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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Picturing the Casualties of War

    I have seen the military advertise the war in many different ways since it began. One speaker at my high school spoke in front of a packed auditorium, saying “We party all night and save the world during the day and we have video games.” An army recruiter came up to me when I was 18 in my local mall and told me that if I joined the Army, I would be able to buy the dress that I was eyeing while making a difference at the same time.

    More recently, I have seen rock videos glorifying service in the war before the previews at every movie I have gone to this year. This medium is perhaps most infuriating to me, because it is so easy to get caught up in a song. They usually feature catchy guitars and inspirational lyrics about warriors and citizens being soldiers, set against the backdrop of soldiers fighting in deserts, saving little children, and miraculously avoiding explosions. Every soldier has every limb. They all look tired, but fully satisfied.

    I don’t disagree with the concept. Of course the Armed Forces have to recruit people somehow, and obviously every soldier who goes to war, endangering their lives for the American dream for is a hero. It’s the one-sided recruitment advertising I see that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    Clearly it is unreasonable to expect any advertising from their side to be forthcoming about lost limbs and lost lives. However, a few of you may remember that in 2004 a reporter from the Seattle Times was fired for publishing a photo of 20 coffins returning from Iraq, all draped with the American flag.

    To me, this seemed like a denial of the sacrifice that all those soldiers made for this country. They were probably cheered as they left, but tucked away when they returned home.

    Shouldn’t the American people have the right to see for themselves that this is a possible option? Shouldn’t they see this alternative as well as the rock videos and the recruiters in the mall? It is pretty evident that an administration that is trying to promote an unpopular war and would try to obscure the image that people die in wars, has a ulterior, and probably propagandist agenda.

    Some say that displaying the coffins of those who return home in them is unnecessary and some say that it is graphic. Yet, so is the violence that we see every day, even in the advertisements to join the army. The coffins, to me, seem a sad and quiet sort of graphic.

    Unfortunately, this is about what happens after the violence. It is a sad truth of every war that when you leave to fight, you may not come home. Why should that be a secret?

    The Obama administration recently overturned the ban on photographing coffins, bringing up different issues. Many families do not want the press present when they go to retrieve their loved ones remains, which is understandable. However, the new policy leaves the choice to the family. If the family wants or doesn’t mind the presence of the media, they can publish photos of the coffin. If the family protests, the media will not be there.

    This, to me, finally seems like a reasonable compromise. Publishing photos of the coffins is not making a political statement, but rather honoring the ultimate sacrifice that the soldier made for his country. The Armed Forces, as far as I have seen, have done everything possible to glorify war and service in it.

    It is very easy to see the videos and listen to the words and push the other possibilities in enlisting to the back of your head. And even if they are not planning to enlist, Americans deserve to know both sides of the story- even if it is to quietly honor what these soldiers have done for our country.

    The ultimate beauty of this — if there is any — also lies in the fact that the families are given a choice. Back in 2004, many families protested, saying that they wanted America to know just how much their loved ones had done for this country. There were also those who said they didn’t want the bodies to be made into news, when it was so private and emotional to them. The new policy respects both aspects of this debate by giving every family the option to choose what they want, which in the end, is what America is and should always be about.

    In the end, it is the right thing to remember that there really are no winners in this situation. This is about the people that were brave enough to enlist and risk their lives for America, and if they lost their lives to do it, it is the least we can do to remember and honor them for it- the way they would want to be honored.

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