This controversial Nightline broadcast turned out to be mesmerizing television.
I rarely watch Nightline these days, but I tuned in to see what the hubbub was all about. I had considered in advance the basic controversy, and decided on principle that it was perfectly appropriate. Indeed, it seems like a valuable public service to document all these names for general public acknowledgment together. But I also expected it to be extremely boring to just hear a recitation of names. I was very wrong.
In theory, it was extremely simple. Ted Koppel read just a couple of sentences explaining that these were the names of all 721 US soldiers killed in combat in Iraq. He then spent the next half hour simply reading the names of the dead.
They also, critically, showed pictures of the fallen soldiers, going mostly for the simplest mug shot photos- along with their ages and military rank. It was those pictures, two at a time rotating across the screen that grabbed my attention.
Here were 721 lives flashing before my eyes in an instant, but you could get some clue about many of the individuals just from spending those couple of seconds looking carefully. A lot of these were common portrait shots, some fair number were high school graduation pictures, with tassels and gowns.
Some of the people were pretty poker faced, but a lot of them had a great deal of personality implied in just a captured moment. Some of them cast fairly stern poses in their military uniforms- all business. Others had sly smiles, or just a little twist in how they held their heads that said volumes.
There were a few for whom they apparently had no pictures. In their spot, we got the image of the flag draped coffins that were so controversial last week.
I noticed quite a lot of teenagers, at least a hundred. There was of course a wide ethnic mix, black soldiers and white and Latino. There were what seemed to me a surprising number of obviously Asian names. I personally found it a little rougher to digest the images of the women amongst our fallen.