Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Red, White and Blue

This Reuters/USAF picture appeared today on the homepage for online news magazine Salon.com as the visual to go along with an article on "How the Press Failed On Iraq." While the article is good the image itself answers the question. It's been 5 years now and this is the first picture I've seen of flag covered coffins.

The second the picture flashed onto my screen my stomach fell. Not simply because this is an image that we've been guarded from for so long now, people of my generation not knowing the images of Vietnam except for years later, but because I spent part of last evening looking at boot camp pictures that belonged to a friend of mine. We talk about how these are children going off to war, but in our minds there is still the picture of the Marine from the movies--rugged, buff, ready to eat bricks for dinner. In truth the pictures show boys, dressed up in their dress blues with a too big hat nearly falling over their eyes. Barely out of high school these are the boys who are sent to take over the world. The ones who easily could still be in algebra class. Even the Sergeants and Staff Sergeants, the drill instructors we know from Full Metal Jacket, look like college boys.

Of the men that can be seen in this picture surely some are adults, career military men, but the men in the boxes are the same ones who make lattes at the local coffee shops, who live in dorms and try to get their buddies to buy them beer, who won't be able to get a job after they've finished college. They're the young, naive men that we ignore, call boys and disrespect at every turn. They're coming home in boxes, and have been for years, and yet we don't see it. The image of those flag draped coffins are more emotional than the words "5 US Soldiers Killed In Iraq." Soldiers sound like men, coffins sound like the boy next door.