a bomb into a large crowd of Iraqi children as US soldiers handed out toys and candy.
Nor did Schwartz include the principle iconic image of the young Iraqi woman broadly smiling while flashing her purple stained finger in a "V" after having been allowed to vote in the first free elections in Iraq in a half century.
Also not included are the photos of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis standing proudly in front of newly opened and refurbished hospitals, schools and clinics.
If the Associated Press and Mr. Schwartz wanted to show "iconic" images of the "long war" in Iraq, they should also have showcased photos of Saddam's torture chambers, the mass graves and the decadent and lavish palaces of Saddam and his henchmen that were built while the Iraqis starved and lacked basic medical care.
We don't quibble that there have been horrific and regrettable moments and photos from Iraq, but there are two sides to the story of this war that the AP and many of its writers routinely neglect to tell and that papers like [yours] perpetuate when they publish such once-sided features. We are especially offended by the slanted and scurrilous conclusion of the article that "... photos of caskets have become commonplace, as the funerals go on and on." In the future, if [your paper] has a need to fill space, we expect your staff to resist using such inflammatory fill and present a more balanced report.
As the parents of a soldier wounded in Iraq (now medically discharged) and of an active duty sailor, and the sponsors of a number of 3rd Infantry Division soldiers currently serving (their 3rd deployment) in Iraq, we find it deeply offensive to have such a lopsided FULL PAGE hit piece in your paper while our young men and women are still in harm's way.
And, yes, I did include the images I referenced. I'm certain they won't publish the pictures, but I'm hopeful they will publish the text.
I guess what really got me was that Jerry Schwartz picked these images -- that represent HIS view of the war in Iraq and wants them to be my images and everyone's memories of the war. However, with the Internet and the variety of sources available -- including the photos of those we know who have served -- we each have our own "pictorial icons" of the war in Iraq. I don't want Jerry Schwartz and the AP telling me that these are them. If the AP is going to pick 5 or 6 images, there are many more I'd choose to represent the war than those of Schwartz.
So I ask the question: When you close your eyes and think of Iraq, what do you see in your mind's eye?