The line in my title appeared in a note found in the pocket of journalist Ernie Pyle when he was killed by a sniper in Okinawa on April 18, 1945. There was more that Americans would not see, including Pyle’s own body, neatly arranged and straightened, with folded hands. A photo quickly taken of Pyle was censored out of concern that it would hamper morale, since Pyle’s work was so closely followed and and he was so popular.
A post about Pyle, with the arresting quote, by Mark Stout was on War on the Rocks this morning, as I was on my way to Rutgers to discuss, in part, the censorship of war photographs this Tuesday.
Censorship of even this peaceful image of a dead journalist is one part
of the broader story about the distance of most Americans from the cost
and consequences of war, even when it comes to still images, and even
in the context of the massive mobilization of World War II.
did not see the crumpled body in France, and did not see Pyle’s own
body, because of a government policy to, in essence, curate the
photographic record of the war to calibrate the emotional response of
Americans to war. Initially bad news was suppressed, but by 1943, out of
concern that Americans needed to rededicate themselves to the war
effort, photo censorship was eased so that images of dead American
soldiers could now be shown. But they were bloodless bodies, like this famous photograph, the first photo of dead WWII U.S. soldiers to appear in Life magazine. It was not until May 1945 that, as George Roeder put it, blood was spilled on the pages of Life for the first time, in this image.
argued in the past that the most important presidential war power is
the power to narrate a context as a war, thereby enabling the popular
mobilization for war that supports presidential war power. Censorship,
or the curating of a pictoral record of war, increasing or decreasing
the violence in the images, was used to maintain that mobilization.
Censorship is a feature of all wars. In a distant war, without access to the site of battle or the dead themselves, the very sights (and sounds)
of World War II were produced by the government for the homefront
through both propaganda and censorship. In this way, power over culture
helped maintain support for presidential power, not only for overseas
deployments, but for the ongoing management of most
More of Ernie Pyle’s note is in Stout's post, here.
Cross-posted from Balkinization.