Picking on Robert Capa – why now George?

Conservative US columnist George  F Will is syndicated from the Washington Post to lots of other newspapers and online portals. In a column this week George (belatedly) stumbles upon the news that a Spanish historian has demonstrated that Robert Capa’s famous “falling man”, or “falling soldier” or “death of a Republican” photograph from the Spanish Civil War is probably fake.

of course, news from nowhere (ie: anywhere outside the US) does tend to circulate slowly in the American media, but I can’t believe that George F Will was really just scratching around for a space filler when he happened on the Capa story and decided it would be a good shovel for bashing “leftists” over the head.

His audience certainly caught the dog-whistle implications over at the Houston Chronicle – obviously not a bastion of liberal journalistic values. I would think that a similar audience is probably regularly reading Mr Will’s missives at RealClearPolitics too. where it appeared under the astonishingly original headline A picture can lie. I’m not sure about the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, no comments have been posted there yet.

Anyway, the DTH does provide a link to George’s email, so I’ve sent him a note asking where he got the inspiration from to write this column, how much he gets paid for recycling this stuff and if he actually knows the name of the “Spanish professor” who has worked so hard to debunk the Capa “falling soldier” myth.

But, perhaps he doesn’t care, because the purpose of the column is really for Mr Will to fume at the awful leftists and postmodernists who have been defending Capa’s reputation:

Capa was a man of the left and “Falling Soldier” helped to alarm the world about fascism rampant. But noble purposes do not validate misrepresentations. Richard Whelan, Capa’s biographer, calls it “trivializing” to insist on knowing whether this photo actually shows a soldier mortally wounded. Whelan says “the picture’s greatness actually lies in its symbolic implications, not in its literal accuracy.”

Rubbish. The picture’s greatness evaporates if its veracity is fictitious.

You see, this was a news story four months ago in July when professor Susperregui actually released the details of his study:

At any rate, that’s where it stood until this July, when the ICP gallery show of This Is War! opened in Spain. With that came articles in Spanish newspapers and then British newspapers (summarized on the Web in the States here and on the BBC Web site here), revealing research by José Manuel Susperregui showing the picture was not taken at Cerro Muriano but Espejo, even farther from the front than previously thought. “Capa photographed his soldier at a location where there was no fighting,” the Spanish paper El Periodico said. It “demonstrates that the death was not real.”

Bruce Young, National Press Photographer’s Association

I had seen the Capa/Taro exhibition, This Is War! in London and basically outlined the exact same arguments in a blogpost  dated 1st November. So Mr Will is a year late on this one. The story was in the New York Times on 17 August this year, and you can read it in The cave of  Montesinos.

3 Responses to Picking on Robert Capa – why now George?

  1. David Cohen says:

    You’re probably being a bit hard on Will. In USian terms he’s almost a maverick Tory, having bucked the party line most strenuously on Bush the elder. A nice stylist, too. On the other hand, he *does* tend to be late on the news a bit, which may or may not have something to do with his habit of using legions of j-school grads as interns charged with searching out the obscure factoids his columns are famous for.

    One other thing about Will is that he might be the only major American columnist to have had a satire written about him, a very amusing novel called The Columnist. Happy to send it your way if you’re up for a cruel read.

  2. The arguments against Capa are the faulty maunderings of an academic with no military experience. Capa, to the best of my knowledge, never claimed the picture was taken at Cerro Muriano. There was just a notation on the back in his hand that says “Cerro Muriano.” Standing on the hillside in Espejo, what you see IS the mountain range that indeed includes Cerro Muriano.

    The criticism was that there was no military action in Espejo that day. Perhaps there was no major engagement, but I wouldn’t trust Spanish documents of the day to record every small scouting patrol that would run into an enemy element and turn into a small nameless fire fight.

    There is also the argument that two different soldiers died on the identical spot and that is an unlikely event. Just the opposite. Ask any infantry officer what his biggest challenge is and they will tell you, “don’t let your troops bunch up”. Soldiers are afraid to die and even more afraid to die alone. Under fire they inevitably follow each other’s path and cluster together. Snipers will take advantage of this. When they hit one soldier, the have their range and aiming point perfectly dialed in. If they wait for the next soldier in line to hit the same mark and fire when he get there, the sniper’s odds of a kill are greatly increased.

    The Spanish professor’s theories are mere speculation and not rigorous research based on military experience.

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