They’re just pictures

But they’re not.

The NY Times has a piece today, talking about whether the new Obama administration will change the policy on photos of the caskets of dead soldiers coming home from the war front.

After all, the caskets really do show the human cost of this long, long war. And they’re just photos. The photos are what they are.

But they’re not just photos. I am unsure if I can really capture in words just how I feel about this. Those aren’t photos, those are men and women making one last journey.

In the summer of 2003, when my First Sergeant and I were taking home two of our platoons, we were set for a night flight. We staged at the airport in Kuwait City, and when it was time, we loaded everyone onto a big bus and headed out for our airplane. The bus had curtains on the windows, which were drawn closed as it was the middle of the night. No one thought to open them, as everyone was just too excited to be going home.

The bus was full. 1SG and I were, literally, standing next to the bus driver, probably the only two who could see out to the side of the bus, through the front door we were all to use. We drove to our airplane, pulled up alongside it, and stopped. The doors open. And 1SG and I just stood there, waiting.

Our soldiers were anxious, I’m sure. They wanted to honker down into the seat that would take them home to their families, their loved ones.

But all that 1SG and I could see was the sight of the flag-draped caskets being loaded into the cargo hold. There was no way we were going to have our soldiers come bouncing out of that bus, so full of so and glee, and right into this most solemn of scenes. 1SG and I stood there, in quiet unison, and just watched, delaying the magic of getting home, he and I having a quiet moment today in solemn honor of those who would be going home with us, our most honored passengers.

So, this debate over photos hits a nerve with me. I understand that for so many, they’re just photos. But they aren’t. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, maybe I’m not. It’s just how I feel, even if it makes no sense.

4 thoughts on “They’re just pictures

  1. It makes perfect sense. The joy of going home on your own two feet and the solemnity of going home in a casket did not belong together on that day.

    As for the photos, to me, seeing them would be like being close enough in combat to see the whites of your enemy’s eyes — raw and personal — and maybe that would make people think twice or think deeper about just what it means to start a war.

  2. I don’t see it as disrespectful to the dead to wish to solemnly note their return to their home country. Perhaps there have to guidelines in place about the behavior of the photographers and perhaps for the use of the pictures, focusing on respect but not precluding political consequences, but those should be enforced after any violation, not pre-emptively.

    And I commend you for not interrupting the loading of caskets for the journey home.

  3. I guess I should clarify this is bit.

    I don’t see the photos as disrespectful. As the wife says, there’s a lot to be said for people understanding what this war is doing — the good and the bad. I advocate free and open discussion of this — it’s healthy for the country to continue to examine topics as important as this, to ensure that our elected officials continue to act in ways to meet the desires of the populace they represent.

    Part of why I wrote this is that I clearly see that I have an unusual view on this subject. My feeling and my experiences influence and impact how I perceive these topics, that they touch my perceptions in an emotional and unlogical / logic-free kind of way. This should be a straight forward, “for the greatest good” kind of assessment for me, but it’s not — and I’m aware of this.

    So, here’s to emotions over logic, and of a willingness to put others before yourself. I would not want a photo of that night, but that image — I am sure — will stay in my head for a long, long time.

  4. I fear that the photos would become part of the political ploys, left or right. We cannot deny the sacrifice, the loss, the sorrow, the loved ones left behind. Nor do we want to. But it would be far, far wrong to use photos as a hammer to argue one side or the other. The photos that to me exhibit the extreme sacrifice of our young men and women are the hometown photos. We buried one of our own, Nathanael, a young and serious man, a son much beloved by his service family and his hometown friends. Our young soldier was saluted by townspeople lining the road as he came home for the last time and during his funeral at the local high school (no other place in town was large enough). We appreciated so much the Patriot Guard riders and those who stood at curbside with flags in hand, and the huge flag raised by firetrucks at the entrance to the cemetery. We feel the pain of the loss of this young man’s life and the pain felt by his loved ones. And we wish we could avoid forever the horrors that war brings. But war happens. If not here, then there, and if not there, then thon. It is a part of this world. In the meantime, it is my thought that we allow dignity and honor to reign over our dead as they return home to loved ones.

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