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WarBlogging – Weekly #10

April 21, 2010

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Blogging is about saying everything. Just ask Scott Rosenberg, who discusses this topic at length. Rosenberg also introduces readers to Matt Welch, the first “War Blogger,” who, after 9/11 turned to blogging as an outlet for his thoughts and ideas.

Welch felt war blogging was, “a chance to stand up to people I’d walked among for 15 years and yell  ENOUGH!” (Rosenberg, Say Anything pg 138).

In the US, we have the freedom of speech which protects Matt’s right to yell ENOUGH!

We also have the freedom of speech that allows soldiers to share their experiences and for extremists to yell right back.

I believe Justice Louis Brandeis sums up Welsch and Rosenberg’s thoughts with his opinion that the “freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth.”(Whitney v. California , 1927)

And yet,  with all this free-wheeling freedom talk, it is important to remember:

  • Freedom of speech is not absolute.
  • Society and the legal system recognize limits on the freedom of speech.
  • Issues arise in which freedom of speech conflicts with other values.

Freedom of Speech in Times of War

In one of my recent blogs, I linked to a US military video depicting the slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad – including two Reuters news staff.  The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, shows the shooting of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers.

This footage is important because it reminds us of the true cost of war.

It reminds us of the faces and names:

(Photographer NamirNoor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40).

Saeed Chmagh

Namir Nor-Eldeen

The shocking footage of unarmed people being murdered by soldiers is a difficult subject. It seems that there is a certain cavalier attitude, a disrespect for life, that comes across in these scenes that is disturbing on a visceral level. Perhaps some of that attitude comes from the gaming industry, perhaps some comes from the fact that for many soldiers, the Iraq war is not a clear-cut battlefield – many of them do not know why they are there, or why they are fighting.

Not all accounts of the war are war mongering, some of the best “war blogging” material I came across in my research is soldier Roman Skaskiws’ account of violent images,  war motivation, and moving past the war.

Shifting the Focus: A True Life Alternative

Many studies have shown that increased viewing of violent materials creates a tolerance for violence, and increased violent behavior. Researchers have noted, “We now have conclusive evidence that playing violent video games has harmful effects on children and adolescents.” (see link above).

There is no way to know whether the violent material will inure people or shock them into an anti-war sentiment.

Recently, I visited the Whitney Museum to see the Biennial. This year marks the seventy-fifth edition of the Whitney’s signature exhibition. While Biennials are always affected by the cultural, political, and social moment, this exhibition, simply titled 2010, embodies a cross-section of contemporary art production. One of the most profound works from the exhibition was a collection of photographs by artist Nina Berman. In her series, Marine Wedding, Berman captures the post-war life of Marine Sgt. Ty Ziegel, who was seriously wounded by a car bomb while serving in Iraq. These photographs haunted me long after my visit to New York.

It is my hope that the “war bloggers” who glorify the notions of war and battle, who advocate watching violent movies and playing violent video games might move their focus and attention instead on stories like Ty’s. While it is graphic, Ty’s story does not compel or create a numbness towards violence – and perhaps, it might even be a force for peace.

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