I believe that the greatest truth that's available to the world about what's going on is found in the pictures that come from the front lines where the war is being fought. I believe that every step we remove ourselves from the fact of the picture, we become less precise in our description of what's happening." - General Tommy Franks in an interview on Fox News Sunday
General Franks talks with pride of his soldiers and Marines whose duty at the front speaks eloquently in the words and images on the front pages and on the television screens. No doubt, there is a needle for the armchair generals "embedded in television studios" (as Donald Rumsfeld put it). They got the war all wrong nearly all the time.
Tommy Franks is right, of course. The power of the pictures is awesome, but the eyes of the beholders sometimes are afflicted with cataracts.
So lopsided was the initial antiwar analysis at MSNBC, for example, that the third-ranked cable news channel brought in conservative commentators "to add political equilibrium." MSNBC added patriotic emblems for good measure. A picture of the commander in chief decorates the studio set and the wall flourishes with photographs of "America's Bravest," the fighting men and women in Iraq.
The American Marine who climbed to the top of the statue of Saddam Hussein and draped an American flag about its head expressed the nation's jubilation and pride in having freed the Iraqi people of a monster, but some commentators back home were scandalized. The spontaneous gesture of a fighting man made us look like a colonialist power in the eyes of the couch potatoes in the studio. The rest of us saw it differently. We understood the Marine's heady excitement. He's the one who put his life on the line.
Susan Sontag, the intellectual darling of the left, published a book in 1977 in which she argued that repeated photographs of war numb the spirit and diminish the horror of death and destruction, that they appeal merely to sentiment, "knowledge at bargain prices," making us tourists in the reality of others. That's nonsense, but her condescending interpretation influenced a generation of intellectuals. For the rest of us the images deepened our awareness of the sacrifice the soldiers make on behalf of the values they defend. Can anyone doubt that? Can there be anyone who doesn't think that "war is hell"?