© TAMI SILICIO/ZUMA Press
Tami Silicio’s photograph of flag draped coffins on their way home from Iraq was meant to send a message of care and respect. When Uncle Sam and Grandpa Rumsfeld complained, her employer, Maytag Aircraft, took action.
Maytag did the only thing it could do and remain part of that honorable band of brothers known as the American defense industry. The company immediately fired Tami Silicio. For good measure and as a sign of everlasting faith and obedience, Maytag gratuitously fired her husband as well.
Tami’s employment dilemma is made even more pointless, because the Air Force itself had one week earlier released hundreds of pictures of the caskets of American servicemen and women coming home from Iraq. With a Freedom of Information Act request, 34-year-old Russ Kick, continues to make history. His website at TheMemoryHole.org (mirror site) provides 361 Air Force photographs of funereal processions and ceremonies taking place at Dover AFB since February 2003.
For this small flirtation with honesty, the Air Force is now in hot water with the higher ups at the Pentagon.
For thirteen years the Pentagon has had a blackout policy for coffin photos. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense John Molino explains. “This policy of no photos has been in effect since 1991….It has been tested over time and it reflects what families tell us that they would like as far as treatment of shipment of remains.” “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.”
Unwarranted, undignified, disrespectful, unbecoming? None of the pictures remotely approach that. Perhaps what Molino meant to say is we really can’t have Americans reminded of the incredible human overhead already paid — and more bills due daily — for the Bush-Cheney misadventure in Iraq.
Using "what the families want" to justify the media lockdown is Goebbelian Pentagonese at its most subtle and restrained. It is a tragedy that the ship of State, commandeered by the Chief Executive and his gnomic little team of soft-bellied war-worshipping brainiacs, cannot apply that thinking to the other things the families want.
Things like adequate training, suitable protective gear, fact-based intelligence, honest military leadership, a real war plan that applies to the real situation, an exit strategy. Well, at least we can be buoyed and uplifted because the Pentagon cares about what wives, husbands, parents, siblings and children want — after it has all become immaterial.
Indeed, photographs and other evidence of the deaths of hundreds of young Americans are, as Rumsfeld might put it, "very unhelpful." For the State to allow their release also violates Goebbels’ 17th rule of propaganda, which says, "Propaganda to the home front must diminish the impact of frustration."
Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley, and writes a bi-weekly column on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for militaryweek.com.