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October 7, 2005

War Photos - Then and Now

Jason Grabill

There is a bit of a brouhaha going on in the media here of late (Okay, okay, when isn't there a brouhaha?). The latest thing to get all sorts of kinder and gentler folk in an uproar is the apparent trading, by rifle toters in the war zone, of "gruesome, gory" battlefield photographs, to a web site in exchange for, well, to put it bluntly, porno pictures.

Now, on the face of it, most folks who've neither carried a pack through the toolies far from home, or ever even left the United States except on a Carnival Cruise line, are "Shocked!" and "Outraged!" Um, yeah.

Let's think about this one for a minute. "Gory" battlefield photos have been with us ever since the invention of the camera. The first real battlefield shots were done during the Crimean War, but the American Civil War brought battlefield photography into its own.

Matthew Brady and Andrew Gardner thrilled and shocked crowds in Washington and New York City with their battlefield photography, most of which isn't graphic by today's standards, but was most assuredly horrifying for its time. There are reports of ladies fainting at the photos showing the rows of dead near the Dunker Church on the Antietam battlefield.

Mr. Brady and Mr. Gardner had broken the barrier; many more would follow. In conjunction with this, since the soldier couldn't very well haul a wagon load of equipment along with him, were dirty pictures, which he certainly could, and did, haul along with him in his knapsack.

There is plenty of evidence to show it, and today these photos, known at the time as "Carte De Vistes" or CDV's, are highly valued by collectors. They show the usual "nikked wymmnn" shots one would expect, but I've seen a few "hard core" ones as well from time to time. Considering how long it took to take a photo back then, those folks must have been true devotees to the art!

This trend has continued through all the wars and "police actions" ever since. And, American soldiers aren't the only one's who enjoy taking pictures and posing with the enemy dead; the Germans, French, Italians, Japanese, British, and anyone else who could hoist a camera have done so throughout time.

Americans have been shown pictures of our dead killed by "hostile Indians" stripped and riddled with arrows, lying on the beach at Buna Island, in clumps in the snow of the Ardennes, scattered over hillsides in Korea, and lying in the rice paddies of Vietnam.

We've seen our own dead from a failed rescue attempt in the Iranian desert fried to a crisp, and being carried out on stretchers from the destroyed Marine Barracks in Beirut. It's only recently that "action shots" of dead Americans haven't been splashed all over newspapers and magazines, at least by the magazines and newspapers themselves, the bridge in Fallujah notwithstanding.

I could go on and on, but perhaps you are getting the idea.

Yes, Americans like to take "war booty" and souvenirs. Included in that are photos; and it's not only our soldier boys taking those pictures; our "photojournalists" have done the same. Dead in the trenches during WWI, dead Germans by the thousands in WWII, dead Japanese heaped in piles after Banzai charges, as well as the dead from Korea and Vietnam.

Just about every photo I've seen, though, came from someplace like "Life" magazine. The average Joe took pictures, to be sure, and I've seen a few with dead bodies lying about. But, our own media was very big on showing us massive casualties inflicted by our "Star Spangled Fighting Men".

Ah, but our good and pure "lads" certainly didn't look at smut while killing the enemy. Yeah, right. Sure they didn't. If they couldn't get the girlie pictures from Life or Esquire, they made copies of pinups they could get and distributed them to those less fortunate! I've got a whole pile of them, made by a Navy Photo Recon unit in the Pacific, and proudly marked with their unit stamp. They came from an officer's estate, by the way.

Again, you have boys and men in the prime of their lives, and most, naturally, think of the opposite sex in terms that perhaps they wouldn't be writing about to the folks back home. It's normal, it's healthy, and it's just what lonely guys do, especially when the guy over the next hill wants to kill them.

So, now we come to the present day, and the rampant, ridiculous, and stupid politically correct society that tells our soldiers they can't bring home souvenirs; they can't drink in or out of the war zone; and they sure as heck aren't supposed to be looking at dirty pictures! The idea of the "Warrior Monk," no matter how much some would want it to be true, just doesn't work. So internet porn isn't exactly the "art" or even the tasteful smut of WWII, but it's all these warriors have.

Cameras are far more prolific these days than they have ever been in a war zone, and easier to use. Soldiers and Marines are going to take pictures of dead bad guys. They've done so throughout time.

Now, though, we have the advantage of real time; Private Snuffie can take his gory picture and have it winging halfway around the world in a matter of hours, if not minutes.

Of course, Private Snuffie isn't stupid, either. He knows that various people want to see pictures of blown up terrorists, shot to bits with the latest in modern weaponry. Those who travel 270 in the morning aren't too different; the more horrific the vehicle accident, the more rubbernecking there seems to be....and these people sure aren't looking to see if everyone made it out all right.

So, Private Snuffie figures out an angle to get around the brass. Since the brass have told Private Snuffie he can't have his dirty magazines sent to him, he does the next best thing....trades the gore shots for porn shots on the computer.

Those of the PC crowd, of course, throw megafits about this whole thing. Private Snuffie will no doubt suffer the consequences, as the likes of CAIR, a Muslim hate group that we for some reason kowtow to; the Army brass back at the Pentagon, who will put a stern face on this to avoid losing those post-retirement jobs at big corporations; and of course, our very own mainstream media, which has no problem showing us on the nightly news various and sundry shots of death, destruction, and mayhem, but get all itchy when Private Snuffie horns in on their action, all pile on to claim how "shocked" and "outraged" they all are.

Doesn't anyone have anything better to do than to mess with Private Snuffie while he's out killing bad guys? I suppose not.

I'm just waiting for reports of ladies fainting at the mere thought of all of this.

Until next time, Stay Low!

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