Sometime between July 16th and July 30th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Sounds kind of familiar in these parts, doesn’t it? This time, it’s a bit more serious than a few computers, though.

Last Sunday, the Seattle Times ran this picture, taken by a civilian cargo worker based out of Kuwait:

Coffins on the way to the US

Today, the lead story in the Times was detailing how the woman who took the photograph has now lost her job because of the photo.

A military contractor has fired Tami Silicio, a Kuwait-based cargo worker whose photograph of flag-draped coffins of fallen U.S. soldiers was published in Sunday’s edition of The Seattle Times.

Silicio was let go yesterday for violating U.S. government and company regulations, said William Silva, president of Maytag Aircraft, the contractor that employed Silicio at Kuwait International Airport.

“I feel like I was hit in the chest with a steel bar and got my wind knocked out. I have to admit I liked my job, and I liked what I did,” Silicio said.

Her photograph, taken earlier this month, shows more than 20 flag-draped coffins in a cargo plane about to depart from Kuwait. Since 1991, the Pentagon has banned the media from taking pictures of caskets being returned to the United States.

The Times has a good series of articles on the controversy surrounding the publication of the photograph, including an editorial from Sunday explaining their decision to run the photo after it was submitted to the paper by a friend of the photographer.

The caller said she had a picture a friend had sent to her. “Somebody should see it,” she said.

Barry Fitzsimmons, a veteran photojournalist, has handled many of those calls and knows most of the pictures are never published. The Seattle Times photo editor also knows, “one in a thousand is a gem,” so he agreed to give this one a look.

When the photo arrived, “I just said wow,” Fitzsimmons recalls. “The picture was something we don’t have access to as the media,” and yet it seemed undeniably newsworthy.


Readers likely will have differing reactions to the photo, depending on their views of the war.

“It’s a photo that evokes an emotional response and one that people are sure to see through their own filters, political or otherwise,” said Espinoza, who is responsible for the Sunday front page.

Some readers will object to the image because the press has been largely denied access to take photos of coffins returning from war since the 1991 Gulf War.

Some will see the picture as an anti-war statement because the image is reminiscent of photos from the Vietnam era, when the press wasn’t denied such access. But that isn’t Silicio’s or The Times’ motivation.

“We’re not making a statement about the course of the war,” Fitzsimmons said. “Readers will make their own sense of the picture, their own judgment.”

One of the most interesting things to me was a poll attached to a list of reader reactions, where the Times asked whether visitors to the website supported or opposed the military’s ban on such photographs. Survey on the photo banAs of just after midnight on Friday morning, with 684 responses, the poll shows an overwhelming 86% of respondents choosing “I disagree with the ban; the public has a right to see what’s going on.”

Admittedly, Seattle tends to lean more liberal than many other places, but I was still somewhat surprised to see that the results were that heavily weighted in that direction.

I’ll freely admit that I’m one of that 86%, too. One of the things that has bothered me about this war, and that bothered me about the previous Iraq war, was how utterly impersonal it seems much of the time. While the casualties lists keep growing (706 dead, 2374 wounded and not returned to duty — and there’s a large question of just how many soldiers suffered injuries that would have killed them in earlier wars, and now, while alive, are severely disabled), we here at home see little beyond a few statistics in each day’s headlines that all too soon are buried in the onslaught of reality show wrapups, celebrity scandals, and other pablum that passes as news these days. Statistics will only really get noticed by the people that are looking for them — it’s photos such as Silico’s that will really affect the most people, whether they choose to view it as an indictment of an injust, unnecessary war, or as a comforting reminder that the dead are not forgotten and are treated with respect on their journey back home — or both.

That said, I’m not as sure as I used to be that I’d necessarily call for completely unrestricted media access to all areas of a conflict. A quote from Louisiana State University professor David Perlmutter in an article looking at the arguments for and against releasing such photographs really struck me: “The Normandy invasion was a success, but how would we have felt at the time if we had seen the pictures of all these dead American soldiers on the beaches?”

Casualties are, of course, one of the many very sad side effects of a military conflict. Speaking generally, and not just about the current war in Iraq, I don’t believe that we should be shielded from that fact through media blackouts instituted by a government afraid of letting the public see anything outside the accepted party line of America the Saviour — the costs of war should be as publicly accepted and known as the possible benefits in order for people to decide where they stand for themselves. Those costs, though, should not be the only things reported (unless that is all there is to report) — the unquestioning presentation of only one side of any story is little more than propaganda.

The current war has, until recently, seemed to be presented to the American public as just that kind of unquestioning propaganda, unfortunately. That seems to be changing as the casualties mount, and while it’s a sad thing that it took this long for the media to start to attempt to break free of the “everything’s fine” face the Bush administration seems to want to present, at least it’s starting to happen.

Kudos to the Times for presenting the photo, for doing their best to present it without an overt editorial slant, and for exploring the controversy around its publication. Best of luck, also, to Tami Silicio and her husband (who was also dismissed from his job, a decision that I don’t understand, and isn’t explained in the articles) as they return home and face the prospects of finding work again.

(On a side note, I suppose it was inevitable: my situation was brought up in the Daily Kos discussion thread about this.)

Propaganda, anyone? This site really got my attention after it was posted over on MetaFilter today. On the one hand, on a conceptual/artistic level, I like most of what I see (though some of the posters really are just plain bad). However, on a more intellectual level, it’s just frightening, due to the strong resemblance to WWII-era Soviet propaganda posters. I was hoping that it may have been more satirical in nature, but apparently this is a real, serious attempt…though at exactly what isn’t entirely clear from the site.