Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Images of pain
The images from Iraq are powerful statements that may change the path of the war. They have made Tony Blair apologize for the behaviour of the British soldiers involved in the abuse of the prisoners. George Bush calls the abuse a stain to the nation's honour. I think Mike might feel it is somewhat more than a slight discolouration, and that it takes more than a quick trip to the laundromat to clean this up.

I am as stunned as everybody else, and the news resonate through every western society like a shockwave of sadness, horror and fear - fear that the values of the society we try to live in are crumbling, falling apart and giving way to - what?

To me, the true horror is that I feel I have seen these images before - and not from prison camps in dictatorships in Africa or South America, but from the "civilised" west. One of the topics I have studied was images of sexuality. Among those are images of deviations: humiliation, sexual torture, sadism, masochism. Consensual games between consenting adults - but still, a rich source for images of pain, degradation and dominance. And I watch the pictures with the gleeful smiles on the faces of the American soldiers, and I find myself asking: is that what they think they are part of? Is that the frame of the prison and the torture? Is torture and degradation so far from the soldiers who find themselves in that situation that the only frame for understanding their reality is by interpreting it as part of sex games?

Growing up with parents who actually experienced war, and reading Mike's deeply felt essay, I would never claim that war or the military turns humans into automatons, unfeeling machines with no empathy, or shallow shells who only act. But at the same time: military discipline is supposed to install frames for particular situations: given A, you do B. That's what you train on, that's what you do in a tight spot, if the training is right.

Running a prison in wartime is a very tight spot. Was deviant porn the only possible frame for the soldiers' actions in that position? It might work the other way around as well - sexual sadism takes its imagery from the darkest basements of human imagination and emotion. Perhaps is what we see here the very source of all images of pain: the human with too much power and no control. It is not like our culture does not recognize and know about the capability of cruelty inherent in humanity. Read the Lord of the Flies.

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