Washington Post culture critic Philip Kennicott has filed a series of essays for the Style section about images of the war in Iraq, like the images out of Abu Ghraib. He lowered the boom today on the insensitive louts who framed a picture of dead Zarqawi. The headline: "A Chilling Portrait, Unsuitably Framed." Kennicott found the framed picture "bizarre." He lamented that the reaction was cheers from the war supporters, and intimidation of the anti-war crowd, that they had to cheer, too. Kennicott couldn't really bring himself to do much of that. He predicted, unlike the Abu Ghraib images, that this image would not be historical:
So will this image, given a strange dignity by its prominent frame, be a defining image of the war? Not likely. Its primary function is forensic. It proves, in an age of skepticism (heightened by a three-year history of official claims about the war turning out to be false), that Zarqawi is indeed dead. But beyond that, the image has little power. Indeed, as with so many images in this war, it is loaded with the potential to backfire.
Among the dissenting voices in the hubbub yesterday were those worried about Zarqawi's status as a martyr. And here, again, the frame plays a very odd role. In many traditions, a framed picture of the deceased suggests something like an icon, something to be venerated. Photographs of journalists photographing the image at the news briefing showed Zarqawi's face looming above them. One might believe, for a moment, that they had gathered to bask in its exalted presence.
Kennicott is underlining something that conservatives need to remember: Vietnam is still defined by iconic images the Left burned into the history books: the running naked Vietnamese girl, the pistol execution of a captured communist, immolating monks. But I doubt Kennicott would try a spin so pathetic as to suggest people basked in the "exalted presence" of Napalm victims. Or is he saying they did? Kennicott then moved on to echo left-wing fanatic Michael Berg, asserting Zarqawi's death was just another regrettable part of a cycle of retribution, a geopolitical version of the Hatfields and McCoys:
The image itself, a disembodied head, connects this event to the abject misery that Zarqawi had brought to so many people in Iraq over the course of his deadly career. He was the one who reportedly sawed off the head of Nicholas Berg, and now Zarqawi's head was appearing, lifeless, eyes closed, as if it too were somehow detached from his body. For those who want revenge, the head of Zarqawi is a welcome sight; but it reminds others how much this war has been about cycles of killing, retribution, tribal and sectarian violence, and the most primitive destructive urges...
And now we gaze on Zarqawi's face one last time, as he reminds us that the new product wasn't so new; the war turned out to have all too much of what wars have always had in them, death, destruction and chaos. Zarqawi's head forces us to confront once again the most primitive dynamic of war: It's an eye for an eye, or a head for a head.
Wow. It's like Colman McCarthy never moved on. Read the rest, if you want to see the whole MoveOn-style editorial unfold. The images are merely an excuse, a handy niche for Kennicott to hang arty analysis on his arrogant pacifist cant.