Afghan war photos: Contrasting views

The Times’ front page story and photos on U.S. troops posing with the body parts of Afghan insurgents prompted thousands of online comments, and hundreds of phone calls, emails and letters to the editor this week.

The  publication of the photos drew the most reaction, ranging from outrage to praise.

The debate was especially vigorous in the military community.

Here’s what a few readers had to say to The Times:

Angela Hughes wrote to the editor: “I am a retired officer from the U.S. Air Force.  I served in Iraq in 2007 before the surge when things were really violent and awful.  Those of us who serve in the Armed Forces do so freely and most of us are honorable and love our country and everything it stands for, including your right to publish whatever you believe to be newsworthy. However, all of us are human and I doubt very seriously you have any idea what it is like to be in a combat zone …  By publishing the photos of the soldiers in Afghanistan, you have willingly put many innocent American lives in jeopardy.  I cannot understand how this was newsworthy.”

Elizabeth Spatz offered online:  “As the wife of a service member currently serving in Afghanistan, I have to seriously question the decision to publish the photos of US personnel posing with deceased Afghans.  I’m no fan of this war and hope and pray for a speedy end and resolution. However, these photos will not get us there. Yes, the American public needs to have information and be well informed, but these images have the potential to put our already overtaxed military members under even more stress and potentially in greater danger. I feel there are other ways — call for a draft, publish pictures of US military funerals, highlight the difficulties injured vets are enduring every day.”

From Strykersville, NY,  Jamie Smith added: “As a parent of two military men, I am very upset with The Times decision to post the pictures in this article. The military personnel that I know would never condone these actions, and yet your article puts them at severe risk. When the media flaunts their “objectivity” it can stir up violence, not just against the few people who showed their lack of military discipline, but against innocent American military men and women around the world, and also friendly Afghan people.”

Julie Thomas commented online: “As the mother of a deployed U.S. soldier, I am outraged that you would put a story and photos that depict our soldiers as cold blooded killers. Unless you are in their “boots” you cannot image the pressure and stress they are under, what they just witnessed or what their “job” as a soldier calls for them to do… I fear for my son’s life every day. ”

Beth Murphy emailed to say: “I feel that there are always a few in every organization that disregard the rules. Most of our soldiers, including two of my sons, are professional, respect our country, and would lay down their life for America’s freedom…  If you are concerned with these soldiers’ actions, I suggest you report it to the proper military leaders for action.”

From Narrowsburg, N.Y., Thomas Prendergast wrote: “I am a former member of the 82nd Airborne Division and am extremely offended by the photos that you ran. Do you do these things to run down our country or are you just that smug?”

Others — many with connections to the military — had different but equally strong reactions:

Wrote John Gregory from Arcadia: “As a former public information officer of the 82nd Airborne Division, I am horrified, angered and mystified by the lack of discipline showed by troopers who posed for photos with body parts in Afghanistan. Kudos to the brave soldier who brought this sad incident to the public’s attention.”

Elizabeth Apana of San Francisco weighed in: “The argument that publishing these photos puts our troops at risk is completely false. The people in Afghanistan witnessed this happening and saw the pictures being taken. The actions of the U.S. soldiers is what has offended them, and that is what will make them angry, and rightly so. If there is retribution, it is because of the actions of these soldiers, not pictures published in the U.S. If it is the stress of sending the same troops back to the battlefield again and again, then why doesn’t the military do something about it? ”

Commented Rose James to The Times: “As a former Army officer, you and the whistleblower are right in exposing the uncivilized treatment by U.S. military personnel. One person commented that these photos should have been given to superiors and investigated internally, but nothing would have been done and a massive cover-up would have ensued. The whistleblower would have been punished and the uncivilized brutes would been congratulated.”

Added John Bute from Texas:  “Assuming the photos are real, most of the criticism I read is nuts. I’m a Vietnam-era veteran and my father fought his way through North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France….  The security danger is to the Afghans in the pictures.”

In Long Beach, Alan Brooks commented:  “The Times was absolutely correct in releasing the controversial war photos. This is providing needed information to  the American public who must make decisions about ongoing wars they are paying for. We must understand the price we pay as a society when we take teenagers, give them guns and teach them to kill. And then we cluck like hurt hens when there are psychological aberrations.”

 Finally, Alli Pyrah in New York, observed: “Please ignore all the hate mail you’ll get from those who would like to intimidate journalists attempting to accurately portray the U.S. military. It’s ironic that while claiming to fight for our freedoms, these troops attempt to oppress any opinions that don’t paint them in a positive light. Many of us appreciate the truthful, impartial reporting of The Times.”

This column was originally published on LATimes.com on April 20, 2012.

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