August 25, 2007

Are You My Mommy?


What’s with the outbreak of injured and orphaned Iraqi children?

This past Tuesday, the NYT prominently offered no less than two, including the front page shot of an Iraqi policeman carrying an injured young boy through a hospital, and a slide show photo of a U.S. Green Zone emergency room medic holding a distraught Iraqi woman’s injured son.

The week before, the image above accompanied the front page article: “Troops Shelter an Unlikely Survivor in Baghdad.” The photo shows an infant, nine month old Fatima, who was recovered by U.S. troops after a death squad killed her mother and uncle in Baghdad.  We are told the child would likely have died if left where she was — hidden under a piece of sheet metal in 120 degree heat.

It’s curious how, in these “persuasion-charged” days, counting down to the White House Iraq status report, this Times article is mindlessly free of political context.  Rather, it’s a do-gooder story casting American forces in the humanitarian role of saving those darn Iraqis from themselves.  (Notice how the infant’s little finger line up perfectly with the stars-and-stripes.)

In an uncomplicated appeal to the emotions, the image-and-text reinforces a “stay the course” strategy through a visceral application of the  “Pottery Barn” principal.  In other words, if we broke the place, now own it.

The best evidence of this assumption is the way the article takes for granted how this child best belongs in the hands of the United States military.  It states:

Such is the unconstrained sectarian hatred here that even a baby is assumed to be a target. Accordingly, Maj. Andy Yerkes, an American police adviser who happened upon Fatima in an Iraqi police station the next morning, decided that the girl also needed yet one more piece of luck: not to be sent to an Iraqi hospital.

Painful experience had already taught Major Yerkes that Sunnis would not be safe in the health care system because it is under the control of Shiites loyal to the Mahdi Army militia….  In the two months before Fatima’s discovery, the major had handed over three Sunni insurgents to Iraqi policemen for medical treatment, only for them to be killed on arrival at the hospital.

So, rather than consider her placement in the arms of extended family, an admittedly weakened Iraqi health, welfare or medical establishment, or else a non-governmental care entity (one of those option being what’s going to happen anyway), Fatima — currently living at the U.S. 28th Combat Support Hospital in the Green Zone — is “posterized” as a “lucky” ward of the American government.  (What, did someone say “exit visa?”)

If a strategic exit and a turnover of this country is out of the question mostly because it would spell a loss for “W,”  the propaganda value here is for us — just before the “Surge Report” is issued — to stay to “save the children.”  Beyond the framing, however, the facial expressions here (of the grown ups) in this awkward-seeming portrait suggests a more accurate telling.  Accordingly, the more reality-based caption might read: “What have we gotten ourselves into?”

(image: Johan Spanner for The New York Times. published: August 13, 2007. caption: Staff Sgt. David D. Highsmith took his turn with little Fatima, who was found under a metal sheet after her mother was killed.)

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Michael Shaw
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