Thursday, June 08, 2006

“Juwad has lost 550g in four month since his birth. His parents were unable to buy milk for him. He suffered from heavy diarrhoea due to malnutrition. The hospital had almost no antibiotics available. Babies with low resistance are highly susceptible to infectious disease. Many fail to escape death”. 50

Australian photographer, Tim Page, who covered the wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq, is also a campaigner against the use of land mines. Page’s images of war are so exquisitely framed that many look like film sets. His pictures do also go to the ground and find human stories. His images of third generation Agent Orange babies in contemporary Vietnam have the capacity to invoke involuntary tears of despair, but they were not on the front page of the Murdoch-owned newspapers in Australia, nor have the victims received any meaningful compensation against the US government or the manufacturers. My own comments in my report on the Fulbright Symposium entitled Civil Military Cooperation & the War on Terror, June 2004, expressed this as follows:

“Participants [in the Fulbright Symposium] should not have missed the photo exhibition by Tim Page of Kangaroo Point which was displayed downstairs in the gallery. This was the visual ‘tour de force’ with lots of images of how ugly and mind-wrenching war really is (when it isn’t happening in your suburb). The one picture for me was the little Vietnamese boy swathed in a cloth with two fingers growing off each of his shoulders. “That’s a third or fourth generation Agent Orange baby”, I was told”. Willy Bach (2004) 85

The image I refer to is one of 538 on the DVD From War to Peace – revolutions revelations resolutions – a photo sutra by Tim Page, who was interviewed by ABC Radio National.

There is also another aspect to the grotesque images of war, driven by the now ubiquitous, often miniature, digital camera. Every soldier can now secrete this device in their pocket and become an amateur documenter of the war whenever the opportunity arises. Their level of education, brutalised culture, uninformed views prior to their deployment, their prejudices and the effects of public disinformation may influence the attitudes of soldiers. They are, after all, the ones who are sent to do the fighting, so it is necessary for them to dehumanise the ‘enemy’. Their experience is that of “bad people” killing their colleagues and the rawness of that fresh and traumatic experience. Non-military veteran viewers need to factor this into any judgement they make of these young men. The soldiers have become what society requires them to be.

Listen to or read the interview with former British SAS soldier, now ‘private contractor’ in Iraq, Andy McNab on ABC Radio National and ask whether this could be your son/lover/husband or father. Unfortunately for the soldiers, they will return to a society that has not shared their experience, and a society that is in denial of what these young men (mainly) have become. Society will not comprehend their restlessness and tendencies to violence and their relationships will frequently fail. (Crowe: 1999)

The soldiers’ images are shocking and depraved, though perhaps understandable. When these and similar images are sold by US soldiers to internet porn sites with comments like: “DIE HAJI DIE!” few civilians will understand what is happening in the soldiers’ minds. In this essay I have made the viewing of the most distressing images optional. I contrast these images to the works of Robert Fisk, Takashi Morizumi, JB Russell, and Tim Page, who each seek to expose the cruelty of the illegal war against the people of Iraq.

These American soldiers treated the grotesque with triumphal glee. Journalist, Chris Thompson reported in his article, dated 28 September 2005, in the East Bay Express, not one of the United States’ major broadsheets, in his column entitled, City of Warts – U.S. Soldiers Swap Gore for Porn, “In an echo of the Abu Ghraib fiasco, grisly images of dead, mutilated Iraqis are traded for access to pornography, an apparent breach of Geneva Conventions”. The dead and wounded are to be treated with respect

Chris Thompson reported in his article on the web site with these comments:

“The captions that accompany these images, which were apparently written by soldiers who posted them, laugh and gloat over the bodies. The person 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 person posted three photographs of corpses lying in the street and titled his collection “DIE HAJI DIE.””Chris Thompson (2005) 94


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