How US Media Censored a Shocking War Photo
Kenneth Jarecke's photograph, once snubbed, is now famous
By Neal Colgrass, Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2014 5:22 PM CDT
An image of the so-called "Highway of Death."   (Wikimedia Commons)

(Newser) – 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.)

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Showing 3 of 118 comments
ChuChu
Aug 13, 2014 11:45 AM CDT
My father was in WWII and was badly injured in Germany in early 1945. Growing up I was privy to large books filled with graphic photos of WWII carnage and devastation. I have never been deluded into thinking that war is ever clean. The one photo that has always stuck with me was a photo from outside an army surgical tent where mutilated and amputated arms and legs were hanging on a rack that looked somewhat like a clothing rack. The photos were in black and white but nonetheless graphic and stunning. My father's generation was not "shielded" from the carnage in order to maintain their support of the war. Funny how we had to be "protected" from images that would have informed us of the actual costs of our voluntary or "preemptive" war. After Vietnam, a war when people saw what the hell was happening and turned against the war machine state, the government learned to draw the curtain. "Pay no attention to the suffering behind the curtain!". "Follow the yellow prick road.". Have you ever seen any images from Grenada or Panama? I have seen some from the Panama invasion and aftermath....and it was f'd up. In our name. Reality, not for the weak of heart.
rounder355
Aug 13, 2014 6:16 AM CDT
It's odd that the story doesn't even show the photo the story is about. And the censorship goes on........
MSCOTTASHLEY
Aug 12, 2014 7:01 PM CDT
I've seen some of those photos. Talk about a turkey shoot, the air force blew them to hell.