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Mar 19, 2008

Saving Face


For it's coverage of the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, the NYT is using the platform of its new Baghdad Bureau blog to highlight key images and recollections.

In this instance, The Times paired this highly controversial image with a vignette from the soldier who lent his flag for this act in Firdos Square.  In that reflection, then Lieutenant Tim McLaughlin recounts how the U.S. flag that covered the Saddam statue's face was given to him after the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11.

Writes Mr. McLaughlin, who left the service as a captain in September '06 and is now a second year law student at Boston College:

On April 9, my tank was the first to roll into Paradise Square in Baghdad. The world’s media were there, too, confined to the Ishtar and Palestine hotels, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was scanning for people who were trying to kill me. Turns out the bad guys were a few blocks to the northeast where my friend Chad’s platoon was. My American flag was placed on the statue of Saddam Hussein that day so I could take a picture of it. People watching on their televisions at home saw it too.

They liked it. Or didn’t. Or changed their minds later on. I told a reporter, “I know Iraq didn’t have anything to do with Sept. 11, but I think that given the opportunity, a person like Saddam Hussein would certainly be capable of trying to hit London or Paris or New York.”

What's wrong here?  Let's count.  In pairing the image with this defensive account, there is the suggestion that:

1. The military condoned the act, when in fact it realized, almost instantly, that the placement of the flag was a symbolic disaster.

2.  The military supposedly didn't know the press would be there!!!

3.  Even in retrospect, the act is seen as serving a strictly private purpose.

4.  In spite of the disclaimer, Saddam Hussein is still mentioned as a threat in the same breath as 9/11.

What is mostly wrong here, however, is the editorial act of using McLaughlin to run interference for the image.  What we see, and need to continue to take away from this visual, is the instinct to conquer.  Also not to be obscured is the evidence of the machinery (the outstretched hand of the man from the "rent-a-crowd," notwithstanding) used by the American military to rip down Saddam's statue, while simultaneously attributing this act to the popular will.

Maintaining the Times anniversary slant, you can check out more "fast-and-noose" coverage on this companion post.

From 9/11 to Fall of Baghdad, an Ex-Marine Explains What It Means to Him (baghdadbureau.blogs.nytimes)
U.S. Flag on Iraqi Monument Causes Concern (Common Dreams)

History To Some, Coney Island To Others (BNN)

(image: Jerome Delay/AP.  Baghdad, 2003. via


Holy dramatic visual foreshadowing Batman! First, the Abu Ghraib hooding of the conquered — an American flag standing in for the anonymous black cloth. We didn't see that coming, did we? Yet just one year later we find out we've been hoodin' and shockin' over at the prison house for several months. It may not have been Plan A but it didn't take long before we were grasping at that particular straw.

And the frayed rope hanging down from statue Saddam's neck, no way that was part of the plan but it sure became part of the story. That's just a gruesome serendipity, a visual reminder of yet another fubar, a relatively small chunk of fubar bobbing up and down in a steamy sea of fubar. Perhaps the Mother of All Fubar to borrow a phrase.

Heckuva job L Paulie! Heckuva job Bushie!

Ah yes, the paper of record and selective memory continues as "a force multiplier" in framing and in re staging our heroic warriors liberating Iraq.

Army report confirms Psy-ops staged Saddam statue toppling - Jon Elmer July 3, 2004

An internal Army study of the war in Iraq has confirmed that the infamous toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in central Baghdad on April 9, 2003 was stage-managed by American troops and not a spontaneous reaction by Iraqis. According to the study, a Marine colonel first decided to topple the statue, and an Army psychological operations unit turned the event into a propaganda moment.

At one point during the stunt Marines draped the statue of Saddam Hussein with an American flag. When the crowd reacted negatively to that gesture, the US flag was replaced with a pre-1990 Iraqi flag, missing the words "God is Great," by a sergeant from the psychological operations unit. The Marines brought in cheering Iraqi children in order to make the scene appear authentic, the study said.

Allegations that the event was staged were made in April of last year, mostly by opponents of the war, but were ignored or ridiculed by the US government and most visible media outlets.

the big picture @

black dog: Thanks for my first laugh today......I had to put down my dog this afternoon.

But, on a lighter note, a great photo chosen by the NYT no doubt to counter all the tepid anti-war protests of the day. Were they hoping this would be as iconic as "Iwo Jima?" I suppose it could have been were it not for the flag hood.

Oh, and the fact that we know this entire charade was a farce from the beginning and 4000 men have died and probably millions of Iraqis to say nothing of total destruction of a country that wasn't ours. Oh, and the total destruction of our country, BTW, as we face complete bankruptcy, if not of soul, surely of fortune.

I see I wasn't the first to have the same impresion about the flag appearing more like a sandbag over the statues head. And the rope around the neck too. The Iraq man in the bottom right hand corner of the photo appears to be trying to help the statue and pleading with the soldiers not to do this to the statue.

Sorry to hear that Cactus. Pets are important. Mine, over the years, have challenged me to be a better human.

Don't know if you've encountered Chris Clarke through the internets. He's a gifted writer and was devoted to his companion dog Zeke.

black dog:

Thank you. Great site.

Cactus, this ones for you
our old story finally ends
the settlement for peanuts
but Percy's perseverance is

jt: My dream is of thousands of Percy's marching on Monsanto. But the reality probably is that Monsanto is at this very moment marching on all the countries of Africa and provinces of China. The battle never ends.

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