Ban on Photographing Military Coffins Protected Grieving Families from Media

The ban protects grieving families from a media maelstrom, says Bill Martel.

In this undated picture made by the US Department of Defense, flag-draped coffins of US war casualties are handled by fellow soldiers in Dover, Del. A website published photographs of American war dead arriving at the nation's largest military mortuary from Iraq and Afghanistan, and a NASA spokesman said that at least 18 rows of photos on the site were of the Columbia astronauts. The photographs were released to First Amendment activist Russ Kick, who had filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

In this undated picture made by the US Department of Defense, flag-draped coffins of US war casualties are handled by fellow soldiers in Dover, Del.

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What should the Pentagon have done? It is reasonable to give families the right to veto media coverage of the "dignified transfer of remains" at Dover Air Force Base. But what military family wants to make such a decision in its moment of grief?

Still, with this veto power, quite soon we will know how many military families are in favor of media coverage. My instinct is that fewer rather than more will want this private moment opened to cameras. According to polls of families who have lost a loved one in war, the vast majority oppose lifting the ban.

In the end, it is all the rage to talk about the sacrifices of military families. Many, in fact, have cited these sacrifices as reasons to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

In fairness, by revoking the ban on media coverage of returning fallen heroes, allowing military families to be photographed when they are most vulnerable in their grief, we are not listening to military families or looking out for their best interests.

Put simply, lifting the ban on photographing coffins was not the right thing to do for military families who have lost loved ones in war.

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  • Corrected on : Bill Martel
    Associate professor of international security studies at the Fletcher School at Tufts University