‘Raising The Flag On Iwo Jima’ is probably the most iconic photograph of all time.
It’s also reckoned to be the most reproduced photograph of all time.
It’s the only photograph ever to win the Pulitzer Prize in the same year it was taken.
It’s even been reproduced as a memorial, at the Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington DC.
Sixty feet long, thirty feet high, in solid bronze.
So it’s an incredibly powerful image.
But it’s more than that.
It’s proof that emotion is more important than reality.
Because that image isn’t “Raising The Flag On Iwo Jima”
At least not the real flag.
That was the second flag.
And the second photograph.
Here’s what happened.
The Americans were invading Iwo Jima.
This would be the first piece of Japan they’d set foot on.
Mount Suribachi was the highest point.
A dormant volcano filled with caves, and the caves were filled with fanatical defenders.
So this was one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
After it was over, 26,000 US Marines were dead or injured.
Of the 22,000 Japanese defenders, only 216 were taken alive.
During the battle, a group of US Marines made their way to the top of Mount Suribachi.
A photographer, Lou Lowery, went with them.
When they got to the top of Mount Suribachi they tied an American flag to a length of pipe, and raised it.
Lou Lowery took the picture.
Then they started back down.
US Secretary of State For the Navy, James Forrestal, was on the beach and saw everyone cheering something.
He asked what they were cheering.
He was pointed towards the speck on top of Mount Suribachi.
He was visibly moved at the sight of the first American flag on Japanese soil.
It was decided it should be replaced by a bigger flag.
So a second group of Marines was sent up Mount Suribachi with a flag twice the size.
Another photographer, Joe Rosenthal, went with them.
On the way up, Joe Rosenthal passed Lou Lowery coming down.
Rosenthal asked him what he’d been doing up there.
Lowery said he’d been photographing the flag raising.
Rosenthal said, there didn’t seem to be any point in him going up.
Lowery said he should go anyway, there was a good view from up there.
So Rosenthal carried on to the top.
At the top a second group of six men raised the second flag.
Rosenthal took the picture.
Both photographers sent their rolls of negatives back to be developed.
A week or so later, someone told Lowery that the picture of the flag raising was all over the USA.
Lowery was thrilled.
But then he found out it wasn’t his photograph.
It was a later photograph of a later flag raising.
Lowery didn’t even know there’d been a later photograph.
Then he remembered the guy he’d passed on the way down.
And all Lowery could do was watch as the emotional power of the
second photograph took over from reality.
We all feel we’ve had an idea ripped off from time to time.
But none of us have ever experienced anything on that scale.
President Roosevelt saw the second photograph and had it reprinted for War Bonds posters all over the USA.
In just a few short months, it was responsible for raising $26.3 billion.
It was reprinted on stamps, on every American letter sent anywhere in the world.
Years later, when one of the marines in Lowery’s original photograph, told people he raised the flag on Iwo Jima, they called him a liar.
Because he wasn’t in Rosenthal’s photograph.
Lowery’s photograph is the fact.
But Rosenthal’s photograph is the better image.
So the image becomes the fact.
It’s important for us to know that’s how the human mind works.
Because that’s how people buy things, anything.
First comes desire, second comes permission.
First emotion, second: fact.
Jeremy Bentham, the founder of Utilitarianism, knew this.
Two hundred years ago he said “Reason is the slave of the passions.”