Thursday, January 17, 2008


My fellow Sanity Squad member, Neo-neocon, has a powerful post up that should stun you (it certainly stunned me, and I was never one of antiwar protesters during the Vietnam war, nor did I sympathize with them much). Neo's post explores the reality and circumstances surrounding two of the most famous photos from the Vietnam war. As it turns out, they do not represent what you think they do. But no one ever has ever made much of an effort to cut through the propaganda and understand either of them in context, or to explore their circumstances. Not then; and not for 30 years. But, as Neo discovered, the truth was always out there.

Neo recounts her reaction when she did a little research:
As I read the article about the photos, I felt a sense of disbelief. I wasn’t quite sure what I was reading was correct. Surely, if this information about both photos were true, I’d have heard about it before this. After all, thirty years had passed.

I spent the next few hours searching the subject online and found quite a bit more information, but no serious or credible refutation of the stories I’d just learned. The facts therein did not appear to be in much dispute. I read the original article again, and then again, in a tensely concentrated state.

Then the strangest feeling came over me. I don’t even have a word for it, although I usually can come up with words for emotions.

This was a new feeling. The best description I can come up with that is was a regret so intense it morphed seamlessly into guilt, as though I were responsible for something terrible, though I didn’t know exactly what. Regret and guilt, and also a rage that I’d been so stupid, that I’d let myself be duped or misled or kept ignorant about something so important, and that I’d remained ignorant all these years.

I sat in front of my computer and put my face down on the keyboard. I stayed in that position for a few minutes, energyless and drained. When I lifted my head I was surprised to find a few tears on my cheeks.

The experience was something akin to being married for thirty years, thinking your husband loving and faithful, and then by chance coming across evidence that he’d been living a double life all that time, with a wife and kids in another town. A sense of deep betrayal of a basic trust.

Photos are inherently emotional, and there’s no doubt that these were powerful photos, deserving of every prize they’d earned. If the point of publishing them had been to convey the idea that war entails violence and suffering, they succeeded admirably. And maybe this was what the photographers who took them were trying to say.

But that’s not a good enough message in and of itself. Killing is awful, yes. But not all killing is equally awful. And the press during the Vietnam War had been charged with the task of providing that all-important context.

Read it all.

Vietnam and Iraq. Two very different wars, but the media continue to have the same agenda.

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