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Peter Laufer Headshot

Rummy Scores in San Francisco

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There must be some smug chortling going on at the Pentagon following a
recent San Francisco Chronicle article. The propaganda machine there
scored a nice coup in the heart of bluest Califronia. Maybe it takes the
edge off the bad publicity the military is suffering in the wake of Army
Specialist Mark Wilkerson's decision to turn himself in at Fort Hood after
spending a year and half on the run from the Iraq War, AWOL.

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.

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