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…

9 Responses

  1. Michael Blaine
    March 5, 2008, 9:38 pm

    Bring on the war photos, and the more the better!

    Conspicuously absent from our newspapers and blogs and televisions during the "War on Terror" have been images of the human toll.

    Unless Americans see in graphic detail what their government's foreign policy wreaks on other human beings, they won't understand the costs.

    Michael Blaine

  2. Madrid
    March 5, 2008, 9:44 pm

    Tell me how you feel about those pictures of the Gaza dead after you read this bit of news from our Congress:

    "Congress Defends Gaza Assault 404-1"
    Wednesday, March 5th, 2008 in News by Eric Garris

    Today Congress passed a resolution (HR 951) condemning Palestinian rocket attacks that include a strident defense of recent Israeli tactics in the Gaza Strip. The resolution also condemned Iran and Syria for “sponsoring terror attacks,” and demanded that Saudi Arabia publicly condemn Palestinian actions.

    The resolution was originally introduced in January, but contains new language including a passage saying that that “those responsible for launching rocket attacks against Israel routinely embed their production facilities and launch sites amongst the Palestinian civilian population, utilizing them as human shields” and “the inadvertent inflicting of civilian casualties as a result of defensive military operations aimed at military targets, while deeply regrettable, is not at all morally equivalent to the deliberate targeting of civilian populations as practiced by Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist groups.”

    Although 23 Congressman abstained or voted “present,” only one bravely voted no: Rep. Ron Paul.


  3. samuel burke
    March 5, 2008, 10:20 pm

    so much technology, so much education, so little humanity for so an evolved being.

  4. Glenn Condell
    March 5, 2008, 11:01 pm

    ‘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.’
    I have had this same argument with lots of people over the years and I have always sided with Phil’s view here. The last time was at John Robb’s Global Guerillas blog. John had made Phil’s point about support for Vietnam ‘…the conclusion the US government/military has reached (primarily from the lesson of Vietnam), is that moral conflicts are won through propaganda.' To which I replied:

    'Yes, but not just the presence of propaganda; perhaps even more crucially, the absence of distressing images. I'm not sure if the deliberate withholding of the sort of pictures (or simply making their production impossible) that turned opinion on Vietnam can be considered 'propaganda' but it's part of the same effort and to me, it's more effective for being, by it's nature, silent, and not prone to the sort of multiple info source challenge you allude to.
    People react viscerally to images, but they have to exist first. Their absence now makes the propaganda that much easier to swallow. With Vietnam, the propaganda didn't go down so easily once images of My Lai appeared – people choked on it, because they could see with their own eyes the reality under the spin. This collision with the truth no longer happens.
    How many Americans saw or even heard about the awful photographs featured at What would have happened if they's been featured on the MSM primetime news? Where are the apparently shocking images from Abu Ghraib and elsewhere mentioned by Seymour Hersh some time ago? Will Americans ever be able to see what they are responsible for?
    Related to this is the fact that where in the 60s and early 70s, the major media was still independent enough to cross the military/govt, to actually hold them accountable, it now seems co-opted, part of the problem. They are 'on side'.'

    I wonder if Mr Slater would feel the same way if the killing ratios in Iraq and the Occupied Territories were reversed.

  5. Jim Haygood
    March 6, 2008, 7:17 am

    "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." – Jerome Slater

    You've GOT TO be kidding me — a man who approves of Clinton's wanton slaughter of civilians, presumes to take Phil to task about a photograph showing civilians killed by violence?

    Slater's not only an advocate of expedient state murder; he wants to conceal it afterward. What I want to know is how NATO apologists like Slater get soapboxes in the media to spread their government-approved line.

    With his partisan ranting about "Serbian genocide," I don't think Slater even deserved a response, Phil. He's certainly not going to publish any response to YOUR comments. Let him scribble on for the statists that he serves.

  6. Jim Haygood
    March 6, 2008, 7:36 am



    Here's a link to the roll call vote on H. Res. 951:

    link to

    The sponsor, Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), was a noisy advocate of invading iraq. Like G.W. Bush, Garrett has two daughters — so HIS family is not on the line, as he sends his neighbors off to die. With his 98-pound-weakling physique, Garrett is the classic, cowardly armchair admiral.

    I'm waiting for Richard Witty to inform us that the 404-1 vote on this inflammatory resolution was purely coincidence. Nope — no Lobby here! Just us Americans, buzzing round the Capitol like a swarm of mosquitos.

  7. Charles Keating
    March 6, 2008, 5:27 pm

    Yep, that Ron Paul is an anti-semite. If only we could get rid of him, we'd be in holy heaven on earth.

  8. Charles Keating
    March 6, 2008, 5:57 pm

    As you all know, US policy is not to show body bags on primetime. God forbid we bring irrational crap into the equation.
    Thank god BushCo & Congress have no kids in this fight.

  9. Todd
    March 7, 2008, 4:21 pm

    After a sixty-year onslaught of bodies stacked like cordwood, I don't know why anyone would object to showing photographs or films of man's brutality now?

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