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Susan Moeller
Susan Moeller
Shooting War
ISBN: 0465077773
Shooting War
Susan Moeller discusses the impact of photojournalism on the coverage of war in her book, "Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat." The Spanish-American War is presented as the first case in which photographs brought the reality of war home to Americans. Subsequent conflicts involving America are analyzed and the experience of wartime photographers is considered.
Shooting War
Program Air Date: April 23, 1989

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Susan Moeller, this is the cover of your book as you can see, "Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat." What is this photograph and why did you choose it?
SUSAN MOELLER, AUTHOR, "SHOOTING WAR": It's a photograph of a photographer. It's a self-portrait actually taken during the Vietnam War in 1968 -- probably the critical year during the Vietnam War. And it seemed appropriate for the book because this is a book about war photography. But it's also a book about how war photography came to be so important to Americans. And so it seemed interesting and critical to have that sort of duality. A picture of a war scene that itself had the photographer in it.
LAMB: Who's the photographer?
MOELLER: Minium Domcoum.
LAMB: Why did you pick him?
MOELLER: Well,, I guess, because he's one of the critical photographers from the Vietnam War -- his very important body of work.
LAMB: When did you first say to yourself I want to write a book about photography and war?
MOELLER: Well,, it happened when I was in graduate school. I was at Harvard and had been a photographer previously. I had been a photo-journalist here in Washington D.C. And when the time came to make a decision about what I wanted to write my dissertation on -- classic dilemma. Actually, it was sort of a funny story. I had spoke to a number of the Harvard professors about -- not anything about war photography but about doing photography as sort of a social documentary photography. Pictures that we might have seen from the Depression. And Harvard said that sounded fine. But I had been an undergraduate at Yale University. Harvard is, as we all know, one of the best institutions in the country, but it doesn't have a single American art historian. Perhaps I should go back to my undergrad institution and find out what the competition had to say.

So I went down to the competition. And they said, well, this photography and social documentary photography subject sound good, but have you thought about war photography. And light bulbs went off and a bolt of lightening hit, and I said, yeah, actually, that's a better topic. I had spent just a very short period of time when I had been a photo-journalist in El Salvador and Honduras. And so that experience had led me enough to know that it would be interesting personalities and as well as an interesting subject.
LAMB: Was this book then the offshoot of your dissertation?
MOELLER: Yes. I wrote the dissertation and then spent about a year revising it, making it a more accessible, more interesting book than the dissertation probably was.
LAMB: When was the first time you can remember picking up a camera?
MOELLER: When I was a little more than a toddler, maybe.
LAMB: Can you remember why you did it or what the influence was on your family?
MOELLER: Well,, it was one of those Kodak instamatics. You know, those sort of black plastic ones that if you drop they shattered into a million pieces. And the first photographs I remember taking was at the New York's World Fair in 1964 and '65. I was not very old. But I was aware at that age that it was a historic occasion. And I think in some elementary fashion I wanted to document it. I wanted to say, OK, this is an event I was at and these are the United States Pavilions -- this was whatever the Pavilions were that seemed interesting.
LAMB: Did you have a family that was interested in art or photography?
MOELLER: Yes. We were always being taken to museums -- sort of all over. And both my mother and my grandmother were artists of some small talent. And I had an aunt who was quite a well-known painter. So it was in the family.
LAMB: When was the first time you actually had a job as a photographer -- photo-journalist?
MOELLER: Well, as a photographer that would have been between -- after I had graduated from undergraduate school actually here in Washington. I started out and I -- let me think what probably was the first job. I think what it was -- I was hired by a coalition of groups who had some bills coming up in Congress that were to protect migrant workers, and they wanted someone to go around the country to photograph migrant worker camps and migrant workers in the field so they could use the reportage. I would also be writing as well -- the images were to be used as Senate testimony. And I had already been working with these groups as sort of a writer and consultant and added photography -- thereby, a career was born.
LAMB: Have you ever been a combat photographer?
MOELLER: No. A few times I've photographed the aftermaths of it, but I've never never been there when the shelling's going on.
LAMB: One of the most interesting things in the prologue was a reference to Anne Frank. Compare her to what photographers -- I mean there was a comparison. Why the comparison? Why is Anne Frank -- and what does a photographer and Anne Frank have in common?
MOELLER: Right. Well,, often I get the question what's a nice girl like you doing in a subject like this? And people, when they think of war photography, all they think of is the horror and the grimness. But despite the the inherent grimness of the subject, there is something that is fundamentally positive about the process and the process of photographing war and the prints -- the photographic prints themselves. And that's where the connection to Anne Frank comes in. Because I think war photographers, really like Anne Frank, believe that people are really good at heart. And that if you can only show enough people what is really happening that, somehow, in some small way, what's really happening may happen better. There may be some change. It's a start.
LAMB: Is there a thread that runs through most of the photographers you've known in the way of their personality their political interests on and on?
MOELLER: Well, yes and no. There are photographers who are apolitical -- there're photographers who are quite political from a literal perspective or from a conservative perspective. There are some photographers who are very articulate -- some who are visually-oriented and perhaps aren't so verbal. But I think if you did have to pick a thread it would be this one that I mentioned. This belief that it's important to document the world -- particularly this aspect of the world.
LAMB: When you go out or when you have some free time to play with your camera, what do you shoot? First of all, what kind of a camera do you use?
MOELLER: I use Olympus equipment.
LAMB: 35mm?
MOELLER: 35mm.
LAMB: If you've got free time to shoot whatever you can, what is your favorite subject?
MOELLER: Always something with people in it. I've never been someone who's particularly interested in sort of abstract landscapes or cityscapes. If I would be shooting at a family event or something like that -- I'd be more interested in people's emotions, people's interaction. And those are also the same kind of images I think that I was particularly drawn to of the war photographs. It was not those that were of the destruction of buildings or the more static pictures of armaments stacked up or whatever -- but were those that attempted to describe the soldiers or the civilians experience.
LAMB: How long did it take you to write this book?
MOELLER: Longer than I thought, but shorter than you might think. It was two years as a graduate student, then another year of revision.
LAMB: When did you finish it?
MOELLER: Is it ever finished? I guess more or less last year. I mean, even when I was doing page proofs and galley proofs and so forth, there are footnotes that you want to add in or you realize that this is not quite right and so you're tinkering with it. So all total it was really four years. But three years stapled to the computer writing.
LAMB: How'd you go about putting this book together and how many wars did you cover?
MOELLER: Well,, that's a good question. There are five wars starting with the Spanish-American War and moving more or less up to the present. So it's the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. And then there's a short epilogue about Grenada and a very short couple page prologue about the Civil War. People have often asked me when I've traveled around giving lectures as to why I didn't start with the Civil War because most Americans when they think of a book that attempts to look at war photography, they think of Matthew Brady's famous photography from the Civil War.

But what I was particularly interested in this book was in showing how Americans -- how we at home -- saw war. I'm not interested really in all the war photographs that were ever taken. I'm interested in those that those of us sitting our arm chairs in the living room see. Well,, the Spanish-American War was the first war that was really seen at home. If you want to put it that way, it was the first living room war. And the reason for that is that in the late 1880's and the late 1890's -- the Spanish-American War was in 1898 -- was when the half-tone was invented. It's a process that we still use today. It's a process of how we get photographs into print.
LAMB: What is a half-tone process mean?
MOELLER: A half-tone means that you take a photograph print that you'd get back from the photo store and you superimpose a dot pattern on it. So if you took a magnifying glass to your daily newspaper you'd see the blacks would have dots very close together and the lighter areas would have dots very far apart. It's a way of simply printing a photographic print without using a continuous tone.
LAMB: And that process started when?
MOELLER: Well,, it was actually invented in 1888 -- but it wasn't adapted for use by the mass market press -- in other words, they couldn't really put it on those big rollers the newsprint goes through -- until the mid 1890's. So it was only really before -- right immediately before -- the Spanish-American War that the photograph has gone to print.
LAMB: So you decided to go to the Spanish-American War and you went to what kind of publications? Photography books?
MOELLER: No, I went to the publications -- same kind of publications that I went to throughout the 20th century. Which are mass market -- national market -- publications.
LAMB: Name some.
MOELLER: Well,, those of your audience who may be my age or older -- Colliers Magazine, which only died in the 1960's, made its name from photography from the Spanish-American War. Scribner's Magazine, Harper's -- names that are still in some households at least household names. And many of these for the first time -- instead of sending illustrators to cover an event -- a lot of these publications had since Harper's been in existence more or less since before the Civil War. But in the Civil War they sent artists like Winslow Homer to the battlefield to take drawings. And those were in turn turned into engravings. Well, in the Spanish-American War these various publications sent down both illustrators and photographers into combat. So you had an illustrator such as Frederick Remington, the famous Western artist, who went down to cover Theodore Roosevelt and his charge up San Juan Hill at the same times you had very famous photographers like Richard Harding Davis or Jimmy Hare.
LAMB: We've got a lot of photos to look at in this hour. And for our viewers that just joined us we are talking with the author of this book called "Shooting War." Susan Moeller is her name, and you're currently at Princeton?
MOELLER: I'm teaching history at Princeton.
LAMB: What kind of history?
MOELLER: Well, I teach American History, for the most part. I also have taught a couple of courses -- actually, one course -- over in the American Studies Department. But I primarily teach 20th-Century History.
LAMB: The bio sheet says that you have a Ph.D. and a Masters from Harvard and an undergraduate degree from Yale.
MOELLER: Yeah. Clean sweep, I guess.
LAMB: That you were born where in New Jersey?
MOELLER: I was born actually in a hospital in East Orange, and my family lived in West Orange, and my grandparents lived in South Orange.
LAMB: And you grew up in Belgium and Switzerland. Where and why?
MOELLER: Well,, I didn't last too long in New Jersey. We almost immediately moved to outside of Philadelphia and then more or less at the end of elementary school my father was transferred -- he's a businessman -- was transferred overseas to Belgium. And I went to school a little bit south of Brussels, Belgium. And then my senior year in high school we moved to Switzerland to Geneva. So it was a great way to grow up.
LAMB: How many photographs are in the book?
MOELLER: Well, there are 40 pages -- I think there's 60-odd photographs.
LAMB: And you've numbered them all.
MOELLER: Yes. Consecutively.
LAMB: So that we can communicate with our producer on this program -- we'll call for the numbers and then you can describe to us what this photograph is all about. First one up, we'll take the number-one photograph, and this is from the Spanish-American War. See it on the screen right there -- what's this all about.
MOELLER: Well,, this was a photograph of probably -- it looks like a heap of laundry, but it's really one of the most famous photographs in the Spanish-American War. It's the picture of two dead Rough Riders. Your viewers may recall that Theodore Roosevelt was probably the most famous of the Rough Riders. It's the role that propelled him into the White House. And the man on the left -- you can barely see that he has hobnail boots sticking out from under those blankets -- is a man named Hamilton Fish Jr., and his father was Secretary of State under Grant, I believe. He had volunteered for the war and had been killed on the very first battle that the Rough Riders were in.

The reason why this photograph is particularly important is first because it depicts as much as you can see that that body of probably the most famous person who was killed during the war. But it's also, I think, an indication of how the photographers felt about the men who were killed during the war. Often we tend to think about war as in cliches. World War I was a war to end all wars and so forth. Well, the litany for the Spanish-American War was a war for duty and destiny. And the sense -- it was probably actually the most popular war in American history. More popular than even World War II.

And the sense was that this was everyone's chance for glory. And when the photographers went to Cuba to photograph the war, they took photographs that protected the soldier's nobility. They didn't want to show pictures of men bloodied by combat. This particular photograph of the two bodies under the heaps of blankets -- the photographer who took that made the conscious choice. He covered the bodies up. Made the conscious choice to photograph them that way so the viewers at home his audience wouldn't be able to gawk.
LAMB: That war lasted how may days?
MOELLER: Boy, just a couple weeks.
LAMB: Let's look at photograph number three.
MOELLER: Alright. This is actually photograph number -- that's photograph number two. This is the same.
LAMB: Is this number three in the book?
MOELLER: This is number three in the book.
MOELLER: This is those same two bodies in the foreground there again -- you can see sort of a man's hobnail boots sticking out from under the blankets. In the background is a circle of officers. This is taking place before another battle and the man in sort of the dark shirt -- he's got crossed suspenders on the far right -- is Theodore Roosevelt. This was a photograph that was not allowed to be published. And the reason why is because in this photograph you see men talking and laughing as if the two dead boys don't exist. And that was considered to be unthinkable -- that you didn't have respect for the dead.
LAMB: Let's look at photograph number seven. Could we please have photograph number seven?
MOELLER: This is sort of a classic war photograph. I think many of us, when we think of wars in years gone by, maybe we've seem movies of Waterloo or whatever, of the Civil War, and this is what we think of. We think of cannons and billowing smoke. This is a picture of one of the artillery engagements during the war. The big wagon wheel you see is attached to a canon and the reason why everything is so light in the sort of upper right is because it's the billowing cannon smoke. And this is, I think, indicative of the kind of photograph that the photographers wanted to take. It was a very romantic view of war. Perhaps, maybe the other reason to mention it is because the only images of combat that really exist for the Spanish-American War -- you have to remember that at this point the camera equipment was very slow, it was very large and didn't have the kind of fast film and perhaps long lenses that we are used to now -- so there are no pictures of Theodore Roosevelt charging up the San Juan Hill. There are no pictures of men jumping out of trenches or whatever. The only photographs that we have -- that one could consider combat -- are those of sort of cannon's firing.
LAMB: How many photographers did you find that that were involved in the Spanish-American War?
MOELLER: More than you might think. I'm trying to remember -- there were probably a couple hundred. But of those -- and I may be misstating, I'm not sure I remember my own facts here -- but of that number, as was true for all wars, even though there may be a lot of photographers, only a handful were really critical. There were very few outlets where -- photography as I mentioned it was a very new technological phenomenon, and so the outlets for photographers were really in cities like New York.
LAMB: Now the three photographs that we saw were all taken by the same photographer?
MOELLER: No, the first two were taken by one photographer and ...
LAMB: Burr Macintosh
MOELLER: Burr Macintosh, yes.
LAMB: Anything interesting about him?
MOELLER: Well, not especially, except he was one of the first photographers to come down with yellow fever. There are many more soldiers who were killed during the Spanish-American War because of yellow fever than because of the actual combat injuries. And the reason that he came down with yellow fever is that when the troop ships arrived off the coast of Cuba, the correspondents were not allowed to go on shore with the troops, and Burr McIntosh wanted to get a photograph of the men striding ashore. And he smuggled his cameras into one of the men's boats and had them row his cameras ashore, and then he dove over the deck and swan into shore not realizing how far he was out and also that the undertow was going the wrong direction. By the time he got into shore he was pretty exhausted and his health was more or less shot. So he was a prime candidate for coming down with fever.
LAMB: The last photo that we just saw was William Denwoody's, I believe. And who was he?
MOELLER: I probably know less about him. He, on the other hand, was one of the better photographers of the war and was a photographer that was used both in, I think, some of the major magazines like Scribners and Harpers and so forth.
LAMB: What happened to the photography between 1898 and the beginning of World War II. What was it about 1916?
MOELLER: World War I.
LAMB: I mean World War I. I'm sorry.
MOELLER: Well, cameras got slightly smaller, slightly faster, but it was less the technology -- although that was important -- but more that the photographers had learned how to photograph war. Right after the Spanish-American War there were several other national conflicts -- or international conflicts. There was the Boer War, the Russo-Japanese War, Boxer Rebellion. So photographers were sort of jaunting around the world and they realized that they could not use the large format cameras that they had taken to the Spanish-American War. They needed ...
LAMB: Can you show us using your hands how big that camera was in the Spanish-American War?
MOELLER: Well, many of the photographers in the Spanish-American War used a camera that took 8 by 10 negatives. So just think of an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper is more or less that size. Not only that, but there were glass plates. So you can imagine how careful someone had to be, and also, you're carrying 20 glass plates, how heavy that was. So what the photographers had learned between the Spanish-American War and World War I was that it was just untenable to carry that large a camera. What they really needed to do was go down to the smaller format cameras which were available. The largest would be 5 X 7 and, I guess, even smaller -- sort of index-card size.
LAMB: Let's take a look at some of the photos from World War I, and the first one up is photo number 11.
MOELLER: This is a photograph of a burial of an American officer. There you can see the casket covered with the Stars and Stripes. And there are a few funeral wreaths in front of the coffin. Honor guards standing behind it. This was the burial of one of the first men killed after the United States entered the war, which was of course in 1917. The reason for showing this picture is to demonstrate the absolute blanket censorship that was in in operation during World War I. There was throughout the entire war -- from '14 to '18 it was not allowed -- you were not allowed to show any pictures of the dead or even of any pictures of Americans wounded -- unless the wounded were already receiving aid and unless they were totally cleaned up. In other words, you could not show pictures with blood, with people with perhaps a missing limb or so. You also saw very few pictures of combat. Most of the pictures were, as I said, absolutely censored.

The idea being that none of the powers that be -- whether they be American or French or even the central powers Germany, Austria, and so forth -- wanted to inform the public at home exactly what was happening on the fighting front -- as we all know from hindsight, how absolutely a bloody a war it was. Well, as you can imagine, the concern of the military authorities was that if the public at home saw exactly what was happening on the fighting front, all support for the war effort would totally dissipate.
LAMB: Catol and Herbert -- the name of the two photographers that took that picture?
MOELLER: No, Catol and Herbert, like another group called Underwood and Underwood, are two of the most prominent picture agencies that were in existence. Most of the photographs are anonymous. They were anonymous in as much as we don't know who took the pictures. That was another effect of a censorship -- you didn't know who took the pictures. The pictures that did appear in the publications were released often months after the event they pictured. And the captions themselves were very obscure -- would never identify an individual officer, would never identify an individual place. You would not see Americans with the Eiffel Tower in the background because they didn't want to show that Americans were in Paris, for example.
LAMB: Next photo is 17. Underwood and Underwood Agency. What's this?
MOELLER: Oh, I think this is one of the sort of humorous, quietly humorous, photographs of the war. This is, I believe, titled something to the effect of "Americans ready for a gas attack." They look like bugs, but they're wearing gas masks. And this was an example of the kind of photography, the kind of photographs, that was passed off as combat photographs. To us it looks like if you take their masks away they are posing for some sort of high school year book. It doesn't look like they are anywhere near ready to go into combat. But this was about as close to the fighting lines as we saw during the war itself.
LAMB: Next photo is the Saturday Evening Post -- October 9, 1918 -- another Underwood and Underwood photo. We ought to have it up here. If we don't, I can show -- I don't think we have it ready. Let's look at it here in the book that I've got. Here we go.
MOELLER: Yeah. This is, I think,, one of the best and most successful pictures of the war. I think that this is the way that we as historians or we as learning from history think about World War I. We think of men going over the top. Men going over there laden with the sort of knapsacks and the guns and those funny bowl shaped helmets. But this was not, as I've said before, indicative of the photographs from the war. It's an anomaly that we saw anything of, as I say again, this close to the front or or even this compositionally well-contrived.
LAMB: If our audience is just joining us, I want to tell them who we're talking with and what we're talking about. It's a book called "Shooting War." It looks like this, and its author is Susan Moeller, and we're talking about photography, war photography, from five wars -- Spanish-American War, World War I, which we just completed, and we have three Wars to go. Which was your favorite war from a photography standpoint?
MOELLER: I think it would either have to be World War II or Vietnam because the photographs from those wars were the most outstanding and also because they were also the wars -- well, World War I or World War II, rather -- the war in which I was able to begin to interview some of the photographers themselves. So it's always more interesting not only when I can look at the photographs at they appeared but can say, "Alright, Mr. Carl Midens, how did you take this picture and what were you thinking of?"
LAMB: Did you talk to anybody who was a photographer in the Spanish-American War?
MOELLER: No, actually while I was writing the Spanish-American War, the very last survivor -- and was not a photographer but was some teenager who had lied his way in to fighting in the Spanish-American War -- he died at the age of 109, and he died while I was writing that chapter.
LAMB: How about World I? Anybody that was a photographer in World War I that you've been able to talk to?
MOELLER: I did talk to a couple of the photographers who were in the Signal Corps Photographic Division. And many of the photographs from all the wars were military photographers. Many of even the civilian publications -- whether it be the New York Times or Time and Newsweek -- did us military photography. And I did in World War I talk to some military photographers, but as far as I know, all of the civilian photographers had died by the time that I was writing the book.
LAMB: Do you happen to recall right off the top of your head how many people were killed in -- Americans were killed in the Spanish-American War and World War I? Each war.
MOELLER: Oh, boy. Numbers are not my strong suit -- that's why I didn't go into math.
LAMB: Any overall ...
MOELLER: Well, in the Spanish-American War, something to the effect of -- including the Philippines and including all of those who were killed by disease -- it's less than 5,000. And World War I -- I'm going to have some military buff stand on my head -- I'm not going to hazard a guess.
LAMB: OK. Here's World War II. And the first photo we're going to look at is number 22, I believe. First of all before you explain this -- had cameras changed a great deal between World War I and World War II?
MOELLER: Yes. What had really happened was that 35mm camera had come in. Many of the photographers who we associate with World War I -- World War II, rather -- were using the new 35mm cameras -- Lika cameras and context cameras. There were still some larger format cameras-- two and a quarter cameras -- that were being used. Speed graphic was sort of the classic. But almost all of the photographs that we remember from Life Magazine, for example, were 35mm cameras. And what that meant was that photographers were freer than they ever had been before. They could take pictures under all kinds of lighting circumstances, because the film was faster. They could take pictures at the dusk and the dawn as well as in the bright in a bright light of daytime.
LAMB: When did color come in?
MOELLER: Actually there are some color photographs from World War II. There are some from the Italian front, I believe -- well, there are some both from the Italian front and from the Pacific.
LAMB: Let's go back to the photos, and we're going to have to go through these kind of quickly.
LAMB: So we can get through the next three wars. Here is that photograph again. And what's this all about.
MOELLER: Well, this is probably in a way the most pivotal photograph from the war. It was printed in September, 1943. And the reason it's pivotal ...
LAMB: Life Magazine.
MOELLER: Life Magazine, yes. The reason it's pivotal is that it was one of the first three photographs that were released of the American dead. So it's the first time in 50 years that Americans saw Americans who had been killed in combat. Up to that 1943 date, censorship for World War II was the same as for World War I. You couldn't show graphic pictures of any kind.
LAMB: Twenty-three. This is Joe Rosenthal?
MOELLER: This is the classic photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal of AP of the flag being raised on Mt. Surbashi on Iwo Jima, and I think the one point to say here is that it is not a fake. It is a second picture of the second flag raising on Iwo Jima, but it is a legitimate un-posed photograph of the second flag raising. And the reason for a second flag being raised was the first flag that was raised was very small and fighting was still going on on the Island and the Admiral in charge of the fighting wanted a larger flag from the ships so that all the soldiers could be inspired by the American flag -- so they brought up a larger flag to raise.
LAMB: This next one, number 24, is kind of rough isn't it?
MOELLER: It's a tough photograph. It's one of the last from the war. It's probably the last combat picture in many ways from the European front. It's a photograph of an American soldier killed on the very last day of the war against Germany in 1945. And it's from a series of photographs -- it's the very last one taken by probably the most famous war photographer of all, Robert Cappa.
LAMB: Why is he the most famous?
MOELLER: Well, maybe because he had the most charismatic personality. He was also the photographer -- you might see a picture of his later -- that is most famous for his pictures of a Normandy D-Day invasion.
LAMB: 25.
MOELLER: 25 is a classic example of how Americans use photographs against their enemies. Particularly, Americans had a campaign to rev up hate against the Japanese enemy and used photographs such a this to legitimate the kind of characters they would instill. Stereotypes that we are more used to seeing in the sort of poster campaigns.
LAMB: This is a Navy photographer -- Navy photograph?
MOELLER: I believe so.
LAMB: It says it was published in Newsweek.
MOELLER: Published in Newsweek. Yeah. It was a military photograph. Here you had the classic sort of bare-chested square-jaw American with his rifle trained on a rather myopic round-glasses, buck-toothed, receding-chin Japanese soldier. An attempt by the Americans to show a sort of the kind of prime physical specimen of Americans and the rather weak degenerate humans that characterized the Japanese race.
LAMB: What's happening to this period? That you had Scribners and Harpers and Colliers and now we see a little bit of Life Magazine -- we didn't talk about this in World War I. What other publications did you start finding as you moved through the early part of this century?
MOELLER: Well, in the 1920's you have the creation of what we might call the "news magazines" which would be Time and Newsweek and so forth. Those publications that use photographs a lot but are text heavy. Then in the mid-1930's you have Life and Look. And it's really those four magazines that continue from the 1930's really up to the present day to dominate American's coverage of war and coverage of world events.
LAMB: This next photograph is again from World War II, and it's your 26th photograph and it's done by Ralph Morris. What is this?
MOELLER: Well, this is probably the most horrific photograph from the book and it is a photograph from the Guanada Canal of a Japanese skull that's sort of speared on top of a Japanese tank. When I interviewed him about this, he mentioned that he was with a a platoon of soldiers who were walking through the jungle, came out into a clearing and saw this and he took it. Saw this scene and he took the picture of it. It was published in Life and perhaps created the greatest amount of furor of any photograph in the war. It received a lot of support from people as well as a concerted outcry from others.
LAMB: This is photograph number 33.
MOELLER: This is perhaps a photograph that shows the kind of of care, the kind of patriotism symbolism that was still evident and still operating in in World War II. The caption was "Crucified to a stretcher." And here we have a man who was literally crucified in the crucifix position with his arms outstretched but is actually wearing a crucifix. It's actually a good example of how photography could capture the symbolism.
LAMB: And this was in Look Magazine?
MOELLER: This was in Look Magazine.
LAMB: And it was a U.S. Marine Corps photograph?
MOELLER: Yes, that's correct.
LAMB: 35.
MOELLER: Ah, that famous photograph from Robert Cappa that I was telling you about earlier. Of the Normandy D-Day invasion -- you can barley make out there's a man crawling ashore and those sort of spiky things in the background are tank traps.
LAMB: Did you say earlier -- and I apologize earlier I didn't hear you -- did you say Robert Cappa died in the war?
MOELLER: No, Robert Cappa died in 1954 as perhaps one of the very first victims of the Indochina War. He was photographing the French Indochina War right before the siege of De In Ben Foo. He was killed by a mine.
LAMB: And you said that he was your favorite?
MOELLER: Well, I'm not sure whether he's exactly my favorite but he's certainly one of my favorites. But I think that he is perhaps the most well-known of all the photographers who ever covered war -- at least in this century.
LAMB: Move on to the Korean War and what change between World War II and the Korean War in the photography field?
MOELLER: Well, not much changed except that you did now have the introduction of a Nikon camera. And what that meant is you had a camera that could accommodate a lot of different kinds of lenses. So you begin to have for the first time a wide ...
LAMB: Japanese camera.
MOELLER: Japanese camera. A wide use of telephoto lenses, wide angle lenses. So in other words, it's much easier to take closeups of men in combat without actually sitting on top of the soldiers themselves.
LAMB: What happened to color?
MOELLER: Well, color was around but was almost never used in the Korean War -- actually less than it was in World War II. It was not really until the 1960's in Vietnam that you really begin to see color. I think the big difference between Korea and World War II was less that the technology had changed and more that American attitudes towards the war itself had changed. World War II was the war that everyone felt needed to be fight fought. It was a good war. But the Korean War people had much more ambivalent feeling about -- so the photographs that came back mirrored the the ambivalence.
LAMB: Let's look at photograph number 39.
MOELLER: This is one of the very first photographs to come out of Korea. It's a photograph of an American P.O.W. who has been trussed up with telephone wire and has been assassinated at the side of a road.
LAMB: It's an army, U.S. Army photo.
MOELLER: U.S. Army photograph that appeared in several publications. As you can imagine, it horrified the country. It was one thing to see Americans killed in action. It was another thing to see Americans who seems like they have killed in cold blood.
LAMB: Photo number 42. Department of Defense photo.
MOELLER: Well, this, I think, is an excellent example of what I was telling you about. The difference between how Americans felt about World War II and how they felt about Korea. When this photo appeared in Newsweek, a letter writer wrote in after it appeared and said this is "the" photograph from Korea just like the flag raising on Iwo Jima is "the" photograph from World War II. Well, the Iwo Jima photograph of the flag raising is a photograph -- it's a very patriotic, very heroic photograph and that photograph is much more of a photograph that's compassionate, but not heroic.
LAMB: Hank Walker, who was he?
MOELLER: Hank Walker was a staff member of Life Magazine.
LAMB: And that's photo number 48 in your book.
MOELLER: Photograph number 48 is perhaps a good example of some of the photography from Korean War that looked ahead to the Vietnam War. It was unusual in Korea to see -- the picture depicts an American training his gun on some Chinese communists who were there lying in the ditch in their sort of quilted clothing. I think it's it's an example -- oh, I was going to say that in Korea it is very rare to see just distinct landscape. The kind of landscape that we're going to see very frequently in Vietnam.
LAMB: You talked to Hank Walker?
MOELLER: No I didn't.
LAMB: Is he still alive?
MOELLER: You caught me on that one. I'm not sure -- I don't believe he is, but I don't want to kill him off prematurely.
LAMB: Let's look at Margaret Burke White, and this is your final photograph from the Korean War in '49.
MOELLER: Well, this again is in some ways a forward-looking photograph to Vietnam because Margaret Burke White was one of the most famous and also one of the very few women photographers in the war. And she is also one of the few photographers who was interested in a part of the Korean War that didn't receive much attention -- which was was the guerilla war. This is a photograph of a South Korean soldiers carrying a dead guerrilla -- North Korean guerrilla -- who's being brought back to headquarters in order to be identified. We don't tend to associate guerrilla with the Korean conflict. But there was indeed a major sort of component to it.
LAMB: I guess, it's my age, but the photos that I remember of this next war ...
MOELLER: My age too.
LAMB: Do you find that as you talk to people that people had just a strong a memory about Korean War and World War II as say I would have about the Vietnam War?
MOELLER: Well, I think it probably depends on who you talk to. I do think that the Vietnam War -- maybe because it's the most recent war and also in some ways is the most visual war -- related to it primarily visually. That people do tend to associate -- when they first think of war -- they'd call up Vietnam images.
LAMB: What happened to photography. You had the Nikon in Korea. Anything new happen by the time the Vietnam War came around.
MOELLER: Just really a proliferation of different kinds of 35mm cameras. Instead of only having the Nikon cameras from Japan and the Lika camera from Germany, you began to have Minolta's. So there were proliferation of equipment.
LAMB: Color?
MOELLER: Color was used, yes, for the first time. Particularly in the 1960's when money was no object, color was used lavishly.
LAMB: And what's the reason you didn't put any color in your book?
MOELLER: Well, unfortunately that's financial considerations. It's a big book and we wanted people to be able to afford it.
LAMB: It does make a big difference to print color?
MOELLER: It does make a big difference to print color. Although, as I suggested, many of the very famous photographs from Vietnam were not in color. Actually, I think there is only three photographs that should be in color that we had to translate into black and white. The reason for so many black and white photographs that were taken during the war was that the wire services -- in other words, AP and UPI who transmitted their photographs through the air -- more or less they couldn't use color. Or at least, it took much longer to transmit color photographs, so they always shot in black and white. So many of the famous photographs that we remember from the war -- and we'll see a few coming up -- were originally in black and white.
LAMB: As it is, your book is $25.95.
MOELLER: Nope. Don't make it worse than it is. It's $25.95.
LAMB: What did I say?
MOELLER: $29.95.
LAMB: Oh, I thought I said $25.95. That's an expensive book, though, isn't it?
MOELLER: Well, I think it's about the upper end of the trade press. But, hey, you get a lot of photographs and you get a lot of information so ...
LAMB: Is the number of photographs the reason why it's more expensive?
LAMB: And it's done by Basic Books and what did you think of your publisher?
MOELLER: They were great. They really have been both from the beginning stages of helping me edit the book and conceptualize changing it from a dissertation into a book that the man on the street might be interested in reading. They were very helpful, and they've been very helpful more recently in helping me publicize and market it.
LAMB: Vietnam photograph number 50 -- Larry Burroughs. What's this?
MOELLER: Larry Burroughs is probably the photographer from the war. He was an Englishman, very gentle man, who tragically was killed as a result of the war. He was one of many war correspondents who was killed. He was killed in a helicopter accident over Laos. But the reason for showing this photograph is not only that it's probably from his most famous photo essay that appeared in Life Magazine in 1965 -- it's a photograph from a series on a helicopter crew. One day in the life of a helicopter crew. But I think this photograph is a very good example of how technological war had become. And that was a good example of the combat photographs from World War -- sorry, from Vietnam. But we didn't see that type of technology evident in the previous wars that we were to see in Vietnam.
LAMB: That was Life Magazine, and here is another one from Life Magazine which is photograph number 51. No, this is not the right one. They've -- we've got the wrong one here. Let me show you what photograph 51 is right here and see what -- explain this one.
MOELLER: Well, this was one of the ones in color. That photograph that you're putting up on the screen there was originally cropped. The woman who is the photographer at the right of your picture was cropped out of the photograph.
LAMB: Right here?
MOELLER: Yes. This is another Larry Burroughs photograph. And it's the evacuation of a -- they're running up to an LZ, a landing zone, for a helicopter come-down and air lift this man back behind the lines.
LAMB: Next photograph is photograph number 53. I believe we will have it on the screen here in just a moment. What's this? This is not 53, by the way. Let me again -- I think we have them all out of sequence. Go ahead and explain this one and we'll get the rest of them. What is this right here?
MOELLER: This is one of the, I think, three or four classic photographs of the war.
LAMB: It's 55.
MOELLER: It's 55. It's a photograph of a little naked girl running down the road in Anluck. She's just torn her clothes off because there was a napalm strike.
LAMB: This was published in the New York Times, June 9, 1972, and the name on it is ...
LAMB: Who is?
MOELLER: A photographer who was photographing for AP. And I think it's one of the photographs that those of us who lived through the war remember when we think of the war. It's one of the icons, if you want to put it that way, of the Vietnam War.
LAMB: This one is also memorable. At least for me. 53 by Malcolm Brown who it says here was with the Philadelphia Enquirer -- now, with the New York Times.
MOELLER: It appeared in the Philadelphia Enquirer. This was a photograph from 1963 of a Buddhist Monk sitting himself aflame in the streets to protest the government.
LAMB: AP photo?
MOELLER: AP photograph. Malcolm Brown worked for AP. He then, several years later, worked for ABC, then returned to Vietnam -- actually working for ABC in Vietnam and then returned, working for the New York Times, where he still is. But that photograph being one of the first graphic images from Vietnam was not pictured everywhere. The very first photograph that we saw of that little naked girl running down the road -- that was on the front pages of all the newspapers around the world. As was this quite famous photograph from the Tet Offensive of 1968 which was taken by Eddie Adams, also of AP, a photograph of a South Vietnamese general shooting an alleged Viet Cong lieutenant.
LAMB: How controversial was this photograph when it was published?
MOELLER: Well, it was very controversial for all kinds of reasons. It raised questions about how far photography go. How much should the media show us. But more importantly than the journalistic issues, it raised questions about was this a war that condoned that kind of action. Was that a war that Americans wanted to participate in?
LAMB: I can even remember -- and this is 20 years later -- that it was General Lone.
MOELLER: It was General Lone.
LAMB: I mean, did it have that kind of an impact on all us?
MOELLER: Yes. It really did.
LAMB: OK, this is probably next -- I don't know if we have it. I've got it here in the book -- let's go to 56, and it looks like this. Bobby, why don't you bring come down here on 56. Alright, what's this?
MOELLER: Well, that's one of the most famous photographs from the My Lai massacre. And I think that all of these last four images that we've shown -- the My Lai massacre photograph, the photograph of the naked little girl, the photograph of the man being shot in the middle of the street, the photograph of the burning monk -- if you recall all of them, they are all pictures of Vietnamese civilians. And this is very unusual. Vietnam was the first war in which we saw photographs of civilians in any number at all. And the reason for this is that it was a way that the press of commenting on the war. It was a way of showing the American public, look, this is what -- we're not only killing enemy soldiers. It's not only American soldiers as well that are being killed, but we're also injuring women and children. It's sort of a moral commentary. I think one of the reasons why these photographs made such an impression is because they did deal with civilians. They dealt with the victims of war.
LAMB: Ron Haberly?
MOELLER: Ron Haberly.
LAMB: Still alive?
MOELLER: Still alive.
LAMB: Talk to him?
MOELLER: No he's a hard man to reach, and you can understand why -- he doesn't want to talk too much about ...
LAMB: Why not?
MOELLER: Well, I just kept getting letters that were sent back so I can't really answer that. He did have some interviews very shortly after the photographs came out. But I think he's tried to remain private since then.
LAMB: Did you find a lot of that when you tried to reach some of the photographers from the Vietnam War?
MOELLER: No. Actually with no other exceptions did I have any difficulty in speaking to photographers. Malcolm Brown, the one who did -- the photographer who took the burning monk shot, Eddie Adams, who took the assassination shot, the execution shot -- both of those photographers, for example, I talked to. And Larry Burroughs who took the first two photographs that we saw from Vietnam, although as I mentioned, he is no longer alive -- his son and his wife were very helpful in opening up his notebooks and files and speaking to me about his experiences during the war.
LAMB: Want to look at the last photograph for this hour, and that's another Larry Burroughs photograph -- what's this?
MOELLER: This is a photograph of -- it's very close to, I think -- it's Operation Prairie. You have the date in front of you.
LAMB: It's February 26, 1971.
MOELLER: '71. And was actually taken back, I believe, in 1966. This photograph -- as the caption appears in the book -- was released in Live Magazine as part of the memorial issue that was dedicated to Larry Burroughs after he had been killed in Laos. And this photograph, I think, is most notable for the relationship that's created here between the black soldier on the left and the white soldier on the right. Although blacks and other minorities participated overwhelmingly in the war -- and were overwhelmingly on the front lines as well -- there are relatively few images that came back showing blacks and showing minorities. And many photographs that did come back tended to emphasize the harmonious relations between the races rather than emphasize perhaps conflict that might also have been mentioned.
LAMB: Do you have a favorite photograph in this whole series we just looked at?
MOELLER: Boy, that's a tough question. That's like asking a mother whether she has a favorite child. No, I don't think I do.
LAMB: When are you the most intrigued by a photograph?
MOELLER: Well, I guess I'm most interested in looking at photographs in context. I have a tough time walking into magazines -- or walking, rather, into museums and seeing photographs out of context on the wall as images of art, if they were originally taken as journalism. So I'm most interested in photographs in their original context, looking at them in Life Magazine or looking at them in Harpers Magazine or any of these other, now defunct, publications and seeing where they were in the page, what was the headline, what was the caption. Seeing them as the public at the time saw them.
LAMB: Our guest for the last hour, and it did go very quickly, Susan Moeller, who is the author of this book called "Shooting War," as you can see right here. And she is, among other things, a graduate of Harvard University where she's got both a Ph.D. and Masters. A graduate of Yale where she got her undergraduate degree and currently teaches at Princeton where she's been for the past couple of years teaching history. And she is also a photographer herself in her own right. Thank you very much for your time.
MOELLER: Thank you sir.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1997. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.