One Man’s Fight to Get a Photo Published, and How it Changed Photojournalism


A recent article in the New York Times tells the story of one Addison Beecher Colvin Whipple — better known as Cal — to whom photojournalists in particular owe a great debt of gratitude. Mr. Whipple passed away last month at the age of 94, but his quest to get one particular photo published in 1943 has left a legacy that will last for many years to come.

Whipple was a writer and a censor fighter for Life best known for his fight to get the above photo — taken by photographer George Strock on a beach in Papua New Guinea — past the WWII military censors who were blocking the publications of any close-up photos of American soldiers killed in combat. But when Life requested that they be able to publish the photo, the censors said no. That’s where Whipple stepped in.

Mr. Whipple and his colleagues at Life believed that Mr. Strock’s photograph would provide a badly needed dose of reality for those on the home front who were growing complacent about the war effort. “I went from Army captain to major to colonel to general,” he recalled in a memoir written for his family, “until I wound up in the office of an assistant secretary of the Air Corps, who decided, ‘This has to go to the White House.’ ”

In September 1943, Whipple accomplished his goal when President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to allow the publication of the image, saying that “the American people ought to be able to see their own boys as they fall in battle; to come directly and without words into the presence of their own dead.” And with that, the censorship rule was abolished.

Though President Roosevelt’s statement was sufficient in and of itself, Life published an editorial alongside the photo answering the question “why print this picture?” by aptly saying what photojournalists have known for years: “words are never enough . . . words do not exist to make us see, or know, or feel what it is like, what actually happens.”

After winning the fight he would come to be known for, Whipple went on to a successful career as a writer and editor for both Life Magazine and Time/Life Books until his retirement in 1975. And even though he is no longer with us, he will be remembered as a writer whose determination to fight censorship helped shape photojournalism.

Cal Whipple, 94, Dies; Won 1943 Fight to Print Photo of War Dead [The New York Times]

  • HeruLS

    Wow, story from the newsroom, I never heard before

  • Chris Pisarra

    The battle was won but the war was lost. Department of Defense wouldn’t allow a photo like that from Afghanistan or Iraq today.

  • Norm Cooper

    and then what do embedded journalists do? even now?

  • Roman

    They are “embedded” for a reason. So it can be strictly controlled and manipulated what people will see.

  • Ranger Bob

    I have to disagree. I am recently retired from the Army (Infantry) with two tours in Iraq and I hosted an embeded journalist for months. There were some rules that protected families privacy with regard to fallen soldiers but otherwise, she was free to shoot and publish what she and her editors wanted.

  • Ian Brown

    Bush wouldn’t even allow pictures of the coffins coming back from Iraq. Probably because there were so many flag covered coffins at the time.

  • thedude

    help develop and distribute propaganda

  • thedude

    that’s funny dude, cool story, unfortunately no one can name an anti war correspondent who has access to first had photos of the Iran/Afghanistan invasion and allowed to show their findings on TV media or printed press. You can’t even photograph the coffins of dead soldiers! I respect your service but dude, stop goosestepping and look around for the first time and think before you kill

  • danheskett

    Right, but if she published something that was not what the military wanted, she risked being unembedded.

  • don

    you can’t even name the correct countries

  • Chang He

    Actually it was an issue of respect, something frequently lacking in photographers. RTFM. There were plenty of pictures of the horrors in Iraq and Afghanistan without intruding on the privacy and dignity of families mourning their losses.