Although many thinks it had been a desensitized blunt instrument for years, the American media usually shies away from carrying graphic images of the war death–a practice which dated from the Second World War and continues to this day in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was why AP’s release of the above photo in the first week of September 2009 was met with an extreme criticism.
The photo of a fatally wounded U.S. Marine was released against the wishes of the Pentagon and the victim’s family. It was part of a tribute package to the Marine, who died three weeks ago. The photo was taken by Julie Jacobson, who was there to capture his final moments before he was gravely injured. Lance Corporal Joshua ‘Bernie’ Bernard, 21, was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade during a Taliban ambush of his squad last month in Dahaneh, Afghanistan. Bernard was transported by helicopter to Camp Leatherneck where he died later of his wounds.
The photo was met with intense criticism starting from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who was normally more convivial on such matters. He called the image, “appalling” and lacking in “common decency”. Many news outlets refused to run it, and others quickly purged the photo from their online galleries. Three newspaper giants, The New York Times, Washington Post and L.A. Times carried the AP tribute story, but not the image. The Daily Mail in England has the full story here.
As America debates the use of this image, it has become the symbol of the suffering inflicted on Americans in uniform elsewhere. With the dwindling public support of the Afghanistan War in the United States, the photo could be the Saigon Execution of Dahaneh. In our increasingly digitalized age, more and more photos are taken, but their respective iconicities are diminished. However, this image captures the quintessence of what a truly great, truly iconic image is. Shredding open the grim reality of war, this is the Picture of the Year 2009.