Monday, September 07, 2009

An open letter to Sarah Palin

Dear ex-Gov. Palin:

I see that you have taken a position on The Associated Press's decision to publish a photo of a dying U.S. Marine in Afghanistan, and that, as is your special skill, you're getting a lot of attention for it.

Your courageous stand is that it was wrong for AP to have published the photo of Lance Cpl. Joshua "Bernie" Bernard. Here's what you apparently posted on your facebook page:

Shame on the AP for purposely adding to the grieving family’s pain. Ignoring the family’s wishes by publishing a sacred image of their loved one proved a despicable and heartless act by the AP. The family said they didn’t want the photo published. AP, you did it anyway, and you know it was an evil thing to do

While I appreciate your sympathy for the family, I'm troubled by your apparent conviction that no one should see images of soldiers who are wounded or dying in our wars. I'm reminded of your courageous quitting speech a few weeks ago, during which you goaded the news media: "So, how about, in honor of the American soldier, ya quit makin’ things up."

Well, one of the great fictions perpetrated on the American people by the government and news media over the past eight years is that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are painless. We've been encouraged or bullied to "support the troops" with trite bromides and yellow ribbon car magnets, but that's the limit of civilian involvement in these fights. No need to pay more taxes or alter our lifestyles to provide for body armor or reduce our demand for the resources that make this region such a powder keg. And for heaven's sake, no physical evidence that when soldiers are sent off to wars, some of them come home in pieces, and some come home in boxes.

Only recently has the Pentagon lifted its longstanding ban on photographing flag-draped coffins when they return from overseas. And even now, the very idea that everyday Americans should witness a fraction of the violence that our soldiers and Marines are thrust into for months on end is considered one of the great moral transgressions of our time.

The truth, ex-Gov. Palin, is that thousands of American soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tens of thousands have been physically wounded. Countless others have been emotionally scarred for life, and have brought those scars home to their families and communities. It should not be too much to ask that the rest of us develop the stomach to witness that sacrifice, rather than turning away from it, rather than pretending our willful ignorance is the moral high ground.

The photo in question, which appears here (at the risk of facing AP's copyright wrath), was taken by an Associated Press photographer who was feet away from where this Marine was wounded, which means she could easily have been wounded, too. The image is difficult to read, and the soldier's face is all but unidentifiable, but the mortality of the situation is plain. The photographer, Julie Jacobson, witnessed this event, because she had the courage and selflessness to risk her life to tell the truth about the war and its violence. The other troops on the scene witnessed this event, because we sent them there to risk their lives to further American interests. The implication that asking the rest of us to witness this event, to contemplate its meaning, to consider that the war is real and physical and kills actual people -- the implication that this is "despicable and heartless" is wide of the moral mark. To suggest that such reporting is "evil" -- well, that's the hallmark of self-serving hyperbole. I'm not sure what makes you such a moral authority, ex-Gov. Palin, but there are many greater evils in the world than telling the truth.

Publishing graphic images is always an ethical challenge for journalists, and the grieving family's desire that the photo not be published heightens the dilemma. Reasonable and well-meaning people can disagree about whether making this image public was the right thing to do. But Joshua Bernard did not just die for his family; he died for his country and his fellow citizens. We owe him the dignity of confronting and acknowledging his sacrifice.

Ex-Gov. Palin, your facebook post includes this promise:

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Bernard family. Words can not adequately express our sorrow and appreciation for your sacrifice. We will never forget your Marine or his fallen comrades

Call me a skeptic, but I don't believe you. I'd be surprised if you can recall this Marine's name a week from now. More to the point, I'd like you to tell us something about the last U.S. soldier who died before Bernard, or the next one who died after. You know, share your heartfelt memories of the troops whose pictures you didn't see.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:43 PM

    Dear Perry,

    I've seen your name many times but until now, didn't realize how well you express my views.
    I am one of the good soldiers in the documentary featured on bill moyers' journal on nov 6th 2009. I concur with your critique of Sara Palin. If one woman should have stayed in the kitchen, it is she.