The Most Honored Photograph

Started Oct 30, 2013 | Discussions thread
jkoch2
Contributing MemberPosts: 807
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Re: The Most Honored Photograph
In reply to TitusXIII, Oct 31, 2013

The author wrote in semi-jest.  People, not the photo, got decorated.  The photo is almost unknown and had only marginal military importance in a corner of the Pacific at a juncture when chips were down for the US.  Most of the military built-up focused on Europe, leaving few resources to contain Japan, which aimed mainly at the Naval forces (Midway).

To grant two Medals of Honor, rather than Purple Hearts, may have been a gesture to boost public moral.

Sacrifice or answer to call of duty is not easy to weigh. Would the effort have deserved less merit if the cameras had broken? Or would there have been any medals at all if the planes (ariving with complete pants-down surprise) came under no fire and returned with the very same photo?

Or consider the crews of the 1942 "Doolittle raid," who signed up for a one-way flight to drop small amounts of bombs on Japan.  Some crash landed in China and eventually made it back to the US.  Others did not.  Japanese forces captured eight, which they interrogated (guess how?), and executed.  Some sources estimate that the Japanese killed 250,000 Chinese in their search for Doolittle crewmembers in hiding.  Any medals there?  An MOH only for the commander?

Islands like Guadalcanal or Bouganville are not places many people thought about, before or since. Iwo Jima or Okinawa are recalled, but ambiguously. Japanese tourists with Nikons and Canons wince more at the hardships endured by their kin. Other Asians or Europeans under age 50 don't give a hoot, and a quotient of old-timers would give higher points to sacrifices of the Red Army or maybe even Mao's resistance.  The tens of thousands of US casualties in the taking of Okinawa were tiny compared to Russian or Chinese deaths.

No one, anywhere, is ever really grateful for "liberation" by foreign troops, unless these leave quicky and let people return to their own squabbles and intrigues.  Even older-generation Europeans observed Armistice Day or '45 VE anniversaries grudgingly.  Anyone with a pro-US view of the Cold War stands a poor change of appointment to any European history faculty.

So far as WWII photos go, Americans are perhaps most familiar with the "Flag Raising at Iwo Jima."  Photos of carnage or corpses, though factual, are less familiar.  Outside the US, people perhaps give greatest recollection to pictures of the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima or the Russian soldier waving the Soviet flag over the Reichstag.

Nowadays, the US military is in a tizzy over whether to award combat decorations to pilots who serve at hardwhip stations like St. Louis or Tampa, where they navigate drones that fly over someplace in Central Asia.

Another irony: if the "honor" enjoyed by a photograph can be measured by the number of times it is seen or displayed, then maybe it would be whoever's faces we see most often on t-shirts, posters, buttons, or windshield stickers.  Leaving aside religious images (nonphotographic), we are left with a half-dozen or so (love 'em or hate 'em) celebrities.

Each nationality, generation, and group picks its own heros, icons, and idea of truth.  Old ones fade as the living memories die out.  Any Somme vets still around?

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