Children of War

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http://One%20%20image%20I%20remember%20receiving%20from%20the%20U.S.%20Mission%20to%20NATO%20in%20Brussels%20was%20this%20%20one%20of%20American%20soldiers%20meeting%20local%20children%20in%20Farah,%20Afghanistan.%20My%20U.S.%20%20colleagues%20loved%20it,%20and%20I%20liked%20it%20too.%20What's%20not%20to%20love?%20The%20pure%20joy%20of%20a%20%20child%20is%20obvious%20to%20anyone.%20The%20photograph%20was%20displayed%20outside%20the%20offices%20of%20the%20U.S.%20military%20delegation%20in%20%20Brussels%20with%20justifiable%20pride,%20but%20%20I%20didn't%20use%20it%20in%20my%20campaign.%20I%20explained%20that%20while%20it%20was%20good%20optics,%20it%20%20didn't%20convey%20anything%20real%20or%20concrete%20about%20the%20mission%20in%20Afghanistan.%20It%20%20made%20people%20feel%20good,%20but%20I%20needed%20images%20that%20could%20deliver%20more.

One image I remember receiving from the U.S. Mission to NATO in Brussels was this one of American soldiers meeting local children in Farah, Afghanistan. My U.S. colleagues loved it, and I liked it too. What's not to love? The pure joy of a child is obvious to anyone. The photograph was displayed outside the offices of the U.S. military delegation in Brussels with justifiable pride, but I didn't use it in my campaign. I explained that while it was good optics, it didn't convey anything real or concrete about the mission in Afghanistan. It made people feel good, but I needed images that could deliver more.

I was therefore surprised when the same picture showed up in a similar campaign for the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, along with several more pictures of children. These too were feel-good photos -- something you might see on a postcard printed on recycled paper and sold to benefit UNICEF. The 2012 campaign was billed "NATO Delivers: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." From many of the pictures, though, it wasn't entirely clear what NATO had delivered. It's true that because of Allied intervention, security, and aid, more Afghan children are in school and have access to basic medical care now than they did 10 years ago. But that certainly wasn't demonstrated by pictures such as this one of an Afghan girl outside a hospital in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, as pretty as it may be.

http://I%20%20didn't%20like%20what%20was%20being%20done%20with%20that%20girl%20and%20with%20other%20children%20depicted%20%20in%20the%20pictures%20from%20the%202012%20NATO%20campaign,%20such%20as%20this%20photograph%20of%20a%20%20Canadian%20officer%20teaching%20kids%20a%20game%20in%20Afghanistan's%20Kandahar%20province.%20I%20%20knew,%20for%20example,%20that%20we%20wouldn't%20use%20the%20image%20of%20the%20girl%20with%20the%20U.S.%20%20soldiers%20in%20Afghanistan%20or%20other%20Islamic%20countries%20to%20demonstrate%20our%20%20accomplishments%20because%20it%20displayed%20the%20soles%20of%20the%20child's%20shoes,%20which,%20for%20%20those%20who%20don't%20remember%20President%20George%20W.%20Bush%20dodging%20a%20flying%20shoe%20in%20%20Baghdad,%20is%20considered%20an%20insulting%20gesture%20across%20the%20Muslim%20world.%20So,%20as%20a%20%20means%20of%20political%20communications,%20the%20image%20was%20effectively%20moot.%20She%20made%20us%20%20feel%20good,%20and%20that%20was%20all.%20And%20if%20we%20weren't%20thinking%20through%20the%20images%20we%20%20used%20to%20portray%20our%20actions,%20then%20we%20probably%20weren't%20really%20thinking%20about%20how%20%20we%20portray%20children,%20particularly%20those%20in%20conflict%20regions.%20%20%20%20%20%20To%20%20be%20clear,%20I%20don't%20have%20anything%20against%20photographing%20children%20under%20normal%20situations%20or%20integrating%20%20them%20into%20effective%20political%20communications,%20and%20I%20admire%20the%20heroic%20and%20%20critical%20work%20of%20combat%20camera%20crews.%20My%20point%20is,%20we%20need%20to%20be%20much%20more%20%20careful%20how%20and%20when%20we%20use%20those%20images%20so%20that%20we%20don't%20exploit%20children.

I didn't like what was being done with that girl and with other children depicted in the pictures from the 2012 NATO campaign, such as this photograph of a Canadian officer teaching kids a game in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. I knew, for example, that we wouldn't use the image of the girl with the U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan or other Islamic countries to demonstrate our accomplishments because it displayed the soles of the child's shoes, which, for those who don't remember President George W. Bush dodging a flying shoe in Baghdad, is considered an insulting gesture across the Muslim world. So, as a means of political communications, the image was effectively moot. She made us feel good, and that was all. And if we weren't thinking through the images we used to portray our actions, then we probably weren't really thinking about how we portray children, particularly those in conflict regions.

To be clear, I don't have anything against photographing children under normal situations or integrating them into effective political communications, and I admire the heroic and critical work of combat camera crews. My point is, we need to be much more careful how and when we use those images so that we don't exploit children.

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