The Washington Post
September 11, 1998; Page N49
War, in Black and White

                  By Eugene L. Meyer

                  THE CENTENNIAL of the Spanish-American War, like the historical
                  event itself, seems to have come and gone in a flash. But wait! The
                  aftershocks of the war lingered for years, some would argue for even a
                  century. So, before we move on, here come two exhibits to remind us that
                  war is never quite "splendid" nor "little," as Secretary of State John Hay
                  glibly described the conflict.

                  The exhibits, at the National Museum of Health & Medicine and in the
                  Smithsonian's Ripley Center, show us that war, however the politicians and
                  top brass paint it, is still hell to the participants and to the indigenous
                  peoples who suffer in its wake.

                  It's likely that the 250,000 who, whipped into a patriotic frenzy, enlisted to
                  fight Spain, hadn't a clue what they were up against -- not so much Spanish
                  bullets as disease, which accounted for far more fatalities than did battle
                  wounds. Nor did they expect a prolonged postwar insurrection in the
                  Philippines or an occupation of Cuba that lasted, the first time, until 1902.

                  War has a paradoxical way of accelerating the technology of both killing
                  and curing, and the Spanish-American War was no exception, as the
                  exhibit at the National Museum of Health & Medicine illustrates. Here was
                  the first wartime use of X-rays, and the exhibit includes a dramatic image
                  of a bullet lodged in a man's skull.

                  This modest but powerful exhibit consists of 17 photographs, along with
                  several artifacts and an oil painting of the U.S. Army hospital ship Relief,
                  which took in the sick and wounded off the coasts of Cuba and Puerto

                  The pictures range from the primly posed to the pitiful, from six nurses
                  facing the camera on the hurricane deck of the Relief to a trench full of
                  dead Filipino insurgents, a ghastly image reminiscent of photos taken at
                  Antietam's "Bloody Lane" during the Civil War. "It's horrifying," said
                  Michael G. Rhode, museum chief archivist and the show's curator, "but at
                  the same time, war isn't pretty, as anyone who's seen 'Saving Private Ryan'

                  None of the images are what would be called heroic, but some are stirring.
                  There's a picture of men removing wounded from a cart in the Philippines.
                  Two are helping a third walk away from the cart, their arms extended over
                  his shoulder in support. Another picture shows two men placing a severely
                  wounded man in a stretcher onto a horse-drawn ambulance while a
                  soldier, holding his rifle almost at parade rest, watches respectfully. You
                  wonder what he is thinking.

                  There's another scene of a field hospital in the Philippines, with a bunch of
                  soldiers just sort of hanging out in front, leaning on their rifles. It looks like
                  fun. Then reality intrudes, in the form of a soldier behind the porch railing
                  with his arm in a sling. Another photograph shows a medical officer leaning
                  over a wounded soldier, with troops to the left marching by, oblivious, or
                  perhaps just battle-hardened.

                  This portfolio of photographs is as anonymous as it is dramatic. Nobody
                  apparently thought to record the name of the picture-taker, at least as far
                  as Rhode could tell. It would be nice to know who took them, but not
                  essential, because the images themselves are so affecting. There is an
                  immediacy to them that transcends the years.

                  At the Ripley Center's "Beyond the Maine: Imaging the New Empire," the
                  80 images of the years immediately after the war are almost exclusively the
                  work of two photographers, Charles Edward Doty and Helen Hamilton
                  Gardner. He was a professional government photographer; she was a
                  shutterbug, the wealthy wife of the first commanding American general in
                  Puerto Rico and an author, lecturer, socialite and suffragette. Gardner also
                  became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Civil Service Commission.
                  She did not take the photos displayed here until she and her husband
                  commenced a six-year traveling honeymoon in 1902.

                  The "Maine" in the exhibit title refers, of course, to the U.S.S. Maine, the
                  battleship that mysteriously blew up on Feb. 15, 1898 in Havana harbor,
                  leading to the American declaration of war against suspect Spain less than
                  three months later. Among Doty's pictures is one of the Maine's mast still in
                  Havana harbor in 1902, several years before the ship was raised and
                  reinterred at sea near the Cuban coast and its mast taken to Arlington
                  National Cemetery.

                  Doty's and Gardner's pictures -- prints and glass negatives -- have long
                  been in the Smithsonian's possession but are on exhibit for the first time in
                  this show, which began in Miami, moved to Key West and now has come
                  to Washington before moving to Madison, Wis. They are not about war so
                  much as its aftermath.

                  Many of the pictures are prosaic. Doty, after all, worked for the
                  Engineering and Public Works departments during the U.S. occupation
                  from 1899 to 1902, and most of his photographs reflect his assignment:
                  lots of streets, lots of buildings, few people. Still, some human images stand

                  In the picture Doty titled "Cuba Libre," a father poses with his peasant
                  family, 15 in all, displaying the Cuban flag. But these "free Cubans" also
                  look impoverished, especially the children, who are barefoot and naked.
                  There is a depressing universality about the image, a sinking feeling that this
                  family and its descendants are eternally destined, despite the faintly
                  optimistic flag-waving, to underclass status.

                  There's another image of a homeless man, living in a cave. Still another
                  image shows reconcentrados, Cubans forced by the Spanish to live in
                  concentration camps, now "free" but homeless. One man is sleeping on the
                  ground, while two women sit nearby, disconsolate, almost beyond despair.
                  The scene is so foreign, yet it hits close to home, reminding one of the
                  homeless living in the streets of, say, downtown Washington.

                  Intensely chilling is Doty's pictorial study of the garrote, the executioner's
                  iron collar and screw, in Havana. A black man is posed in its grip. Is it real
                  or posed? We do not know.

                  By contrast, Doty shows us two upper-class young white women having
                  tea. They are well-dressed and seem without a care, the antithesis of the
                  others. Then there is Doty's portrait of the distinguished-looking Tomas
                  Estra Palma, the first president of Cuba, two days before taking office in
                  1902. He wears a three-piece suit and a watch fob, has thinning black hair
                  and a thick gray mustache. Both pictures capture a time more than a place.
                  The young ladies could be Gibson girls, and he could be an aging Civil
                  War veteran.

                  Most of Gardner's 34 snapshots are of people. She photographed women
                  in particular: a seamstress working on a San Juan street, women and girls
                  weaving Cuban hats, upper-class women posing in a sitting room, women
                  in a field of pineapples. Four of her photos are from the Philippines, the
                  rest from Puerto Rico. They are not, strictly speaking, photojournalism.
                  The point of view is passive at best.

                  Gardner also shot street scenes, which have a touristy rather than a
                  documentary quality. In later years, she would go on the lecture circuit with
                  her photos made into lantern slides to accompany her lectures. Her niece
                  gave the collection to the Smithsonian in 1926.

                  Accompanying the Smithsonian exhibit is an 11-minute compilation of
                  Spanish-American War film from the Library of Congress collection.
                  These early movies show troops landing in Cuba, President William
                  McKinley reviewing soldiers in Washington and some battle re-creations
                  done especially for the camera. They are, in effect, the first war flicks.

                  Still or moving, these images help make the past more vivid and, unlike
                  ephemeral commemorations of events, unforgettable.

                  "THE COSTS of 'A Splendid Little War,' " Friday through Nov. 29, at the
                  National Museum of Health & Medicine, 6825 16th St. NW, on the
                  grounds of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Open 10 to 5:30 daily.
                  Free admission and parking (pick up a parking pass, required on
                  weekdays only, at the museum information desk). Weekend visitors must
                  enter by Georgia Avenue and Elder Street gate. 202/782-2200. Thirteen
                  of the images in the exhibit are also available on the museum's Web site:
                  Spanish_American_War/ spanish_american_war.html

                  "BEYOND THE MAINE: Imaging the New Empire," a Smithsonian
                  Institution traveling exhibit, is open through Oct. 16 in Room 3111 of the
                  Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW (Metro: Smithsonian). The center is
                  open 10 to 6:30 daily. Admission is free. A public reception will be held
                  Wednesday from 6:30 to 8. Call 202/633-8016 or 202/357-1600.