You are unlikely to see a strong reaction from the Marines on the publication of a the photograph of a mortally wounded LCpl Bernard. There are a number of reasons for that, I think. I must add first that I am surprised that they are not upset that the family of one of their fallen was totally disregarded in this action. I always thought that the Marines were family, and that the family of their family was, well, family. They are probably going to remain out of the fray, though. One of those reasons is that they don’t have to.
Plenty of others will raise a cry and hue for them. My initial reaction was powerful and gut-level; but then it’s time to look at the reaction and the reasoning behind it. First, the disregard for the family’s well-known wishes was disregarded. It was weighed against the standards that the AP finds important and, in the end, found less compelling than their business interests. Cold? Indeed; but there was a reason that the approval was first sought. The AP was seeking validation from the family. The AP never really cared if the response was negative. This means that the approval of the family would have added some value to the AP’s angle on this; but they were so willing to go without approval that they were willing to disregard a direct request from the Secretary of Defense, who asked them not to publish it.
They weren’t willing to take a “no,” but there was a reason that they wanted the validation of the “yes.”
While it could be claimed that we have abrogated our own rights to privacy simply by raising our hands, why do we sign press release authorizations… or not… when we do our processing to go to a combat theater? While that release is not intended for such situations, if we’ve abrogated our rights, then why do they need a release? The Dover policy is all about the right of privacy that is recognized for families. We volunteered for service in a time of war. There is not a single one of us who were drafted into the military. In return, we expect to be given some consideration. There are reasons why we feel that we need it.
These reasons were illustrated by the Huffington Post, who blew the picture up all over their home page. The HuffPo doesn’t care a bit about the tragedy of sacrifice in war; they want web traffic. It is their be all and end all; and they will get it. If you feel the spirit move you, by all means look… but I would prefer that you didn’t. It is harlotry, pure and simple. We should put up a sign: Please Do Not Feed the Whores. While driven by prurience, greed and general sluttiness, the HuffPo is also significantly slanted politically; no friend of Soldiers or Marines; unless you happen to be mortally wounded and therefore useful to the crowd that HuffPo caters to. Then you are to be blown up to gigantic proportions and your death agonies exulted over by those who hate you for who you are and what you died for.
And they have been. LCpl Bernard has been exulted over in his death agonies, something that many of us know would happen to us if our mortally wounded images were displayed. We didn’t join and risk being mortally wounded just so some schmuck could use the image of our sacrifice against what we believe in. We’re not claiming impunity against being photographed or filmed in the conduct of our duties. Hey, if you catch us doing something wrong, then show it. Good, bad or indifferent… show it.
Of course, there is a tremendous amount of good that goes on here, too. Damned little of that get shown, either. This war is not exactly the triumph of journalism. Journalism as it was once known is actually quite dead. Most of the journalists stay in Kabul and send out stringers. The same happened in Iraq. There is not a lot of journalism being practiced, and then a photographer gets “the money shot.” The AP, or pretty much any legacy media outlet is going to use it. They will take the hits on their websites and the gory horror of death selling papers for them. And the HuffPo’s of the world will blow up a young American’s death throes so that all those who oppose what the young man was doing can cry out with glee and babble on about how he deserved to die. This is heinous, and it is anathema to those of us who risk all to do this job. Now we risk not only our lives and ultimate pain for our families, but we risk disrespect from our own countrymen, who when media was more limited would never be tolerated exulting over the death of a Marine. But media is cheap now; so are a lot of the outlets.
Death is a private moment. It is also tremendously painful for our families. LCpl Bernard’s parents could have lived the rest of their lives without seeing that photograph. Not only have they seen it, they have lived to see their son’s death greeted with glee by some of their fellow citizens.
Our country is breaking faith with us… and that’s the point of the exultation. By dragging this young Marine through the streets of virtual Mogadishu, the Somalians of HuffPo and their exulting netskinnies are breaking faith with the military and they are doing it purposefully. LCpl Bernard never did a thing to deserve that. He deserves respect and gratitude. His parents, whose son lies forfeit on the altar of liberty, are subjected to his being dragged triumphantly about the internet by clannish internet warlords.
We are volunteers all. We deserve to be treated with respect or, failing that, we refuse to be disrespected. We cannot accept this type of abuse again. We need to demand that our leadership put safeguards in place to prevent this and protect us when we have been rendered vulnerable due to wounds. Losing our lives is one thing; having it rubbed in the faces of our wives, parents, or in my case, children is not something that we should ever have to worry about. We should call on Secretary Gates to review the policies. There is room for give and take. He gave them Dover; give us now our dignity. People who we capture are given more dignity than we are while our own citizens can virtually dance on our suffering and dying bodies.
I would recommend a policy that, like Dover, any images of an American servicemember that involves loss of life, limb or eyesight should require approval of the servicemember or in the case of death or incapacitation, a designated family member. The world has changed. In a digital world we have the ability to ask each and every time; and it should be done. The rights of each end where the rights of others begin; that includes the press. They obviously cannot be expected to hold themselves to any ethical standard.
Or is respect for our service only lip service itself, sold cheaply to the nearest harlot upon demand?
It’s time to start flooding Secretary Gates’ office with demands for such protection from the Virtual Vultures of Mogadishu.