The truth about Lynndie and Jessica
THE photo opportunity was so perfect, it was unthinkable that it wouldn’t happen. Once the media got hold of Lynndie England’s military graduation photo, it was only a matter of time before it appeared next to that of Jessica Lynch. Hands up who could resist such a tempting comparison?
Both girls are in their early 20s, both are from rural West Virginia and both are the most famous female faces of "Gulf War II, The Sequel". But there the similarities stop. Jessica’s photo shows her to best advantage; she’s looking the camera straight in the eye, blonde, perky and smiling - flashing perfect, Mid-Western teeth - attired in fashion-friendly combats and all framed by a rippling, gleaming Stars and Stripes. By contrast, England’s portrait makes her look like an old Soviet shot putter. You could crack rocks on that face. Quite apart from the dark, heavy eyebrows glowering over expressionless eyes - which gaze off into some vacuous distance - her formal, black uniform compounds the unremitting dourness, while behind her head, even the once-proud US flag manages to look flat and limp. She’s a clone of Kathy Bates in Misery, with closets full of knee-capped men yet to be discovered. This un-American girl never baked an apple pie in her life.
What a field day this has been for the image-makers. Jessica/ Lynndie. Goldie Hawn/Rosa Kleb. Britney Spears/Marilyn Manson. Happy/sullen. Heroine/ anti-heroine. Light/dark. Angel/ devil. Good/bad. Lynch/England. Hey, Lynch ... England. Why not lynch England? The media has already metaphorically lynched England, but although she is undoubtedly the poster girl of American brutality, she’s equally undoubtedly not the cause of it. She shares her depravity with a great many others and is no more evil than a great many of her fellow soldiers. However, she is infinitely more stupid.
In a world that’s all about image, did she really never stop to wonder what might happen to those photos? Her defenders would have us believe that she was cajoled into such sickening poses to appease her boyfriend, but she certainly looks a lot happier degrading her fellow man than she did in her graduation photo. And, Lynndie, surely even you must realise that, while some parts of Middle America might forgive you for persecuting foreigners, they will never, ever condone your smoking a cigarette while you’re doing it?
England’s mother was asked whether she thought her daughter represented the typical US solider. Yes, she replied, without a flicker of doubt. But the US government’s image machine is already in overdrive to prove she is not, just as it went crazy making Jessica Lynch into the archangel of "shock and awe".
Lynch is called a heroine because she was attacked, knocked out and rescued. She hardly even knew what had happened. The real heroes of that episode were the Iraqi doctors who risked their lives to tell the US forces where to pick her up. Typically, instead of whisking her away with the minimum of fuss, special forces went in with night-vision goggles, all guns blazing and pretending to be Tom Cruise. As there are no photos to disprove the official line, Lynch and her rescuers are heroes. The myth is made.
England, by providing the (relatively unattractive) human face of the Abu Ghraib scandal, effectively volunteered for demonization. However, her infamy is as shallow as Lynch’s commendations for so-called bravery. The public images of these women are merely simplistic symbols - one heavenly, one hellish - of what the US government wants us to believe.
Three weeks after being unable to think of a single mistake he might have made while in office, George Bush said: "It’s important for the people of Iraq to know that, in a democracy, mistakes are made." Not quite, George. Washington knew about human rights abuses by US soldiers in Iraq at least six months ago. What is important for the people of Iraq to know is that, in a democracy, you never admit to making any mistakes until the press find out. And, even then, only when there are photographs.
But hey, well done for finally coming up with a mistake.
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