View Full Version : The Power Joe Rosenthal Knew

08-26-2006, 11:05 AM
26 August Washington Post commentary - The Power Joe Rosenthal Knew (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/25/AR2006082500939.html) by Susan Moeller.

"Correspondents have a job in war as essential as the military personnel," wrote Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in a memorandum drafted in the worrisome days before the Normandy invasion. "Fundamentally, public opinion wins wars." One of the greatest weapons in the World War II arsenal turned out to be a photograph -- the image taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal of five Marines and one Navy corpsman raising the flag over Iwo Jima.

That image told of men, in the midst of cataclysm, together planting a symbol of America on contested ground. At a time when images of dead and wounded Americans were being published with regularity in the U.S. press, the photograph from Mount Suribachi celebrated a heroic moment on the front lines...

Managing images to elicit a supportive public opinion in wartime was understood as essential long before the World War II -- it's simply the method of management that has changed. Napoleon III, during his mid-19th century reign in France, censored caricature more harshly than the written word -- in a time of low literacy, political cartoons were intelligible to all. Famed World War I photographer Jimmy Hare, who took pictures of the dead on the Italian front, wrote about being more stymied by the censors than were his reporter colleagues, and noted that "to so much as make a snapshot without official permission in writing means arrest."

In 1965 CBS correspondent Morley Safer enraged the military and the Johnson administration by showing footage of Marines burning thatched roofs of the village of Cam Ne with Zippo cigarette lighters. Although similar reports had been routinely documented in the print media, the visual effect of the television coverage so irritated President Lyndon Johnson that he is said to have awakened Frank Stanton, president of CBS News, with the demand "Are you trying to [expletive] me?"...

Images are powerful indicators of victory and defeat. The war on terrorism and the shooting wars in Iraq and Lebanon are increasingly being played out through images in print, on television and online. Blogs post photos of an angry President Bush and juxtapose them with those of a smiling Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader. Cable news programs show pictures of bleeding civilians in the streets of Iraq, which reverberate ominously after video images of British police patrolling Heathrow airport.

It's tempting to think that it's only in our brave new age of digital cameras and video phones, of 24-hour news channels and satellite uplinks, that images have mattered as much as they do -- that because we can see more images from literally anywhere in real time, images somehow have gained in power relative to the humble word. It's not true.

What is true is that images are no longer appropriated only after they are taken; they have become an intrinsic part of military strategy. One indication? In last month's fight with Israel, Nasrallah coordinated the timing of Hezbollah's missile attack on an Israeli warship with his on-air speech to the Lebanese public announcing the attack...