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Where are the dead Iraqis to be seen?

Instapundit links to this stirring piece in the Mirror by Tony Parsons, with which I almost wholly agree. Wow, says Instapundit. Indeed. But here’s the one bit I have a problem with.

Yes, there have been deeply disturbing images of dead and burned Iraqi children. But do we honestly imagine that Allied forces, fighting a war unrestrained by political concerns, didn’t kill and maim countless numbers of innocent French, Dutch and Belgian children in the Second World War, never mind the babies we burned alive in Japan and Germany.

We just didn’t see pictures of them.

But I haven’t seen any pictures of dead Iraqis either. Not at any rate on television, which is the news source I’ve been relying on.

Neither has James Lileks. I really like Lileks, to the point where one of the things I most dislike about Saturday morning now is that there’ll be no Bleating from him until Monday. But, I find his archives hard to navigate, and I don’t know how to get to this Bleat once it has stopped being today’s Bleat. This link just goes to the latest one. Meanwhile, here’s a big chunk of what he says today (as I write this) on the pictures of dead Iraqis issue. He’s talking dead Iraqi soldiers, rather than civilians, but the principle is the same because I haven’t seen any pictures of them either.

But I’m serious. Where are the bodies? Or, more to the point, why aren’t we seeing them? One of the most remarkable shots I saw Friday was a slow roll down a broad modern highway; on the verge, a truck with some sort of machine gun fastened to its bed. It was just charred metal – but still, you’d think that if anyone had been manning the gun or sitting behind the driver’s seat, there would have some human remains visible. Then you saw a long black patch blasted in the road. The truck had been hit by a missile and knocked back with such force that anyone inside may have been thrown out, or just plain converted to something that burned without leaving a recognizable shape. That’s just something the camera caught while passing by. Imagine what it would see if it went looking.

I think we should see the casualties, but not to serve any particular pedagogical purpose. I get irritated when told that we should see the dead so we understand what war is really like – as if the idea that people die in horrible means would be a surprise. You mean they don’t freeze up, shout AIIEEE, or grimace and crumple over? I saw a T-72 take a hit the other day, and it was one of those classic examples of the flaws of Soviet design – an armor-piercing round set off the munitions, blowing the turret high in the air. If there was anyone inside, the end was fast. But you can imagine the nature of that quarter-second between life and death- and you should. Men died. In the time it takes you to wink the irreplaceable worlds these men held in their heads vanished. One shell, four men, eight parents, 20 siblings, a hundred friends, a thousand details lost for good. One second in war echoes for a decade.

Show the carnage. Rope it off, show it in the late-night hours when the kids are in bed, but show it. I feel the same way about the 9/11 footage. Show it. Don’t presume we can’t take it or must be shielded, like children, from the truth of the thing we have unleashed. I’m not suggesting that the news should be nothing but Death on Parade, or linger with unwholesome glee on the injuries done to our soldiers or theirs. But you cannot edit death out of war; to do so defames those experience it. How can we understand the soldiers who return home without understanding not just what they saw, but what they did?

The Americans have learned many things from Gulf War I, including many good things. Don’t start popular uprisings you don’t then join in and support. Smart bombs good dumb bombs bad. Kill as few of the enemy as you can. Good stuff like that. But they have also learned this: Don’t show scary pictures of dead enemy bodies you do kill to the civilians because they can’t handle it.

Remember those gruesome images form Gulf War I of the retreating Iraqis spit-roasted on the Road of Death? Okay, there’s not actually been anything quite like that this time. But no incinerated and disfigured dead bad guy bodies? Come on.

But as I say, I’ve been relying on TV – plus this blogosphere internet stuff of course. Have the old paper media had pictures like this? Or have they been scrubbed clean of such horrors also?

At this point in the writing of this I abandoned my desk in my kitchen and I went out and bought copies of the Guardian, the Independent, and the Mirror. There were many references to dead Iraqis, including in the headlines. If ever there going to be gruesome dead Iraqi pictures in the papers, this was when, and this was where. But there was just one very small picture, a very blurry one off the telly, in the Independent of a few of the dead bodies in the John Simpson friendly fire catastrophe that killed a bunch of Kurd commanders.

Apart from that, none. I call this kind of thing SFGO: something funny going on.

Is the deal that the colour magazines can print all the gore they like, once the war is good and over, but not before? Or will these pictures never be seen? (I assume that they have at least been taken.)

I support this war. I thought it was winnable, quickly, and it is being won, almost as quickly as I had hoped. So this is not me saying that this is evil and fascist. I’m just saying that it is happening.

Maybe we civilians really can’t handle such pictures. In terms of boosting civilian support it may have been a very smart move indeed to stop us seeing such things, and at the very least this was perhaps a wise precaution, to delay the moment when the civilians might have turned against a longer campaign than actually happened.

It makes you wonder, as I’m sure the peaceniks are already wondering very loudly: What else are they not allowing us to see?

7 comments to Where are the dead Iraqis to be seen?

  • MLD

    I completely agree. I agree with the aims of this war and support the coalition. I do feel it is a just war and, ultimately, an act of national self-defense.

    But if we are what we say we are, I think we can handle the pictures of dead Iraqi’s. We don’t have to turn it into death pornography like Al-Jazeera (ok, ok, I’m being unfair, they don’t edit any footage, whatever it is ) but we can and should bear witness to the dead.

    This war is coming at a cost and it does us no good to be blind to that cost. I believe the accounting will be in our favor. We have nothing to fear from the truth.

  • Tidewise

    Plenty of dead and maimed Iraqi civilians can be found at this site. If you dare.

  • Eric the .5b

    The other day FOX News showed two burning hulks of Iraqi armor…and for a few seconds, an Iraqi corpse on the ground. That’s all I’ve seen. Though, I haven’t really been seeking corpses on TV. I do find them in print, though.

  • Richard Garner

    I saw bodies in the streets on one report of that market place that got bombed. A couple of days ago I also saw, I think on the Channel Four News, American soldiers firing on Iraqi troops after the Americans misinterpretted their attempts at surrender. I don’t think that the Iraqi’s were killed though.

    The difficulties lie in censorship, though: The Iraqis are eager to let Western reporters record casualties to the point that they may well give them old footage or describe some injured people as victims of Allied bombing and even though they aren’t. This serves Iraqi purposes by weakening moral in the UK or US.

    Likewise, though, British and American troops have the same interest in stopping our reporters from getting too close to scenes of carnage for the same reasons.

    I still oppose this war against a country that is of no threat to us. See my comments at http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/002999.html

  • Dave F

    It should be noted that the execution camp Tony Parsons cited in southern Iraq has turned out to be a facility from the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s where mainly Iranian war dead were collected for their bodies to be repatriated. This is the upshot of translations of the copious documentation of the corpses, including photos for ID purposes. Why the repatriation never took place remains a mystery.

    The wall pocked with bullet holes at head height is now thought to have been used for target practice (there were 27 holes).

  • Amy from Texas

    Interesting take on the matter…I wonder if the US media is taking every pain to not show the carnage because if it did it would attract yet more criticism (if that is possible) especially after they railed against the showing of dead Americans and pow’s on other outlets…although I agree that media has a right to, and sometimes should air such things. Selfishly, I am glad because I can’t stomach it this time around. I really don’t want to stumble upon it.