Just one photograph can capture the horrible truth about racism, or war,
Our Sunday Visitor
By Gerald Ruff
Our local newspaper ran a photograph recently of two black men hanging dead
from a tree - lynched - in Duluth, Minn., in the early 1900s.
It is a grotesque and violent image, the lifeless bodies of the black men
surrounded by a group of Duluth citizens whose faces range in expressions from
cocky mirth to numbness to the beginnings of horror. Blown up large on the page,
the sordid and sickening picture gave graphic representation to the racist
hatred that is part of our not-so-distant past - and which too often persists
In a recent film, "The Music Box," a widowed immigrant to the United States
is accused of Nazi war crimes. A dedicated father and solid U.S. citizen, the
man is brought to trial, where a lineup of survivor-victims of Nazi atrocities
verbally confront him, and us in the movie audience, with horrifying
descriptions of his alleged acts. Despite the victims' convincing testimony, the
man is ultimately found innocent.
Shortly after his acquittal, however, his daughter discovers a set of
photographs of her father the Nazi committing the horrible crimes against
humanity he has steadfastly denied. In the movie, which is fiction, a national
newspaper subsequently prints on its front page the horrifying photographs of
the man brutalizing his Jewish victims.
During the Vietnam War, the media daily carried footage and frontpage
photographs of the horrible reality of what was happening in that faraway land.
Finally, at least partly as a result of those images, an informed public
overwhelmingly opposed the U.S. military involvement there, and our country's
participation was ended.
Recently, I received in the mail a form letter from a pro-life organization
soliciting my participation in an antiabortion awareness campaign. Included with
the letter, discreetly in its own envelope, was the photograph of the mutilated
head of an aborted baby. The campaign, the letter informed me, involved sending
this photograph around the country to increase awareness of and opposition to
As I say, the photograph was graphic, in fact, sickening. The head -- half a
head, really, from the nose down the face was missing -- had been retrieved from
a plastic trash bag outside an abortion mill in Houston. Despite its mutilation
(a brief explanation on the back of the photograph suggests the disfiguration is
the work of alley-scavenging mice, rats and dogs), the head was unmistakably a
baby's: the fine, wet hair matted against the perfect crown of the baby's skull;
the child's ears, gentle and perfectly shaped as a seashell; the eyes, those
"windows of the soul," delicately yet tightly closed; the nose, straight and
strong, already distinctly this unnamed child's. But then the face simply falls
away into nothing, just a trail of internal organs where the child's chin and
mouth should have been.
Many in our country would argue that photographs such as this should not be
part of the abortion debate. They are offensive, they say, disgusting and
unfair. Nor is it just those who favor legalized abortion that argue this way,
but many pro-lifers as well.
I, too, have had my doubts about the use of photographs and other visual
representations of aborted babies in the fight against abortion. I do not want
to offend, to be labeled a fanatic, to turn people off to my cause or myself.
But the more I think about it, the more I contemplate that absolutely
sickening picture of that dead baby's head, the more I am convinced that
photographs do belong in this debate. Words are wonderful, powerful and good,
but we also need to see what is happening here. Just as we have to look at
photographs of lynched black men, Jewish corpses, lifeless Vietnamese children,
so we need to look at the frozen and horrid images of the millions of unborn
babies torn from their mothers' wombs.
These horrible, sickening images, and our own revulsion at them, demand a
response. And it may be that those who most strongly reject them are those who
most need to come face-to-face with the unspeakable horror of all our dead
Ruff writes from LaCrosse, Wis.