Thursday, July 05, 2007

Iraq War - Rated PG13

By Cernig

Today, as a car bomb in Baghdad kills 12 (seven of them children) and two more U.S. soldiers lose their lives in a bomb attack in Southern Iraq, the Washington Post and BBC among others are saying that the U.S. led surge has failed to stem the tide of killings in the Iraqi capital. As the BBC notes:
The number of unidentified bodies found in Baghdad has increased despite the launch of a security drive in the capital in February, Iraqi police say.
They say that 540 corpses - many of them tortured or mutilated - were discovered in the city in June.

The number is still considerably lower than in 2006, when the monthly total of bodies found at times exceeded 1,000.

Nearly 30,000 extra US troops were deployed in Baghdad to curb sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis.

...The total number dropped sharply between February and April, after the US military "surge" began, our correspondent says.

But the number of bodies found dumped in the city has risen sharply again in the last two months - to an average of about 20 a day in June, according to the Iraqi police.

Earlier this week, the Iraqi government said that the number of civilians killed across the country fell in June to the lowest level since the Baghdad crackdown began.

It said 1,241 civilians were killed in June - a drop of nearly 40% compared with 1,951 violent deaths in May.

The US military also claims that civilian fatalities have fallen significantly since the beginning of the year.

However, the Iraqi government figures cannot be verified independently, and many deaths are believed to go unreported, correspondents say.
Figures provided to the WaPo by an anonymous Health Ministry figure also appeared to show that deaths across Iraq as a whole were up on April's figure, in contradiction of likewise-unofficial figures released to the Iraqi media on Sunday and widely reported in the U.S. The problem is, of course, that the Iraqi government has refused to release official figures since it accused the UN of using those figures to criticize the government. My colleague Fester wrote on Monday that he expected the figures to change as more detail emerged, saying "we are dealing with known prevaricators and a shitty information system."

Yet despite all the death and mayhem, what is most remarkable is that the Iraq war, for most Americans, is probably the most ungraphic since the invention of the camera. Recently, conservative boggers were rightly outraged that a story and graphic pictures by reporter Michael Yon of the massacre by Al Qaeda of an entire Iraqi village didn't get any mainstream play. Many rightwing bloggers wrote it off to mainstream "liberal" bias, comparing the attention devoted to Yon's story to the column inches given the Haditha massacre. As Fester noted, however, that's a big stretch:
Everyone agrees that AQI, and Al-Queada are barbarians. That is not in doubt. We should be better than comparing ourselves to barbarians and when that comparison comes out, we should be in a different moral universe, and not just marginally better. That is why Haditha received the response it did.
No, the reason that Yon's story got so little mainstream exposure is likely to be that the pictures were so much of the story and the pictures were simply too much for the American media.

The german magazine Spiegel today has an article by Salon's Gary Kamiya that points out how rarely the grim reality of Iraq appears in the American press. Far from being liberal-media bias against Yon's tale of an Al Qaeda (as opposed to American) atrocity, Yon's tale appears to have gotten little attention beacause the media does the administration's bidding in keeping the Iraq war santized for it's readers and viewers.
This is a war the Bush administration does not want Americans to see. From the beginning, the U.S. government has attempted to censor information about the Iraq war, prohibiting photographs of the coffins of U.S. troops returning home and refusing as a matter of policy to keep track of the number of Iraqis who have been killed. President Bush has yet to attend a single funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq.

..."War is hell," said Gen. Sherman, and everyone dutifully agrees. Yet the hell in Iraq is almost never shown. The few exceptions -- the charred bodies of American contractors hanging from a bridge in Fallujah, the blood-spattered little girl wailing after her parents were killed next to her -- only prove the rule. Governments keep war hidden because it is hideous. To allow citizens to see its reality -- the shattered bodies, the wounded children, the incomprehensible mayhem -- is to risk eroding popular support for it. This is particularly true with wars that have less than overwhelming popular support to begin with. In the case of Vietnam, battlefield images played an important role in turning the tide of public opinion. And in Iraq, a war whose official justification has turned out to be false, and which a majority of the American people now believe to have been a mistake, the administration would prefer that these grim images never be seen.

But the media is also responsible for sanitizing the Iraq war, at times rendering it almost invisible. Most American publications have been reluctant to run graphic war images. Almost no photographs of the 1,868 U.S. troops who have been killed to date in Iraq have appeared in U.S. publications. In May 2005, the Los Angeles Times surveyed six major newspapers and the nation's two leading newsmagazines, and found that over a six-month period, no images of dead American troops appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Time or Newsweek. A single image of a covered body of a slain American ran in the Seattle Times. There were also comparatively few images of wounded Americans. The publications surveyed tended to run more images of dead or wounded Iraqis, but they have hardly been depicted in large numbers either.

...Editors in the States are reluctant to run graphic photographs. There are various reasons for this. Perhaps the most important is taste: Many publications think graphic images are just too disturbing. Business considerations doubtless also play a role, although few editors would admit that; graphic images upset some readers and can scare off advertisers. (Salon pulled all advertising, except house ads, off the pages of this gallery.) And there are political considerations: Supporters of the war often accuse the media of playing up bad news at the expense of more positive developments. To run images of corpses is to risk being criticized of antiwar bias. When "Nightline" ran photographs of the faces of all the U.S. troops who had been killed in Iraq, conservative groups were enraged and accused the network of harming morale. Not every publisher is anxious to walk into this kind of trouble.
Yon's piece was a victim of political pressuring on news media by the very conservative pundits who now lament it's supression.

Salon today ran a gallery of graphic images from Iraq. And here's Yon's post with all its pictures. This is the graphic truth of the war in Iraq - click through or not as you decide. But here's Kamiya for one last thought:
It is because we believe that the American people are not getting a look at the reality of the Iraq war, for Americans and Iraqis alike, that we decided to run this photo gallery. It is no secret that Salon has published many more pieces questioning and challenging the Iraq war than supporting it. But that is not why we think it is important that these images be seen. We would have run them even if we supported the war. The reason is simple: The truth should be told. People should know the truth about war. Before a nation decides to go to war, it should know what its consequences are.
There's more than one way to hype a war, and one of them is to sanitize it, make it less bloody than a kid's video game or the latest episode of 24. War isn't a PG-13 enterprise and people should be aware of that, not just intellectually but close-up and in their faces. Maybe that way, there won't be such zeal to swallow the narratives put out by those who wish for war but won't actually go to war themselves.

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