Germany. American soldiers with rifles kneeling to pray amidst bombing rubble in Cologne Cathedral as an Army chaplain holds the first Mass since its bombing on March 2nd, 1945.
The ravages of war sometimes bring men and women together in the most elevated ways. This photo is one of those enduring moments that reminds us of our most elemental, interior lives.
The Story Behind Robert Capa’s Pictures of D-Day
Today is the 69th anniversary of D-Day, the beginning of the massive Allied invasion of western Europe to confront Hitler’s forces during World War II. Robert Capa famously made some of the only surviving pictures of the invasion on Omaha beach, which was chaotic, in part due to wind and current. The beach rockets intended to stun the Germans arrived too early and the aerial bombs landed too far inland. Many infantrymen deemed it suicidal to attempt to cross the open beach, so the waterline was soon mobbed with crouching, pinned-down men without officers to lead them forward. Capa, who had crossed the Channel with the soldiers, remained photographing on the beach for about an hour and a half that morning until his film was used up. He then boarded a ship to take him off the beach, which subsequently was hit and sank, and then made it back on another boat, where medics were treating the wounded. He arrived back in Weymouth, England, on the morning on June 7, handed his film to the Army courier, and returned to France.
When his film arrived in the Life London office that evening, there were four rolls of 35mm film (one of them probably unexposed) and half a dozen rolls of 2 1/4 film. Capa included a note with his films saying that the action was all on the 35mm rolls. Picture editor John Morris told photographer Hans Wild and the young lab assistant, Dennis Banks, to rush the prints. When the film came out of the developing solution, Wild looked at it wet and told Morris that although the 35mm negatives were grainy, the pictures were fabulous. A few minutes later, Banks burst into Morris’s office, blurting out hysterically, “They’re ruined! Ruined! Capa’s films are all ruined!” Because of the necessary rush to get prints on the flight to New York for the next edition of Life, he had put the 35mm negatives in the drying cabinet with the heat on high and closed the door. With no air circulating, the film emulsion had melted. Although the first three rolls had nothing on the film, there were images on the fourth. The film Capa had shot with his Rollei before and after the actual landings had not been put into the drying cabinet and so survived intact.
Although ten of the 35mm negatives were usable, the emulsion on them had melted just enough so that it slid a bit over the surface of the film. Consequently, sprocket holes—which would normally punctuate the unexposed margin of the film—cut into the lower portion of the images themselves. Ironically, the blurring of the surviving images may actually have strengthened their dramatic impact, for it imbues them with an almost tangible sense of urgency and explosive reverberation.
Written by Cynthia Young, ICP Curator of the Capa Archives
The backstory to history is as interesting as the photos themselves.
"It’s not a war. It’s a massacre, an indiscriminate massacre." Chilling words from a photojournalist on the ground in Syria.
“As I’m talking to you now, they’re dying.” Injured Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy gives Sky News an interview from his hospital bed. This is a really important interview. His descriptions of what’s happening in Homs are painful and terrible. He spoke of the scheduled regularity of the shelling, beginning with horrible predictability at 6:00 every morning.
I’ve worked in many war zones. I’ve never seen, or been, in shelling like this. It is a systematic … I’m an ex-artillery gunner so I can kind of follow the patterns… they’re systematically moving through neighborhoods with munitions that are used for battlefields. This is used in a couple of square kilometers.
He described the state of fear in Homs, calling it “beyond shell shock,” and the actions of Assad’s forces “absolutely indiscriminate,” with the intensity of the bombardments increasing daily. Conroy’s detailing of the inhumane conditions and the position of the Syrian citizens and the Free Syrian Army is important, because we don’t have as many journalists who have been able to tell us what it was like to be there as we have had elsewhere. He tells us that “The time for talking is actually over. Now, the massacre and the killing is at full tilt.”
I actually want to quote his entire interview about the people who are living without hope, food, or power and his conviction that we will look back on this massacre with incredible shame if we stand by and do nothing. In lieu of that, you must must must watch every bit of this interview.
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Honoring His Father and Faith: A Mennonite Tests His Peace Stance
by Bruce Stambaugh, guest contributor
Forty years ago, the very first sermon I heard preached in a Mennonite church was on non-resistance. It was exactly what I was looking for spiritually, and I embraced it. My father, a World War II veteran, was skeptical, but eventually accepted my decision.
Four decades later, I accompanied my 89-year-old father on a special excursion called Honor Flight for World War II vets. Dad was dying of cancer, and he had long wanted to make this trip to Washington, D.C. Regardless of their physical condition, each of the 117 vets on the plane was required to have a guardian for the all-day roundtrip. In his situation, Dad needed extra care.
Given my non-resistance stance on war, I was reluctant to go. I likely would be the only conscientious objector on the packed plane. But this trip wasn’t about me. It was about my father fulfilling one of his dreams. I needed to go with him, regardless of my personal convictions.
As anticipated, the vets received their patriotic just due. Upon landing at Reagan National Airport, fire trucks sprayed arches of water across our arriving jetliner — a ritual usually reserved for dignitaries. As we exited the plane and entered the terminal, a concert band played the patriotic music of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and “God Bless America.” Dozens of bouquets of red, white, and blue balloons tied to posts and chairs bobbed in the air. Hundreds of volunteers young and old vigorously greeted us.
The entourage visited several war monuments in the U.S. capital that day. At the circular, granite National World War II Memorial, strangers approached the vets with reverence and emotionally shared their gratefulness. They shook the vets’ hands and thanked them for their service. I quietly took it all in, tears streaming, emotions and thoughts mentally whirling. Still, I tried to focus my attention on caring for my elderly father.
Returning to the airport later that same day, the vets received a similar patriotic welcome home. Dad said his experience ranked right behind his marriage of 67 years. With that comment, I was glad that I had the chance to experience that day with my father. I felt honored and glad he was able to go. Dad died three months later.
Despite all the hoopla of the day — or perhaps because of it — the futility of war became all the more obvious to me. The events reinforced my non-resistance stance. In listening to the vets on the plane and buses that transported us throughout the day, I heard them all say that they hated what they had to do. I also remembered the words of Jesus, who said to turn the other cheek and go the second mile and beyond for your enemy.
For a day, I had one foot on the foundation of God and country and the other on the teachings of Jesus. The trip with my father was an inspirational reminder of the commitment I made as a young man to a different way of making peace in a hostile world. Because of this experience, I bonded with my father in his time of need, and I greatly respected what my father and the other veterans on the flight had done. Yet, I knew I could not have done what they had — not because of cowardice, but out of conviction.
I had participated in the Honor Flight out of love and respect for my earthly father. I had held fast to my peace convictions out of love and devotion to my Father in heaven. In that paradox, I found no conflict whatsoever.
Bruce Stambaugh is a retired educator and a freelance writer living in Millersburg, Ohio. You can read more of his writing on his blog at Roadkill Crossing, and Other Tales from Amish Country.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
A Soldier in Afghanistan Bows Her Head on 9/11/11
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
At Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, a U.S. soldier bows her head during a prayer on a solemn, tenth anniversary ceremony of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. (photo: John Moore/Getty Images)
At Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, a U.S. soldier bows her head during a prayer on a solemn, tenth anniversary ceremony of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
(photo: John Moore/Getty Images)
Prepatory Words for the Heat of Battle
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
On this day in 1918, the Second Battle of Marne began. This photograph of the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery was taken in 1928.
Having no idea about the story or the significance of this World War I battle, I did a bit of reading about this major offensive and was struck by the ferocity of General Gouraud’s words (especially his ending lines) appealing to his French troops and American forces well:
We may be attacked from one moment to another. You all feel that a defensive battle was never engaged in under more favorable conditions.
We are warned, and we are on our guard. We have received strong reinforcements of infantry and artillery. You will fight on ground which by your assiduous labor you have transformed into a formidable fortress, into a fortress which is invincible if the passages are well guarded.
The bombardment will be terrible. You will endure it without weakness. The attack in a cloud of dust and gas will be fierce, but your positions and your armament are formidable.
The strong and brave hearts of free men beat in your breasts. None will look behind, none will give way. Every man will have but one thought: “Kill them, kill them in abundance, until they have had enough.”
And therefore your General tells you it will be a glorious day.
(source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
Buddhist Priests Training for Aerial Attacks (1936)
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
In Alan Taylor’s excellent kick-off to his 20-part series on World War II for The Atlantic’s In Focus blog, he included this striking photo with the caption:
Buddhist priests of the Big Asakusa Temple prepare for the Second Sino-Japanese War as they wear gas masks during training against future aerial attacks in Tokyo, Japan, on May 30, 1936.
You best be checking out the other 44 photos of life before the war on their site.
Clint Eastwood and David Lynch Teach 10,000 Veterans to Meditate with Operation Warrior Wellness
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The filmmaker David Lynch has been a vocal advocate of transcendental meditation for some time now. But I’m quite intrigued with the work that his foundation is doing with returning veterans. The national initiative they are calling “Operation Warrior Wellness” aims to “teach 10,000 veterans and their families a simple meditation practice for preventing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
Their kick-off event is this morning and they are streaming live video at 11 Eastern from the Paley Center for Media in New York. It looks like their will be a healthy line-up of celebrities (Clint Eastwood and David Lynch), scientific researchers, and war veterans who “will present evidence showing that Transcendental Meditation can be an effective aid for veterans suffering from combat stress and PTSD, including anxiety, depression, anger episodes, hypervigilance, insomnia, and substance abuse.”
While you wait, here’s a short video the David Lynch Foundation produced featuring veterans and their experiences with meditation:
If you watch this, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about what they’re doing.
On Playing Soldier and Being a Soldier
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Benjamin Busch, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who served two combat tours in Iraq, writes a challenging essay for NPR on the nature of war games — with toy soldiers, in video games, on the battlefield:
"When I was a boy, I was given plastic army men. I arranged them in the sandbox behind our house, and I killed them. I voiced their commands and made the sounds of their suffering. I imagined their war — and I controlled it. But I lost those magical powers as a Marine in Iraq.
We know children are immersed in digital interactivity now, and the soldier of today has grown up on video games. It is becoming a new literacy of sorts. Playing and risking your life are different things. In the video war, there may be some manipulation of anxiety, some adrenaline to the heart, but absolutely nothing is at stake.
I honestly don’t like that Medal of Honor depicts the war in Afghanistan right now, because — even as fiction — it equates the war with the leisure of games. Changing the name of the enemy doesn’t change who it is.
But what nation or military has the right to govern fiction? Banning the representation of an enemy is imposing nationalism on entertainment. The game cannot train its players to be actual skilled special operations soldiers, nor is it likely to lure anyone into Islamic fundamentalism. It can grant neither heroism nor martyrdom. What it does do is make modern war into participatory cinema. That is its business.”
Photo courtesy of Benjamin Busch