Show the coffins?

Biased reporting from Iraq

Steven Den Beste has a post up about a Newsweek article by Martha Brant that claims the reason Americans aren’t up in arms about the casualties in Iraq is that we don’t know about them. If the American public just knew about the three to six US troops killed each week, we’d demand that we GET OUT NOW. Her solution is to show pictures of the coffins as the bodies come home. After all, showing the horror of the Vietnam War helped turn public opinion against our involvement there.

I’ll offer a different reason: there are no pictures. As much as I hate to admit this as a print reporter, images do sear into people’s mind more than words. Nick Ut’s photograph of 9-year-old Kim Phuc became synonymous with the Vietnam War. She was the terrified little girl running naked, covered in napalm. Television images of caskets and body bags also changed public opinion about the war.
But there are no images of flag-draped coffins in this war to remind people of the human price being paid.

Without question, the price paid by our soldiers and their families staggers the mind. Those that are killed or wounded have risked everything for me and my family. I cannot put into words the depth of my gratitude. I realize that this is all very easy for me to say while I sit in my office on my lunch hour.

Den Beste points out, however,

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to her that the majority of Americans fully understand that we’re taking casualties in this war, but also understand that it’s a price we must pay. It’s terrible and horrible and dreadful and awful but also unavoidable, and no matter how bad it might be it is not as bad as what would ultimately happen if we did what Brant clearly wants.

Brant seems to think that if Americans would just realize that war is hell, we would simply know better than to fight wars. In the world where people buy the world a home and furnish it with love and grow apple trees and honey bees, and snow white turtle doves while singing in perfect harmony, that just might work. In this world, where Coca-Cola isn’t the only thing that people want today, that’s just plain ignorance.

I think everyone knows that our soldiers are dying over in Iraq. I do not think that anyone anywhere is unaware of that, as she claims, or completely uncaring. But I think that most Americans support what we’re doing despite the cost. Obviously, things are different for those families that have members in Iraq or that have been killed or wounded. It’s far more personal to them, and I don’t think that anyone would deny them their grief or their questions. But why deny them their privacy or the respect they deserve by making their fallen sons’ return a media junket?

Martha Brant seems to be entirely in favor of using the media to whip up everyone’s emotions and to overtly affect policy, but only as long as it promotes the agenda she subscribes to. She’s not alone, for sure.

Absolutely, war is a horrible thing. Absolutely, every death, American or otherwise, is a tragedy. Those people are gone from this world forever, and their friends and family will never be the same because of it.

Think, for a moment, though. What if the press in the early 1860’s had been able to convince enough Americans that war was too bloody to wage, and that if those Southern states wanted to secede we should let them as long as no more soldiers died. Entire families were wiped out in the American Civil War. Death and destruction flowed across our land like a raging storm. The United States government could have survived the split with the Southern states, but our national identity, still so young and fragile in those days, could not have. Never mind the millions upon millions of slaves that would not have been freed at the time, for a moment. What would have happened to the REST OF THE WORLD in the years between then and now if the United States of America was just another little second-rate country? But in 1861, thousands of American soldiers could have been saved if we’d just stopped fighting. Should we have?

Den Beste writes

I don’t want our people to die in Iraq. I hate the fact that it’s happening. I wish it weren’t necessary. But I also think it is necessary that we take that risk, because I think it would be even worse if we didn’t do it. 103 American GIs dying in Iraq is a terrible thing. Thousands of Americans dying in the next major terrorist attack against us would be even worse.

Brant thinks we can get peace by ceasing to fight. I think that if we don’t take the war to our enemies, at a time and place of our choosing which is to our advantage, they’ll bring the war to us, at a time and place most to our disadvantage. The war won’t end just because we refuse to actively fight it.

If you don’t think our invasion of Iraq supports our cause against terror, fair enough. Let’s argue the case. But don’t try to use everyone’s very sensible aversion to death and destruction as an excuse to not do what’s right.


  1. There is yet another side to this story, why aren’t coffins being allowed to be shown? What do we have to hide? What is the next step? No reporting of soldier’s deaths at all? I feel this cheapens the deaths of our soldiers and gives the wrong impression that we don’t care about the sacrifice that they have made. We do of course care so let’s not push these brave men and women under a rug just because it might not be cheerful to remember their deaths. Personally, I feel that the President should be attending a few memorial services as by not doing so, he gives the impression that he doesn’t care. This policy of not allowing the coffins shown is just more of that. You don’t have to agree with me, I just ask that you think about it. ***

  2. My understanding is that the press has not been allowed to cover the return of bodies (at least at the airfield in question) for many years, at least in part out of concern and respect for the families of the fallen. I just don’t see this as a cover-up. And the military doesn’t seem to have made any move to ‘hush up’ any deaths so far. There certainly isn’t any shortage of reports on the news sites when someone does get killed or wounded. The point here is that the writer of the article is flat out proposing that the return of American bodies be turned into a big media event for the express purpose of changing people’s opinions. She says that simply reporting the deaths as they happen isn’t enough, and that we need pictures to ‘sear into people’s mind.’ She obviously isn’t accepting the fact that people know Americans are dying in Iraq yet they continue to support what we’re doing. I wouldn’t have a problem with Bush attending some memorial services, but the second he does the Dems will be all over him for trying to exploit the family’s grief for political gain. ***

  3. Murdoc, the policy was there years before at Dover but never enforced till recently. Here is the WP version from my site Not all people support what is going on in Iraq, remember the world-wide protests. What is being suggested is to close off to the press and public when the coffins come in from overseas. No pictures…no coverage. That means I couldn’t go either as I am not immediate family. I’m on the contact list, I would have been his wife if he had returned in July yet could be left out now if this is enforced. Why hide it at all? It just isn’t right and I feel it cheapens the soldier’s sacrifice by sweeping them under the rug like that. Perhaps NOW if Bush were to suddenly start showing up at Memorial services things would be said…if he had made it a practice earlier on it would now be thought of as a positive thing on his behalf. You just made me think of something else tho, there is that possibility that the family would not want him there. I know I wouldn’t if it were my Marine’s service and I know his feelings well enough that my Marine wouldn’t want him there either. I’m sure they could clear it in advance to find out the family wishes as they wouldn’t just show up with alot of secret service and the president. Finding the coverage of deaths is getting harder than it was, I know as I search for the names of the units so I know if it wasn’t mine. If it were mine, confirmation would come the day after at my door. The coverage is being pushed back by the fluff about schools and hospitals that didn’t close but are being promoted now as opened. That is what I hate most about this ‘Good News’ only campaign…it is pushing aside the things that are important to replace with fluff. ***

  4. The WaPo article you mention says that coverage at Dover has been restricted since 1991 with only 1 exception. That’s what I meant by ‘at least at the airfield in question.’ As for the ”Good News’ only’ campaign…I haven’t seen it except on some particular blogs. The ‘real’ news service I primarily use is and there are daily updates and ‘Breaking News’ headlines about US casualties. I understand (well, not really) the anxious moments when family members hear about GI’s killed, but this is not anything resembling a cover-up. If it turns out that 100 troops really died instead of the 5 that the Pentagon reported, THAT would be a cover-up. Blogger News links to literally hundreds of official media stories about each soldier killed the day it’s reported. This is, at the very most, spin by the military. ***

  5. Personally, I don’t see any ‘cover up’in not showing the coffins as they come home. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I certainly don’t gloss over or otherwise discount the cost we’re paying over in Iraq. (And, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan.) I believe in the mission we’re involved in over in Iraq, even if I don’t really like Bush, or the way he ‘sold’ the war. (Some of us can think for ourselves, thank you very much.) I just agree with Bush that it’s something that needs taking care of. I don’t think Bush should have showed up to the services before or that he should start to now, unless his presence is requested by the family, but I have to admit I don’t really know the traditions in this arena. I find daily casualty reports from Iraq MUCH easier to find than daily reports of what has been accomplished over the last 24 hours. There are SO many things going on over there that are important to know about that we aren’t hearing about. For example, the News Front Page of MSNBC has an article describing a number of attacks on American soldiers, an article about future challenges and roadblocks we face in the rebuilding effort, but not a SINGLE article about security or construction projects that were successfully completed today! Not ONE! I’m part of MSNBC’s reader base, and I want to read it, so don’t tell me it’s not news. It is. And in response to the original article, I think it would be criminal to turn the homecoming of a fallen soldier into a media circus for political reasons, no matter what ‘side’hoped to gain from it. Finally, I hope I’m not being to presumptuous or forward in stating that I am very proud and thankful for what your Marine is doing in Iraq. I respect his views on the war (or what I gather them to be from reading your posts) and am grateful that he is doing his duty in a first class manner regardless of his desire not to be there. I personally think the world will be a better place in the future because of him, and other like him. (I apologize in advance if I’m treading on subjects that are too personal.) ***

  6. Ok, this is what I mean. One day this week I was watching ABC news, I watch CNN the most but try to check out the other media too on a regular basis. What I heard was, ‘ 2 soldiers killed in Iraq today.’ Nothing else just that sentence. I sat and watched the rest of the program hoping to hear a bit more but there was nothing more. So I hopped on-line expecting to find more information on the soldiers killed, like what units they were from and the story was buried, I had to dig for it. I never had to do that before. I’m hoping that doesn’t continue. Past Presidents have attended Memorial Services…Clinton was one I can think of right off the top of my head. Before you lynch me for saying that name aloud, I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of his either yet could respect him in some ways. I didn’t dream up the ‘Good News’ campaign, check this out. for one example. About the coffins read this from the WP article, ‘A Pentagon spokeswoman said the military-wide policy actually dates from about November 2000 — the last days of the Clinton administration — but it apparently went unheeded and unenforced, as images of caskets returning from the Afghanistan war appeared on television broadcasts and in newspapers until early this year. Though Dover Air Force Base, which has the military’s largest mortuary, has had restrictions for 12 years, others ‘may not have been familiar with the policy,’ the spokeswoman said. This year, ‘we’ve really tried to enforce it.’ So Clinton changed the policy yet it was not enforced at all. Now read this from the same article, ‘To this problem, the Bush administration has found a simple solution: It has ended the public dissemination of such images by banning news coverage and photography of dead soldiers’ homecomings on all military bases. ‘In March, on the eve of the Iraq war, a directive arrived from the Pentagon at U.S. military bases. ‘There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to or departing from Ramstein airbase or Dover base, to include interim stops,’ the Defense Department said, referring to the major ports for the returning remains. ‘ No arrival ceremonies means I could not attend. I know we can’t blindly believe everything we read or hear, it is unfortunate that we can not. Remember when during the ‘Race to Baghdad’ when CentCom had released to the media that an entire division of Iraqi solders had surrendered? That never happened, it was war propaganda meant for the enemy. I cheered at the TV hearing that…my Marine laughed at it later when I told him after things had calmed down some for me. He told me not to believe alot of the news during war time because every war has had it’s propaganda. He also cited the case of the ‘Maine’ in the Spanish American war and the ‘Gulf of Tonklin’ incidents as examples. Thanks KTLA for your thoughts on my Marine. I’ll copy them to paste in my email to him tonight as I know he would appreciate hearing your words. ***

  7. The story clearly states that coverage at Dover has been restricted since 1991. Coverage at other bases has been restricted since 2000, but not enforced until now. Honestly, I don’t think that suddenly enforcing a recent policy change at the same time that a major military campaign begins is really any evidence of anything. Of course the administration and the Pentagon don’t want the focus on the bodies coming home. That’s no different than any other war anyone anywhere has ever fought. My problem with the Newsweek article is that the writer wants to use the coverage to stir up anti-war emotions. That’s propoganda AT LEAST as strong as what the denial of coverage at Dover and other places is. ***

  8. Murdoc, I can understand and agree with your concerns about turning the coffin returns into a media circus, I wouldn’t want that. The ceremonies is what gets to me. I really see no reason to ban those. The policy wasn’t enforced during the start of the war with Afghanistan it bothers me that it now will be. I’m thinking it is because the numbers coming home that way have increased to the point where the administration doesn’t want to have to deal with it or have to risk a big scene even once. I didn’t like the Newsweek article myself, that is why I was referring more to the Wash Post article. The Newsweek article just screamed of bias in my opinion. I admit my own bias on this subject but don’t go so far as to think we need to go to the levels that the Newsweek article surely seemed to suggest. Banning the ceremonies and public attendance of them is a bad idea. Media coverage of those events I feel less strongly about and can see from the Newsweek article that the potential for abuse is there tho I don’t see our corporate media as actually doing it. ***

  9. Murdoc, you are spot-on. This is about politicizing the deaths of our soldiers instead of honoring their sacrifice. It fits right in with Tom Hayden’s article called ‘How to End the War in Iraq,’ that outlines how to organize an effort to ensure that the United States is defeated in Iraq. The opening sentence: ‘The anti-war movement can force the Bush administration to leave Iraq by denying it the funding, troops, and alliances necessary to its strategy for dominance.’ Hayden next lauds the success of the anti-war movement within the Democratic Party and gives proof of its effectiveness. ‘The pressure of anti-war voices and the Kerry campaign led Bush to delay the request for a supplemental $75 billion appropriation, the assault on Falluja, and the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi elections until after Nov. 2.’ Hayden details his plan for Vietnam-like withdrawal from Iraq. ‘The first step is to build pressure at congressional district levels to oppose any further funding or additional troops for war. If members of Congress balk at cutting off all assistance and want to propose ‘conditions’ for further aid, it is a small step toward threatening funding. If only 75 members of Congress go on record against any further funding, that’s a step in the right direction towards the exit.’ To accomplish this, the Democratic Party must be pushed into becoming the anti-war party. ‘The progressive activists of the party should refuse to contribute any more resources, volunteers, money, etc. to candidates or incumbents who act as collaborators.’ Note the use of the word ‘collaborators’ — meaning, of course, those who collaborate with the duly elected government of the United States. I see this as pushing the American public’s views on the war right into the same direction as happened during Vietnam. I pray that we learned from that…Kerry and Jane Fonda are saying the same exact things about the War in Iraq as they said about Vietnam. Just look at the disastrous consequences. We shouldn’t allow it to happen again.