Thursday, July 21, 2005


For a nation so in love with violence, and in some areas, damn proud of it, you'd think that we'd be gorging daily on the carnage coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm not talking about those wire photos where grieving men and women are shown crying over their slaughtered relatives -- I mean the sizzling slaughter itself: severed limbs, heads blown apart, internal organs spilled and baking in the sun, endless rivers of blood. That's just the Iraqis and Afghans, targets and pawns in a savage outdoor video game (rated M, natch). There are also our boys and girls, killed, mangled, maimed, shattered, mentally and emotionally damaged, fucked up perhaps forever at an early age. Don't we want to see the price they pay? Shouldn't we take long looks at their dead bodies, blasted brains, psychic traumas?

The answer, in the mainstream at least, is decidedly no (there are sites which show all this and more, but they are not linked to larger, proper outlets). This is nothing new -- pretty much every overseas war has been sanitized for domestic consumption, including Vietnam which, contrary to popular myth, was not shown graphically on American TV news (see Dan Hallin's extensively researched book on this topic, "The Uncensored War"). Americans prefer their conflicts to remain abstract, to the degree they choose to think about it at all. Indeed, it's hard to find in one's daily life any real discussion about the current war. Whenever I casually mentioned Iraq to, say, other parents at my son's school, they averted their eyes and changed the subject. And I don't overhear people talking about our deepening quagmire at the grocery store, at the pool, or at the bowling alley. Given the amount of money we're pumping into this madness, one might expect some discussion in a supposedly "free" country. There are no restrictions against it, that I know of -- why the general silence?

Yes, there are the military families who have no choice but to face the facts, esp if death or permanent injury is involved. And there are the parents of kids who are being hounded by military recruiters, sometimes in high school hallways. Many have told the military to keep its hands off their children. But these are direct experiences. Unavoidable. However, for the large number of Americans who don't have an immediate stake in the war, there are plenty of diversions to occupy them so they don't have to think about occupation.

The corporate media's doing its part, filtering and air-brushing the daily death and destruction so as not to scare away consumers or advertisers. Barbara Bedway of Editor and Publisher has a good piece on this form of soft censorship. As David Swanson, a photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer who's spent time in Iraq, put it, "It's war, whether you agree to it or not ... death needs to be shown. You have to know what you might lose before you commit so many lives. A country needs to be reminded that an 18-year-old has just died, and that Memorial Day and Veterans' Day are not just days for picnics at the beach."

Presumably, yes, that should be the case. But it isn't, and probably won't be.

Personally, I've watched as much graphic imagery from Iraq and Afghanistan as I can take, and then pushed past that. As a critic of this war, I feel that I should immerse myself as deeply as I can from my stateside perch, no matter how sickening it gets. And it does sicken. I got through about 3/4 of a beheading vid before I shut it off, my hands cold with sweat, my brain buzzing as if soaked in bad speed. In fact, watching a hostage be butchered like a goat made me swear off graven images for several days. But I came back, and looked at more. And I keep looking, watching, taking in what is being done in our name, ostensibly in defense of our "values."

I say this not to posture or pose, but to be straight up. I cannot stand violence, and some of this shit has given me nightmares (I cannot imagine what goes through the minds of soldiers and Marines in the thick, much less of those civilians trapped in between). But as long as this madness continues, I feel compelled to be as graphically aware of it as possible.

I think that the majority of American adults should have their faces crammed into this barbarism. No filters, no blinking, no turning away.

But that's the concerned citizen in me. Realistically, I know that the majority prefers its "reality" played out between commercials in primetime.

But if you have any curiosity about the Real Deal, check out Iraq combat vet Paul Rieckhoff's recent post at Operation Truth, then watch the graphic vid attached. It's not the worst I've seen, but then, when it comes to human beings exploding, "not the worst" is a slender category.

OH: Just noticed that Arianna touched on the same topic today. Read her, too.