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The true cost of war.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Of all the indelible impressions of 2004 left by the photojournalism published in The Register-Guard, images of U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq war prompted the most intense reactions from readers.

Those reactions ran the gamut from outrage to outright praise, reflecting the deep divisions over President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. That decision and the enormity of its consequences at home and abroad are the reasons newspapers must continue to chronicle the cost of war, even in the face of profound and well-meaning disagreement from some readers.

Measured by the volume of letters, e-mails, telephone calls and other contacts, Register-Guard readers were most moved by two sets of photos: the publication on March 19, the anniversary of the Iraq invasion, of individual photographs of each of the 570 U.S. military personnel who had been killed in the war up to that point; and a powerful front-page photo on Nov. 10 depicting military medics giving CPR to a dying soldier in Fallujah.

On both occasions, some readers charged that publication of such photos constituted a deliberate effort by the newspaper to turn people against the war. According to these readers, the photos exploited Americans who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

In addition, critics felt strongly that the Nov. 10 photo represented an insensitive invasion of privacy in the final moment's of a soldier's life. What impact might the publication of such a photo have on the families, and especially the children, who had loved ones fighting in Iraq?

Interestingly, some of the strongest support for publication of the photos came from readers who were military veterans. Their answer to the critics' question was that publication of photos depicting dead and dying soldiers meant that families who lost loved ones would not grieve alone or be isolated in their sacrifices. In the end, far more Register-Guard readers praised the decision to publish the photos, invariably citing a need to be regularly reminded that war is ultimately a human enterprise whose greatest cost is human lives.

More important, some said, was the role honest photojournalism played in helping Americans at home empathize with the suffering of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, unable to escape the conflict.

Journalists who have risked their own lives covering U.S. troops in combat report that soldiers overwhelmingly say they prefer realistic coverage of what they're up against to sanitized accounts that mask the true nature of warfare. It's in the military's best interests for taxpayers to understand the dangers of house-to-house combat and how important adequate equipment and armament are to soldiers' safety.

No one on The Register-Guard's staff understands the contribution photojournalism makes to readers' knowledge better than Graphics Director Rob Romig.

"The American people pay for war with their money and their blood," Romig said. "Bob Woodward says in the preface to his book 'Bush at War' that 'the decision to go to war defines a nation to the world - and perhaps more importantly - to itself.' It's the most important decision a nation can make, and we need to see its true cost."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Powerful photographs sparked debate in 2004
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 3, 2005
Next Article:A time of departures.

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