mr. zilla goes to town

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Responses to 'horrible click'

I'd like to thank the people who emailed me responses with their thoughts on yesterday's post of the video of Nick Berg. I think the comments boxes are working again so please also feel free to use them.

In particular thanks to Graham, who in a very thoughtful blog response said a lot of things I couldn't, as at the time I felt quite overwhelmed by the thought of having this kind of horror in my hand, a hand that could through volition or choice propel the images upon me. There could be no passive potato-like acceptance of a TV grab, just full culpability and responsibility.

Never has surfing the web made me break into a sweat before.

Still, I think you are wrong Gra on one fundamental point. I don't have any experience in the military but as you know have had some close exposure to them for a good number of years. I'm not aware of any inculcation that goes on (in Western militaries, anyway) to engender disgust at one's enemy. Dehumanisation in a combat context, yes. But axiomatic disrespect and disgust, no. Look throughout history, across cultures, and you will find the concept of the honoured enemy. Honoured in battle, honoured when fallen, honoured when captured - though perhaps less of the latter in the Japanese/Samurai tradition.

Therefore the actions in the Iraq prisons are not excusable, or natural, or inescapable, consequences of engaging in this war. Conversely, I think the disgust and dehumanisation in the US prisons in Iraq occured because the Bush administration since 9/11 has not deemed any of the adversaries encountered to be of the honourable kind, or treated in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Geneva conventions -- whether a suspected Al Queda terrorist in Guantanamo Bay; or an Iraqi/Afghani soldier defending his country; or a suspect grabbed off the street in Baghdad, desparately named at random by a neighbour to end a tortured confession session.

If there is disgust it is because the lack of WMD has turned the rhetoric justifying this American war from justifiable (albeit pre-emptive) self-defence into one of god-given righteous neo-colonialism, bringing the beacon of democracy to the uncivilized. No, its because they are civilians, the ciphers, the unmentionable, and the untouchable. Watch out for any human who is utterly convinced they are right. Particularly ones with tomohawk missiles or black box prisons.

[I've obviously got my own conflicts to work through in my worldview yet -- I for one also believe that democracy and human rights are shithot things to have, and everyone should get to take a swing at them. There are fights worth having, and genocidal murderers that need killing, and sometimes -- like Rwanda in '94 -- you can't and shouldn't wait. When I have ALL the answers, I'll get back to you. With a book.]

I also basically agree with Graham's final few paragraphs, worth reprinting here:

...Instead I'm saying that, by making these events and images public, the true price of war and it's associated violence has become more of a reality for many of us. For that I am actually grateful. The more we understand the price of violence, the harder we'll think before we resort to using it. This may be one of the true gifts of the internet. If nobody is prepared to pay the price of violence, then violence will not occur.

As much as I am disgusted by the images I have been exposed to over the last few weeks, I am glad that some of my personal illusions have been shattered. I hope that we'll all continue to be shown the reality of violence, because it's only once we're fully aware of it's price that we'll be truly able (as an entire race) to decide whether or not it's a price we're prepared to pay.

I wonder though if this 'gift' of the internet will be fleeting. Will the broadbanderati teenagers of five years from now (generation Z?) be numbed to the violence they can view with a click, the same way that child soldiers in West Africa become horrifically numb to the violence they not only watch, but commit? Won't not just exposure, but overexposure, to the worst violence of the world decrease its ability to shock us into a sensible, sensitive decisions of state? Or is human anguish over atrocity inalienable?


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