15 years ago the first hand shooter was introduced to video games, making all the more real and intense. War video games continue to increase in popularity thanks to the Call of Duty series. The graphics, detail, picture, sound all also continue to get better and better, making the experience as intense, competitive, and entertaining as possible.
It’s hard to say if video games dull the horrors of war for the people playing them. It depends on the person really. I joke around all the time with my brothers who are avid Call of Duty players, telling them they’re going to turn into serial killers by the age of 30. I don’t actually believe that but some of the gruesome and gory things I’ve seen in the game and them not even blinking makes me think they are pretty much desensitized to the horrors and the impact of war.
In the video game review article in the New York Times, Seth Schiesel early on goes on about the countless Nazis, zombies, etc. that he has killed and how many times he has saved people, bragging almost. He says they deserved it and the thousands of criminals that have fallen because of his shooting, have done so without inflicting any guilt in him.
“That is by design. Moral clarity is taken for granted in most shooting games, because otherwise the psychological weight of killing hundreds or thousands of other humans (or humanlike beings) would make many games unbearable to play.”
Later on in the article, he mentions that the World at War game weaves in the aspect of a cost of the players victory. Some parts of te game you are up close with unarmed enemies and have to light them on fire. Other parts the Sargent is ordering you to shoot down Germans that are running away. The dialogue even includes other soldiers complaining about that being murder, but you do it anyway.
He further mentions that first hand shooter games are still far away from humanizing the enemy, but World at War is a big step in that direction. It pricks at his conscious and he remembers more of his enemies now.
So to answer the question of war games softening the horror, it definitely does to a degree. I mean, people after all are getting entertainment out of pretending to take people’s lives right? But I also don’t think it completely desensitizes its players.
If I were to write a short entry about Abu Graib in a highschool history textbook it would go something like this:
Abu Graib is a city in Iraq where American’s held prisoners of war. Abu Graib is also the name now used for the human rights scandal. January 13, 2004 is when this first came to light when Spc. Joseph Darby handed over horrific images of detainee abuse to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID). The next day, the Army launched a criminal investigation.Less than 4 months later, the 279 photos and 19 videos of horrific torture and abuse of the detainees and grossly insensitive actions of the soldiers. The stories were published, introducing the world to the devastating torture. Eventually Bush had the prison closed down and the detainees relocated.
US soldier Lynndie England and a leashed Abu Ghraib prisoner.
From other wars and conflicts and history it is commonly known that torture occurs with prisoners of war to get them to spill information about various things such as attack plans and the location of the higher ups of the enemy. There are accepted forms of torture to inflict pain or soften the prisoners so they are willing to talk. Abu Graib surpassed the norm and accepted forms. Not only that, the soldiers themselves were the ones documenting the devastating abuse and in some cases getting some amusement or pleasure out of it. The lines were crossed in the sexual nature of the abuse.
“Naked Iraqi pyramid”
If it happened in Abu Graib, most likely it was occurring in the other prisons in Iraq as well. If the soldiers came back home to America from the prison and told the stories of what happened, people probably would not believe it or not be able to actually grasp it. That is why the soldiers themselves took the pictures and the videos and that was also their biggest mistake and why the investigation was launched. Sorting through the photos and videos, it had to be determined whether or not they torture tactics fell into “standard operating procedure.”
The CIA and government policymakers all bear some responsibility for the abuses, as of March 2006 nine enlisted soldiers have been prosecuted for their crimes at Abu Ghraib. An additional four soldiers and eight officers, including Brinson, Pappas and Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of military police at Abu Ghraib, have been reprimanded. Jail time is still being served for two.
Abu Graib should 100% be included in textbooks because I am a firm believer of the importance of learning history so we do not repeat the past. This was a mistake and everyone should take it in and learn from it so something like this does not happen again. The War on Terror is an ugly war from the beginning all throughout and Abu Graib I believe is a microcosm of the entire war. I wouldn’t necessary want my highschool sons and daughters to see the gruesome nudes but it is important to know the big details such as what kind of things happened, the investigation, the evidence (the fact that the soldiers themselves took the pictures and wanted them shared), the consequences of those held accountable, and how it effects us and the rest of our country.
Junger and Hetherington are the film makers of Rastrepo, a documentary filmed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, also known as the deadliest piece of terrain for the U.S. soldiers. In order to capture the film, take photographs, and all together tell their story, Junger and Hetherington had to literally be shoulder to shoulder with soldiers, hiding, knowing the Taliban are watching them.
The Korengal is imperative because it originally was a smuggling route that was used to bring in men and weapons from Pakistan during the 1980s. From the Korengal, the mujahideen were able to push west along the high ridges of the Hindu Kush to attack Soviet positions. American military planners feared that Al-Qaeda was trying to revive it. Americans wanted simply seal off the valley and go around, Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters hiding near the Pakistani towns and could use the Korengal as a base of operations to strike deep into eastern Afghanistan, where Bin Laden was thought to be hiding.
Junger and Hetherington, as much and maybe even more so than the trained soldiers, lives are on the line. This is about as risky as anyone can be with their life. So why did they do this? If they did not take the necessary risks required to capture the film, the story of Rastrepo would have never been told, or it would have been told with very little lasting capacity. The civilians and people of the home front obviously know the war is happening and that U.S soldiers are getting injured and dying, but you cannot know the horror and understand what the go through unless you are out fighting along with them. Junger and Hetherington got viewers as close to that feeling as they possibly could.
It is the most authentic connection people can have to the war front and what it is like to defend your country against an enemy you do not necessarily understand.
“I’m carrying a video camera and running it continually so I won’t have to think about turning it on when the shooting starts. It captures everything my memory doesn’t.”
Junger and Hetherington clearly thought that if it is worth the risk for our troops to fight to keep our country safe, then it is worth risking their lives to capture every aspect of the experience that they possible could to be able to tell viewers honestly and accurately what happened in the Valley of Death.
War photography, like all news worthy images and stories, has adapted to the new media era and endless expansion of technology, meaning it does not stop. The consumers are constantly taking in advertisements and watching the news; both of these are embedded with images. It’s easy for things to get lost in the mix. This is where Sontag’s and Nachtwey’s conversation would begin.
Sontag would challenge Nachtwey, as a professional photographer, with the question of how his work makes an impact. Nachtwey believes an honest depiction has the capacity to stop war, meaning that if a photograph is real, it emotionally shocks the audience into acting or opposing the horrible event. He trusts in the good of humanity, of their compassion and that photographs pull those out of those who see them.
Sontag tries to argue both sides but at the core is a cynic. It happens so rarely that people are disheartened and actually get off their couch and act, or donate. Nachtwey is the extreme case and his own personal journey makes the difference for him. Sontag argues that when it comes to sparking opposition of war or other conflict, that a narrative is more likely to be successful than an image. When looking at a photograph the length of appropriateness of looking at it is confusing, it never changes or progresses. A narrative or story changes and develops and photography is an added layer to that. Where Sontag’s cynical view actually lies is in the diminishing effect of images. This world is so full of images and is events are experienced by the consumers in the way of a spectacle that images that should matter to people, don’t. The nonstop feed of images is desensitizing.
“Our capacity to respond to our experiences with emotional freshness and ethical pertinence is being sapped by the relentless diffusion of vulgar and appalling images.”
Another interesting point of Sontag’s is when she states simply that “public attention is steered by the attention of the media.” The media, especially now, is omnipotent and omnipresent. Images can lose impact for the sheer number of how many people take in, but also by the political bias of the media platform that is using the image. The government, the media, the journalist, each have their own motive and bias. The news itself, according to Sontag, is now more entertainment than anything else. War is a spectacle and “well-off countries have the dubious privilege of being spectators.” TV drains the image of its force, because it is like background noise to the consumers; the idea that bad things happen other places but do not actually effect the well-off countries. Nowadays if an image is upsetting, the consumer can change the channel, turn a page, or more appropriately, swipe their thumb across their phone screen. It can be argued that with how much consumers take in and the fact that it is the job of the journalists and photographers that war photography is not trustworthy because it is exploitative.
Nachtwey is a well decorated with awards, freelance photographer. His success comes from the authenticity and emotionally striking capabilities of his work. Just because photographers make money off of capturing gruesome images, does not mean they eploit the event or the people in them. Nachtwey is known for getting up close to his subjects, or as he says, “in the same space that the subjects inhabit,” which is how the audience feels when viewing, close.
In this, Nachtwey’s goal is for his photographs to “bear witness.” When looking at his honest photographs it is taking Sontag’s point of war being distant and a spectacle head on. His photographs make the person viewing them, a witness to the tragedy, and not a distant spectator. This shows that war photographers are not exploiters. Their agenda and intention to ignite opposition to the conflict is more compensation then the money they earn.
Photos and images do not always get lost in the shuffle of all the noise of the media. Photos are meant to breakthrough tug on the viewers’ heartstrings.
“[Photography] puts a human face on which, from afar, can appear abstract or ideological or monumental in their global impact.” Nachtwey puts himself in the middle of conflict to record truth, to document the struggles of humanity, with his overall goal to wake people up and stir them to action.
Sontag would agree and add it is more exploitative when the photos are used with the intention of being art. Images that are seen in a photo album or printed on rough news paper means something different then displays in a museum. She does not agree that a photograph can be 100% honest or real. Nothing produced can be 100% neutral or objective. But war images do have a very distinct and important function. Even with the little faith Sontag has in humanity, she says,
“Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens and cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function. The images say: this is what human beings are capable of doing.”
Both agree that images are important and can be effective when used correctly. Nachtwey gets up close enough to really have an emotional impact and his photos can be found in places other than TV, such as websites, magazines, and displays during his talks. Sontag would agree with Nachtwey’s intentions and methods of follow through in meeting his goals of sparking action. She would also add that the way they are shown in his talk makes them more real and adds the addition element of a narrative which she states is more likely to have an impact. Repeated exposure to an image makes it less real. Nachtwey’s TED talk is the perfect way to meet his goals because he is arguing his views while taking the audience on the visual journey with him. The photos are real and honest as Nachtwey says, being so close, and they are shown for the perfect amount of viewing time and order as to ensure the hype of impact.
Professional photographers, James Nachtwey from the TED talk, are just that, professionals. It is their job and livelihood to take photos that are used to tell a story in some way. The media pay photographers to take dramatic photographs so that whatever story is being covered in the media has an added layer of depth and drama, which gets more viewers.
But it’s not that simple. I don’t believe photographers exploit tragedies. It’s not black and white, photographers, yes, take pictures of conflicts and horrible events because people will buy them. Everyone has to make money somehow. But I agree with Nachtwey when he says his work is bearing witness to war, and in his cases, genocide and disease. He uses his gift to raise awareness and strike audiences to raise money to help people.
What professional war photographers do is completely justifiable when you take into account their intent. If they intend to use the photographs to bring good whether it’s raising awareness or fighting the cause, then they are bearing witness and not exploiting. Sure, photographers exist that simply do it for the money. They go out, find the most gruesome shot they can and sell it to any media outlet they can for the most amount of money. But most photographers aren’t like that. Photography is a gift and a skill and can bring about a lot of good. Getting paid for doing good work is just an added benefit.
War images can be found but they aren’t as much omnipresent as they could be. Censorship is the suppressing of “unacceptable” details of the media. Censorship in regards to war is the prevention of showing certain images in the news.
Sontag uses Woolfe’s points a lot in describing the importance of the photos and the effect they have on the common people. That it is an honest depiction of horrible events and that photographs documenting the slaughter of noncombatants should spark repudiation of war. The purpose of war images is to do just that, pull on people’s heart strings and get people motivated to act.
Sontag states photographs of mutilated bodies do one of three things: they can be used to vivify the condemnation of war, give rise to opposing responses, or simply bemuse awareness, reiterating to people that terrible things happen. So when it comes to censorship, she believes it shouldn’t exist and that people should be allowed to see everything they can and have their own feelings and reactions about them.
I agree with that completely. Unless the family of a dead person doesn’t want an image used, any photograph should be attached to media stories. They make the story and war events more real to the audience. Shocking images need to be seen every once and while for sure, to keep people aware of just how horrible war is and motivate further education to prevent war as much as possible. What is the point of censorship? Everyone that has internet access can see gruesome images anytime anywhere as much as they want, so there is no point of censoring the media.
Control Room is a documentary that came out back in 2004 providing a new perspective on the war in Iraq. The reporting is from Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s biggest news outlet. The iconic and most memorable image of the war without even watching the documentary, is the fall of the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos Square. This event occurred in April 2003.
One of the main points the documentary makes in general, is the bias, or lack of objectivity in the media. Every media outlet has an agenda of their own and adjusts the appearances of stories and images for their own gain or views. That is true on both sides, the US reporters, and Jehane Noujaim, the director of the film.
So why does the staging of the celebration of the fall of the statue of Saddam Hussein by the United States matter? To start, the falling of the statue symbolized the end of the battle of Baghdad. Any event that is that widely covered and broadcasted, raises my red flags of it being staged, or having ulterior motives of persuading the audience. The idea of the U.S. staging this event matters because it shows their military power and brings them into a good light. People were and still are skeptical about the reasons behind invading Iraq, by showing the world Saddam Hussein’s statue falling to the ground it shows the swift power and purpose of the U.S. In addition, Iraqi people were cheering, celebrating, and kicking the head of the statue. This hope brought to Iraq brings more purpose and support to the U.S. agenda in the invasion of Iraq.
Just like with everything else in the media, there is always another underlying purpose that it more than telling the story transparently. The staging is justified. Even in the documentary, Iraqi films were shown throughout there media which showed clips of images of U.S. tanks, U.S. soldiers handling Iraqi people roughly, and Iraqi small children crying. The CentCom soldier pointed out the Iraqi media bias as well stating that they never showed Iraqi soldiers fighting or attacking. It’s the purpose and the goal the staging wishes accomplish. By staging the celebration of the fall of the statue, more support and positivity for an ugly, messy war, came about.
The purpose of photography is to tell a story through a still image. The goal is to capture as much drama, happiness, sadness, or whatever emotion is appropriate for that situation. Don McCullin said something at the end of the video that stuck with me. He said, “I don’t want my photographs to look like chocolate pots covered. I want my photos to have… (lasting impressions) I don’t want you to forget them.” Photography is the memory we cannot form. When a photo is taken it is a tangible memory, a story or feeling not easily forgotten.
In regards to the question of whether photographs reflect reality or create it I honestly believe it can do either one, but not both. An image captured of a soldier coming home and surprising his wife on Christmas, how could that photo be anything but raw emotion, also known as, reality. That is a non-staged moment, or memory captured with the click of a camera.
Photography also, and more frequently than not, creates reality. McCullin even said about 4 minutes into the short film that he staged the one photo. “I most certainly did.” It’s a picture of a North Vietnamese soldier lying on the ground, dead. His “pathetic” possessions kicked and thrown down to the ground. McCullin felt so strongly about it being so wrong and disgraceful that he wanted to stage it to make it as dramatic and haunting as possible.
Duffy argues in her poem that the war photographer is the middle man between those that experience war, and those that like to be updated at long distance, to know what is going on but not want to be bothered with the time and emotional expenses of it. “They are glad to distance themselves,” says Duffy. She also states that the poet like the war photographer has a job to do. Which is to connect those people who are so distant, so they must “create” this reality to have a lasting impact.