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May 11, 2005
The Year in PicturesBy Greyhawk
In a grainy video posted today on a militant Islamic Web site, Nick Berg -- an American businessman from outside Philadelphia -- is shown sitting on the floor in orange prison garb with five masked men behind him. After reading a statement saying they want to avenge the suffering of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of U.S. soldiers, the men behead Berg.I think the CBS broadcast of the pictures of Abu Ghraib was likely a convenient and timely excuse for the terrorists to do what they always intended, but such speculation is academic. The bombardment of gruesome images last May (and earlier - recall the photos of the mob victims in Fallujah) certainly marked a turning point in the media coverage of the war in Iraq.
Why show such images at all? The cynical answer is to sell newspapers, but I'm ever mindful of this quote from the LA Times regarding the display of graphic images of murdered contractors in Fallujah:
"These are the kinds of pictures that will linger," said John Schulz, dean of Boston University's College of Communications and a former faculty member at the National War College.The Abu Ghraib photos were still to come. But by the time of the murder of Nick Berg apparently the attitude of the media had shifted, and viewers were spared the gruesome footage.
Regardless of motivation the presentation of imagery from the Iraq war often has unexpected results. Here's another quote from the LA Times piece above (an archived version of the story is available here):
During the height of the war, few pictures of slain American soldiers were shown and news photographers were not allowed at places where they could shoot images of coffins being shipped home.Though apparently saner heads prevailed to end the quest for American corpse photos, the thirst for images of flag-draped cakets proved unquenchable for certain segments of society. A year-long search was launched. But oddly enough the photos of flag-draped coffins failed to have the desired result. If anything, support for the troops (and by extension, their mission) grew with each photo published - perhaps re-affirming the reality of the sacrifice they made.
For whatever reasons, by early last November the demand for flag-draped casket photos was fading fast, so much so, in fact, that a few days ago when the Pentagon released hundreds of them it was hardly news at all.
But all is not lost for collectors of war-porn. Abu Ghraib is back - if it ever went away - and the trial of the last of the accused soldiers is about to begin. The all-too famous pictures will be on front pages once again, and who knows what the "insurgents" might provide by way of response this year.
Perhaps then we should recall some even earlier images, seldom seen.
Posted by Greyhawk / May 11, 2005 9:21 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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