Not long after the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 (with more than one million casualties on both sides), Saddam Hussein, then-Iraq’s leader, had his troops aimed, again, at its neighboring country, Kuwait, bringing the exasperated country back at war. The consequences were deadly for both Iraq and Kuwait, and nearly for Saudi Arabia; almost 800,000 US and NATO troops had to be brought in to stop Iraqi troops from invading the wider Middle East region. Thus began First Gulf War in 1991. Nonetheless, the war played upon was all huge mess not only for the military, but also civilians; while hundred thousands of soldiers were either dead or killed under the storms of fires, bombardments, and mortar shells, millions of civilians were also massively displaced. Most depressingly, Iraq had to pay war reparations to Kuwait almost equivalent to 80 billion US$, severely hampering the country’s already fragile financial stability.
But the public worldwide didn’t really have a complete idea about how the war was truly about. Kenneth Jarecke captured raw, real pictures about the worn-out troops, dead bodies, and all gruesome scenery from the battlefields, but none of the mass media wanted to publish his work instead. And much of the public remains concealed by the reality, up to now.
Read the full article in The Atlantic about Jarecke’s photographs.
Not every gruesome photo reveals an important truth about conflict and combat. Last month, The New York Times decided—for valid ethical reasons—to remove images of dead passengers from an online story about Flight MH-17 in Ukraine and replace them with photos of mechanical wreckage. Sometimes though, omitting an image means shielding the public from the messy, imprecise consequences of a war—making the coverage incomplete, and even deceptive.
In the case of the charred Iraqi soldier, the hypnotizing and awful photograph ran against the popular myth of the Gulf War as a “video-game war”—a conflict made humane through precision bombing and night-vision equipment. By deciding not to publish it, TIME magazine and the Associated Press denied the public the opportunity to confront this unknown enemy and consider his excruciating final moments.
The image was not entirely lost. The Observer in the United Kingdom and Libération in France both published it after the American media refused. Many months later, the photo also appeared in American Photo, where it stoked some controversy, but came too late to have a significant impact. All of this surprised the photographer, who had assumed the media would be only too happy to challenge the popular narrative of a clean, uncomplicated war. “When you have an image that disproves that myth,” he says today, “then you think it’s going to be widely published.”