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April 7, 2010
War Porn (part two)By Greyhawk
(Part one here)
Well thanks, Pig, but I think there's another, stronger parallel between the latest snuff porn video sensation and Abu Ghraib: two known (but ignored) stories become sensations when pictures or video are added. Obviously this benefits not just porn fans, it introduces the topic to examination by the illiterate (in English language, at least), too. (Then the "sensation" can be a news story of it's own... it "has legs," as they say.) In the Abu Ghraib case, in January, 2004 (when the Army's investigation of the case began after a soldier reported what his fellow troops were up to on the night shift) there were press conferences and news releases on the story, including a CNN story on January 26 of "reports -- all coming from fellow soldiers" of photographs showing detainees with "clothing removed." Another round followed when investigations were completed in March - the military announced six guards "are being charged with criminal offenses to include conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, assault and indecent acts with another." CNN (maybe others) reported again - but the world yawned.
Mary Mapes, on the other hand, knew if she could get her fingers on some samples of those "home-spun" prison porn pix she'd have a hit. And when the Army moved forward to prosecute, she scored - selected snaps made their way from one of the accused soldiers to her. (Via his Uncle Bill Lawson: "The Army had the opportunity for this not to come out, not to be on 60 Minutes," he said. "But the Army decided to prosecute those six G.I.'s because they thought me and my family were a bunch of poor, dirt people who could not do anything about it. But unfortunately, that was not the case...") The infamous 60 Minutes broadcast followed (along with an "Army cover up" story - but lacking any acknowledgment that CBS had actually obtained the photos as part of a deal with one of the accused) and the world noticed, to say the least - and almost everyone got to make up their own fantasy background story to "explain" the images. (Many of which are now considered actual "history".)
People love that porn - no one knows that better than those in the "news" business. The more pornographic they can make their stuff, the more viewers they can get. (Check the content of your local "news" program during a ratings "sweep" period for confirmation.) And when porn is presented as "news," people who would otherwise never see it get to enjoy a dose - they can even pretend to be outraged about it to assuage their guilt at the pleasure. That applies to nudity/bondage/domination-fantasy stuff, as in the Abu Ghraib shots, or snuff porn as exemplified by this week's "hot new" Apache gun camera imagery from 2007. Highly-sought after (in the news or terrorist recruiting businesses) photographs or videos of wounded/dying US troops fill this perverse need, too. Even images of "flag draped coffins" provide a sort of "soft core" version. But in this most recent example of the phenomenon, even more so than the Abu Ghraib case, the events were already known, including acknowledgment by the military at the time and last year's detailed (non-military source) description of the video.
I was in Baghdad in the summer of 2007, so I can't say how much attention the story of the deaths of two Iraqi journalists in a combat situation got back in the States when it actually happened (I know it was at least some - probably more than the death of Atwar Bajat - these guys were working for a Western news agency, after all) but I do know the subsequent reports were completely ignored. The video, on the other hand, is a sensation. (Worth noting - wikileaks apparently "scooped" the mainstream media this time, but as with post-scoop Abu Ghraib most "legitimate" news organizations are sharing the story now.) The video will be mostly forgotten within a few hours (if it hasn't been already... quick - name the two journalists killed in it), among other reasons because there are more gruesome examples of the genre widely available. But for now, at least, it's drawing more viewers than Green Zone.
Hopefully it will be forgotten. Beyond ratings, the nifty thing about war porn, in the eyes of a news person, is that it often inspires others to go out and create more war porn, some of which could become available for future broadcasts. The number of dead resulting from Mapes' "scoop" can't be calculated, but there's one immediate "Abu Ghraib success story" (from the media perspective) that stands out.
Twenty-three-year-old Nicholas Berg, a friendly Californian - part entrepreneur, part youthful wanderer - was traveling by himself in Baghdad when he disappeared in mid-April. In mid-May, the terrorist Zarqawi posted a video on his web site, Al Ansar. The grainy pictures showed a bearded and gaunt Berg, clad in an orange prisoner jumpsuit, sitting in a white plastic chair in front of a beige wall. Five men clad in black, with facemasks and green chest vests holding AK clips, stood behind Berg as Zarqawi proclaimed retaliation for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Then shouting "God is great!" Zarqawi drew a long knife and leaped upon Berg. There was a scream, and a few seconds later Berg's severed head was placed on his bloody torso. The gory videotape made the prime-time news on Al Jazeera.
But only edited clips and still photos were broadcast in the US - this one was a bit beyond triple-x.
This imagery was quite the sensation in it's day though:
"My son died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. This administration did this," Berg said in an interview with radio station KYW-AM.
Posted by Greyhawk / April 7, 2010 11:02 AM | 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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