Is It Wrong to Post Photographs of War-Torn Corpses?

US Politics
on 9 Comments
Jerome Slater objected to my posting a link to a heart-rending photograph of a dead 5-month-old 
Palestinian child from Andrew Sullivan's site.

In my view, it's a mistake to use a picture of a dead child in support of an argument that the war that killed him was an unjust war. That just invites the other side--Israel, in n this case--to submit its own pictures, which also prove nothing.

All wars, just or unjust, produce terrible casualties, including those of children. We bombed Serbia to stop Milosevic and his butchers from continuing their genocidal attacks, and I'm glad we did--but lots of Serbian civilians, including children, had to have been killed.

I said that I felt it was journalistic to document the horrors or war, and that television images of Vietnam had helped to end the conflict.

Slater responded, 

Yes, tv images did help turn us against the Vietnam war--which was good. However, images can also infuriate the aggressors, which is bad.

For example, in the last couple of weeks, Israeli tv and newspapers have been focusing on a couple of Sderot kids that were wounded by Quassems--and it has so infuriated general Israeli opinion that they
care even less now, if possible, about Israeli "retaliation."

If you were really a pacifist, then it would be consistent to say that it doesn't matter whose children are being killed, all wars--that is, every use of force--is evil. But that position is available ONLY to pacifists. Are you really a pacifist? Would you have been against violent resistance to Hitler? Were you against the successful NATO use of force to end Serbian genocide? If NATO or UN troops had gone into Rwanda, the Sudan, the Congo, etc. and forcefully defeated the genociders, would you have been against that? Even if they had bombed the aggressors strongholds, which would almost certainly have resulted in pictures of dead and wounded kids?

For that matter, would you say that any use of force by the Palestinians against the Israelis is unjustified--even if that means that the Israelis would be free to continue their oppression of the Palestinians without worrying about the consequences to themselves?

So, if you are not really a pacifist, then you can't avoid analyzing particular wars or the use of force, and making distinctions--and pictures of wounded children will not help you to make those distinctions, and may even make it more difficult. As I've said, the aggressors, the oppressors, and the genociders also have children, and they also get killed or wounded in war, which also refuels their sense that they are the true victims.

I’m not convinced by Slater’s argument. To return to the journalistic argument, I think people have a right to know the price of wars, even wars they support. Maybe they really would beat their swords into ploughshares. I always reflect that the video of Rodney King’s beating did more to reform the LA police department than hundreds of investigative stories had done. And that photographs of executions would help bring an end to that inhumane practice.

I’m halfway pacifist; and don’t mind all sides bringing forth their photographs. This is genuine evidence of man’s inhumanity to man. Maybe it will have an effect. Also, many more Palestinian children have died than Israeli children; maybe all the photos would have an effect on perceptions of that conflict. I admit that this sort of imagery can be deadening/pornographic, and Slater has an ally in the Israeli veterans’ group Breaking the Silence, which left photographs of Palestinian corpses out of the show that it has taken from Penn to Harvard, but on spiritual grounds I would maintain that all lives are worth something, even the children of genociders…

I’m sure Jerry will get back to me on this sooner or later, I’ll give him the last word.

P.S. Jerry Slater says  he has nothing to add, we’ve both stated our cases. And Janet McMahon of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs pointed me to a site she helped establish memorializing children killed in Israel/Palestine. By name, not fotos…

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