Throughout the centuries, history has been passed down through the arts of writing and photography. Although photography provides its audience with a lasting image, the written word provides more personal insight into the thoughts and feelings of the history makers themselves and serves as anecdotes, or first-hand accounts, of an occurrence. Writing also provides background information necessary to fully appreciate historical photography. The art of writing generally provides the audience with a stronger emotional impact than photography and makes photography more effective by providing background support. From the Civil War battles to the September 11, 2001, attacks, American history has been preserved through historical writing.
Beginning in the nineteenth century, America began to experience a schism that divided the country into the North and South over issues such as slavery and trade. The result was war. Lasting from 1861 to 1865, the American Civil War, fought between southern and northern states, was the bloodiest and most tragic war in American history. The Civil War divided the country into the colors navy and grey and fellow countrymen and Christians against one another. As President Abraham Lincoln stated in his “Second Inaugural Address,” “Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other” (Lincoln, “Second Inaugural Address,” par. 3). Despite all being children of God, Northern and Southern Christians sought God’s help to harm the other—going against the fundamentals of Christianity and therefore the principles upon which the United States was founded. Before the Northern victory, it became apparent that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Lincoln, “House Divided Speech,” par. 9). By the end of the war, 618,000 men—fathers, sons, and brothers—had been buried (Divine, Breen, and Fredrickson 444).
In Specimen Days: Civil War Diary Walt Whitman discusses the experiences he witnessed throughout the Civil War. He recalls “a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, &c., a full load for a one-horse cart” and blanket-covered bodies lying on the ground (Whitman 60-61). After battles, wounded soldiers, both Union and Confederate, would lie with the dead “helpless on the field” for days at a time while death crept closer every minute (62). Many photographs have been taken of President Abraham Lincoln during his presidency, but, according to Whitman, none captured the true essence of the sixteenth president (63). Lincoln, the “commonest man,” had a “dark brown face, with the deep-cut lines, the eyes…always with a deep latent sadness” (63). Whitman believed “none of the artists or pictures has caught the deep, though subtle and indirect expression of this man’s [Lincoln’s] face. There is something else there” (63). By “something else,” Whitman eludes that Lincoln was deeper and more burdened by the Civil War than what society has been led to believe. In a journal entry dated May 28-29, 1865, Whitman describes his discovery of the true magnitude of dissension caused by the war. He befriended a young, wounded rebel soldier in a hospital and later met the rebel’s brother, a union soldier and also wounded, in a nearby hospital ward (64). Both brothers chose a side. Both fought against one another. Both were wounded in the same battle. And both died for their cause (64). Everywhere Whitman turned, death and suffering stared back at him.
Photograph A depicts bodies of both Confederate and Union soldiers strewn across a battlefield. Although this image does indeed depict death and suffering imposed by the Civil War, it does not convey the daily suffering of that era to viewers like Whitman’s Specimen Days. When viewing the picture, the audience recognizes the depicted death and suffering, but the image provides no background information to evoke a strong pathos, or emotional appeal, from its audience. Whitman’s Specimen Days, on the other hand, does provide the audience with accounts of daily death and suffering inflicted by the Civil War. For example, Whitman gives background information on the two brothers on rival sides before announcing their deaths to help his audience realize that the Civil War was not just a war between the North and the South but a war between brothers. Without the provided background information, the audience cannot fully understand the magnitude of the issues and feel a strong pathos appeal. The photograph cannot provide background information and, therefore, evokes a weaker impact from its audience when compared to Whitman’s descriptive first-hand accounts.
On December 7, 1941, tragedy touched the lives of the American people once again. The Japanese military performed an air raid on Pearl Harbor, an American naval base in Oahu, Hawaii—devastating the United States navy and killing over 2,400 Americans (“Pearl Harbor Raid,” par. 4). In retaliation to the Pearl Harbor attacks, the United States dropped atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6, 1945 (“The Manhattan Project,” par. 1). Around 8:15 AM, B-29 bomber planes dropped a 9,700 tons uranium bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese military city, resulting in great destruction and death (par. 2).
In Hiroshima Diary, Dr. Michihiko Hachiya describes the morning of August 6, 1945, after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He begins by describing the morning: “still, warm, and beautiful” (Hachiya 35). Suddenly, a huge flash of light engulfs the surroundings and leaves behind darkness and haze in replace of the once beautiful, serene morning (35). Hachiya describes the confusion and shock of the moments following the explosion of the atomic bomb through use of simple sentences such as “What had happened?”, “Where was my wife?”, and “Could I go on?” (35-36). By using simple sentences, the speed of the story increases and allows the audience to feel the writer’s shock. Mass hysteria follows the explosion. People are injured and scrambling through the streets, running from the unknown (36). Hachiya trips over a man’s head and apologizes, only to realize that the man is dead (36). Everything seems to pass in slow motion. Hachiya states his movements as “ever so slow” although, his mind was “running at top speed” (37).
Photograph B is an image of the “mushroom cloud” hovering over Hiroshima after the dropping of the atomic bomb. The photograph gives viewers no insight into the hysteria occurring underneath the cloud. Hiroshima Diary has the stronger impact because, like Whitman’s diary, Hiroshima Diary gives first-hand accounts. Hachiya describes in detail everything that occurred to him during that time period and everything he witnessed. Therefore, the written word provides the greater impact than the photograph.
Two decades later, political turmoil and the spread of communist forms of government increased in southern Asia. In 1965, America became fully involved in the Vietnam War to prevent the spread of Communism from North Vietnam to South Vietnam under the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson (Divine, Breen, and Fredrickson 877). United States involvement in the Vietnam War lasted until 1975 (“The Wars for Vietnam,” par. 1).
The Things They Carried, written by Tim O’Brien, discusses the everyday lives and burdens of soldiers during the Vietnam War. Not only did these young men carry weight on their shoulders literally—toting things such as backpacks, M-60s, dope, PRC-25 radios, and bibles—but they also carried emotional burdens as well—what they have seen, done, and felt (O’Brien 3-5). O’Brien describes the emotions and images that come with the horror of war and the duty to carry on as if nothing ever happened. O’Brien wrote The Things They Carried to bring light to the idea that once a soldier enters a war, the soldier never truly leaves a war. He is reminded of his war experiences everyday of his life. O’Brien states that a true war story is never moral; war stories never “instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done” (O’Brien 68). And he warns “if a war story seems moral, do not believe it” (68). There is no moral in a true war story because there is no moral in war itself. Throughout the book, O’Brien tells a story and then states that the story did not exactly happen the way he wrote it. As a matter of fact, he states that some of the story never happened at all. Readers then question the validity of the war stories and the author himself. O’Brien exaggerates or fabricates stories to strengthen the emotions of readers so that the readers can better relate to the characters in the book. Otherwise, the audience may not have insight into the emotions of the soldiers. For example, after the death of his best friend, Rat Kiley harbors tremendous emotional buildup—anger, sadness, regret, and loneliness—and he cannot bare that burden any longer (78). He comes across a baby water buffalo and shoots the baby multiple times until it is only alive in the eyes. After ceasing fire, Kiley breaks down and cries (79). And that is all. Like a true war story—there was no moral—just war. The story does not give a life lesson but only describes the effects of war on a soldier in terms that the audience can somewhat sympathize with the soldier’s emotions, although the audience will never truly understand those emotions. The purpose of exaggeration or fabrication of stories in The Things They Carried is not to deceive but to bring readers to the same emotional level as the character so that the readers can better understand his emotions.
Five soldiers are carrying a dead body in Photograph C. Compared to the emotional impact on the audience of The Things They Carried, Photograph C provides the weaker impact. The written story gives the readers insight into the thoughts and emotions of actual soldiers while they are carrying dead bodies; whereas, the picture does not allow the audience to view the soldiers’ thoughts and emotions at all.
The United States and its democracy, freedom, and liberty have long been the envy of nations around the world and the target of terrorists groups. On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists hijacked four commercial passenger jets and used them to cause destruction and despair in the United States of America due to their jealousy. Two planes were used to crash into both towers of the World Trade Center; a third was used to crash into the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field. All four September 11 attacks combined killed nearly three thousand people (“US Deaths in Iraq Surpass 9/11 Toll,” par. 3).
“The First Hours,” written by Tim Townsend, and “The Price We Pay,” written by Adam Mayblum, are both accounts of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on World Trade Center. “The Price We Pay” is written from the perspective of someone who was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the first hijacked plane crashed into the South Tower. Mayblum recalls the mass confusion and panic during the evacuation of the building (Mayblum 47). “The First Hours” was written from the perspective of an on-looker watching the South Tower collapse. Townsend describes the mass hysteria on the street as he watched jumpers from the North Tower thrust their bodies into the air and plummet to their death (Townsend 51). People were ultimately meeting the true test of bravery as they sought to help fellow citizens before being engulfed by the looming cloud of debris (53). According to Mayblum, America pays a price for its freedom, and September 11, 2001, was a time to cash in that price (Mayblum 48). Accounts like these will forever keep the horror of this ingrained in America’s memories.
Photograph D depicts two jumpers holding hands as they fall to their deaths beneath the World Trade Center. The image stuns its viewers and stirs emotions such as sadness, regret, and anger while simultaneously stirring questions like “What must have been going through their minds, to choose a certain death? Was it a decision between one death and another?” (Townsend 52). The photograph also stirs more emotion than the other featured photographs because the present generation witnessed the 9/11 attacks and can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing at the time of the tragedy. When compared to the “The Price We Pay” and “The First Hours,” the photograph has just as strong an emotional impact on its audience because, unlike the cases with the other images, audiences from the current generation do indeed possess background information based on their own recollections of September 11. Therefore, audiences have stronger ties to the image and can better relate to the photograph.
In retaliation to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States declared a war on terrorism. This declaration resulted in foreign policy focused on the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. After Saddam Hussein rose to power in Iraq, the middle-eastern country was believed to be developing such weapons to support Islamic terrorism on free nations. Convinced that Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat to the safety of democratic nations, the United States and United Nations demanded that Iraq cease production of such weapons. Hussein’s failure to comply with the demands led to the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003. Since 2003, American troops have been stationed in Iraq to fight insurgents and help establish a democratic government for the country.
American soldiers stationed in Iraq write their final letters home before their deaths in Last Letters Home. The young men discuss their fear and death as they face war. Sergeant White tells his parents “the only time [he] felt fear” was when he witnessed another man praying during an alarm, and Prefect Rincon writes “Mother will be the last word I’ll say” when he faces death (Last Letters Home 56 and 58). The young men also reassure their families with words like “I’m not scared,” “I’m not alone,” and “I hope to see you…soon” (56 and 59).
When compared to the written letters, Photograph E provides the weaker impact because, unlike the letters, it does not give the audience insight into the thoughts of the soldiers as they potentially face death. Insight forges a personal connection between the authors and the audience. Readers also feel a sense of finality and morbidity when reading the letters because readers know that the authors are dead. Those brave men will never write another letter home. The finality and morbidity create a tremendous pathos appeal and therefore cause the writing to provide the stronger impact.
American history has been preserved through historical writing throughout the centuries. Writing effectively conveys original thoughts and emotions to readers so that history’s compelling power remains potent. The written word allows the readers and audiences to form an emotional bond by providing insight into lives of the past. History will remain immortal through a pen and paper.