Tuesday, September 27, 2005

how to dehumanize the enemy and get free porn for doing it

soldiers in a warzone are under extreme stress and require serious stress relief. they're surrounded by death and could themselves die at any moment.

one popular stress reliever is pornography. and why not? porn has relieved a lot of my own stress, and it has especially saved me on many a lonely night when my girlfriend lived a couple thousand miles away. that was just the distance between indiana and california... if i were in the middle east, with the threat of death looming over me, i'm sure it'd be that much worse.

one popular form of pornsite is the true amateur site where users contribute their own photographs of their wives, girlfriends, or that flirty girl down the street. on occasion i've been known to visit one such free site (voyeurweb), which i know gets some traffic from soldiers stationed overseas. apparently another such site that's popular with the soldiers (though not free) is called nowthatsfuckedup.com (NTFU).

some soldiers had trouble signing up for NTFU with their credit cards. (so if you want to blame this whole story on the credit card companies, you could make that argument without too much logical contortion.) so the site admin came up with a plan that contributors who could "prove" that they were soldiers stationed overseas would get free access to the porno.

so far, so good. "support the troops" by giving them free porn so they can release a bit of that extra testosterone into the desert sands. i would never disapprove of free porn (assuming that all parties were consenting adults, of course).

but what constitutes "proof" that one is a soldier stationed in iraq or afghanistan? some posted simple snapshots of troops in the desert, near arab-looking landmarks, etc. some posted pics of cute female soldiers... from fully clothed to nude.

and some posted violent pictures of charred bloody corpses.

okay, okay, swapping photos of death for photos of nude hotties is a little... disturbing. the seeming equivalence of sex and violence brings to mind shades of bataille or jg ballard. but couldn't it be said that these guys are like journalists, simply depicting the real truth of war: that people get injured and killed in all sorts of fucked up ways? and in an environment where the pentagon has banned even photographs of coffins, couldn't it be said that these photographs provide a valuable service to the public?

well, maybe, if it happened in a vacuum. but these postings don't exactly show journalistic impartiality (if there even is such a thing). from the east bay express:

At Wilson's Web site, you can see an Arab man's face sliced off and placed in a bowl filled with blood. Another man's head, his face crusted with dried blood and powder burns, lies on a bed of gravel. A man in a leather coat who apparently tried to run a military checkpoint lies slumped in the driver's seat of a car, his head obliterated by gunfire, the flaps of skin from his neck blooming open like rose petals. Six men in beige fatigues, identified as US Marines, laugh and smile for the camera while pointing at a burned, charcoal-black corpse lying at their feet.

The captions that accompany these images, which were apparently written by the soldiers who posted them, laugh and gloat over the bodies. The soldier who posted a picture of a corpse lying in a pool of his own brains and entrails wrote, "What every Iraqi should look like." The photograph of a corpse whose jaw has apparently rotted away, leaving a gaping set of upper teeth, bears the caption "bad day for this dude." One soldier posted three photographs of corpses lying in the street and titled his collection "DIE HAJI DIE." The soldiers take pride, even joy, in displaying the dead.

americablog has more, including several examples (photos are censored, but you can click to see uncensored versions).

these kinds of photos are not a new phenomenon. for as long as soldiers have had access to cameras, they've documented life on the battlefield (and their photos have been hidden from the public). and to be sure, there are sites out there that do perform a public service by posting gory war pics. we are surrounded by media that depicts fetishized violence, and it's good to have a counterpoint to that, demonstrating that the real-life consequences to violence are not as cool and pretty as they look in those jerry bruckheimer movies. but when the photos include soldiers grinning and pointing at the corpses, in poses reminiscent of lyndie england (who was convicted today), the documentary value becomes a little suspect. and when you add captions like DIE HAJI DIE, you're pretty much left with propagandized hate speech. not to mention a violation of the geneva convention.

on one level, it's understandable. these soldiers are constantly surrounded by a level of chaos and carnage that i cannot imagine and hope i never have to see. some nudie pictures are not going to make up for that. when your job is to kill, and you yourself could be killed at any moment, the urge to dehumanize the enemy is only natural (in fact, you could say it's necessary). and it's that much easier when the enemy is of a different race and religion. there's a memorable scene in the movie three kings where the characters discuss which racial slurs are appropriate: "sand n----rs" is not because it is also an indirect slur on african-americans, but "raghead" is deemed okay. of course, once the characters actually meet and interact with some real iraqis, their attitudes change. but that's the point of dehumanization: it's hard to kill a human being, but not so hard to kill a raghead. and if you can convince yourself that they're all terrorists too, it's easier still.

but how do you justify dehumanization on this scale? returning to the east bay express:

One soldier, who would not reveal his name or unit, defended his decision to post pictures of the dead, which he did after returning home. "I had just finished watching the beheading of one of our contractors that was taken hostage over in Iraq," he wrote in an e-mail. "I figured since that was all over the Web, maybe these pictures would make some potential suicide bomber think twice after seeing what happens AFTER you pull the pin.

"What you interpret [as] maliciousness and bravado may be how [soldiers] react to situations where they almost die or they just saw their buddy get killed," he continued. "I will not defend the people who have posted pictures of dead, innocent Iraqis, but in my opinion, the insurgents/terrorists that try to kill us and end up getting killed in return have absolutely no rights once they are dead.

"Obviously these postings do not help our public image at all," the soldier concluded. "However, I believe the US has been far too concerned about our public image as of late. ... We need to take a much harsher stand against these Islamic fundamentalists and stop giving them the royal American treatment. They need to be taught a lesson, a lesson hard enough that they will think twice before waging a jihad against us."

of course, this soldier completely misses the point of why public image matters. after all, this was supposed to be a war of love, not a war of hate, and the whole pretense of the war hinges on the idea that we americans are superior—we "know better" than they do—and that's why we could go in to iraq and try to force democracy on the iraqis. (never mind that the iraqi constitution isn't very democratic at all: it enshrines the koran and denies women the vote, among other things.)

but more fundamentally, he doesn't seem to grasp how "eye for an eye" works either. he says "I figured since [the beheading video] was all over the Web, maybe these pictures would make some potential suicide bomber think twice after seeing what happens AFTER you pull the pin." inspired by the first loss of an eye (the beheading video), he takes an eye of his own (posting photos of dead iraqis). and he seems to think that the cycle will end there. as if the insurgents will be so shocked that they'll say "hey, he plucked my eye out! let's get out of here before anything else bad happens!"

but an eye for an eye = an eye for an eye. if that "potential suicide bomber" were to actually see these photos, he would not be likely to behave like cartman and take his ball and go home. no, he'll want an eye of his own. and when he does go out to commit that suicide bombing, he'll make sure he has a buddy hiding nearby with a camera to document the death and carnage.

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