Posts Tagged ‘George Strock’
Addison Beecher Colvin Whipple, writer and censorship fighter, died on March 17, aged 94.
“Words are never enough,” wrote Life magazine in an editorial when it finally got the approval to reproduce the pictures of dead American soldiers in September 1943 (more). That permission, which came all the way from the president, would have been all but impossible if not for the tenacious efforts of Cal Whipple, Life’s Washington correspondent.
Rules then prohibited the publication of photos of the American dead, lest they damage morale on the home front. In his own words, Mr. Whipple, “went from army captain to major to colonel to general until [he] wound up in the office of an Assistant Secretary of the Air Corps.” to argue that these photos were what the home front needed. The Secretary decided to forward the photos to the White House, where President Roosevelt agreed that the American public has grown complacent about the war and its horrific toll, and cleared their publication.
As the consequence, war bond sales boomed, and although the censorship rule regarding the home front morale was abolished, the censorship itself would prove to be enduring. Censorship and self-censorship continued with the pictures from Dresden, Hiroshima, and even Auschwitz. The rule not to show faces of the American dead existed until the Korean War, which saw bans on photos showing the aftermaths by US bombings in North Korea, and of political prisoners.
It all changed in Vietnam, which would come to be known as the “first war to take place in America’s living rooms.” It was a conflict whose course unfolded in iconic photos, from the beginning to the end. After Vietnam, the military would never again allow journalists to have free rein in covering a war. The golden age of war photography, which nurtured such figures as Larry Burrows or Francoise Demulder, ended as abruptly as it began. In modern wars, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in smaller conflicts in Grenada and Panama, reporters would be corralled into press pools or embeds and frequently threatened with revocation of credentials if they strayed from guidelines.
With various newspapers looking back on Iraq War on this 10th Anniversary of its beginning with grand pictorial sideshows, it is sometimes very easy to forget what we see is more often than not authorized, sanitized, bowdlerized.But it is also comforting to remember that for images hidden away from us, there is always someone like Cal Whipple fighting for their inclusion into the recorded memory.
During World War II, most Americans followed the news of the war through three sources: radio broadcasts, newspapers (there were more than 11,000 in the country then) and newsreels that preceded the movies at their local theatres. These sources played a vital role in connecting the home front with the war front, and the government control of the news was comprehensive. All news about the war had to pass through the Office of War Information (OWI). A “Code of Wartime Practices for the American Press” was issued on Jan 15, 1942 giving strict instructions on proper handling of news.
The code was voluntarily adopted by all of the major news organizations and implemented by the more than 1,600 members of the press accredited by the armed forces during the war. The government also relied heavily on reporter’s patriotism, which ensured that in their dispatches from the front lines, they tended to accentuate the positive. The above photo, therefore, was unusual: it was the first time an image of dead American troops appeared in media during World War II without their bodies being draped, in coffins, or otherwise covered up.
The photo of three dead American soldiers lying in the sand on shoreline near half sunken landing craft on Buna Beach, Papua New Guinea was now considered a war classic. Taken by George Strock in February 1943, it was not published until its September 20th 1943 issue. In that September, this photo and other equally gruesome and graphic pictures of WWII were finally OK’d by the Office of War Information’s censors, in part because President Roosevelt feared that the American public might be growing complacent about the war and its horrific toll. Even than, in the picture, the Americans’ faces were not shown–a practice continued until Korean War to preserve soldiers’ privacy in death.
At the time of the publication, these pictures shocked many readers. The Washington Post argued that the pictures “can help us to understand something of what has been sacrificed for the victories we have won.” Images of dead soldiers appeared regularly after that. Efforts were made to crop the photos or obscure the victims’ faces, name tags and unit insignia. The caption to Strock’s photo, “Three dead Americans lie on the beach at Buna,” told Life’s readers that they did not need to know the names of the dead in order to appreciate what they had done.
LIFE magazine felt compelled to ask in an adjacent full-page editorial, “Why print this picture, anyway, of three American boys dead upon an alien shore?” Among the reasons: “Words are never enough . . .