Shock and Awe

A couple of weeks ago I posted The Landscape of Oil, a short, expressionistic video on the ongoing oil boom in North Dakota. The responses to it were thought-provoking and especially kind. Thank you. Today I’m writing with Shock and Awe, a video on the invasion of Iraq, most specifically on media coverage of the lead-up to and early weeks of that world-altering conflict. Produced and first shown ten years ago, Shock and Awe is a roughly chronological sequencing of press clippings, magazine and newspaper layouts, words and pictures in combination with a recording of President George W. Bush’s March 19, 2003 “Operation Iraqi Freedom” address to the nation.

Back in spring 2003, Greg Garneau, then executive director of the National Press Photographers Association, asked me to be part of a panel discussion on photographers’ coverage of the war to-date at the NPPA’s yearly convention. Truth be told, I was hesitant to be involved at first, since I hadn’t been to Iraq and wasn’t at all impartial about the war. But when I did attend the event, I presented this A/V piece, most probably describing it as a kind of visual investigation, albeit one hurriedly put together with the help of family and friends out of relevant bits and pieces of magazines and newspapers that we had on hand, borrowed from neighbors, or ran out to purchase. The resulting sequence is, as much as possible, apolitical, though notably incomplete. Still it will most probably stir up memories, from its opening moments when President Bush proclaims that the primary mission of coalition forces is the disarmament of weapons of mass destruction to the closing image: a small newspaper clipping in which combat veteran Pvt. Jessica Lynch describes her sudden inability to recall what had befallen her.

The term Shock and Awe is, by the way, one utilized by the U.S. military to describe the employment of overwhelming power in order to rapidly dominate and paralyze an adversary. And if it’s any help in putting what you’ll be hearing and seeing into context, remember that at the time of the invasion of Iraq back in March 2003, a reported 64% of Americans approved of the military action, as did a great majority of print, radio, and television media.

Credits for Shock and Awe:

Produced by Eugene Richards, with assistance from Janine Altongy

First screened at the 2003 NPPA National Convention in Itasca, IL on June 21, 2003

© 2003 Many Voices