The US military’s attempt to hide the returning corpses of US soldiers from the media has backfired spectacularly, writes Mark Borkowski, and it might just cost Bush the election
The US military’s PR men can usually be relied upon to elide uncomfortable facts with a good euphemism, but mutilated, putrefying corpses returning to American soil have generally posed a bit of a problem.
The term ‘body bag’ always had too much of the bin-liner about it and the Gulf war’s ‘human remains pouch’ had unsettling pick ‘n’ mix connotations. Now we have the ‘transfer tube’, which sounds like something from an industrial manufacturing process.
It also looks like it, thanks to Tami Silico’s illegally captured images of flag-decked tubes lined up neat and tidy for dispatch back to the homeland. For all the world, it might as well be a conveyor belt of American dead.
This administration knows all about the power of images. Throughout Gulf war II it has controlled their capture and release, and it has used them ruthlessly to sway public opinion, and to prosecute an ignoble political agenda.
When Silico’s pictures were published in the Seattle Times, the Pentagon cried foul and tried to ban them. A big mistake. You can shut down presses, but you can’t airbrush the internet. For the millions who have seen them, these simple images render suspect every aspect of the government’s conduct since day one.
Back in 1991, all ceremony was dropped and pictures of the returning American dead were forbidden. The government’s line was and is that they wished to protect the privacy of the dead soldiers’ families. How laudable.
Or not. Jane Bright, who lost her 24-year-old son Evan in Iraq, said: “We were told it wasn’t known when the bodies would be flown in. A few days later, we were told the bodies had already arrived. Then I said we’d meet the body at our local airport, but I was told, ‘Absolutely not’. They want to keep (families) away from airports. They don’t want photographed scenes of distraught parents crying and yelling.”
The PRs are retreating in disarray. They’ve tried, but they can’t hide the dead. Now they’re finding that they can’t hide from the families of the dead who see their loved ones being treated with disrespect and contempt.
George Bush watch out. This definitely won’t win the PR war for hearts and minds, and it could very well win Kerry the election.