They called it a turkey shoot but you wouldn’t stuff this carcass at Christmas.
It is the charred man, crisped to ash and bone when a convoy of conscripts was strafed by Coalition planes in the closing stages of the ‘video game war’ against Iraq (February 1991).
The posture of the burnt-out body told photographer Kenneth Jarecke ‘how precious life was to this guy…trying to get out of that truck’.
Head and shoulders framed in the windscreen, hands pushing down on the dashboard,the human remains that Jarecke froze on film had been ‘fighting to save his life to thevery end, till he was completely burned up.’
But ‘Crispy’ didn’t tally with the preferred, purposely blurred image of ‘surgical strikes’ against Saddam Hussein, dictator of Baghdad. When it mattered most, most newspapers demurred: they deferred printing until the picture was already its own archive.
Head tilted, teeth bared, shoulders bunched forward, the charred man of nearly 25 years ago is precursor to the pose struck by a previously charmed man, fighting to save his public life in a recent interview with CNN (the rolling news channel which first came to international prominence during the war in which Crispy was incinerated).
Flesh turned to ash would have toned in perfectly with Tony Blair’s grey suit and matching tie. Likewise, the former British prime minister also bares teeth, tilts his head, and bunches his shoulders forward as he gazes intently – too intensely – at interviewer Fareed Zakaria.
Dried out in an instant, how Crispy would have envied the merest smear of sweat on Tony’s upper lip. But would he be duped by his doppleganger’s verbal delivery? Oh-so deliberately casual, with prepared pauses in the, wrong places – as if words are simply springing to mind and not always at a regular rate, when really their spontaneity has been repeatedly rehearsed.
Or maybe, as a non-native English speaker, our dessicated friend might have missed these nuances altogether.
Blair is well-versed in every detail. He knows the map of Iraq like the back of his hand. Even now, close to a decade after leaving high office, he is obliged to re-live theinvasion of Iraq in 2003, just as the invasion of 2003 was itself a re-run-plus-regime-change of Operation Desertion Storm in 1991.
Furthermore, as maintaining the supply of oil was largely irrelevant to the first campaign against Saddam, so ‘weapons of mass destruction’ were never the real reason for thesecond. In both instances Iraq became the theatre in which Western powers such as Britain staged their search for meaning.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, without anti-communism to help them enter theroom (where ‘the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo’), ‘what is it?’ was once again ‘an overwhelming question’. War on Iraq happened to be the best available means of managing levels of moral uncertainty.
And so it goes. Crispy is bound to be wheeled out occasionally to symbolise the war that Western journalism – with only a handful of exceptions – failed to cover. Blair will live out his days primed to rebut accusations that he always knew the ‘weapons’ dossier was ‘sexed up’.
A quarter-century after the ‘video game war’ declared a new era in the search for meaning, the ‘hand of history’ (you said it, Mr Blair) remains on replay.