The decision made by the Associated Press to publish a photograph of a mortally wounded Marine in Afghanistan has been condemned by many, including the slain soldier’s family and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The photo itself is both horrifying and heart wrenching, as it shows Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard clinging to life as he lay in the mud, one leg completely severed and the other badly mangled, the result of a rocket-propelled grenade fired during a Taliban ambush.
Though the photo was taken on Aug. 14, the AP didn’t release it until Sept. 4, after the slain soldier’s burial, and after having shown several photos from the scene to Bernard’s family.
The view from here is that the AP did the right thing. What, after all, do we imagine? That when a U.S. soldier dies on foreign soil his passing is like that of a stateside family member, sedated against pain and surrounded by loved ones?
Lance Corporal Bernard paid a terrible price — the ultimate price — in service to his country, and for us not to be able to look his death in the face is not only cowardly and intellectually dishonest, it robs Bernard’s sacrifice of any meaning, as though he just wandered off peacefully somewhere, a quiescent statistic.
To express such an opinion is not to utter a single word either for or against the war in Afghanistan. That is another issue. Rather, the point here is that, when it comes to matters of life and death in direct consequence of government policy, we owe it to those in harm’s way, and to ourselves, not to sugar coat or sanitize the brutal results.
In recent months the AP has made some serious mistakes in judgment, most recently in the decision to distribute so-called “investigative news stories” paid for by nonprofit organizations with a political agenda. But the decision to publish the photo of Joshua Bernard was not a mistake. It was, instead, exactly right.