What are your views of the media photographing coffins returning with the bodies of military personnel?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Any topic that addresses the "ultimate sacrifice" that soldiers make will evoke intense emotions.  In no way should any one opinion be taken above all others. Rather, it should be an ongoing discussion and dialogue in which greater insight is absorbed regarding the importance of what soldiers give in defense of their nation's honor.

With this in mind, I think that there are some compelling issues behind why the media should be able to photograph coffins with the bodies of military personnel.  The ban on photography of coffins returning with the bodies of military personnel was made by military officials.  Their argument was that "the ban protected the privacy and dignity of families of the dead."  They felt that it was their responsibility to protect the rights of those whose loved ones gave their lives to their country:  

"Quite frankly, we don't want the remains of our service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice to be the subject of any kind of attention that is unwarranted or undignified," said John Molino, a deputy undersecretary of defense.

The stated intent cannot be really debated, as there are few realities more painful than the families who send their young ones off to war only to see them return in a military coffin draped with the flag.  It is in this spirit in which the ban was imposed.  From this perspective, the issue generates intense reaction amongst military families.  Some groups believe that allowing the media to photograph the coffins of soldiers helps to "politicize our fallen."  However, a seemingly equal number feel that being able to show the realities of war honors those who sacrifice their lives, a sentiment echoed by mothers like Jane Bright whose son was killed in combat:  "We need to stop hiding the deaths of our young; we need to be open about their deaths."  These sentiments speak to how the issue can be seen in either perspective.  

However, I think that it would be precisely in honor of these families that the media should be allowed to take photographs of the coffins of soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.  The media's photographs are a reminder to the public and the politicians of the cost of war.  When wars are waged, the soldiers' interests have to be protected.  Certainly, death in war is unavoidable. However, when seeking to silence the depiction of the cost of war to the public, there is a tendency to misread the realities that govern war: "But others, including some of the families as well as opponents of the Iraq war, said it sanitized the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was intended to control public anger over the conflicts."  This helps to reflect the reality that war strengthens the executive power of the state.  

The desire to suppress media photography of the costs involved in war might be perpetrated in order to advance a political agenda regarding the war.  In my mind, the political manipulation of war by those in the position of war is more degrading to the "ultimate sacrifice" of soldiers more than any photography could ever do.  News organizations certainly believe that this is critical in reversing any trend to silence media photography of military coffins:

"The public has a right to see and to know what their military is doing, and they have a right to see the cost of that military action," said Santiago Lyon, the director of photography for The Associated Press. "I think what we had before was a form of censorship."

The need for the media to act as a check against the actions of government filters into this argument. In wars like the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, the role of the media were critical elements in helping to shape public opinion. In being able to photograph coffins of military personnel, the media is able to remind the public of the cost of war, keeping government officials responsible and accountable for their actions of waging battles.  This would be one compelling argument towards the media being able to photograph military coffins.

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Weighing in, I agree with pohnpei397: we have become too casual about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to serve this country. Even "ultimate sacrifice" is casually used in many cases, as if what we are seeing is taking place on another planet—or the stuff of blockbuster movies. I agree with Hermy27 that it IS only a box…that the body within does not house the person who was in that body. However, I also agree that in the depths of loss, a family might not want to perceive that their tragedy is the fodder for the press. So it really comes down to what the family wants. I lost a former student on Christmas Day in 2006: he had joined the military to receive training/college so he could return home, get a good job, and care for his parents. And he loved his country: loved what he did. His, indeed, was the ultimate sacrifice—and he had taken the assignment for that day to allow a friend to have the day off. For this young man's family—not native to the U.S.—their son had died honorably and they were grief-stricken, but they were so proud of him; they weren't angry or looking to place blame. And this is what humbles me—remembering that the loss of just one of our men or women in battle is a huge deal…they are not numbers. When we honor and revere the ones we have lost, showing respect and handling their bodies with dignity (as the military ALWAYS does), we have done all we can in the final moments before we lay them to rest and move on. It's not important what the press wants: it's all about the family and respecting the family members' wishes (as has been said). If the family is all right with the filming, I hope it continues to remind us each day of what others do for us as we live peacefully on U.S. soil, and that they don't want to die, but take the risk every single day for their country. God bless each and every one.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that the media should be able to film the coffins of deceased soldiers when those coffins are being returned to the United States.  I would argue that it is important that they do so. 

It seems to me that we are all too comfortable with our wars these days because we do not really see or feel the consequences of those wars.  We are very eager to talk about how much we honor the troops, but we do not feel the impact of the wars these days in the same way we felt the impacts of wars in the past.  So relatively few soldiers die each day and there is so much other news to distract us from their sacrifices.  Therefore, I think that it is important for us to see the images of the coffins.  When we see those images, it makes it harder for us to ignore the reality of what is going on around the world.  It makes it harder for us to be complacent about the wars that are being fought in our names.

Some people may say that publishing images of the coffins is disrespectful to the soldiers within.  I, however, think that it is more disrespectful to turn our backs on the wars and forget that they are happening and that they are taking a real toll in human life.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A certain amount of reporting is acceptable.  However, I think we should allow the families some peace.  After all, it is a very private moment.  I noticed that when the bodies of the downed plane were returned, families were shielded by a black screen.  This is something, even though you can still hear them.  We do not all have to be part of these families' private moment.  

The he worst part if it, for me, as the child of a veteran (who thankfully returned home alive) is the others who use this photo opp to make a political statement.  I have nothing against anti-war protestors, but when they use fallen soldiers returning home as a chance to make a point, I think we have all let this go too far.

No, we should not forget that there are people fighting.  However, we also should not let anyone on any side with any political agenda take advantage of a soldier's body or the grieving family for a photo opp.  My dad told me how he felt, and how he was called "baby killer" when he came back.  He deserved better.  So do these families. War is hard on all of us.  We have to find another way.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Would that the media were so diligent about photographing and reporting accurately on other things! With the current milieu of political ideologies, propaganda, and selective reporting, the photographing of the coffins of the unfortunate soldiers is one that is suspicious in motive. For this reason and because there is no real need for people to see them--everyone knows soldiers die--this visual recording of the disturbing moments in the lives of families should be kept private. Perhaps, the media could devote more of its time, instead, towards learning what caused certain American deaths that could have been avoided. 

hermy27 | Student

My personal view on this matter will probably not go over very well among the masses, but I for one do not have an issue with filming a coffin - military or otherwise.  I would follow that up, however, by noting that I would NOT support the filming of a coffin if the family members of the deceased specifically requested that it not be filmed.  

For me, a coffin is nothing more than a box.  And it is closed.  The part that some people would prefer be kept private (the body) would not be visible.  Would something be lost with the filming of the box?  Would there be any more grief added to the loss of a loved one simply because someone caught the image on film?  Would that person's life measure up less if someone else saw the box on television?  Will the stares of strangers somehow make that person's life less meaningful?  No.  It is a box.  It carries a body.  That body no longer carries the life it once housed, so really a coffin is nothing more than an expensive container holding a biodegradable container.

eli468 | Student

When it comes to the media, most of the time it is to gain popularity, make money, etc. They feed people what they know will be something that will spur an emotion. Happy stories, sad stories, shocking, anything that will intrigue people to want to learn more. 

In this case, my opinion on the media photographing the returning coffins of bodies with military personnel is mixed. I enjoy the fact that it spreads the word to people to let them know the reality that some don't make it home alive. It's definitely informative and people should be educated on what's going on.. However, it is also someone's family member in that coffin and they deserve privacy and respect. My opinion is torn on this issue. I think the media should have to get permission from the family before they start snapping pictures of the coffins because it is a very tragic matter that the family and friends of those who died have to go through and the media can sometimes make such a time worse.