“Stop them pictures,” said the legendary “Boss” Tweed of New York City. He ran New York City politics in the 1870s. The pictures he referred to were political cartoons of him drawn by newspaper cartoonist Thomas Nast. Wikipedia reports:
Tweed was convicted for stealing an amount estimated by an aldermen’s committee in 1877 at between $25 million and $45 million from New York City taxpayers through political corruption, although later estimates ranged as high as $200 million. Based on the inflation or devaluation rate of the dollar since 1870 of 2.7%, $25–$200 million is between $1 and $8 billion 2010 dollars. He died in the Ludlow Street Jail.
Tweed understood the voters. “”I don’t care so much what the papers write about me. My constituents can’t read. But damn it, they can see the pictures.”
The U.S. Marine Corps’ senior commanders in Afghanistan have taken Tweed’s insight to heart. They have forbidden any Marine from taking “happy snaps” photos in a war zone.
Rank-and-file personnel assigned to Regional Command Southwest, headquartered here in Helmand province, have been ordered to take photographs only for official purposes while outside the wire, said Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, head of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). Recreational souvenir photographs — “happy snaps,” as Gurganus called them — should only be taken on bases in-between missions, he said.
“If it’s not an official purpose, and they’re outside the wire, then they shouldn’t have their camera out,” Gurganus said in an interview this month with Marine Corps Times. “This isn’t rocket science.”
Gen. Gurganus did not earn his two stars for being naive. He knows that Americans don’t read much, but they can understand pictures. Pictures run on the Evening News. Newspaper also get into the act.
Two scandals erupted in 2012, and both were fueled by photos. There was the “let’s unrinate on Taliban corpses” incident. Then there was the “let’s pose with some corpses.” This kind of thing has got to stop! So they will stop. No more photos.
“It’s not the camera,” the general said. “It’s the person behind the camera. You know, ‘I have a dead Taliban over here. Man, wouldn’t that be cool to have a picture to show my friends, but I’m going to be smart enough not to take that picture.’ That’s what I’m after.”
In short, don’t push the button after you have pulled the trigger.
U.S. troops carry digital point-and-shoot cameras on most patrols, using them to collect evidence and intelligence that can be turned over to their commands later. That is still required, but the crackdown has resulted in Marines taking fewer keepsake photographs and video to share with friends and family members, several infantrymen told embedded Marine Corps Times journalists in April.
The trouble is, keepsake pictures keep winding up on YouTube. “It is amazing what ends up on YouTube and flying through email and onto the Internet,” said Lt. Col. David Bradney.
“Undisciplined conduct, especially here, threatens to overshadow all our good work and sacrifice, as well as have an impact on the overall mission,” said Lt. Col. Stewart Upton.
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