No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

July 21st, 2008

Why "Surge" is a Euphemism

Posted by Hariman in visualizing war

Here is one reason why we need to look past the language being used to bury the war in Iraq:

You are looking at the blood of a “gravely wounded soldier at the Ibn Sina Hospital” in the Green Zone. Awful, just awful, isn’t it? And look at the guys on clean-up duty. They are not freaked. Not happy about it, either, but it seems clear that they’ve done this before.

The stuff strewn across the bloody smear is evidence of the frantic pace of the emergency care. The room otherwise remains well equipped. The medical staff will have been superb. We can be confident that that soldier was given every chance he could be given. But they can’t turn back the clock, take him back to the other side of the blast, back to that last minute when he will have been whole. Nor can they stop the next one from arriving. And look at the size of those trash cans.

This photo was taken about a year ago during the surge that now is being defined as a success. By finally following the military advice that it had rejected for years, the administration increase in troop numbers and operations may have helped restore a degree of stability. Many goals remain unmet and reductions in violence often are due to other factors such as ethnic migration, but you can’t argue with success.

OK, but let us never call it an unqualified success, and never forget the cost. Also keep in mind that the word “surge” itself is part of the problem. A surge seems so clean and impersonal. We have power surges and storm surges. I have a surge protector on my computer. Surges come and go, and they seem to be bloodless. But they are not bloodless. Soldiers and civilians were gravely wounded and killed during the surge, just as they were before the surge and as they still are suffering and dying every day.

The good news is that on Friday the Bush administration committed to a “general time horizon” for withdrawal. They also were quick to say that this is not a timetable. Nor is it a fundamental change but rather an “evolution” in policy. (One might ask whether the administration now believes that evolution occurs generally or only within the White House.) Even as the policy changes for the better, the administration is still spinning the language to deny its arrogance and its terrible, terrible mistakes. As before, the entire tragedy is clothed in unreality.

Say what they will, they have blood on their hands.

Photograph by Maya Alleruzzo from the slide show “Scenes from the Surge” at her website.

One Response to ' Why "Surge" is a Euphemism '

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  1. on July 26th, 2008 at 7:19 am

    […] Michael Shaw has a very important post about the US military censorship of photojournalists in Iraq. Michael (and co.) do an incredible job deconstructing and analyzing the most current images within their broader social and political contexts. But this post, which includes a stunning, provocative photograph, is about the broader social and political context. Robert Hariman has a complementary piece worth checking out here. […]

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