Richard Nash writes in to let me know about David Griffith’s A Good War is Hard to Find, a book of essays written in the spirit of Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others. Sontag’s original New York Times Magazine piece can be found here. Near the end of her life, Sontag wrote:
The pictures will not go away. That is the nature of the digital world in which we live. Indeed, it seems they were necessary to get our leaders to acknowledge that they had a problem on their hands. After all, the conclusions of reports compiled by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other reports by journalists and protests by humanitarian organizations about the atrocious punishments inflicted on ”detainees” and ”suspected terrorists” in prisons run by the American military, first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq, have been circulating for more than a year. It seems doubtful that such reports were read by President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney or Condoleezza Rice or Rumsfeld. Apparently it took the photographs to get their attention, when it became clear they could not be suppressed; it was the photographs that made all this ”real” to Bush and his associates. Up to then, there had been only words, which are easier to cover up in our age of infinite digital self-reproduction and self-dissemination, and so much easier to forget.
The pictures will not go away. But don’t tell that to the major U.S. media outlets. As I write this, no mention of these photos can be found anywhere on the main websites of The Washington Post, the New York Times (save this Associated Press article about Iraqi officials urging calm, as if one is supposed to react to this savagery as if one has just perused a mildly scandalous article), the Los Angeles Times, CNN, and MSNBC. At a time in which journalists should be asking questions about how extant these cruelties are and how frequently they run, at a time in which they should be speculating on how this will irrevocably alter our perception among Muslims, they remain stone-deaf, when it is clear with these new images that what we saw before was a watered down run of the real horrors. Much as the Danish cartoons were kept from the public in order to “protect,” this wholesale blackout and the encouragement here not to discuss or vent or begin any sort of discourse coming to terms with the divisiveness that suspends invisible in the air is supposed to “protect” us from what’s really going on. We are supposed to keep our heads in the sand and keep our four ventricles beating at a healthy, low-carb pace. But don’t worry. There’s Häagen-Dazs in the freezer for desert!
I’m amazed at the audacity of anyone having the temerity to tell us how to think and feel, as if the Iraqi population, seeing their peers treated like animals, and the American public, seeing their soldiers commit ineffable barbarities, are inchoate herds of sheep. The whole point of being a functioning adult member of American society is to question everything, especially one’s own viewpoints and especially the entreaties that come from the top tiers, Republican and Democrat.