A Brief History Of: Photographing Fallen Troops

Todd Heisler / Rocky Mountain News / Polaris

Marines drape a flag over 2nd Lieut. James Cathey's casket at the Reno, Nevada, airport.

The announcement by defense secretary Robert Gates on Feb. 26 that the Pentagon would lift a ban on taking pictures of service members' coffins coming home--as long as their families consent to it--was the latest volley in a debate on photographs of war dead that dates back to the Civil War.

Long before television and the Internet, graphic battlefield photos by Mathew Brady's corps of war photographers made their way into homes through photo-album books. (In Timothy O'Sullivan's 1863 Gettysburg tableau A Harvest of Death, you can practically hear the flies buzz over the bloated corpses.) The U.S. censored war photos...

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