December 27, 2005

Pro-War Picture Of The Year


If you’re not familiar with Michael Yon, he is an independent pro-war photographer embedded in Iraq.  He has been invited to testify to Congress by Rick Santorum, and his images have been used as presentation material by Senator Asa Hutchinson.  On returning to Iraq this past October, he was denied embed status on his own, so he became nominally affiliated with The Weekly Standard.

Mr. Yon’s self-published biography tells the story of a young man who received special forces training, and then was tried and acquitted for murdering a bar patron right after becoming a Green Beret.  His website, consisting of regular "dispatches" from Iraq, has become quite popular with the conservative blogosphere.

Mr. Yon’s work is relevant right now because his photograph, shown above, is one of 10 finalists in TIME’s year end run off for most popular "Viewer’s Pick."  (On the voting page, you can see the 10 finalists that received the highest vote totals from viewers over the past year as "best photo of the week.")

In an ideal world, one would be able to examine news image in a deeper context, pairing each picture with a comprehensive explanation of how, where, and why it was taken.  Thanks to Mr. Yon’s reporting, this photo is accompanied with some backstory.  Here are his comments:

The photo of Major Beiger cradling the Iraqi girl, Farah, was the
people’s choice the first week of May, 2005. Time Magazine titled it
"In his Arms" and used this caption:

"A US Soldier comforts a child fatally wounded in a car bomb blast in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad."

It was an instant of clarity in a blur of chaos that, for many of
us, frames and defines the nature of this war. Any US soldier who has
ever served in combat can probably give countless examples of moments
like this. I just happened to be on the scene that day when a terrorist
who had been trailing a Deuce Four patrol in a car packed with
explosives waited until a crowd of children had gathered around the
soldiers and selected that moment to drive into the crowd and detonate.
Although little remained of him to be shown in this frame, the image
somehow still reveals the true nature of our enemy in this war.

Obviously, the content is gripping and casts the U.S. forces in Iraq in
a compassionate, even maternal light.  Still, I believe that the
relative lack of ambiguity in this description raises more questions,
rather than less.

In this case, for example, it might be helpful to know that Mr. Yon possessed a highly subjective and emotional bond with the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry ("Deuce Four") brigade
he was embedded with in Mosul.  (As something of a coincidence, I
happened to stumble on this brigade back in January — see: Our Gang.
What drew my attention was its use of The Punisher symbol, and examples
where it’s tag was left on buildings.  You can also view multiple
examples of the symbol from the Brigade’s recent Punisher’s Ball, which Mr. Yon documented in November.)

Based on the narrative, here are just some of the questions that arise:

>> If the Americans were on patrol, could the attack be as meditated as the narrative implies?

>> Was this a moment of clarity for the soldier, or for Mr. Yon — who is now selling signed copies of the photo to subsidize his activities?

>> Exactly who is the enemy Mr. Yon refers to?  Is he
referring to Saddam loyalists?  Al Qaeda?  Sunni militia?  And what are
the politics of the blanket "terrorist" label?

>> Would Mr. Yon still have gotten this shot if his
relationship with the soldiers was less intimate?    (Early in the
year, there was an AP and and AFP photographer also embedded with this
brigade.  It’s unclear whether they were present, or had similar
access, however.)

>> Given his partisanship, what prevents us from labeling Mr. Yon’s image as pro-war propaganda?

Of course, here’s the question that really gets
conservatives quite upset:  One could ask whether this child would have
been harmed in the first place if the U.S. hadn’t doctored WMD
intelligence, or hadn’t overridden plans for securing the peace once
the Iraq campaign began.

(image: Michael Yon. May 2, 2005.  Mosul, Iraq.

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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