Martha Brant and Trent Gegax want to see them:
DEATH ANNOUNCEMENTS ARE arriving almost daily for American soldiers killed in Iraq. It’s hard to put a weekly average on the number of dead because some weeks there are no casualties. [I’m guessing you weren’t a math major? -ed.] But by my unofficial tally, somewhere between three and six soldiers die every week in Iraq.
And yet, it often feels like the American public has no sense of the steady trickle of killed and wounded. I’ve had some people tell me that it’s our fault; the media are not covering the deaths the way we did during the war. Others say it’s because the numbers are so small compared to, say, Vietnam, the news doesn’t catch people’s attention.
I’ll offer a different reason: there are no pictures. As much as I hate to admit this as a print reporter, images do sear into people’s mind more than words. Nick Ut’s photograph of 9-year-old Kim Phuc became synonymous with the Vietnam War. She was the terrified little girl running naked, covered in napalm. Television images of caskets and body bags also changed public opinion about the war.
But there are no images of flag-draped coffins in this war to remind people of the human price being paid. That’s because the media are prohibited from filming or photographing soldiers’ remains being sent home. Most fallen soldiers’ bodies get sent back to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where they are identified and prepared for burial. During the Vietnam War, photographers and film crews were often at Dover taking pictures of the “dignified transfer of remains.” But for more than a decade, the Department of Defense has cut off that access.
In Vietnam, we had roughly 58,000 killed, most of them in the 1968-1972 span. Let’s say 50,000 during those 5 years. That’s 192 a week. In World War II, there were several days with death tolls over 1,000. And we buried the bodies overseas. The ability to individualize the deaths in Iraq is a sign of how well things are going, not of failure.