Monday, September 29, 2008

Regarding the Pain of Others

This book said alot for it's short 125 pages. There were many truths between those pages, so where do I start? War is male. That is one bold statement. What is male, really? It is a socially defined term with lots of attatched constructs which have been implemented and practiced for hundreds of years. Men are strong, masculine, courageous, heartless, and vicious at times. War is male because males inflict pain upon others and are in a position to do so without much dissent. They are the strong ones after all; strong enough to forget what it's like to be on your knees begging for your life when they are superior to the enemy. Yet the pictures which create our reality shock male and female viewers alike. Do we even care enough to find out what we are looking at? All we know is that it is horrible and it is happening somewhere in the world. But, what could a nineteen year old girl do? I can denounce these photos and those who inflict violence upon others, especially third parties such as civilians. How could we stand by and buy the newspapers which are covered with images such as the one of Iraqis fleeing Kuwait City and being carpet bombed by napalm and depleted uranium during the Gulf War? Do we get satisfaction because we have decided that those people are evil and need to be eliminated from this earth or are we really vulgar and grusome enough that we like watching their pain from a distance? Desparation, the most sickening sight, is something I refuse to see if there is nothing I can do to end it. Who am I to look at those people, who are we to look at those people? We have not seen or experianced half the things they have, and for us to make a spectacle of their last living moments by plastering them in newspapers, news reels, and galleries seems unhuman.
We see, we do not understand, we turn the pages and the faces of anonymous victims of generic war are forgoten. A time filler. This is proximity without risk at it's best. I agree with Sontag's statement that no one has the right to experiance the suffering of others at a distance when it is stripped of all its raw power.
I also found myself wondering whose story we are truly seeing when we come across photos of war, especially recently. As Sontag states, pictures are a factual recording of someone' view - that someone is behind the camera taking the picture. If we are made to believe that Iraqis are an evil people, seeing photographs of the many dead in Iraq might boost moral for the war and gain more government support. Seeing the many US troop casualties might spark a different response, perhaps one similar to the Vietnam War. No one wants to see the mangled face of a dead US soldier left behind in some battle field. At the same time it is worth thinking about the similar photos of Iraqi troops; the man pleading for his life, which may bring satisfaction to many Americans, also has a family. We cannot go as far as being heartless and gain enjoyment from pictures of torture, destruction, and death.
As Sontag mentions, pictures are an accurate representation of what human beings are capable of. In this case perhaps not enough evidence is provided by images. You and I have no idea how much torture our troops have put others through. I recently heard clips from a new program on TV about the Iraq war where commanders are forcing soldiers to torture and kill Iraqis. That is something the public never sees. We only see what the enemy does, so that our hatred grows towards them. It is important to note that this kind of force by higher officials in the military does not go without its psychological effects on the soldiers, male, forced to be heartless and inflict pain on people who they hardly know, deserving or not.
So while we are here drinking our coffee over breakfast trying to gain insight on what is going on in the world today, we should be mindful of the fact that the image from the current war featured on page one is reality, but it is one snippet of a reality which we couldn't even the begint to comprehend. We should not come away from breakfast feeling like we know what is going on; instead we should ask whose story was being told and remember faces of the strangers, not just as subjects of the photos but as a piece of far away history which we have no right to exploit. We are simply spectators, who can shut our eyes or turn off the TV and forget those images and those people, but those who are missing their husband, their father, or mother, or wife cannot forget. Those images will forever hanut them.

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