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War isn’t a pretty picture

Three Central Coast artists recall their days in the heat of the battle

In this proud moment of our triumphs in the desert, we seem to be missing something. We seem to be missing the clarity, vision, and truth of the gutsy kind of photojournalism we witnessed in Vietnam. Photojournalists and editors then weren’t afraid to show the bloody ravages of war; they seldom allowed themselves to be kowtowed into promoting only one version–America’s version–of war.

Today, our media have presented us a picture of the war on Iraq that some say lacks true clarity. We’re not seeing what the rest of the world sees–the bloody carnage and all the horrible consequences of its collateral failures.

We have to ask ourselves–if honor or responsibility have any place for us in these difficult times–why have we been screened from seeing the full impact and ravages of this war?

Why has our free press been so careful not to offend during this great moment of truth and triumph? Why not let us fully glory in this mighty campaign for justice and freedom and see what we’re really doing in Iraq?

Why have we not seen the horrible grief of blood and gore as seen in the rest of the world’s press?

The rest of the world has been given more detailed and disturbing images of this war: Images of young Iraqi men with stumps where arms once hung, armless appendages draped pathetically over blood-soaked sheets and pans, babies burned to death in the street.

War isn’t a pretty picture. But that’s what Americans are getting.

What we’ve been getting, what we seem to want, are prettified digital images buzzed into our homes with the shockingly awesome art of our war technology: Beautiful streaks of light screaming wildly through the sky in search of a kill, jets lifting themselves from carriers on the G-force that only $92 billion can buy. It’s very pretty–and false.

Yes, the American version of the war seems to suggest, "We are awesome. We will rock you, world. We’ll throttle your fucking brains out."

But the rest of the world sees an entirely different version of the war, one from which Americans have been comfortably screened, and which is cause for so much of the world’s rage against the United States.

A recent AP version of a photo that ran in the American press, for example, showed a saddened elder, a man with a turban, handing a terribly distressed and limply fallen young girl to another’s care. Her pain was unmistakable, and so was the old man’s.

What was missing from the photo, however, was the horrible cause of her pain and distress, and the old man’s grief. Her feet had been blown off, the shreds of her pants dangling in the blood of her footless legs.

The photo is enraging. It makes one’s blood boil with the hot juices of those who want this war to stop. It’s the kind of image that transforms bloodthirst into deep grief. And it ought to–this horrendous imagery of human suffering.

As the pretty pictures from Iraq continue to flood our homes with only half the story, we’ve asked three local chroniclers of war to tell us what it’s like to be in the midst of battle, to be witnesses of death and pain, and to be the bearers of news we don’t always want to hear or see.

–Stacey Warde

Howard Brodie, illustrator

War brings out the true measure of being human


For Howard Brodie, who lives on a Parkfield ranch 30 miles northeast of Paso Robles, covering the war was the easiest and hardest job he’s ever had.

Brodie, who was recently inducted into the Illustrators Hall of Fame, where the works of Norman Rockwell and Frederick Remington reside, is so passionate about his love of human life that he spent four hours rambling about it in an interview, but the flip side to covering war is seeing the people he loved suffer.

"I hate to see violence toward any human or any animal," Brodie said. "I love nature. I love humans. I don’t like many humans, but I love all humans."

Illustrating conflict and war may seem an odd career choice for a man who doesn’t like to see humans in pain, but for Brodie it made perfect sense. In war, humans show their true nature, which includes their hatred and fear, but also love and courage.

Brodie lived for the priceless moments, such as when a soldier gave up his only weapon to Brodie, who never carried one, while the enemy closed in. These were the moments he captured through his incredible illustrating talent.

One drawing that stands out in Brodie’s studio is a soldier with a big nose and skinny jaw line. The detail that Brodie captured in his eyes–sadness, longing, and compassion–is what separates the piece from others.

Brodie was struck by the soldier’s humanity because of what he once told him: "I could never kill a man. I aim over their heads and hope they surrender."

"I have great respect for our military," Brodie said. "I wouldn’t want anything to be discouraging to the military. War is a hell of a thing, hell of a thing. I respect the human who’s been in combat."

Brodie’s respect for the soldier transcended borders and enemy lines. One of his poignant sketches is of a German soldier who’d gotten lost with two compatriots on allied territory. The three young men were executed by firing squad and Brodie sketched one of the soldiers slumped against a post, hands tied behind his back, with blood dripping from his mouth. It was Brodie’s only drawing the military censored. He agreed with the censor’s decision because the military feared American POWs would be subject to retaliation executions.

"The worst part was not the combat," said Brodie. "It was seeing three young humans calculatingly reduced to three quivering bodies of death, which is different from the relative chance death of war."

When Brodie sketched images from World War II, he submitted his work to an advisory board before it was mailed home. In the Korean Conflict he couldn’t recall if anybody previewed his work, but in Vietnam nobody checked the sketches, he said.

Even if the army didn’t censor work, a journalist always knew an editor’s policy, how far he could push. Brodie tried to write and draw exactly what he saw and felt. He left the editing up to the magazines. If there was a chance the public was going to be offended by cussing or graphic drawings, Brodie expected his editor to amend the work, but he didn’t want what he regarded as truth to be censored.

To prepare for war Brodie spent weeks sketching muscles, uniforms, and boots from every angle, making sure the traction knobs on the sole where true to life. When he started drawing a subject, he sometimes would tear through 50 pages with only one sketch line on them. Oftentimes he started with the eye, because "there’s something in the eyes, for example, the soldier whose eyes said, ‘I can’t kill a man.’"

Brodie is a strong advocate of embedding journalists into military units because although he felt "so deep a fear as any human would," he couldn’t imagine drawing something he didn’t experience and feel for himself.

"I was thinking about what would hit me, about the feeling that I’d get when an image hit me," Brodie said, recalling thoughts that raced through his mind while being bombed on the battlefield. "I wouldn’t draw something I didn’t feel. I couldn’t draw [soldiers] until I ate with them, bedded with them."

Brodie chose to illustrate war for so long because he got to see the "true human," the way humans act when they aren’t playing the role of teacher, father, husband–when they are free from what they’ve been trained to think and act.

In addition to his love for humanity, Brodie stressed that people should try to keep themselves free and their minds open because that’s what makes a person special and unique.

During the interview that ran late into the night, Brodie read several passages from many books: "Meister Eckhart 600 to 700 years ago said, ‘An artist is not a special kind of person. Every person is a special kind of artist.’ It’s a quote that’s close to my heart."

Bruce Haley, photographer

Fighting injustice through the lens of a camera

Bruce Haley, 46, a former Paso Robles resident, said he covers less-noticed wars because of a sense of duty, that if he didn’t cover them possibly nobody would, but also because it’s the best way he knows how to fight injustice. The wars he chooses are ones of civil unrest, where the oppressed battle with the tyrant.

Although Haley realizes there is much gray area in war and rarely is either side innocent, he usually chose to run with the underdogs, the ones who are fighting for their basic rights to eat and live without being tortured, imprisoned, or executed.

"Perhaps, then, what I do with a camera is just my attempt to fight back at this powerlessness, to give a voice to my sense of outrage," Haley wrote in an e-mail.

Haley felt outrage while covering the Somali war when he "watched skeletal babies die," and when he "watched two men get tied to trees and butchered like pigs in Burma."

In the 1980s Haley was taken under the wings of a guerrilla group in Burma, where he stayed and photographed for four years, winning the prestigious Robert Capa award for courage in photojournalism. Besides Burma and Somalia, Haley has covered Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, Zaire, and Afghanistan.

During his career Haley’s been jailed several times, lost hearing in his right ear from bombs dropping close by, and had hundreds of Burmese soldiers hunting him down to kill.

But during all that hell he never dealt with censorship or restricted access to battlegrounds. Haley traveled within a guerilla unit, and the only reason he’d be taken under their care is because they wanted to let the world know their side of the story. In the wars he’s covered he couldn’t shoot from both sides.

In Burma, for example, the government didn’t want any publicity about their war, or anything else, for that matter. It wouldn’t allow Westerners inside its borders, and much of Haley’s time was spent working out how to smuggle himself and his camera gear into the country.

Complete freedom is a necessity for photojournalists to do their job, according to Haley.

"Don McCullin and Larry Burrows took the most amazing war-related photographs in the history of the medium," Haley said. "These two men, for whatever reasons, consistently captured the pain, intensity, and horrors of war in a manner unequalled to this day. Their work from Vietnam is an excellent example of what unrestricted access can bring to the field."

If reporters or photographers put troops in extreme danger their actions should be restricted, Haley said. But he’s never heard of a case where a photographer jeopardized soldiers’ lives with a photo.

"[Censorship] tends to revolve around issues of politics and morale; few are the wars where a journalist can move freely, or cover both sides–this means that if you are allowed access, it happens only at the whim and will of some group who want you tell their story.

"Since Vietnam was the first televised war, where images of dead American soldiers streamed into our living rooms on a nightly basis, it is widely believed that the media coverage not only crippled morale and support for the war, but actually played a major role in bringing about its end," Haley wrote in an e-mail.

What seems like a greater problem for non-mainstream photographers like Haley is that major media outlets won’t print his photos.

Magazine editors told Haley that the American public did not want to see pictures of starving, fly-speckled babies, Haley said in a New Times interview in 1995.

Haley ended up selling a lot of photos to European publications.

And now Haley’s biggest challenge is technology. He can’t even submit his work to Newsweek because they stopped looking at film. Increasingly, publications are transitioning to digital everything.

The digital divide has also made it more difficult for independent journalists to report on big wars, because the cost is prohibitive. Digital cameras, a laptop, and satellite dish run thousands of dollars.

Haley doesn’t even own a digital camera.

Additionally, in some countries, hustlers and thieves have set up crime rings to steal the high-tech equipment for ransom. For large networks such as CNN and NBC, it’s worth it to pay a $10,000 ransom fee rather than buy all new equipment and ship it halfway around the globe while losing airtime. But for an independent journalist, losing all that expensive equipment could mean the end of his coverage.

So, Haley sticks to the forgotten wars, and the dated camera gear, and now lives in Siletz, Ore. He’s working on a project now that captures the post-war industrial graveyards of Eastern Europe.

His photographs portray a land barren from war and pollution. Haley never forgets his purpose, to expose what has been forgotten.


Joe Schwartz, photographer

One soldier shot the war with a camera instead of a gun

When Joe Schwartz got out of the army, he took a deep sigh of relief and never looked back.

The nearly 90-year-old photographer, who shot images of GIs in Iwo Jima during World War II, talks about his wartime experience from a spacious home in Atascadero, where oak trees are more common than sidewalks and life moves slowly and peacefully.

Schwartz, an avid anti-war protester, was not cut out for combat photography. From stiffening up in a foxhole while the rest of his platoon was running for their lives to napping through the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, the sleep deprivation he was cursed with always seemed to catch up to him at the worst moment.

"The first 10 days I didn’t sleep at all. How could you? The bombs bursting in air gave truth to the fact that the Japanese were still there," Schwartz said, chuckling at his joke on the national anthem.

Dozing off during the raising of the flag was a blessing because he probably wouldn’t be here to tell the story. During the ceremony a grenade exploded right next to his friend, where Schwartz would have been standing.

Schwartz had other scares, as when a dud bomb landed an arm’s length away from him.

Between fatigue, illness, and close calls with bombs, Schwartz barely escaped his first steady photography job with his life.

Schwartz was happy to leave combat photography. He moved on to shoot everyday people, focusing on race relations, but his short-lived war career wasn’t in vain. His photos graced the pages of Leatherneck Magazine, a military publication, and a photo of a soldier in the trenches reporting to commanding officers by telephone became part of Pacific Bell’s ad campaign through the war.

Schwartz wasn’t covering the war for an independent magazine. He enlisted in the military, and because he’d been a freelance photographer the army had him snapping pictures for his active duty. But, the army had a little problem with Schwartz because he didn’t like to do things their way.

Schwartz remembers a time when he was running around getting all different angles of a speech he was covering for the army, and he was, but his commanding officers weren’t happy with the unique angles and style, they wanted the straight-on head shot.

"I wanted to get the straight-on shots, but the different angles too," Schwartz said. "I wasn’t conventional at all. I didn’t even salute officers sometimes."

Schwartz was given unlimited access, and he believes all photographers should have the same freedom. He did have to show his pictures to an approval committee, but to his recollection they never censor-stamped his photos.

"I had access to wherever I wanted to go. Although, there was this Sgt. Major in the group and he didn’t like me because I wouldn’t stool-pigeon for him. He made threats that if I didn’t get some good shots he’d be right behind me with his rifle."

The sergeant ordered Schwartz to dig cemeteries and pick up the dead bodies.

"He was a real bastard," Schwartz said. "I almost threw a grenade in his foxhole, but I never got training on how to pull the pin on a grenade. I would have probably blasted my brains out."

World War II was not a highly debated war, according to Schwartz.

"It was a war that most everyone supported," Schwartz said. "Back then I didn’t think in anti-war terms. I wanted Hitler defeated, but like Eisenhower said, ‘Watch out for the industrial military complex,’ and I think that’s what it has become."

Schwartz doesn’t support war and even while he wanted Hitler gone, he shot images that didn’t flatter the U.S. military. Since he didn’t think any newspapers would publish the photos, he never submitted them to the military approval board for censorship.

One self-censored photo that stands out in Schwartz’s mind was an image of a dead Japanese soldier partially buried in the sand with one Japanese-style cleft boot sticking out, and on the other side, the dead man’s hand.

Even though Schwartz could have used that photo or others to show war’s tragedy, he chose to move on. A greater passion of his was the civil rights movement and race relations between blacks and whites. He photographed the segregation of blacks and whites in the army. And he withstood rejection from Time and Life magazines for his controversial work, but Schwartz would take that any day over war. Æ

Staff Writer Natalie Connelly can be reached at

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