War “Monuments”

Clark Hoyt, the New York Times’ public editor, wrote yesterday:

Two hundred twenty-one American soldiers and Marines have been killed in Iraq this year, but until eight days ago, the Times had not published a photo of one of their bodies.

From the article that accompanied the July 26th Times photo (“4,000 U.S. Deaths, and a Handful of Images”):

If the conflict in Vietnam was notable for open access given to journalists — too much, many critics said, as the war played out nightly in bloody newscasts — the Iraq war may mark an opposite extreme: after five years and more than 4,000 American combat deaths, searches and interviews turned up fewer than a half-dozen graphic photographs of dead American soldiers.

Hoyt quotes a professor of photo history calling these photographs “monuments” and saying that, “the greatest dishonor you can do is to forget.” A Vietnam vet tells Hoyt that it “dishonors the dead soldiers to try to convey through pictures what they went through,” and that photos of dead soldiers should never be published during a war. Hoyt concludes that “to launder [these types of photos] out of our account of the war would be a disservice.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.