Who owns images of American dead?

vietnam-wounded-marineAP photographer Julie Jacobson was reticent to publish her picture of dying US Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard. Though his father was opposed, the Associated Press overruled. But this was no victory for the public’s right to see a true reflection of war. The D.o.D. is still indignant, but I suspect Jacobson’s report was ultimately vetted in their favor. Military propagandists need to represent America’s growing losses in Afghanistan. Jacobson’s image provides their limited hangout. Like the other photographs of casualties which have escaped through embeds, the image of Lance Corporal Bernard is desaturated of blood, and the surrounding events fit the military endorsed narrative.

Have you noticed that all combat images coming out of today’s wars are drab and lifeless. Obviously this motif is not being applied to the PR shots of jets and military hardware, but scenes of soldiering in Iraq and Afghanistan are dusty and grey, like scenes from a dark virtual world.

The colors in Jacobson’s controversial photo are similarly under saturated. Earlier casualty pics have even been rendered as black and white, and this is no exercise of artistic license. Colorless images telegraph little resemblance to our real world lived in color. An emotional distance is created, most obviously like the detachment we feel looking into the past. Everything before the late sixties happened in monocrome. Early color photographs always shock children with the prospect that lives in generations past might have been been lived in a world of contemporary vibrance.

The photographs from Vietnam were helped by that nation’s lush tropical greens. Images of the wounded were all the more gripping –and demoralizing from the military’s point of view– because unlike in Korea and WWII, the blood was red.

Most images taken in Vietnam came through the military staff photographers. The unapproved subjects, which subverted the official face of the war, emerged from the cameras of independent journalists.

dying US marineJulie Jacobson facilitated the release of this picture, by letting slip two details pertinent to the official US narrative in Afghanistan. Would you believe, just prior to this engagement, friendly Afghans came out of their houses to tell the US soldiers where they could find the Taliban? Probably to ensure Corporal Bernard’s squad pointed their guns away from their homes, but that’s not how the story was spun. Jacobson recounts that these Afghans were eager to inform on the Taliban.

The jocular Jacobson records another telltale crowd-pleaser in the aftermath of the Taliban “ambush,” when she found herself flanked by Afghan National Army troops. When the firing started, Jacobson sought immediately the ranks of US soldiers, because the freakin’ ANA Afghans “aren’t very good.”

Today’s media embeds are basically a privatized signal corps. Their photos should belong to the taxpayers. Insinuations that military families should dictate what images can be used, in the event of death, is a cruel irony. Are the families consulted about what Uncle Sam wants to do with their loved one when he’s still alive? Millions of federal tax dollars are spent on our soldiers, all the more when they die. I have little sympathy for the families who couldn’t stand up for their children and protect them from the capricious whims of our military. There is absolutely no reason to ask their permission about what happens when their little soldier meets his/her calculable fate.

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Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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20 Responses to Who owns images of American dead?

  1. Avatar Angel Gomez says:

    eric your a fucking coward burn in hell

  2. Eric Eric says:

    Doubtful. I’ve avoided killing babies and excusing myself for it.

  3. Avatar Brother Jonah says:

    Back to the “coward” one-liner, Angel? omegared and brokengavel were almost bragging on how you’d become more civilized. I guess not.

    Look, Angel, when you come to somebody’s home, you would knock politely and ask to enter, yes? Unless you’re in somebody else’s country uninvited and therefore the citizens of that nation somehow owe you their lives, property and obedience not in any particular order.

    Now, this website, we’ve got a really liberal method of allowing free speech, something I plumb reckon you’d not find on a Military Recruitment Website, either the official ones or the ones run by people who are Paid Government Employees, soldiers, for instance. I don’t know that you’re allowed to maintain your own Facebook page, for instance, because the Army for a while censored it off their servers. Something about Dr (she IS a doctor, she’s got a doctorate in botany) Laura “N-word” Schlesinger’s son in Afghanistan blogging on Facebook about war crimes he either committed or wished he had and about worshiping Satan.

    But I think, truly I do, that if you “friended” me on Facebook you sure wouldn’t allow me to say anything on your page against your political fucked up doctrine. If I were to go to your blog and offer to have your head blown off, by somebody else like Luis The Other Gomez said, you would consider that to be a threat against your life, and do you know why? Because it actually would be.

    If I were to go to an Army Recruiters website, Facebook page, office, home or whatever and offer to have somebody blow his fucking head off, as Luis put it, only not as politely, then I would reasonably expect to meet a large number of very humorless grim nasty thuggish looking Uniformed Non-Individuals.

    When we go in front of a Recruiters Office and tell the young suckers whose souls the Recruiters are buying and selling, they call the cops on us every time. Same with speaking our minds freely on or near military bases, even though they’re every bit as much OUR property as they are anybody else’s.

    We even paid a license fee to march as an entry in a Saint Patrick’s Day parade, didn’t say the word “babykiller” even once, didn’t say anything other than peace is better than war, and got beaten down by the Local Gestapo, while perhaps 2,000 UNIFORMED Military Personnel cheered and told us that they were somehow “fighting for our freedom”.

    So perhaps a little gentle reminder of what true manners would be. Something a polite and civil society, such as your fellow Troll who signed himself “ML” said your military and police were establishing a Police State HERE and THERE through a “necessary war” to maintain.

    All the crap you’ve been talking? Well, Polite and Civilized is exactly the opposite of that.

    Which do YOU think is more cowardly, going anonymously (for all practical purposes) to a website maintained by people you believe to be weaklings and threatening them, or perhaps those Cowardly Hippie Weaklings standing directly in the line of fire from your Hate-Monger Comrades, even though you and others of your ilk have basically given them the “green light” to kill us whenever they or you please?

    Confirmed Draft Dodgers John Wayne and Ronald Reagan used to do that to us a LOT in the 60s and 70s. Their current crop of successors, Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, Ted Nugent, also confirmed draft dodgers, do it the same way. But of course they’re not Cowards in any way because they Very Bravely Go Along with what you assure us is the Majority.

    Like good little Nazis.

  4. Avatar TruthFTW says:

    First off,

    Eric is a coward. He’s just using that soldiers death as propaganda. He doesn’t give a fuck about the boy who died there. Furthermore, he made it very evident with his bullshit baby killing comment just what his actual stance on the matter is. He’s no different that the assholes in Vietnam who spit on veterans coming back from war.

    What makes him cowardly, is that he doesn’t just come out and say what he thinks. He tries to veil it in lies, and pretend like he gives a shit about US service members. He’s just using that image and the associated story behind for his political agenda.

    As it is, he’s pathetic. So is this brother Jonah douschebag. Ultimately, soldiers get sent to die for political agendas and self righteous politicians. They’re just as much victims in many wars of aggression as civilians and enemy combatants who die.

    I think the real issue, is that these kind of people, feel more sympathy for the Arab guy trying to kill soldiers, than they do for the soldiers who just want to get out of those hellholes and come home. Secretly Eric is hoping more soldiers die. That serves his political agenda. People like him are faceless monsters who try to justify themselves through comments about how peaceful and self justified they are. He’s never killed babies, or whatever that means. As if most soldiers have even killed a person let alone a baby.

    Eric and Brother Jonah…you’re both just as wrong as the other extremists in the conservative/right-wing camp. You just happen to be on the extreme opposite side. Nothing good or honorable about that.

  5. Avatar TruthFTW says:

    Oh and btw, your both Nazi’s too. Faceless little monsters for the cause. You’re both just different types of Nazi’s.

  6. Avatar TruthFTW says:


    And Brother Jonah, your long winded rant is no better or different than Angel’s one liner response. The only difference is that you force people to waste more time reading through your self-centered rant.

    “The reserve of modern assertions is sometimes pushed to extremes, in which the fear of being contradicted leads the writer to strip himself of almost all sense and meaning.”
    -Winston Churchill

    I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself.
    -Thomas Jefferson

    “Extremes to the right and to the left of any political dispute are always wrong.”
    — Dwight D. Eisenhower

  7. Eric Eric says:

    Dear WTF,
    You think quoting imperialist politicians will hold sway here? Jefferson excepted — with whose tenets it’s obvious we agree.

    You’re right, I do not care about the US soldiers in these pictures. To be clear, I only support the troops who shoot their officers. Simple. Even if soldiers are victims too, their complicity creates the hell for not just themselves but innumerable innocents. Our military can’t commit war crimes without them.

    In the present engagements, US soldiers are the invaders and occupiers. If Americans were defending their land and families they’d certainly have my sympathy.

    I’m a coward because I don’t spit on soldiers when I encounter them, owing to manners, giving a personal benefit of the doubt, plus I’ve met a number of decent ones. But step a little closer with your confrontational idiocies and I’ll gladly take a bead on you.

  8. Avatar Brother Jonah says:

    Spitting on soldiers returning from VietNam? Say, I’ve heard that a lot but always in like “Well I heard that somebody in my platoon actually saw somebody spit on a returning GI” type of shit.

    Purest anecdotal like the type that gets ghost stories going. Urban legends. Ingrained mythology. So far I have yet to meet anybody who actually witnessed it. Never saw any video clips of it either, perhaps you’d care to point to some evidence that it even ever happened?
    Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton were part of a gang of Officers (how else can I put it?) who ordered U.S. Regular Army soldiers to fire on World War One Veterans who were protesting all their promised benefits being taken away and sold to War Profiteers (like George Bush’s Grandpa Prescott Bush) at pennies on the dollar and then resold to the same banks who had issued them (War Bonds etc) at a massive profit.

    Not really what you call Loyalty Down, is it? I mean, allegedly the Officers have a duty to support and back up the soldiers under their command, right? In exchange for the unwavering Instant Unthinking Obedience the soldiers are supposed to give them… Loyalty Up has to be matched by Loyalty Down, right?

    Look, “Truth”, the truth is Your “Leaders” like Bush and Cheney and Gates and so forth and so on, by making money from the murders the Soldiers commit for the profits of the Privileged Few, and from the deaths of the soldiers themselves, they dishonor every American and even the name “American” by doing so. They do far worse than spit on “the troops”.

    They gamed the system, found a way to steal trillions of dollars at gunpoint without ever having to touch a gun themselves. All they had to do was convince enough of a loudmouthed simpleminded minority that the war was not only Just, but Necessary, convinced them through Fear and Rage and then put them into uniformed manufactured at Their Mills and Foundries, same with the weapons systems, same with the electronics, the MRE rations, the machinery, every button on every uniform putting money into the pockets of the Already Very Rich.

    Yeah. If you want to rage against anybody dishonoring “the troops” why not rage against the REAL thieves and murderers?

    The people who bleat out “Support the Troops” when they really mean “Support the bloated Military Industrial Complex Thieves and Murderers and the Eternal War Into Which They’re Throwing Generation After Generation of American Working Class People Through Manipulation Of Simple Minded People Who Put Those Stupid Magnetic Yellow Ribbons On Their SUVs With Simplistic Slogans Like Support The Troops or Freedom Isn’t Free But The Real Message Wouldn’t Fit On A Stupid Magnetic Yellow Ribbon And It Would Actually Discourage People From Supporting Their Jackass For Profit Wars Of Conquest” have an opportunity to learn differently, but it would have to be done at the expense of actually exercising enough brain cells to exorcise, sweep out and replace the Simplistic Slogans and one-line Quotations from Murderous Fucks like Eisenhower and Patton and John Wayne with some serious contemplation on what exactly are the “freedoms” the Soldiers are commanded to say they fight for.

    Like the “freedom” to Obey, the “freedom” to Conform, like the “freedom” your troops supposedly gave the Iraqi and Afghans. And of course kill them if they don’t Obey or Conform.

    Do you want that on the streets of America, “Truth”? Because the PIGS who willingly and with full knowledge serve the Rich Whore-lords do that as well. Just ask Oscar Grant. Oh, that’s right, you wouldn’t be able to do that without a seance.

    Forced onto the pavement then shot in the back for not exercising his “Freedom” to Obey and Conform that your troops supposedly gave us.
    You spout platitudes, we show you Dead Babies, and their names. Briseña Flores, age 9, Alyanna Jones, age 7. A Paraplegic man shot in his bed by the Denver Police 6 years ago because his nephew wasn’t available for the pigs to shoot HIM.
    Etta Collins shot dead through her door by the Dallas PIGS, at age 85. These aren’t isolated incidents and the Victims of your heroic PIG masters, both in America and abroad, have names. They HAD life, until your Heroic “free” System took it away from them because they weren’t quick enough to comply and conform.

    The System that relies so heavily on the willingness of “the troops” to slaughter people in the name of “freedom” but in the Reality of Corporate Greed. And on the people who might otherwise successfully overthrow that Corporate Greedom disguised as Personal Freedom system believing that there’s nothing wrong with continuing the slaughter.

    That’s a little bit longer and holds more deeply expressed concepts than quoting Warmongers who made money from other people dying.

  9. Avatar Brother Jonah says:

    As to the constantly reiterated accusation of lying based on not every soldier having actually pulled the trigger on a baby, by the same token not every Afghan, Iraqi, Honduran, Venezuelan, Guatemalan, Mexican, Palestinian, Iranian, Colombian, Nicaraguan, Haitian, Grenadien, or other citizen of other nations whose life was snuffed out by the U.S. Military actually ever pulled the trigger on any U.S. citizen, and most of those who HAVE done so did so while being attacked by U.S. Soldiers or the soldiers of the Puppet Military groups sponsored and backed by them

    Exactly NONE of those killed by United States Military or “coalition” Puppet Regimes was ever actually proven to be an “unlawful combatant”. The ONLY so-called “evidence” that any of them were is provided by the soldiers who killed them. None of whom would have any reason to actually LIE if he has killed civilians, right?

    But EVERY U.S. soldier and Puppet “coalition” Soldier killed in the illegal war WAS an unlawful combatant. “Following orders” wasn’t accepted as a defense at the Nurnberg Tribunals.

    As for “self serving” and “long winded”, latter first, explanations that are short and glib don’t wash, bubba. They have the taint of Government Propaganda about them.

    For the former, what self serving is there? I don’t gain any money from denouncing the Terrorist Regime of the Pentagon.
    According to the Pentagon they’re the Mightiest Military the world has ever seen, but also according to the Pentagon, anybody who defies the Mightiest Military the world has ever seen, and is therefore defiant from a position of helplessness, must be, in your words, “Truth”, a coward.

    So if you say it’s bravery to attack people who are not able to fight back effectively, like the Pentagon Propaganda you visited upon us maintains, and it’s Cowardice to defy the Mighty Armed Power of these fine brave “heroes”…

    Also, since I am only one person, badly disabled and usually unarmed, unlike the Vast Army of The Mighty Empire, then I have some powerful enemies, and you’re boasting that the Army only has enemies who are weak and powerless.
    Kind of like the “babykiller” name is very well earned.

    I think I’ll just stick to having the title of being bold enough to confront people who are, by their own boast, Mightier than myself. It has a much nicer ring to it.

  10. Avatar Ann says:

    The DOD’s anger over the publishing of LCph Bernard’s photo has nothing to do with propaganda. If Bernard’s family had approved Gates would have backed off of this issue. But like any normal person they simply wanted the common courtesy of not having images of their dying son on each and every news station in the world.

    This is no different from Cindy Sheehan using her dead son to further her agenda. The exception being that the Bernard family wanted no notoriety so they could grieve in the way they wished. Instead they not only had to endure what every parent dreads most, but also got dragged into unwanted international notoriety.

    Jacobsen should have kept the photo to release at a later date. Instead, mere days after his death, his image was ghoulishly hijacked so that the Bernard family couldn’t watch tv, listen to the radio, or read the newspaper. This isn’t about ‘ownership’ of any photo, it’s simply respecting the wishes of a grieving family.

    Just as families should have the right to allow the media to be present at the dignified transfers, memorial services, and funerals of their loved ones, so to should they be able to refuse the dissemination of a photo that is unequivocally centered on their mortally wounded son.

  11. Avatar Ann says:

    And if you feel everything funded by tax dollars belong to the citizenry then don’t be a hypocrite. If you get unemployment or welfare then be prepared to offer constant access to your bank accounts. Subsidized medical care? Allow every detail of your health records to be made public. Granted WIC? Then your grocery receipts should be made public. Subsidized mental health care? Your medication and notes written by the psychiatrist should also be posted in the public domain. Utilities assistance? Hand over your meter readings and water usage levels. Have a Pell Grant? Then student records must be made public. Want to send your kid to school on a voucher program? Then agree to have your parenting skills continually monitored. Housing assistance? Then you must consent to unannounced visits to verify you are keeping your dwelling clean. Criminal records could never be sealed, the assembly of nuclear weapons must be readily available, etc. It’s only fair after all.

  12. Eric Eric says:

    Not the point. The tragic consequences of war are nobody’s to cover up. If military families solicit public support for their soldiers, they can deal with their soldiers’ deaths being used to paint war’s real story.

    I don’t think a military family’s grief should be anyone’s worry. They and their soldier facilitated so much ongoing destruction all over the world, they should be ashamed to be asking anything of us, their victims. They want to escape notoriety? sorry no.

  13. Avatar Tony Logan says:

    I share some of this sentiment of Eric’s, too, though I do doubt that WE, Eric and I, are in any way victims in the same sense as many of the Iraqis, Afghans, Vietnamese, and Koreans have been of the many pro-war, US soldiers and their families.

    However, the Pentagon run welfare machine that feeds these soldier and soldier family folk DO STEAL from us still remaining civilians in the US. The military governmental National Security State welfare recipient ‘clients’, both corporate and down to the lowest status peon grunt level, are the major welfare loafs around, and they do in a big way actually steal from working Americans who are the real economy of this nation and who are forced to support our Lockheeds, Boeings, and ‘hero’ uniformed caste with our actual work output then turned into Pentagon burnt off taxes.

  14. Avatar anonymous says:

    See you guys are crazy and sick mentally, no respect for the dead seriously. If you hate war and soldiers quit paying taxes, get the fuck out go live in a third world country that is so much better than the United States, fucking souless pricks, its out of respect soldier or civilian to honor the request of the family in a time of death. This is the same as pissing on someone’s grave if not worse.

  15. Eric Eric says:

    No it is not. Urinating on someone has aggressive symbolism related to marking territory or exerting dominance, in some cultures also religious taboos.

    Preventing soldiers or their families from scurrying into the shadows is about giving them the chance to follow through on their reckless support for war.

  16. Avatar anonymous says:

    Dude its the dead how would you like it if I posted pictures of your dead mother the exact moment she died, and posted this woman rasied a piece of shit as son and passed on her hate for soldiers to him.

  17. Avatar Tony Logan says:

    I personally do not agree with this conclusion to Eric’s commentary, Anonymous. I am not defending it at all. I think that his conclusion is rather cold hearted and unkind, in fact.

    ‘I have little sympathy for the families who couldn’t stand up for their children and protect them from the capricious whims of our military. There is absolutely no reason to ask their permission about what happens when their little soldier meets his/her calculable fate.’

    What get’s me about you Right Wingers though, is how you seem unable to understand that when people disagree with yourselves, that does not necessarily mean that all of us in opposition to you nice people have the exact same and identical opinions ourselves. For example, in this case I DO HAVE SOME SYMPATHY for the relatives of the US dead, even if the US soldiers who were their sons and daughters were out there killing others galore. I have a lot of sympathy for the dead and injured US dead, in fact. My opinion is obviously not Eric’s then.

    Let’s take the case of Casey Sheehan and his Mom, as example, for just why that is so? Cindy did not want her son to make the mistake of joining up in the military for personal gain, but her son Casey thought that Mom didn’t really understand things quite right. So he ignored his mom’s opinions about the military and signed up anyway. Of course I sympathize with Cindy when her son comes home dead. What a sad end to her precious efforts to raise a decent son. Casey made a terrible mistake, I think, and paid for it with his life. I feel the terrible suffering of his mom.

    I feel sad, too, when even gung ho military families lose their children to death and horrible injuries in these wars. It is a sad thing and I respect their mourning for their loved ones. I certainly would not want to make their suffering any worse than it already is. However, these are not all saints sacrificing their lives for some great cause. The cause of making war and occupying other peoples’ countries for the gain of the US government’s geopolitical manipulations is a sorry one.

    So, Anonymous, I hope you see that we do not all write with one voice or one opinion alone here on this blog. Far away from that, in fact.

  18. Avatar anonymous says:

    Exactly Tony the point I was trying to get across is that was someone’s son, for being a humanitarian its respect for the dead regardless of what they did in life as an occupation for whatever reason, I didnt agree with the way the u.s. handled Osama’s death and he was an evil man. Regardless when people die no matter how it happened wishes need to honored.

  19. Avatar Ann says:

    Eric, why are you the arbiter of what grief or empathy is legitimate? Certainly the consumption inherent to your day to day life renders more victims than Joshua Bernard’s time in the military ever did. Showing his family the basic consideration of not plastering his dying moments on every TV, newspaper, and magazine isn’t covering anything up. You don’t have the right to revoke Joshua Bernard’s humanity, or deny his family the right to mourn as they see fit any more than you would be entitled to if he was instead an Afghan.

    I can understand the publication of imagery featuring unidentified dead and wounded. The photos of the two unidentified dead Fallujah Marines, the photo of a dead Marine’s squad praying over his body, the flag draped coffins being returned home, the photo series of Lt. James Cathey’s widow, and public images of wounded personnel at Walter Reed all accomplish the objective you claim Joshua Bernard’s photo does. The photos that aren’t identified ensure the family is not forced to perpetually relive the death of their loved one. The photos that are identified are permitted by the family. They are just as disturbing, and just as effective. The only difference is that you aren’t revictimizing an unwilling family (because if you truly care about human life then ALL of the dead involved are victims.)

    You’re reverting to the same ghoulish fascination with death and destruction that you condemn the right wing for having. The death of a soldier is no more deserved than the death of any other person. State administered capital punishment is wrong, and should not be championed as some sort of justice. I imagine you and most of the readers here would agree. So why is it any different for military personnel? I don’t see anyone looking to publish photos of our tax dollar funded executions, or murdered guards as a way to show the problems in the criminal justice system.

    The proposed compassion for human life becomes sickeningly conditional, and is more befitting of Old Testament myths than decent human beings. I am a liberal, but this sort of hypocrisy is exactly why I stopped involving myself in the movement years ago.

  20. Avatar Ann says:

    In response to earlier comments I would like to add that I am not trying to say everyone on this blog thinks exactly the same way. Nevertheless I’ve encountered a significant number of progressives who share Eric’s views, which is why I use plural pronouns.

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