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The AP's graphic photo of a dying Marine

By Scott Tibbs, September 12, 2009

"It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it." -- Robert E. Lee

For many years now, I have defended the use of graphic pictures of aborted babies to illustrate how barbaric abortion is. I have stood on the corner of Kirkwood and Indiana with a large picture of an aborted baby, and also in front of Planned Parenthood's abortion clinic with the same. With 1.2 million babies slaughtered each year, abortion has become so commonplace that many do not even give it a second thought. Pictures shock people out of their apathy and make them face the blood on our hands as a nation.

Similarly, it is easy today to be blissfully ignorant of the brutal reality of war, especially since we have not had a war on our own soil since the War Between the States ended in 1865. All of our wars after that have been on foreign soil, often literally on the other side of the world. In the 1991 Gulf War, some commented that footage of the laser-guided cruise missiles looked like a video game. The 2003 war in Iraq looked like a video game to a greater extent than the Gulf War. We sit in our comfortable chairs and watch the news about a war that the vast majority of us will never see and for which we have sacrificed virtually nothing.

The Associated Press created a firestorm among conservatives when they published a graphic photograph of a mortally wounded marine. The AP has been denounced as "insensitive" to the family's wishes and there are questions about whether the AP violated the agreement they signed with the military in order to be embedded. The Defense Department has blasted them, conservative pundits like Mona Charen and Michelle Malkin have blasted them, and many other domestic news outlets have refused to show the photo. So was publishing the picture wrong or not?

My first reaction was that the photograph should not have been published. But as I thought about it, I could not reconcile my use of graphic photographs of aborted babies with condemnation of the Associated Press for publishing a graphic photograph of a mortally wounded soldier. That is what caused me to think about the issue further, what value the pictures bring to public discourse about the war, the horrible brutality of war itself and the need for people to be informed about the war.

I support the war in Afghanistan 100%. There should be no doubt that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were an act of war by al Qaida, and the Taliban was harboring our enemies. When the Taliban refused to turn al Qaida over to us, they became our enemies as well. Nonetheless, we should not be removed from the terrible cost that our soldiers are paying to defend their country. War is an incredibly brutal thing, which is why I believe military force should only be used as a last resort and then only to defend our vital national security interests. We should not be allowed to be blissfully ignorant of the terrible price we pay when we go to war, especially since the vast majority of us have not sacrificed anything for it.

I understand that the soldier's family did not want the picture to be shown. The family deserves respect and their wishes need to be carefully considered. But the job of the media is to report the news and photographs are a huge portion of the news. Photographs bring home the reality of what is being covered in a way that words cannot. The news media, bloggers and concerned citizens use their First Amendment rights to hold government accountable and make sure that others are informed. In order for our system of government to be maintained we need to have an informed populace, even if the information we get makes us uncomfortable or angry.