The Viet Nam war brought home the horrors of the battlefield in a way that we had never seen before.
The rules of war hadn't changed. There were atrocities committed by both sides.
Napalm didn't respect allegiance, and the U.S. used it with abandon.
In protest of the war, peaceful monks went on hunger strikes ... or immolated themselves.
In the 60's and 70's, when these pictures were taken, we still had first amendment protections in the U.S. To find out what was really going on, newsmen and photographers went into the jungle, putting themselves in great danger.
They exposed the My Lai massacre when the government tried to cover it up. They were there from the beginning of U.S. involvement
and hung around until the end, witnessing and photographing the abandonment of the U.S. embassy, and many of our desperate allies.
The vivid depiction of blood and gore resulted in massive protests across the nation.
Disaffection spanned generations and race. The government reacted.
The Governor sent the National Guard in to quell a protest at Kent State University, resulting in 4 student deaths.
Dean Rusk, U.S. Secretary of State, called the war "the first struggle fought on television in everybody's living room every day." If the U.S. government learned anything from the Vietnam War, it's that suppressing coverage minimizes dissent.
The new paradigm is the "embedded reporter". Instead of just letting the journalists and photographers have the run of the country, they are assigned to a military unit, where they have food, shelter, and can be kept safe, and see the war from the point of view of their benefactors and protectors.
It also controls the flow of information. There's no way to file stories or send pictures without the cooperation of the military.
Even when the networks and new services send their best, they are still hampered by military censorship.
When embedded journalist Kenneth Jarecke came across the scene on February 28, 1991, he felt compelled to document the burned-out Iraqi military convoys and incinerated corpses. One of his colleagues asked why he wanted to photograph such a distasteful scene.
“I’m not interested in it either,” Jarecke recalls replying. He told the officer that he didn’t want his mother to see his name next to photographs of corpses. “But if I don’t take pictures like these, people like my mom will think war is what they see in movies.” As Hermanson remembers, Jarecke added, “It’s what I came here to do. It’s what I have to do.”
Straying from the press pool was against the rules, but Jarecke was determined to get his pictures. And when government censorship failed, the media censored itself.
The media took it upon themselves to “do what the military censorship did not do,” says Robert Pledge, the head of the Contact Press Images photojournalism agency that has represented Jarecke since the 1980s. The night they received the image, Pledge tells me, editors at the Associated Press’ New York City offices pulled the photo entirely from the wire service, keeping it off the desks of virtually all of America’s newspaper editors. It is unknown precisely how, why, or by whom the AP’s decision was handed down.
Time Magazine received the picture, and the editors fought to publish it, but Managing Editor Henry Muller refused. Photo Director Michele Stephenson says it was, to her recollection, the only instance during the Gulf War where the photo department fought but failed to get an image into print.
War is hell, and we need to keep reminding ourselves.
The Atlantic has a more in-depth account of Kenneth Jarecke.