!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Ellen Goodman
Ellen Goodman was a participant or observer in the following events:
Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman writes that the propagandizing of Jessica Lynch’s capture and rescue (see May 4, 2003 and June 17, 2003) has obscured Lynch’s real heroism—that of a survivor putting herself back together after severe physical and emotional trauma. “There is something terrible about the alchemy that tries to turn a human into a symbol,” Goodman writes, calling Lynch’s mythologized saga “fool’s gold.” The story went from what one reporter calls “the first feel-good story of the war” to a sobering examination of truth, lies, fiction, and legend. “[E]verything about this war seems to be up for revision,” Goodman writes, “from the way it began, with declarations of weapons of mass destruction, to the way it hasn’t ended. So Lynch has now become a redefining story of the war, with skeptics asking whether the Pentagon spun the media or the media hyped the story.” She says that the original presentation of Lynch was a “cartoon-like… warrior and prisoner of war… both Rambette and Damsel in Distress. For a military wrestling with women in its ranks, she was the woman fighting ferociously—‘She did not want to be taken alive’—and the slight, blond teenager who needed to be rescued. For the media, she was a human interest story in the world of tanks. She was news—the woman in combat fatigues—and the crossover star who might attract women viewers.” Lynch’s story was strong enough to stand on its own, Goodman says, without embellishment or mythologizing. “The not-so-secret is that media and military and citizens live in a world where war only interrupts our regular programming,” Goodman explains. “We are expected to digest simple story lines about both the reasons for conflict and its heroism. It’s also a world in which a Jessica Lynch is fit into an empty slot between [murder victim] Laci Peterson and [TV personality] Martha Stewart. But to turn a human into a symbol, you have to take away the humanity. In the pursuit of fool’s gold, you burn away the metal. By making Jessica into a cartoon hero, we may have missed the bravery of the young soldier now recovering in Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Pfc. Jessica Lynch didn’t empty an M-16 into the enemy. But she has learned how to take a hundred steps with a walker, one step at a time. That’s heroism enough for one lifetime.” [Boston Globe, 6/21/2003]
One of Tami Silicio’s photos of flag-draped coffins on a transport plane in Kuwait. [Source: Tami Silicio / Seattle Times]The Seattle Times publishes several photographs of flag-draped coffins bearing US troops killed in Iraq. The Times is the first newspaper to defy the Pentagon’s ban on such photos appearing in the news media. The photos were taken on April 7 by Tami Silicio, a contract cargo loader for Maytag Aircraft. The photos show caskets being loaded onto a transport plane in Kuwait. “The way everyone salutes with such emotion and intensity and respect,” she says in the Times article accompanying the photo. “The families would be proud to see their sons and daughters saluted like that.… So far this month, almost every night we send them home.… It’s tough. Very tough.” The photo publication provokes a round of criticism from White House officials, who claim the ban is to protect the sensibilities of the families of the fallen, as well as supportive statements from, among others, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Fired over Photos - Days later, both Silicio and her husband, David Landry, another contract worker for Maytag, are fired over the photo controversy. Concurrently, a Web site called the Memory Hole publishes over 300 such photos, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request [Seattle Times, 4/18/2004; Deseret News, 4/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 123] , and provoking more government protests (see April 14, 2004 and After). Many of the Memory Hole photographs were taken at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. [Voice of America, 4/23/2007]
Silicio's Photographs to Honor War Dead, Not to Make Political Statement - Silicio’s friends describe her as not particularly involved in politics; Silicio herself says of one particularly stark photo she took: “The picture is about them, not me, about how they served their country, paid the price for our freedom, and the respect they receive on their way home from our military personnel at our air terminal.… I guess my feelings were so built up—my heart was so full of grief. And it came out in the picture.” Of the war, she says: “Our sons and daughters are over there now—and we need to support them. On the other hand, I think we should try to find a solution to the conflict other than killing each other.” [Seattle Times, 4/26/2004] She describes herself as feeling “like I was hit in the chest with a steel bar and got my wind knocked out” over being fired. “It wasn’t my intent to lose my job or become famous or anything,” she says. [Seattle Times, 4/22/2004]
'Don't Look' - Shortly after the photos are published, columnist Ellen Goodman writes: “We have shown images of concentration camps and killing fields. The media are full of violence. The recurring question—often unanswered—is how to show that war is hell without the hellishness. Is it wrong to be restrained? Is it invasive, exploitive or honest to show war as horrific? In such a context, how on earth can there be any doubt about showing a sanitized, symbolic array of 20 coffins in a plane or dozens in an aircraft hangar during a month when a hundred Americans are lost? Has our government flunked the confidence test? The disconnect between home front and war front is still enormous. This is a war that demands little sacrifice from civilians. Now those who have made what everyone knows is the ultimate sacrifice are coming home through Dover. And we are asked only one thing: Don’t look.” [Deseret News, 4/30/2004]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.