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Michael Winship: Marine's Photo Reminds Us of War that Will Not End

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

"Marine's Photo Reminds Us of War that Will Not End"
By Michael Winship

There was a certain ironic and painful symmetry at work last month. As one iconic image of war was called into doubt, another was being created, a new photograph of combat’s grim reality that already has generated controversy and anger.

When it was first published in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, Robert Capa’s photo was captioned “Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death.” Better known today as “The Falling Soldier,” the picture purportedly captures the gunning down of a Republican anarchist named Federico Borrell Garcia who was fighting against the forces of General Francisco Franco. Dressed in what look like civilian clothes, wearing a cartridge belt, he is thrown backwards in an almost balletic swoon, his rifle falling from his right hand.

The picture quickly came to symbolize the merciless and random snuffing out of life in wartime – that murder committed in the name of God or country can strike unexpectedly, from a distance, like lightning from a cloudless sky.

Last month, the veracity of Capa’s most famous picture was cast in doubt when Jose Manuel Susperregui, a Spanish academic, published a book in which he alleges that the photo was not taken where Capa claimed, but 35 miles away at a location where no fighting had yet taken place; that the picture was posed, a fake. Others disagree, but his evidence is compelling.

Just as that controversy was being reported in the news, in Afghanistan another man lay dying, another victim of war. His photo created a sensation, too. But no one is questioning its veracity. In this case, the image is all too real.

During an ambush on August 14th, Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, where the Marines have been engaged in a major offensive, fighting to take territory back from the Taliban. Associated Press photojournalist Julie Jacobson took a picture of comrades trying to save his life. But it was too late.

Over the objections of Bernard’s family and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, AP published the photo as part of a series of articles and photographs about Bernard’s platoon. Gates protested to AP that the wire service’s “lack of compassion and common sense… is appalling…” AP replied that it had made a tough decision to “make public an image that conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it.”

At BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, our production team wrestled with the dilemma over whether to show the photo on this week’s PBS broadcast. We finally decided to do so, but carefully placed it within the context of other pictures AP’s Jacobson took earlier that day of Lance Corporal Bernard and his fellow Marines on patrol.

However your own conscience comes down on this issue, there can be no denying the story the photo tells. It forces us to confront through a young man’s violent death the ugly, bloody reality of a war that America has been fighting longer than we fought in the First and Second World Wars combined.

August was the deadliest month for our troops in Afghanistan since we first invaded the country shortly after 9/11. It has been a gruesome summer – 51 Americans died in August; 45 in July.

And to what end? The Taliban is resurgent. Almost two-thirds of the country is deemed too dangerous for aid agencies to deliver much needed help. Civilian casualties this year have reached more than a thousand, including the victims of suicide bombings and so-called collateral damage from American air strikes. The credibility of recent so-called “free” elections has been shattered with charges of widespread fraud and corruption.

As THE ECONOMIST magazine noted last month, resentment against the Karzai government, NATO forces and Westerners in general is growing. “It seems clear,” the magazine reported, “that the international effort to bring stability to Afghanistan, in which a strong somewhat liberal and democratic state can take root, is failing.”

And yet, consider this open letter to President Obama from some of the very same neo-cons who used falsehoods, propaganda and manipulation to throw us into Iraq – arguing for invasion of that country even before the 9/11 attacks occurred. “We remain convinced that the fight against the Taliban is winnable,” they write, “and it is in the vital national security interest of the United States to win it.”

The letter lands just as several European countries have called for a conference to assess the current situation and the commander of our forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, delivers a review to the White House, a report many believe sets the stage for an even greater expansion of the war. But on Monday, the McClatchy news service reported that some top Pentagon officials worry without a clear definition of our mission there, further escalation may be useless.

According to the article, “Some even fear that deploying more U.S. troops, especially in the wake of a U.S. airstrike last week that killed and wounded scores of Afghan civilians, would convince more Afghans that the Americans are occupiers rather than allies and relieve the pressure on the Afghan government to improve its own security forces.”

One of that story’s reporters, McClatchy’s chief Pentagon correspondent Nancy Youssef, recently returned from Afghanistan and was interviewed by my colleague Bill Moyers for this week’s JOURNAL. Youssef said, “I can’t tell you how many Afghans said to me, ‘I don’t want the Americans. I don’t want the Taliban. I just want to be left alone.”

Nonetheless, “Either the United States commits to this and really commits to it, or it walks away. But this middle ground of sort of holding on isn't going to work anymore…

“We're at least coming to that decision point… And to me, that's good news, because at least it gives everybody involved some sense of where this is going. I think that's something worth looking forward to. Because what's been going on up until now is unacceptable.”

What no one understands for sure yet, she said, is President Obama’s position: “That’s the big mystery in Washington… Because it will ultimately be his decision.”

We should have a better idea of where he stands on September 24th, when the White House is supposed to present a list of metrics by which progress in Afghanistan will be measured, a condition that was set by Congress for the approval of further war funding.

In addition to the theories of generals and diplomats, the President and Congress may wish to pay careful attention to the words of an Afghan villager named Ghafoor. He told a correspondent for THE ECONOMIST, “We need security. But the Americans are just making trouble for us. They cannot bring peace, not if they stay for 50 years.”

Not a pretty picture.


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War is over if YOU want it (to be).

Jerry Brandt seems to thrive on conflict.

A healing attitude is the pre-requisite to peace.

The joke is on us all, Jerry.

Forgive Bush; forgive Obama; forgive Harry Truman and Richard Nixon: Moral hazard.

What's missing... ?

Bill, I don't understand your attitude on the photos of the Marines death. You worked long and hard to videos and photos of soldiers injured and killed to BASH GEORGE BUSH. What has changed? OH, I know, you don't want to embarass YOUR Preisdent Obama. That's the difference. You liberals are a big joke.

Varda is right.

Dick Cheney keeps appearing on TV!!. Why?.

His time is over, he and Bush should not be mentioned unless they are made to answer for the Debt they put America in. Cheney has the stupid idea that they kept America safe. Could any sensible person believe this statement. From Custers Last stand - Did any indians strike again, From Pearl harbour - Did any Japanese attack again, From the Vietnam War - Did any Viet Cong attack again. This happens to all nations who think they are high and mighty.

They usually die-out on their own. This is history.

Varda wrote, in part, "Russia left Afghanistan and the world was not over run by terrorists. This notion that if we leave the Taliban alone in their nation, there will be desaster, is just an excuse for us to engage in another endless war for profit at our expense."

What is this? Another Jack Martin test of what brain still need more spin to stop working?


Ask yourself this, Varda. If it's all about a "holy war" against the "crusaders", then why is RUSSIA safer now from foreign machinations and "terrorist attacks" than it's ever been in it's LONG history?

"...we won't get fooled again..."

After downing a six pack last night, a pol sci major admitted that he misses the "cold war".

No kidding, being 'frenemies' with a worthy opponent is PROGRESSIVE.

Seriously - opium? A billion a month to secure death by narcotics...?

On Thursday night Brian Ross sat beside Charlie Gibson and in front of a sign reading "Inside Job" to tell the story of yet another paid FBI informant instructed by handlers to lay off pre-9/11 terrorist plot leader Mohammed Atta (in order to pursue wanna-be's engaged in petty arms trading). Why was Ross poised in front of the suggestive sign? Does Disney News know something most of the public and President Obama don't? The video game imagery from Purdue University has not convinced me, and I notice that although falling men are now in vogue that pancake building demolitions are virtually still banned from TV.

Now I can see why Moyers thinks 9/11 Truth is a hot potato- mainly because Nazis, Neo-Nazis and Near- Nazis have seized upon it to get attention. If the investigation had been open and pure Miss Liberty would not be hopping around with a splinter in her foot.

And now that we have killed so many in two occupations profitable to wealthy investors that the 9/11 casualties seem like a drop in the bucket, you'd think people would achieve a sense of proportion. Not only is hauling gasoline through the Kyber Pass a ridiculous task in a conflict lost before it began, but the corporate interests have not yet pumped that money well dry. What we have here is "assembly line warfare" as planned and manufactured, and probably as fixed, as NFL football. The profitable assembly line of warfare must be kept running at full tilt day and night, even if hard-pressed and frequently unemployed taxpayers are forced to bail it out. And so the "Real Nazis" (not the playboy farmers in hunting clothes, high on meth and playing militia) remain undetected and unpunished,(Obama's limo lacks rear view mirrors) because they served the needs of flagging business interests so well, even advertising "a new Pearl Harbor" in their position papers.

Michael Stipe once sang:
"It's crazy what we could have had,
crazy what we should have had.
You come to me with a bone in your hand...
I need;
I need this!"

The generals and the insurance companies "are central, (they have)...control"
They need this;
They Need THIS!
They "wear me out."

The People are reduced to a "factor of production" as Obedient (Locutis) presents a laundry list of demands. We could have universal single-payer health care coverage in a more caring atmosphere. We could have had a better quality of subsidized education. We could have had full employment at living wages with the needed work of civilization paid for by fairly graduated taxation. We could have had wholesome food and clean energy aplenty, enough to share with a deprived world and make a good name for our nation. We could have if Corporate Rats were not at the head of the line, and spoiling work for the rest of us.
It's Godammed crazy what we could have had,
Big bowl of crazy what we could have had,
If the voodoo sadistic insane religion of capitalist fear and dominance were not stamped into our brains.
If Moyers wanted to see a recovering world before he died, he might want to pull the splinter of 9/11 deceit from Liberty's toe.
Gangrene may already be setting in, considering the falsehoods about the "Recovering Economy" that are already circulating.

Charlie Gibson retired this week. Will Brian Ross become a falling man?

(Those of you who blithely threaten to emigrate from the USA. Too late, for this epidemic of Fascism knows no borders and no limits. Its death camps can travel like clouds of acid and turn inside out to consume flesh.)

Sleep well.

Note: Someone had to say it!
Also, congratulations Varda Burns on some really terrific recent posts.

Hey this is the "Good War", "The Right War" and "The War worth Fighting". These are Obama's words!
Though to fair, I get it now. Obama, while I do respect him as our President and our leader, he doesn't want our country to be seen as a Paper Tiger. I do respect that, though I also want him to give a CLEAR OBJECTIVE! Why are we there, who are we fighting and what is the FINAL PRODUCT? What is the definition of winning?
If we had those answers, then there would be a huge shift in supporting this war. Because, for now all we have is just abunch of paper generals and leaders giving the American people alot of sleeping tigers

The Nancy Youssef story Respect for the dead and the reality of war, was absolutely riveting. This young woman totally gets it. She came off as extremely intelligent and passionate for U.S. soldiers and the Afghan people. I'm a soldier and an OIF veteran and was amazed at the incredible insight to the struggle in Afghanistan that her story provided. Her firsthand account is invaluable for people like me who are trying to make sense of the renewed U.S. effort in Afghanistan. That was journalism at it's best. God bless her and keep her safe.

Russia left Afghanistan and the world was not over run by terrorists. This notion that if we leave the Taliban alone in their nation, there will be desaster, is just an excuse for us to engage in another endless war for profit at our expense. While our people struggle and suffer in a depression, jobless and facing exploding poverty and low wages, we have decided to use our resourses on endless war. What if another nation decided they didn't like the abuse we suffer here and sent in their army to straighten things out by waging war and killing our people? I don't think we would support that and of course we would hate the invaders.

dr james did you forget who started this war? so if repubs win, why are we still there unless you are like Pres Bush, mission accomplished, Not

history repeats itself.
democrats lose wars and republicans win wars.

how sad.

Not a pretty picture…headlines in the news this week…

The U.S. Census Bureau announced that the poverty rate for 2008 was the highest since 1997. The number of people in poverty increased by about 2.5 (more than the number of people who live in Detroit and San Francisco combined) million to 39.8 million. Median household income had the steepest year-over-year drop in forty years. About 700,000 more people didn't have health insurance in 2008 than the year before.

There has been a national surge of homeless schoolchildren that is driven by relentless unemployment and foreclosures. The rise, to more than one million students without stable housing by last spring, has tested budget-battered school districts as they try to carry out their responsibilities — and the federal mandate — to salvage education for children whose lives are filled with insecurity and turmoil.

School districts announce program cuts and teacher layoffs. Other public services provided by state or local governments that contribute to our quality of life – public transportation, infrastructure repair, police and fire protection, libraries, etc. - increasingly fall victim to state and local fiscal crises.

President Obama, Wednesday night, “The plan I'm proposing will cost around $900 billion over ten years - less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration.”

Why is our government so loathe funding programs that benefit our citizens here at home, yet spend billions of taxpayer dollars for Afghanistan and Iraq? In addition to considering the theories of generals and diplomats, and the words of the Afghan villager, President Obama and Congress should answer this question. As should we all.

Not a pretty picture, indeed!

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