After 18 Years, We Can Finally See the Dead

April 9, 2009 at 9:21 pm (1)

This post is almost a follow up on one I composed a few months ago. It may be the same information; however it is a great article to help us think about Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried.

On April 5, 2008, the press was allowed the coverage of U.S. soldiers arriving back in the states. However, the arrival was in the form of coffins. This is the first time in 18 years that the AP was allowed to take photographs of the fallen. This ban, which was ‘relaxed’ by President Obama, allows the families of the fallen to have a choice whether or not their brave husbands, wives, sons, or daughters may be filmed or photographed (Reuters).

Reuters writes that:

“The ban was imposed in 1991 during the first Gulf War with some exceptions, including the return of Navy seamen killed during the attack on the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in October 2000 that killed 17”

This was during the time of the presidency of George Bush Sr. His son, George W. Bush followed through with the ban that his father implemented by

“…imposed a stricter ban during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, sparking criticism that the federal government was hiding the human cost of its military operations”

Personally, I think it is great that the families of the fallen have a choice whether or not photos can be taken. This works as a form of coping for Americans as well as the family. As much as I like to be optimistic about things, I do believe that the government does keep quiet the cost of human lives that are lost in war. Soldiers need recognition regardless if they are coming home to see their families alive or (may they rest in peace) in a coffin proudly displaying the flag of the country they so diligently and proudly fought for.

In O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried, there are various scenes in which members of the platoon that meet a most unfortunate fate. We learn how poor Curt Lemon steps on a detonator and dies a most tragic death. Also there is Ted Lavender who met the make; zapped while zipping (17). And we think of Kiowa…can we really pin point what happened to Kiowa. There is a flashlight blink and the motors drop. Regardless of whose fault it was or if he was still alive, Kiowa died in the shit field.

Upon reading about each death and how the chopper would come and pick up the bodies of the fallen, I started looking on Google for images of Vietnam soldier coffins. I couldn’t find any images, so I am led to believe that these men were placed in coffins and sent home with no one really knowing except the families. Likewise, I think that showing the coffins of the dead during the Vietnam War would have outraged protesters even more; however on the same aspect it would have shown America that many men are losing their lives making others proud as well.

Media covers US war dead’s return after 18-year ban –>

Thomson Reuters

The Things They Carried –> Tim O’Brien



  1. mervenne said,

    Eric, for the most part I agree with you. It is important to show an accurate reflection of the amount of soldiers who return home in a coffin. However, I fear, in this day and age of “OMG! I’M ON TV,” that dead soldiers may be exploited by family members in order to have Warhol’s 15 minutes. I guess now I’ve put on my cynic’s hat (perhaps it’s a mask), but as I flip from channel to channel, I’m often repulsed by the way people will discard their dignity for a moment of ersatz fame. When I watch sporting or other public televised events and see people on their cell phones waiting for someone back home to tell them they’re on so they can do some inane monkey-on-TV dance, I become irritated, to put it mildly. That’s right, buddy, you’re a star—you might want to hang up that cell phone to save the batteries for all the agents that will soon be ringing in. I’m an advocate of free speech—some would say to a fault. And if families want to show their deceased loved ones to the world, so be it. I just hope it is for something they believe in, for the war, against the war, or simple homage to those passed, I don’t care—just not to sate a disdainful need of vainglory.

    P.S. I like the title of your blog. Discreetly geeky.

  2. fromtheotherworld said,

    Interesting subject, Eric. The ban definitely made it easier for the government to hide casualties of the war and especially the dead. I can, however, understand why the ban was imposed, as I believe all nations hide the dead of the war because declaring it would first encourage the ‘enemy’ to go on and second, it will discourage the American public and troops—this does not mean that I support the ban, but I am saying that I see why it was imposed. Nonetheless, I do have a little comment on this: I view Vietnam and Iraq (1991 and 2003) as, mistakes (crimes), and thus, I do not think that troops who went there were serving their country (America); they were deceived and misled by the administration—they were victims and it saddens me that many lives are being lost for the sake of nothing (or for the sake of the powerful to sell more arms and gain more markets for their goods). I believe if the American public was to know the true cost of war on their children, men, women ( and even wallets), they would be outraged, because I am sure it is by far more than people think; in fact, we rarely hear about the injuries of the war (how many of these become disabled)? And when they return, how are they treated? (see)
    Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army’s Top Medical Facility

    This is a true sad situation because those who are lost in the war civilians (and soldiers) are both victims of the powerful that only seek its ‘interest.’ Civilians are victims because they are being attacked, and soldiers are victims because they are being misled and deceived—believe me, wars are all based on lies that are being fabricated by the powerful, nothing more.

  3. kmcoppens said,

    In parts of your post you touch on a really moving issue. The fact that in most instances of war, the families are the only ones that know about those coffins returning home. I completely agree with you that it is a great thing to allow a choice to those families on whether or not their loved ones should be photographed. In true governmental fashion, the negative numbers of a war are being hidden. As if that was the only thing our government needed to worry about, they actually seem as if they are trying to downplay the wars and atrocities and show society that not as much death occurred as thought. It sickens me really. But then again, I’m not surprised. The hidden aspects of the government and its’ inner workings are definitely NOT few and far between. But in reality, I think it helps us as human beings to see the gravity of the situation in person to really understand the real characteristics and consequences of a war. So I say, photograph away, it may be the only justice these soldiers ever see.

  4. All my comments! :) « Say you want a revolution..Well, you know..We all wanna CHANGE the WORLD.. said,

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  5. Comments… « Winston Smith’s Mind Cage said,

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