Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
April 14, 2008

Don’t Leave Me, Daddy. (9/11, 9/11)


(click on image to see true size, as published in WAPO photo gallery)

I can’t help contrasting this shot in today’s WAPO Day in Photos with the White House photo gallery’s endless wallpaper of military spouses as loyal, brave and beaming.

Sure, it’s just one shot.  But the symbolism here conveys a fundamental erosion of the “stiff upper lip.”  As well, it speaks — in the media sphere –  to the kind of unsustainable emotional strain on our troops that military officials have been warning of more urgently lately.  (As a metaphor, perhaps the brick wall also has something to contribute on that point.)

According to the caption, we see a military wife comforting her twins this past Saturday as their father leaves home for his second deployment to Iraq.  I don’t know how old these children were when their father shipped out the first time.  With the occupation entering its sixth year, however, these two are likely apprehending the reality of this mindless war in a deeper way that they were before.

Still, there’s an aspect of the photo, and the boy, that troubles me far more than the tragic expressiveness — the “come back;  touch me;  don’t go” — of the boy’s hand.

What I’m referring to is the prominent emblem on the boy’s shirt.  After doing a little searching, I discovered it’s a patch for F.D.N.Y. Hazardous Materials Company #1 (which I found on a site called  I certainly feel for the moment.  At the same time, however, this emblem on the boy, as part of a heart-tugging image offered for national consumption by the Washington Post, seems like a blasphemous display as both family and media further perpetuate the outlandish linkage between Iraq and 9/11.

… Oh, and did I mention that the day’s WAPO gallery was sponsored by a web commercial for the U.S. Air Force, leading off with an image of the Pentagon and the line: “This building is going to be attacked 3 million times today?”

Washington Post Day in Photos April 14, 2008

(image: Joseph Kaczmarek/AP.  April 12, 2008.  Philadelphia.

  • john-riley harper

    This isn’t entirely related to the image, but the image did force me to try and articulate some of confusion about the media and the imagery it relentlessly spits out.
    I’ve been reading this site for years, and the overall assumption is that the media essentially operates somewhat as a sophisticated propaganda network. Therefore it is interesting to try and see what that machine is trying to get us to internalize. The networks are propagandistic because they further many views that are common sense to the countries elites. But media channels, seeking to retain legitimacy, must also represent shifting pools of attitude from the people. We see that with the image above. So the media serve by responding to the tides of public opinion when it seems be overwhelming a given hegemonic structure. It does this by listening to the public and then solidifying moments of change in the image itself. Thus, while normally it serves to keep the population content by reinforcing the assumptions that have already been swallowed, occasionally it acts as a catalyst to swing popular opinion around swiftly.
    So, is the media the new face of yesterday’s propaganda? Is that what most people here see it as?

  • different clue

    The FDNY image doesn’t even show in the picture as reproduced
    on this blog. I have to take your word for it that it is there.
    So I have to ask: was the boy’s father with the FDNY? If so, is he part of the hazardous materials company #1? If so, why
    would his giving his company’s logo-shirt to his son be 9/11-Iraq linkage? Fathers often give
    their sons workplace-logo shirts.
    If that is the case here, why would the son’s wearing his father’s gift of his father’s workplace-logo shirt be anything other than coincidence into which
    excess propaganda initiatives should not be read? Perhaps this
    cigar is just a cigar.

  • weisseharre

    uhuh, and a ‘real cigar’ is a smoke

  • The BAG

    I appreciate your first point as to legibility. I didn’t help my point by initially reducing, then posting the image at a smaller size (to fit the width of my middle column). If you check again and click for full size, I’ve reposted the image so you can see it at the scale it appeared at WAPO.
    At that scale, by the way, it wasn’t that difficult for me to make out the letters FDNY in the left field of the patch. Certainly, if it didn’t stand out to that degree, I wouldn’t have thought to search for it. (The patch, itself, only took a minute or two to find, btw.)
    Regarding the business of whether the father worked for the fire department, etc., that is you reading into the image, not me. In this case (given the true scale, the size of the patch, the FDNY letters, and also the design and vocabulary of these kinds of patches as being related to emergency responders), I think the connection to 9/11, if not obvious, is strong enough to honor its presence.
    Now, it could have been coincidental that the boy chose to wear that shirt that day (at these send-offs which are known to draw media coverage), and it could even be possible the family either has a direct sentimental but non-ideological connection to the particular hazmat unit or, conversely, bought the shirt at a flea market and has absolutely no idea of the connection.
    As a piece of political news imagery, however, we are only responsible for the photo in terms of its manifest content and its resonance as a piece of visual rhetoric. Along those lines, if one is taking in the full content of this image (which is what the site attempts to more fully explicate), the Iraq-9/11 connection (hardwired into an otherwise extremely emotional and empathic situation) is, one one hand, subtle, but on the other, right in our face.

  • lytom

    True, the picture does not portray “Sacrifice and Bear it Patriotically.” Don’t expect it of kids.
    The question is what were kids told of the purpose of daddy going to Iraq? Is this just emotional send of? or is there another message like in “Stop Loss?”
    It takes a courage to go against the patriotism that goes with the uniform. The tears may just be the fear of “them” the ones who are resisting the occupation.
    It is not a question “Whose side are you on?”

  • black dog barking

    It’s hard to look past the obvious truths captured in this image, past the dear price we’re extracting from this family. I don’t imagine there’s any consolation found by pointing out this is the “good” separation, that the odds favor them not having to suffer the “bad” separation as well.
    I wouldn’t have seen that patch on my own even though it is designed to (and does) stand out. To the previous speculations about the possible meanings we can derive from the patch’s presence add these: maybe the family believes there is a connection between Iraq and the WTC catastrophe and that connection presents a wrong that must be made right. Making right is painful and necessary.
    Or maybe the parents have told the children there is a connection between what is happening in Iraq and what happened at Ground Zero. Maybe they feel their children need an explanation that makes sense.
    In either case this is just speculation. Behind the speculation lurks a dark truth. As a nation we are not on the same page about what is happening in Iraq. Beyond the inevitable difference of opinion is the blunt fact that we truly are ignorant as to both cause and effect. We have no possibility of being even pretty much on the same page because our government has chosen not to show us the true contents of that page.
    We sometimes get to a glimpse of the bill as in the image at the top of this page. We’ll definitely be paying for long time in pain, blood, money, and respect.

    Oh, the price you pay, oh, the price you payNow you can't walk away from the price you pay
  • jtfromBC

    Karl Rove would really really admire seeing that NYFD badge regardless of how it got there and appreciate this devious Dick rant to troops in Iraq on March 18/08.
    It will certainly encourage and keep the uniformed satisfied and blissful. ~
    ~’This long-term struggle became urgent on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. That day we clearly saw that dangers can gather far from our own shores and find us right there at home
    ~ So the United States made a decision: to hunt down the evil of terrorism and kill it where it grows, to hold the supporters of terror to account and to confront regimes that harbor terrorists and threaten the peace
    ~ Understanding all the dangers of this new era, we have no intention of abandoning our friends or allowing this country of 170,000 square miles to become a staging area for further attacks against Americans.
    June 2007… 41% of Americans think Saddam Hussein was directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 ~ That total is actually up 5 points since September 2004. – 20k
    With Cheney working overtime maybe the latest poll will show an uptick in 911 disinformation.

  • g

    This is one image that is so heartbreaking I can’t appreciate the analysis. I feel for that family.

  • Tom_23

    I know the family (though I am quite distant). He’s a ~9 years old and they are from NY. I wouldn’t read too much into his attire. Look at the photo for what it is. A family is saying goodbye and instinctively they know there is a significant chance they may not see their dad return. It is just heartbreaking and reminds me that the sacrifices affect more than the soldiers (not to minimize there efforts) and costs for the war are bearly accounted for.

Refresh Archives

Random Notes