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November 3, 2006

Bullet

Iraq-Bullet

by Chris Maynard

This is the bullet, a 7.62mm armor-piercing slug, that went through the Kevlar helmet, and then the head of Marine Lance Corporal Colin Smith, 19, wounding him critically. The bloodied hand belongs to Petty Officer Third Class Dustin E. Kirby, 22, a Navy medic assigned to Smith’s platoon.

The sniper’s shot came in an outlying part of Karma, perhaps an ominous place name on this particular day, in Anbar Province, northwest of Baghdad. Lance Cpl. Smith was loaded onto a helicopter 12 minutes after the attack, and the patrol went back to work.

This photograph, by New York Times photographer Joao Silva, ran at the top of Thursday’s front page, more than half the width of the printed version, and an extended slide show accompanies the story on the nytimes.com website.

It personalizes the war in a very brutal way; all one can see is the bullet and the red hand in a shaft of sunlight inside the armored vehicle. But the slug itself is devoid of personality, just a nasty remnant of a far nastier argument far from the battlefield. This particular bullet seems to grow bigger every time we go back for another look.

It is an excruciating image to look at simply because there are none of the usual veils, none of the layers of distraction so often seen in newspapers today. It is simply a bullet that tore through the head of a young man who is not old enough to legally purchase a drink in America.

State-Of-Union-Fingers-2

Graphically, it conjures up the thousands of shots of purple-stained index fingers of Iraqi voters in January 2005. That image reached its nadir when wannabee members of Congress raised neatly inked fingers, all dipped to precisely the same depth, during President Bush’s State of the Union message in February of that year. It also brings up memories of high school kids painting their faces with the school colors on the day of the big game.

This is the first national election since that speech, and the game has changed drastically, losing all its rules.

Before the Times went to color in 1997, a senior editor worried how to deal with photographs of violence and its aftermath because “the Times is a breakfast newspaper.”  Those days are passed. It’s taken some time, but the paper has certainly crossed that line in an admirable way. As much as the current administration might protest, images such as this show the stark depths in which the nation is mired, and remind us that the sugar-plum dreams of a flower-strewn march of liberation were always just a fantasy.

Note:  A follow-up article in yesterday’s Times, which further profiles Colin Smith’s unit, the Second Battalion, Eighth Marines, graphically describes the growing threat to U.S. troops by Iraqi snipers.  It also informs us that Lance Cpl. Smith fell into a coma and is now on life support.



(image 1: Joao Silva/The New York Times. November 2, 2006. Karma, Iraq. nyt.com.  image 2: Paul Morse/White House.  February 2, 2005. Washington.  whitehouse.gov)

  • http://www.k4a.net Jeff Ketelson

    My wife Shirley Ketelson is the manager of a small store in the Solano Mall, since 9/11 she has had 6 young men from her store join the Military service, and I am here to testify that every one of these young men are intelligent, honest, hardworking and valued members of their families and this community.
    In addition to these 6 young men I want to tell you about my hero. His name is Dustin Birch he was a volunteer missionary in my church serving here in Fairfield. He sat at my dinner table and shared with me his vision for a better world. When his mission was over he returned home and joined the Marines. Last year I received word that Dustin had given his life while fighting terrorists in Iraq so we won’t have to fight them here in Fairfield.
    All of these young men are the best of the best. They make me proud to be an American.
    Their will always be a place at my Dinner table, in my heart, and in my prayers for all our brave servicemen.
    Always Faithful,
    Jeff Ketelson

  • http://www.keirneuringer.blogspot.com Keir

    Well, Chris, with your explicit defense of the NYT’s crap reporting and your implicit defense of the American soldiers engaged in war crimes for which there is absolutely no legal or moral justification (pre-emptive war of aggression and subsequent occupation), you certainly have encouraged the first comment above, by someone so deluded (by what I will not speculate here) that he conflates self-defense with terrorism.
    Red hands and blue fingers might make for nice visual dissection, but please. The US needs to be removed from Iraq and begin paying massive reparations, and not because American soldiers are getting shot in the head, and it’s being reported in the mainstream press.

  • jt from BC

    The Military the MSM have been keeping this type of warfare under wraps for a long long time. These films present a condition I would call 360 degree full spectrum fear for occupation forces in Iraq.
    Definitely not good for recruitment.
    The NYT’s reporting is disingenuous, but what the hell this is a propaganda war I leave the speculating up to those who watch the ‘Baghdad Sniper (Juba) Islamic Army in Iraq’ from the sniper perspective.
    WARNING: Definitely not for the faint of heart.
    http://www.archive.org/details/jubainiraq
    http://www.archive.org/details/iraq_war

  • http://www.theanonymouswoman.com AnonWoman

    Was it Ernest Hemingway who said, “In modern war… you will die like a dog for no good reason?”
    In all it’s bloody glory, the photo romanticizes the machismo of the war front. The vivid red of the dried bloodied hand holding high the tipped bullet of depleted uranium that ripped through his buddy’s brain. The boastful story of learning how to save lives by keeping a pig alive for 15 hours, a pig that had been repeatedly shot in the face with an AK-47 and other assorted weaponry. We’re sadistic and proud of it. After all, it ain’t every warrior dude who can keep a bullet-riddled, roasted pig alive for 15 hours.
    Yet after all the training that is designed to turn a human into a killing machine, the emotions manage to make an appearance.
    We’re wasting the lives of young people so they won’t waste themselves in Fairfield?
    I would like to say that I am a good man,” he said. “But seeing this now, what happened to Smith, I want to hurt people. You know what I mean?”
    The real hero will be the man or woman who brings these hard-working and brave young men and women home so they can live out a full life with grey matter intact.

  • margaret

    The hero will be the leadership of an Administration and Congress which is committed to establishing peaceful dialogue and foreign diplomacy to solve the antagonisms brought by misunderstandings and mistreatment of peoples we wish to exploit in some way.
    The brutality behind the training of our young men, the brutality which it unleashes, and the self-righteousness with which they go into a combat which NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN NECESSARY, is the greatest crime against America, not only the acts of “terrorism” against us. I hold the leadership responsible, not the soldiers, who are young, unformed, and doing what they have been told and sold as their patriotic duty. I have only compassion for their loss of innocence and their confused reactions to the death of their fellow soldiers.

  • http://www.keirneuringer.blogspot.com Keir

    A different take on the same NYT article.

  • http://tekel.wordpress.com smiley

    So. Does anyone know if that’s American-supplied ammo, fired from an American-supplied weapon?
    Makes me think they’ve been missing a clause from that tired line:
    “When the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down (because they will be shooting at us with the guns we gave them).”

  • MonsieurGonzo

    you’re right, BAGman; little meaning / message there without the RED = blood : “One of the most basic uses of blood as a symbol is for family relationships: to be “related by blood” is to be related by ancestry or descendance, rather than marriage. This bears closely to bloodlines, and sayings such as “blood is thicker than water” and “bad blood”, as well as “Blood Brother“…
    Blood Brother refers to two or more men, not related by birth parents, who swear loyalty to one another. This is usually done in a ceremony (Blood Oath) where the blood of each man is mingled together. In simple terms, this is an extension of fraternization.”
    What if you knew her, and found her dead on the ground ?“

  • readytoblowagasket

    “Karma” is right: We deserve every sniper’s bullet we get for *wasting* the LIVES of hundreds of thousands of human beings who never did anything to us.
    NOBODY (except for the shockingly self-regarding Unchristians like Jeff Ketelson in communities like Fairfield) gives a SHIT about the Fairfields of the United States. So get your *fucking* CAMPAIGN AD off this site, Jeff Ketelson, write-in Homophobe Party candidate for the 10th District in California.
    Back to the post:
    From the NYT slideshow, this caption:
    “Lance Corporal Valdez-Castillo was saved.”
    Saved.
    And The New York Times is there to propagandize the “saving” of his life so that the Jeff Ketelsons of this country can continue to live in their Old Testament/superhero comic book fantasy world? Not entirely. I think the Clark Kent editors of the Times live in that make-believe world too. And they are publishing these hero-worship stories for *themselves,* their comic book-level readership, their comic book-loving corporate sponsors and board. So, Chris, perhaps the “colorizing” of the Times was simply a logical step to reflect its editorial transition from news to moralistic comic book-story template. It doesn’t take much effort to imagine these photos as comic book drawings.

  • a–

    Jeff you just don’t get it, do you? No one is against the troops. That is just a paper tiger argument used and echoed by the MSM to distract and confuse.Its success is apparent from your post,and others like you who continually feel it necessary to exploit your support of the troops as if the regular readers of this site and anyone who is a critic of the war didn’t GET IT. We do. You don’t. That’s why the majority of us were against this stupid war of choice from the start.
    The bravery of service people is not the issue. An administration that lies the country into war, completely and willfully mis-handles the occupation/reconstruction, and then says ’stay the course’ after four years of needless death and destruction is the issue, not the character of the troops.
    And to deflect possible criticism of my viewpoint-I am a veteran;US Navy 88-92. Served in the first Gulf War and was just as pissed off about that war as this one because it serves narrow interests for a selective few, not the democratic pretenses it pretends to defend.

  • snowfear

    “Last year I received word that Dustin had given his life while fighting terrorists in Iraq so we won’t have to fight them here in Fairfield.”
    Are you the last person on earth still buying into this bucket of bullshit?
    “Terrorists” have absolutely no interest in fighting you in Fairfield you moron…..never did, never will…
    stop trying to justify your blind faith in bad leaders with these ludicrous talking points, you are the problem.

  • tina

    As per Jeff’s post: a volunteer missionary? we have a lot of those around here, both young people and retired baby boomers. Most of what they do is a kind of voyeuristic tourism of little redeeming value, and is almost (but not quite) beneath contempt. They look at foreigners from tragedy zones like Indonesia and Kashmir as some kind of zoo animals, pinch the cheeks of some children, hand out some candy (yes, I mean it, candy), go on some kind of actual guided tourism (the beach, elephant rides, stopover in Paris) for 7 days out of their 14, and come home and talk in their church about how we are soooooooo lucky to live in America. The mission-tourism business is just one of the uglier extensions of the typical white-man’s-burden colonial enterprise.
    It’s not surprising that someone uncritical of such garbage activity, designed only to make aging suburban snobs feel all Brangelina-ish about themselves, would sign up for service in Iraq, a place where Christian evangelicals made no secret of their intention to found their base for missionizing the Islamic world. I actually heard many church leaders talk enthusiastically about how the total destruction of Iraq would make suffering Iraqis open to Christianity; they also hoped that Kashmiris freezing to death after the earthquake would give Christian missionaries their opportunity there. To take advantage of such suffering or even create it to promote your religion, well, there’s only word for that: Evil.
    Well, now the young man has been killed. So, Christian fundies, how’s that workin’ out for ya?
    If you ever want to know what the people you coo over on your so-called mission trips REALLY think of you, you can find out if want to, but I think you won’t like to hear it. It’s not that great.

  • jt from BC

    WE manufacture the 7.62mm bullet.
    “ORDNANCE” not *bullets* lectured the Chairman to protesters at the 2004 Annual Shareholders meeting of “..the Canadian company SNC Technologies Inc a multinational consortium .. whose purpose is to supply between 300 million-500 million more bullets to occupation forces per year,..” http://www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=6188&sectionID=1 Sept 08, 2004
    In on this blood letting since day one, most Canucks however prefer to recall Lester B Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize for creation of UN Blue Berets, the first armed peace keeping force dispatched in 1956 *to save face* for the UK, French and Israeli, Suez Canal invasion and withdrawal, after Uncle Sam (Ike) refused to support this war.
    Canadians; peacekeepers, powder monkeys or bad Karma.

  • Samantha

    What’s funny, or really I shouldn’t say funny, what is a stark illustration of the times we now live in, is not the photo, but the posts under the photo, which argue faith, patriotism, propaganda, politics.
    But the photo has none of that. It has a one word title: “bullet,” and it contains a simple, powerful, image of a bloodied hand holding aloft a piece of metal so small, but still representing the hugeness of the entire war, and days of war yet to come.
    I find it significant that the blood entirely soaks the anonymous hand. And I say anon because even though the hand is identified, identification is not needed (or remembered after first viewing it). The photo works with no explanation. It is not just a polite little amount of blood – like a brave spattering on a marine’s uniform, or on the outfit from a hero on ER, Law and Order, or some other fantasy/reality show. The hand is drowning in blood. Which even evokes, by extension (of hand to head) the image of a drowning person.
    There is also no story here. As Chris said, no distractions. The bullet and the hand are the story. No one can say, oh what a heroic story. Or, what a tragic story. It just IS.
    It is also timeless. This was yesterday. This was today. And it will be tomorrow.
    The hand is unexpressive. It is precise, it is not fumbling. But it does not speak to us in the way we are used to seeing raised hands. We see raised fists, raised fingers, raised hands in prayer and thanks, raised hands in pain, in anger, we see hands raised to ask permission, or ask a question. Raised hands to ward off a blow. But this hand fits none of those categories. And as a result, it’s almost confusing to the mind. (What are you trying to tell us, our mind asks?) Nothing. It is simply holding aloft the bullet that mankind has crafted for one single purpose, and it achieved that purpose. Actually in those terms it is a success. But the photo does not say success at all. Interesting.
    I also get one more flash in my mind, one more association, and I see it more and more every time I look at the photo:
    Raising aloft what has emerged, what has come into the light, what has been revealed, what has been removed from the body,…as if a child has been raised in the air towards heaven. I see a woman having delivered, and the midwife or doctor pulling out with bloodied hands fresh from the womb, a child just born. (What shall we name him?) This hand is immitating the same thing, raising aloft, after much struggle, what he has just “delivered.” Even more ironic because the hand here is from a medic.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    f___ing beautiful, Samantha!

  • readytoblowagasket

    “There is also no story here. As Chris said, no distractions. The bullet and the hand are the story. No one can say, oh what a heroic story. Or, what a tragic story. It just IS.”
    Actually, the bullet + the blood = the story. And we can rightly guess it isn’t a happy story. More like “It just WAS” than “It just IS.”

  • PTate in MN

    I can scarcely bear to look at this image.The number of “intelligent, honest, hardworking and valued members of their families” on both sides who have been killed–and for what???
    Not to keep America safe from terrorists–since the war has only made the threat worse and possibly handed Iraq and Iraqi oil over to Iran. Not to liberate the Iraqis–as many are dying from our “liberation” as were dying at the hand of Saddam Hussein. To secure oil so Americans can squander it in driving to the mall? To give Bushco the political wedge they needed to to dismantle the Constitution and gut the treasury?
    But remember our discussion some time back about the iconic images of Iraq? The picture editor of the NYTimes thought it was the image from the bridge on Fallujah?
    This picture strikes me as iconic. As others have suggested, this image is static. We are in blinkered moment: Blue sky, black vehicle, red blood, white hand, black bullet–it is very elemental. As one looks at it, our hearts are touched. There is no place to go with what one sees except inside to horror, anger, sadness, yearning for change.

  • jt from BC

    PTate, you suggest “and possibly handed Iraq and Iraqi oil over to Iran.” and “There is no place to go with what one sees except inside to horror, anger, sadness, yearning for change.”
    I suggest its imperative we might learn and pay closer attention to a more realistic assesment of the Iran and Iraq relationships, Juan Cole and others are helpful here. Iran has been an excellent historical partner and collaborator with the US regarding the Taliban and Al Qaeda since 911 which has quietly slipped under the MSM as opposed to our official partner Musharraf the military dictator of Pakistan and their blatant nuclear proliferation and covert support or indifference to the madras’s. Nor is wise to forget that Iran has vast oil reserves of their own.
    Otherwise I concur with most of you other observations.
    Most experts also believe that the US presence in Iraq has a hell of lot more to do with hegemonic and geopolitical strategies than oil for SUV’s hence the completion of the huge four permanent military bases and those gross blights called the Green Zone and the largest US foreign embassy in the world. Otherwise I concur with your other opinions.

  • PTate in MN

    jt from BC: “Iran has been an excellent historical partner and collaborator with the US regarding the Taliban and Al Qaeda since 911 which has quietly slipped under the MSM”
    Excellent points. I remember that Iran was very supportive in the days following 9/11, that some thought there might be the possibility of reapproachment with them, but since then their support has also slipped under the radar of the POTUS. The whole axis of Evil thing? Ahmedinebad as Hitler?
    We might be able to score another failure in the Bush column, another case where he took something that might work for the US and turned it into something that will work against us.
    “Most experts also believe that the US presence in Iraq has a hell of lot more to do with hegemonic and geopolitical strategies than oil”
    Surely, the US hegemonic and geopolitical interest in the ME IS securing access to oil? I did not forget that Iran has vast reserves of oil. With Hussein gone, Iran can form closer ties with the Shi’a government of Iraq and those vast oil reserves make them a major geopolitical player. Since the US has no realistic plan to break our addiction to oil, so we will just go on funding both sides in the WOT.

  • Cactus

    I saw this image yesterday then had to sign off. But I thought about it all night. The way the front edge of the hand makes a square with the other fingers splayed outward behind it and the bullet pointing to the sky. It reminds me of that totalitarian iconography we saw so much of from the old USSR, especially during their military parades. The fists were always clutching rockets which seemed to be squeezed in the massive, squared-off hand. LIFE magazine always published their parades, which is where I saw them, I guess. I didn’t have much success with google images, the best I found was this, but I think it’s a modern poster.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/bpx/136053364/in/set-72057594117941491/
    So we have an image that recalls an iconic image from the childhood of probably most of the senior editors at NYT. Hmmm. Was this choice just a subconscious reflex? Or was it deliberate? Personally, I don’t get the connection between that image and the one of the idiots in congress holding up purple fingers.
    rtbag et al., maybe the reason Jeff keeps losing elections is because he doesn’t even know the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there.’ That said, I agree with Samantha (well-said) and PTate.

  • GeorgeF

    @ smiley: The Iraqis are povided with Kalashnikovs, caliber 7.62, the US uses the M 16, caliber 5.2
    @ Mr. Ketelson: You might be right, all those young men and women, who fight and die in Iraq are to be honored. The more it is a pity that they were sent by their Supreme Commander into the wrong war in the wrong country for faked reasons.

  • PTate in MN
  • http://blog.deltos.com/SJR Winston Smith

    I see the trolls got out early. Anyone who thinks that we are in serious danger of fighting terrorists in Fairfield California, or that fighting in Iraq will have any other effect than making that MORE likely, needs to be on medication.

  • John Walsh

    This is the bullet, a 7.62mm armor-piercing slug that went through the Kevlar helmet, and then the head of Marine Lance Corporal Colin Smith, 19, wounding him critically.
    __________________________________________________
    I’m a bit confused. The cartridge in the photo shows both the bullet AND THE CASING. With my limited experience in target shooting the bullet wound up in the target but the casing remained in the weapon or was ejected.. This appears to be a remarkable case of togetherness,

  • Jolene

    Colin, the young man who is battling for his life right now, is my cousin’s son. If you are a person of faith, please pray for his recovery. God bless.

  • jt from BC

    John Walsh,
    On the peculiar phenomenon of “togetherness” I speculate the discharged slug was twisted into an empty US cartridge of the same calibre, easier not to lose, to demonstrate it, and potentially to keep as a trophy.
    Jolene I’m not into praying, but I sincerely hope your cousin receives quality care, and in *a timely fashion in the future*.

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