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August 25, 2007

Are You My Mommy?


What’s with the outbreak of injured and orphaned Iraqi children?

This past Tuesday, the NYT prominently offered no less than two, including the front page shot of an Iraqi policeman carrying an injured young boy through a hospital, and a slide show photo of a U.S. Green Zone emergency room medic holding a distraught Iraqi woman’s injured son.

The week before, the image above accompanied the front page article: “Troops Shelter an Unlikely Survivor in Baghdad.” The photo shows an infant, nine month old Fatima, who was recovered by U.S. troops after a death squad killed her mother and uncle in Baghdad.  We are told the child would likely have died if left where she was — hidden under a piece of sheet metal in 120 degree heat.

It’s curious how, in these “persuasion-charged” days, counting down to the White House Iraq status report, this Times article is mindlessly free of political context.  Rather, it’s a do-gooder story casting American forces in the humanitarian role of saving those darn Iraqis from themselves.  (Notice how the infant’s little finger line up perfectly with the stars-and-stripes.)

In an uncomplicated appeal to the emotions, the image-and-text reinforces a “stay the course” strategy through a visceral application of the  “Pottery Barn” principal.  In other words, if we broke the place, now own it.

The best evidence of this assumption is the way the article takes for granted how this child best belongs in the hands of the United States military.  It states:

Such is the unconstrained sectarian hatred here that even a baby is assumed to be a target. Accordingly, Maj. Andy Yerkes, an American police adviser who happened upon Fatima in an Iraqi police station the next morning, decided that the girl also needed yet one more piece of luck: not to be sent to an Iraqi hospital.

Painful experience had already taught Major Yerkes that Sunnis would not be safe in the health care system because it is under the control of Shiites loyal to the Mahdi Army militia….  In the two months before Fatima’s discovery, the major had handed over three Sunni insurgents to Iraqi policemen for medical treatment, only for them to be killed on arrival at the hospital.

So, rather than consider her placement in the arms of extended family, an admittedly weakened Iraqi health, welfare or medical establishment, or else a non-governmental care entity (one of those option being what’s going to happen anyway), Fatima — currently living at the U.S. 28th Combat Support Hospital in the Green Zone — is “posterized” as a “lucky” ward of the American government.  (What, did someone say “exit visa?”)

If a strategic exit and a turnover of this country is out of the question mostly because it would spell a loss for “W,”  the propaganda value here is for us — just before the “Surge Report” is issued — to stay to “save the children.”  Beyond the framing, however, the facial expressions here (of the grown ups) in this awkward-seeming portrait suggests a more accurate telling.  Accordingly, the more reality-based caption might read: “What have we gotten ourselves into?”

(image: Johan Spanner for The New York Times. published: August 13, 2007. caption: Staff Sgt. David D. Highsmith took his turn with little Fatima, who was found under a metal sheet after her mother was killed.)

  • janinsanfran

    Using the children of the people whose lives you’ve destroyed to excuse your behavior is both cowardly and criminal. So what else is new for GWB’s U.S.?

  • margaret

    Something I’ve noticed, lately, about the Times photographs; many are tilted to the left. I wonder if there is some subliminal thingy going on there. Is the tilt supposed to indicate the out-of-control nature of the Occupation? Is it meant to disrupt our sense of equilibrium? Or, is it meant to lead us toward “the Left” political solution: get the hell out of there?

  • Rafael

    We won’t show the coffins, until we need them;
    You will not see the children, until we say otherwise;
    We will not show you the horrors of war, until such time as we can use said horrors to further our cause.
    Any questions?

  • readytoblowagasket

    On July 25, a death squad shot her mother and uncle — each three times in the head — in their dilapidated half-finished squat. E.J.K.’s, in American military shorthand: extrajudicial killings.
    Fatima’s 7-year-old brother fled and flagged down a joint patrol of the Iraqi National Police and American soldiers
    Wow, such vivid detail! It’s almost like the reporter was actually there instead of transcribing every word fed to him by a U.S. military PR officer in D.C. I guess the “We will help you” branding advice from the RAND study is now being applied to win the hearts and minds of the American audience (via the NYT) as well as the Iraqis.
    Of course the U.S. military would want to get the most from its $400,000 investment.

  • jtfromBC

    The highest ranking PR officer in his own words..
    The Patraeus doctrine by Solomon Hughe looks at how Washington’s man in Iraq hopes to mould our minds.

  • PTate in FR

    margaret: “Something I’ve noticed, lately, about the Times photographs; many are tilted to the left. I wonder if there is some subliminal thingy going on there.”
    Interesting observation. What immediately occured to me is that some evidence suggests that we “read” emotions with the right side of our brain, so perhaps presenting objects and emotions in the left visual field is an unconscious way of generating an emotional response?
    A shrewd analysis, BAG, especially the subtle catch of the assumption that the child is better off with the US military. Lots of implications there. I also suspect that you are absolutely right that the pitch is definitely, “think about the children!” That appeal is known to work with his base. She is such a precious little girl; There is probably some Christian family that would love to adopt Fatima and give her a home, freedom and security in the US.
    There must be a WH PR campaign underway right now to “sell” the surge despite its failures to improve the situation. We’ve got Bush rewriting history (we could have won if we stayed in Vietnam, we caused millions of deaths because we left too early. Emphasizing the vulnerability of the children would be part of this.
    What have we gotten ourselves into, indeed.

  • Steve

    Last week when the helicopter crashed killing all 15 US soldiers inside, – the morning that news broke CNN’s home page didn’t run that story as the lead. They had a story, with photo, dominating the page about an Iraqi boy who had been covered in gas and set on fire by insurgents. He survived and was seeking treatment, but it occured in January of this year. I just couldn’t stop thinking ‘this is tragic – but why is it the lead story, especially today.’
    Thank you for explaining. I thought it was just CNN.

  • Steve

    Here’s the story mentioned in my comment above …
    !!! Warning: before/after photos !!!

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