How do you walk among the dead and dying without crying?
How do you take pictures of death and destruction without a camera?
How do you face the Beast of Terror on Fifth Avenue in New York City?
28, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 562
Walking Among The Dead & Dying Of
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, Mar. 28--I walked through the dead and
dying of Iraq yesterday. I stepped over 150 bodies, young
and old, men and women. I paused and aimed my digital camera at
their faces and shot picture after picture of their faces to the
cheers and jeers of hundreds of onlookers.
It was about 9a.m. Thursday morning
when it happened. I located myself in a swirl of
protestors in front of Rockefeller Center. They had vowed
to perform a "die in." At a certain moment they were going
to try and block the traffic on Fifth Avenue, between 49th and 50th
Streets, one of the most prestigious shopping areas in the world.
In the crush of people with signs shouting
and jeering "no business as usual," I waited for what protestors call
"the break." It's a trigger, an event starter.
Someone lurches or lunges toward the target and everyone follows.
I kept my camera at the ready, shooting the
protestors and police. Then the break came. The
fence barricade was breached. A herd of protestors swarmed
onto Fifth Avenue amidst a stream of bumper-to-bumper morning traffic.
They wedged their bodies down on the pavement, daring cars to run over
In less than thirty seconds, there was a
nest of "dead bodies" sprawled on the street, each holding a picture
of a dead Iraqi on his or her chest. The pictures were to symbolize
the death of the innocent. I wondered how many of those
pictures were of people Saddam had killed and claimed were victims of
Riot helmeted police ringed the group.
A squad of mounted police were brought up, the steeds placed between
the barricade and the "dead," forming an equestrian wall.
There was no police violence.
They didn't attack the protestors with clubs, or use force to stop
them. I, along with a host of other photographers, freely moved
around the "bodies" taking pictures. I stepped inside the ring,
carefully placing my feet so as not to step on the "dead" and shot
The police let us take our pictures
and then told us to move.
from Mike boats in an amphibious assault
I thought back to my first photo
shoot in Vietnam. I landed with the first amphibious
assault since Korea. We shelled the shore and then went
over the side of the troop ship, climbing down nets as our WWII and
Korean buddies had done before us. The South China Sea was
not cooperating that day. Twenty foot swells heaved the Mike
boats up and down, making the climb down more dangerous than landing
on the beach. A number of Marines fell into the water with
full packs and gear as the swells drove the Mike boats up, hitting the
nets, and then sank down, leaving other Marines dangling in mid air.
By the time we hit the surf and then
charged ashore, I was glad to have firm ground under my feet, even
though the enemy was supposed to be waiting for us.
Artillery had "softened" the landing,
pounding it with countless rounds before we disembarked. I was
with the first wave, and charged up with the point group, eager to
engage the enemy and to write about my first "real war" experience.
I was met with something I didn't
The enemy had long since departed.
The Viet Cong weren't egotists. Rather than fight a huge
force, they retreated into tunnels and caves, waiting to fight on
their grounds, on their terms.
As we moved forward, cautiously,
unsure what to expect, we were met with a number of wailing villagers,
women and old men. The young men fled for fear of being taken prisoner
as suspected V.C.
Our artillery had blasted the
village. Bodies were strewn about, and the old men and
women were scuttling about, collecting the parts blown off to make the
dead bodies whole. The body must be whole when buried for
it to go to heaven.
I knelt and shot pictures.
Then I moved around the village, shooting the carnage.
There appeared to be a child leaning against a tree with reed sun hat.
He was small, perhaps five or six. Our job was to clear
the village, to make sure none of the villagers had weapons, and that
there were no booby traps. Another Marine approached
the silent boy. He yelled for the boy to move. We
were told even the young could throw hand grenades, or strap on
satchel charges. Caution was the key.
"Di-di," rang the Marine's
Voice, the words for run, move, get away. The child didn't
The Marine nudged the boy with
the toe of his jungle boot. The boy's body tilted. The
conical hat fell, exposing a body without a head. From
across the village came the boy's mother, screaming. She
clutched the child's head she had found under her arm.
I began to shoot the pictures.
My body went numb as I clicked one frame after another. As
I approached for a close up the mother turned to me and wailed, waving
her hands. I wanted to shoot the picture of her pain,
clutching her dead child with one hand, his head tucked under her
other. It would be a Pulitzer Prize picture, I was sure.
But I couldn't continue.
I lowered the camera and looked
into her face, twisted by pain, her eyes empty of tears for I knew she
had cried them out. Vietnam had been at war with someone for
more than 300 years. They knew little of peace. I
wondered if the mothers of ravaged countries were born without tear
I looked at her pain,
It scarred itself into my mind. It embossed itself into the
gray matter, carving each line of her anguish upon the backs of my
eyes, so that whenever and where ever I would look at suffering in the
world, her face and her son's headless torso would flick into sharp
focus, haunting and reminding me that war is brutal, it is
indiscriminate, it is heartless.
As I locked eyes with the
Vietnamese woman, I was sure I felt her sense of gratitude I didn't
shoot the picture. Many villages believe if you take their
picture you capture their soul. I wondered if the woman
was thanking me for not capturing her son's soul, her soul?
But I had.
Her soul and her son's live with me.
As I turned my camera on the peace
protestors with their pictures, I saw the woman and child from three
and a half decades ago staring at me.
What was different for me was
that I knew that war was the act of criminals acting out of greed and
a thirst to kill. That was what the protestors tried to portray.
They were making the war in
Iraq one of avarice, a capitalistic thrust of power over a poor people
to rape and pillage the land's oil.
They had no idea if the
pictures they held were victims of Saddam's torturous brutality or
American bombs. Neither did I, but I knew that the
odds favored Saddam lining up people and killing them to take their
pictures for the protestors, more than they favored intentional deaths
by Americans or British troops.
Saddam and his
sons hoisted the flag of Terrorism
Saddam and his sons are ugly
dictators, evil leaders who would carve out a protestor's heart and
eat it in front of all the protestor's family just to show them who
was in charge. But that's not what the protestor's were
after. They were after making America wrong. They wanted
to burn down the fabric of Freedom and Liberty, and hoist the flag of
By the protestors' neglect to address the
victims of Saddam's Terrorism, they were in fact supporting his
regime. By their obvious hatred and vehemence against America,
they were offering idolization of Saddam's Butcher of Baghdad status.
Where were the pictures of more than 5,000
Kurds he gassed? Where were the pictures of the rape and torture
rooms? Where were the graves of thousands of prisoners he killed
who opposed his policies? Where were the pictures of his
grandchildren's fathers he executed and dragged their bodies through
the streets of Baghdad? Where were the pictures?
As I moved through the "bodies" I had
an urge to raise my foot up and bring it down hard upon the "dead
bodies" to awaken them to their folly, their ignorance.
I couldn't believe they could be so
heartless, so cold, so arrogant or so stupid to believe that Saddam
Hussein would offer any truths about death. How could they
know those pictures were really not his victims?
I was sickened in Vietnam by every death of
a non-combatant. Sometimes I had to stop and grab my gut.
Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I heaved. One does not
become inured to war's horror just because he is a warrior.
How many of
these Iraqis pictured here were killed by Saddam?
But I believed then, as I do now, that
America's motives for launching a war against the Viet Cong were
correct. The original intent was to free the people.
That intent disintegrated at the top echelons of government, but it
never lost its goal on the front lines.
At least, not in my case.
I knew in my guts that America would not
conquer Vietnam. I know it will not conquer Iraq.
It has never conquered one nation it has liberated.
I also knew that the price of war is
horror. But the horror of war is not the result of
America's ugliness or America's corrupt nature.
The horror of war is an attempt by America
to stop the horror of living.
Protestors had no time to consider that
America has a right and duty to stop any tyrant from threatening his
people and endangering the security of the world. Saddam
is the creator of horror in Iraq. His continued policies
of human oppression, of human degradation, of human violation led
to the war.
But the "dead" along Fifth Avenue
didn't see that side of the war. They didn't want to think
that Saddam, the symbol of their support, was the real Beast of
Terror. They wanted to make President Bush the Saddam
Hussein of America.
Sadly for them, it didn't work.
At least, not for me.
I had walked into the jaws of the Beast
of Terror. I had been swallowed whole into his guts, not unlike
Jonah. I have smelled his rancid breath breathing down my
neck. I've heard him try to whisper to me: "See, Cliff.
See, America is a warmonger. America is an imperialistic,
capitalistic tyrant trying to enslave the world. Turn
against America, Cliff. Turn against the flag.
Demand America, Cliff. Desecrate it. Come on, Cliff.
Oh, I have heard those Voices many
times. When the fathers of the protestors who lay on
the streets spat on me when I returned from Vietnam, they cemented in
me the belief that Terrorism of the Mind is the worst kind.
When wolves dress up as sheep, and carry
only one message with them--America Sucks--I know the Beast of Terror
gave them a ride to the protest.
Yes, war is ugly. Yes,
the innocent are victims. Yes, it is horrible. Yes, it is
But no, it isn't America at fault.
It isn't "war for oil." It isn't "no business as usual."
It's about Freedom and Liberty, two
concepts that protestors exercise by protesting, but have little
respect for when it comes to giving credit to the nation who
When a nation's leader will kill all
his people to maintain his personal power, when a nation's leader
shoots his soldiers in the back because they won't fight, when a
nation's leader develops and plans to sell weapons of mass destruction
to others, then there is no Freedom and Liberty for those people.
The Beast of
Terror needs decapitation
Instead, there is a Beast of Terror.
And that Beast needs decapitation.
It was hard for me yesterday to not
grab the protestors and shake some sense into them. But,
this is America. I step back and give them the right to
act out of their ignorance, to perform acts of desecration that fuel
the Beast of Terror's desire to weaken America's faith within.
I have my own picture of the horror
of war. The one of a woman and her headless child.
I can hear her eyes telling me:
"My child died so that others might be free one day. Let his
death always be your reminder that war is the result of tyranny and
oppression. It is fought by those who seek peace for the
citizens of the land. If my child must die so that
one day other children will be free, then I sadly offer his soul to
Mar. 27--Surrender Or Die, The Last
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