Kenneth Jarecke's stunning photo of an Iraqi soldier scorched alive in his truck might have shocked Americans 23 years ago, but we'll never know—because the US media kept it under wraps, the Atlantic reports. On assignment with Time to cover Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Jarecke persuaded his military public affairs officer to let him photograph the so-called "Highway of Death" in southern Iraq, where US forces decimated retreating Iraqi fighters. "If I don't take pictures like these, people like my mom will think war is what they see in movies," Jarecke remembers saying. "It's what I came here to do." The officer "could have stopped me" because it wasn't allowed "under rules of the pool," Jarecke said, "but he didn't stop me."
Jarecke snapped many photos of the convoy, but his most memorable one captured a soldier staring dead ahead, charred alive as he reached through a broken windshield. A ceasefire was called that very day, so Jarecke's photo moved on to news editors in New York City without military approval. But the AP yanked the photo from its wire service, and Time and Life refused to run it, saying families and children read their magazines. Critics have since accused the US media of "sanitizing" Desert Storm ("As far as Americans were concerned, nobody ever died," said a photo editor), a stark contrast to the era of brutal Vietnam War photos that galvanized the public and won Pulitzer Prizes. As Jarecke put it in 1991, "If we're big enough to fight a war, we should be big enough to look at it." (See how the Guardian's head of photography deals with shocking photos, or read about a war photographer fired for altering a photo.)