Rarely does a book come around that so profoundly confronts us with what should be obvious and as a result challenges us to rethink the status quo. But this is what David Shield’s new book (War is Beautiful: The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict) has done. He has examined front page photos of war in The New York Times from 1991 to 2013. What he found were romanticized versions of war that were strikingly beautiful. In the photos, he notes, “[t]here’s no war there. There’s no attempt to document reality. It’s basically the war as screen saver, as wallpaper—a very distant aesthetic experience. Certainly, part of that is not to show the American dead except in a posture of composed relief. It seems the grief is kept out of frame in any true sense of agony or viscera or blood.”
While Shield is correct to call The New York Times out for its responsibility for glamorizing war, I think we all bear some responsibility. We don’t want to see the horror. We don’t want to think about the consequences of war. It is much easier to ignore it and carry on as usual. Shield is doing a great service by shocking all of us out of our comfort zones.
I highly recommend reading Robin Lindley’s interview with Shield: History News Network | Does Even the New York Times Glamorize Modern Armed Conflict?