March 17, 2008

History To Some, Coney Island To Others


The John Burns Week in Review piece on the five year anniversary of the Iraq invasion starts out:

Five years on, it seems positively surreal.

The “it” was the world-wide, made-for-TV, timed-to-the-minute bombing of Bagdad.

Surreal?  At the time it seemed surreal.  With the perspective of history, however, it only seems cold-blooded, gratuitous and all too real.

What’s important to emphasize here is that the event, and the recollection, have essentially been boiled down to this one NYT image.  In the dead-tree edition, the photo is vertical, covers at least 60% of the WIR cover, and has the anchor text “Five Years” lined up in enormous type just to the right of the explosion.  The on-line version, no bigger than any other article-accompanying image, is horizontal.

With its sparkler effect, along with the minimization of the explosion(s) as compared to the expanse of still relatively smoke-free Iraqi skyline, this photo does not bring history into the present so much as perpetuates the original propaganda of the attack as a fireworks show.

This attitude is exemplified and reinforced by the caption:

THE AIR SHOW The war began with a mesmerizing display of American might. But the United States made a basic misjudgment about the Iraqis’ readiness to share power.

So the “only but” to qualify the invasion — and the B-1 “rain” of vengeance on central Baghdad — was that a “basic misjudgment” (more minimizing coming from that phrase, too) was made by “the United States” (not a renegade Administration?) about the Iraqi’s “readiness to share power.”  (I guess ripping apart the complex fabric of a country had nothing to do with it.  That is, if “readiness to share” was ever in the mix.)

If, on the fifth year anniversary of this illicit war, the retrospective view involves scaling down, but essentially perpetuating what was framed from the start as “a show,” I think I’ll wait five more years to see what becomes of our memory.  Who knows?  By then, the date of the attack might be properly revised to the 4th of July.

Five Years (NYT WIR)

(image: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times.  March 19, 2003.  Baghdad, Iraq.

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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