Back to San Francisco in a moment, but first this acknowledgement of Specialist Wilkerson. For over a year I've been tracking and profiling soldiers opposed to the Iraq War for my book, Mission Rejected. A continuing question is: How many in the military oppose the war, how many reject war duty? So far, exact statistics are impossible to compile. But as Wilkerson said prior to turning himself in, the trends suggest a growing percentage. More and more soldiers who originally joined, whether out of an understandable sense of national duty or out of desperation for a job and health insurance, or something in between, are being politicized - radicalized - by the Bush Administration's failed Iraq policies. Those, such as Specialist Wilkerson, who publicly reject this illegal and immoral war, are doing their part to influence other soldiers to feel empowered to come forward if they too oppose the war. It is critical that we civilians who also oppose the war support their brave actions.
Now, back to San Francisco. I urge you to take a look at the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle from September 1st. Unfortunately you cannot see the front page reproduced on the paper's web site, so I'll describe it for those of you who are not in Northern California.
There is an extraordinarily poignant and dramatic photograph of a soldier leaving home dominating the front page, and its layout is extremely clever. When the paper sits in a sales box, all you see above the fold is the caption in upper case letters: A KISS FOR THE ROAD, and a fatigues-clad torso leaning out of a bus window. Spread out that front page and view the rest of the photo essay.
Above the shirt pocket on the fatigues are the words, "U.S. Marines." The soldier's head sports its military buzz cut, and he's protected by a pair of dark shades. Reaching up to him is that paragon of American womanhood: a statuesque blonde. Their lips are just touching. She's 17, says the caption, he's 19, and off for his training in the California desert before deployment to Iraq.
The image is glorious. Chronicle photographer Darryl Bush undoubtedly has a prizewinner here. But as used by the newspaper, it is also an obscene glorification of war, and the Iraq War in particular.
They can write all the anti-war editorials they want in the paper, run all the anti-war op-eds they can find. But when they splash that elongated quasi-pornographic image of a lithesome California beach blonde, barely clothed, giving herself up to G.I. Joe with "A Kiss for the Road," the newspaper sends a not-so-subtle message to the home front: war = glory = sex.
It is a seductive and nauseating image, and it screamed out of newsstands across San Francisco, while Mark Wilkerson was being processed at Fort Hood, and while bodies in flag-draped coffins are being shipped to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware from Iraq, a site where Chronicle photographer Darryl Bush is not allowed to practice such extraordinarily fine skills with a camera.