Social justice, Society & economy

The War Tapes & the future of killing

The War Tapes

My buddy Sean Coon pointed me The War Tapes (trailer) — a documentary I’d run into on his blog before — that was shot entirely by US soldiers in Iraq.

I’ve not seen it yet, but intend to tonight at a free screening at the Castro Theater.

What I’m looking forward to is the narrative offered by the people actually engaged in the battle and who were trained in warfare, as opposed to the embedded journalists we heard from earlier on, who were not trained so much in survival or in the rules of war, but in the telling of stories and of “objective analysis”. Think about it: when you’ve got a semi-automatic weapon, people are out to kill you (and you’re “allowed” to kill them) and you’ve got a video camera, your perspective is going to be vastly different from someone who’s just along for the ride to “report back” to TV viewers back home.

Put another way: you might not be suprised, but I’ve never shot anyone with a deadly weapon. I have been shot and shot at, but only with paintballs and BBs. My life was never at risk. I never put someone else’s life at risk. And it seems odd to me that there are humans, all over the world, with these weapons whose primary purpose is the destruction of other humans. Looking specifically at guns, but also at the lot of weaponry that has been developed over the course of human history, I can’t help but find the whole business of killing other people a tad… perplexing.

Still, it’s rather lucrative and there are even companies that offer people for hire who are exceptionally good at killing other people. And if that doesn’t seem palatable, well, there are always robots and remote killing machines that can do the job instead.

So anyway, this is so curious to me because of how “citizen journalism” enlarges the conversation. I mean, these stories now come from regular people, people who have left their families and their friends, on a mission to protect American interests and “National Security”, who can speak openly, and without the kind of spin, hyberole or censure that you might find elsewhere. Regardless, I don’t know or even care much about whether this is propaganda, because what it is is the telling of stories by people living in the trenches who get up everyday and might kill other humans by the time they go to sleep the same night.

And I just can’t fathom what that’s like.

I do hope — somehow, again, perhaps naively — that this connected medium, someday, will make it increasingly difficult to substantiate the killing of other people. It just strikes me that the coming generation of always-on connected kids will be far too connected to people across the Earth — to allow for their friends to be fired upon, shot at, or bombed. The test may come soon enough, depending on what happens with Iran — given that it seems much more wired than Iraq (even as of a year ago). I mean, what if? Should the Bush administration decide to take military action, will the Iranian blogosphere inspire the sympathies of the liberal digerati and make an act of violence against the Iranian people political suicide? When we can directly connect with the people that our government intends to bomb, how does that change diplomacy and the ability of the government to act?

These are not questions that I have answers to, but that this kind of documentary inspires. Objectively, whether the story is being told by US soldiers, the Taleban, Al Qaeda, Iranians, Canadians or anyone else directly involved, this changes things. And it changes our understanding and the proximity of killing. Will it, I wonder, change behavior?

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3 thoughts on “The War Tapes & the future of killing

  1. i hope so, man.

    and you’re not naive for believing in the power of this medium. change is bound to happen to the SOP of business, entertainment, politics and communication (it already is), so if change can happen there, well, we’re the ones on the other side of that equation… it might be a huge extrapolation to believe that human nature *will* change to the point where we don’t kill each other, but i do believe in the path where communicative technology is taking us…

    thanks for the post.

  2. Pingback: The Obvious?

  3. Todd Sieling says:

    Thoughtful post, Chris. I think the potential in this kind of new media and connectedness is that it can mesh enough with mainstream media to reach the human sympathies in the wider population of industrialized nations, and not just the more liberal digeratti. There are a lot of people comfortable with calling for death here and there as moves in some kind of abstract parlour game, and one can hope that seeing the rawness of this kind of footage would shake them out of that state of mind.

    I saw something on TV this weekend that was particularly disturbing. Condi Rice was giving a speech at a church (I think it was Baptist, but that’s beside the point). She trotted out the line ‘bring terrorists to justice, when possible, and when it’s not bring justice to the terrorists’. Immediately following that last phrase people on the stage and the audience called out ‘Amen’. My own fear is that an increasing ubiquity of home movie style war footage will only make the killing feel more commonplace, and take away the power it has now to shock us into action. That wars fought increasingly by remote control will remove us further from the terrible consequences of war.

    For me, an understanding of modern warfare without actually being in it starts with Chris Hedges’ book ‘War is a Force that Gives us Meaning’. It’s simultaneously disturbing, enlightening, perplexing and sobering. Hedges’ words are the only things that enable me to even begin to make some kind of sense of what we see in the movies you talked about here.

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