On August 14th, Lance Corporal Joshua M. Bernard was hit by a Taliban rocket propelled grenade while on patrol in Helmand province of southern Afghanistan. A photo taken of Cpl. Bernard in his final moments is the cause of controversy.
The photo was taken by an AP photographer, Julie Jacobson, as Joshua M. Bernard was being helped by his fellow Marines. Bernard was evacuated to a field hospital where he later died.
AP waited until Joshua M. Bernard was buried ten days later in his home in Maine. Joshua M. Bernard, John Bernard, has asked that AP not published the photo, citing a wish to respect his son’s memory. AP published the photo anyway, citing journalistic and historical imperatives.
Photographic records of the dead and dying of war have been displayed since Mathew Brady out on a exhibition of his photographs called The Dead of Antietam. Before the American Civil War, people were more often than not separated from the horrors of war by distance. Photography and later video have introduced everyone to those realities.
The problem with dealing with the Joshua Bernard controversy is that both sides are right, in a sense. If Joshua Bernard’s father feels that his son’s sacrifice would best be served by an image of his final death agony not be published, then perhaps his wishes should be granted. On the other hand, AP is right to that the death of Lance Corporal Joshua M. Bernard was a public event, was both news and history, and perhaps ought to be shown.
Perhaps a compromise would be to embargo the publication of photographs of the dead and dying who can be identified of a war, unless authorized by his next of kin, until some period of time has passed. The end of the war being fought might be sufficient.
Of course there is the other issue of how being shown the images of the dead and dying of war shapes ones attitudes toward it. Some have suggested that such images would tend to create revulsion against all war, no matter how just. On the other hand news organizations have avoided showing the video of people jumping from the upper floors of the twin towers on 9/11, some holding hands, choosing a quick death on the pavement below rather than the agonizing death of being burned alive. Such images would inflame public opinion, the new organizations maintain. Maybe public opinion ought to be inflamed as the ninth year of the long War on Terror approaches.
That would put the death agony of Lance Corporal Joshua M. Bernard in a kind of context.
Source: AP picture shows pain of Afghan war, AP, September 4th, 2009