Tuesday, February 17, 2009

finally, redux

The WaPo reports today that, after Obama has said that he is reconsidering the ban on photographs of the coffins of war dead arriving at Dover, the Pentagon is investigating, according to Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, "'a way to better balance an individual family's privacy concerns with the right of the American people to honor these fallen heroes" and 'is disposed, leaning, tilting towards trying to do more, if possible' to allow coverage of the ceremony."

Coincidentally -- or do I mean "ironically" -- this issue was the subject of the post that kicked off my adventures in blogland back in August. It's also been the topic for many an in-class debate.

From the WaPo story:

"Pictures of casualties have long played into the politics of a war -- most notably in Vietnam, dubbed the "living-room war" for its extensive television coverage, including footage of coffins rolling off planes at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii as if off a conveyor belt.

President George H.W. Bush's administration imposed the ban on media coverage of the arrival of fallen troops' remains at Dover Air Force Base during the Gulf War in February 1991. It came about after a controversy arose when Bush held a news conference at the same moment the first U.S. casualties were returning to Dover the day after the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, and three television networks carried the events live on split screen, with Bush appearing at one point to joke while on the opposite screen the solemn ceremony unfolded at the Delaware base.

Indeed, starting in the 1990s, politicians and generals used the term "the Dover test" to describe the public's tolerance for troop casualties."

Ironically, President George W. Bush made an exception to the ban in September 2001, when the Air Force allowed a photograph of the remains of a victim of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

Again from the story:

"'When it was in the government's interest, they allowed photographers to take pictures,' said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel to the National Security Archive, which provided legal representation for the Begleiter lawsuit that led the Pentagon to release in 2005 hundreds of photographs taken by government photographers. 'They wanted us to be angry over a terrorist attack,' she said.

"Soon after the war in Afghanistan started in October 2001, however, the Pentagon restated the ban on coverage at Dover, and in March 2003, the same month that the U.S. military invaded Iraq, it expanded the policy prohibiting media coverage of the coffins of fallen troops to other ports of arrival as well."

Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force via Reuters

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