The Pope’s Photo

DSUjCNPW4AYTc1CThe Pope has been handing out a photo called “the fruits of war” taken in 1945 after the bombing of Nagasaki by  Joe O’Donnell, a photographer for the U.S. Marines. The story is that the boy was standing in line at a crematorium with his dead baby brother on his back. Combined with the backstory it is an incredibly poignant testament to the destruction of war. And I hate to interfere with efforts to warn against war…


I don’t think that baby is dead.

My first hint is that the baby looks very similarly positioned to living, napping infants in that type of carrier on the backs of their older siblings. My second hint is that the baby’s face shows no signs of death, its eyelids are tightly closed and the jaw isn’t hanging open. I’m sorry to get morbid here but very soon after death the eyelids loosen and the jaw falls open. That isn’t happening here.

I have no doubt that the photographer assumed the baby was deceased, very few Americans at that time would have witnessed older siblings carrying sleeping infants in that position. Clearly, the assumption persists or I wouldn’t be writing this post.

There is no way to confirm the rest of the backstory, that the child was waiting in line at a crematorium. Or if he was at a crematorium, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he was there for his sibling.

To me, it looks like he is waiting at the side of a road, waiting for traffic to pass. Perhaps he was upset at the sight of U.S. Marines passing by, or perhaps the heavy baby was causing the straps to dig into his shoulders. Kids were not supposed to take the baby off their back for any reason until an older relative did it for them– so they just dealt with any discomfort from the carrier. (I wrote a post about babywearing in Tiara, Okinawa in the 1960’s.)

I agree with the Pope’s motive in using this photo. War is abhorrent. This should be common sense but perhaps we are in need of a reminder. However, this photo, with its questionable backstory, is not the best choice.

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