So the AP is acting as a brave truth teller forcing Americans to face the agony of war? Please. People are not so naive. That "war is hell," as Civil War general William T. Sherman put it, has been pretty well understood for centuries. But the defense secretary did not object to publication because he was hoping to shield Americans from the "reality" of war. He was hoping to spare one devastated family -- a family whose son had given the "last full measure of devotion" to his country -- from the pain of seeing his mutilated body in every newspaper in the country. "I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard's death has caused his family," Gates wrote.
"Why your organization would purposefully defy the family's wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right -- but judgment and common decency."
Besides, as John Hinderaker of Power Line Blog reminds us, the AP's concept of "journalistic duty" is quite elastic. In 2006, when riots erupted in several Muslim countries over the publication of the "Muhammad cartoons" the AP declined to publish them, despite their undoubted news value, explaining that "we don't distribute content that is known to be offensive." It seems everything depends upon whom you are offending.
There is something else that the AP perhaps did not consider. While for them a photo of a mortally wounded Marine is testimony to the "brutality" of war; and while for the family it is "disrespectful" (the father's word); to America's enemies it is a triumph. There are no universal standards. Our enemies are known to carry videos of the beheading of Nicholas Berg on their cell phones. And for those who've forgotten, Nick Berg was a completely innocent American noncombatant. Joshua Bernard would want to be remembered as he lived and served. Instead, the photo of his last moments will doubtless go viral on Islamist websites, where his suffering will be exulted over.