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You Don't Need Photos of That

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Thursday that some media would be allowed to photograph flag-draped coffins returning to U.S. soil at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, if families agree.

This overturns a George H.W. Bush administration ban from 1991 — a ban that had been the subject of considerable debate.

The news got me thinking of a football game back on Oct. 17.

Eisenhower's Kyler Hernandez went down and I grabbed this shot:

It was a season-ending knee injury, but that's not why I remembered it. Just as I snapped this frame, I felt a pull on my arm as someone said, "You don't need photos of that." It wasn't really the time or place to get into an argument with the woman, so I stepped back a bit, but kept my eye on the situation.

I didn't manage to track her down after I was done shooting and really, I wasn't 100 percent sure what I would say. After all, I had jogged across the field when it happened to see what was going down, which may have appeared vampiric, but if I'm covering something, my instinct is to document more, rather than less, of whatever is happening.

The issue of photographing the flag-draped coffins as they return got me thinking about it again, however.

Now, I am obviously not drawing a direct comparison between photographing an injured football player and a soldier who was killed in action. That would be stupid and offensive — coincidentally both adjectives that have often been used in my description.

But the ban and the bump on my arm both stem from similar concerns — ones of privacy and the natural urge to try to hide the negative.

The new policy addresses the privacy issue well by giving soldiers' families the final call on media access and the decision to overturn the old policy opens a chance to see the homegrown human cost of war. It's one thing to get a sense of these costs with flag tributes and statistics, and another to see the caskets return home to devastated lives.

In the end, do we need these photos? Certainly not in the oxygen/water/food-sense, but as hard as the truth is to face sometimes, it's impossible to make an informed decision without all the facts, both verbal and visual.

And if you don't buy that, consider how much everything around you is P.R.-spun ad nauseam and cherish every opportunity to see something that someone wants to hide.


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