The New Normal

Valued reader Rise Against commented this morning on how one can find all kinds of graphic video on p2p networks showing “US soldiers doing some pretty repulsive things to wounded and dead Iraqis.” That reminded me of this story I saw in the LA Times yesterday (login required, cypherpunk98/cypherpunk works, link subject to early-onset linkrot thanks to the Times’ bait-and-switch model of online revenue generation): Extreme cinema verite.

McCullough was surprised that his favorite video was disturbing to his loved ones back in Texas.

“You find out just how weird it is when you take it home,” said McCullough, whose screensaver is far more benign, showing him on his wedding day.

Brandi McCullough, then his fiancee and now his wife, said she had walked in as he was showing the videos to friends who were “whooping and hollering.”

The 18-year-old was shocked by images of “body parts missing, bombs going off and people getting shot.”

“They’re terrifying,” she said by phone from Texas. “Chase never talked about anything over there, and I watch the news, but not all the time. I didn’t realize there was that much” violence.

She also wondered why anyone would record it.

“I thought it was odd — a home video,” she said. “People getting shot and someone sitting there with a camera.”

McCullough said his father, a naval reserve captain, had told him, “You know, this isn’t normal.”

Well, it didn’t use to be normal. It’s the new normal, and it will be with us long after the war itself is over. The effects will linger in the lives and memories of those doing the fighting, who are being turned into different people than they otherwise would have been. It’s no mystery; we’ve been there, done that, before. And now we’re doing it again.

Update: Jeanne at Body and Soul was also struck by this article, and quoted from it more extensively than I did in her commentary: War-porn nation.

6 Responses to “The New Normal”

  1. Rise Against Says:

    Yeah, I can’t really say I blame the soldiers for taping this stuff. I mean its a very pivitol part of their life right now and in this day and age everyone seems to have a digital camera. But the thing is it’s not just westerners who search and download from p2p networks, it’s the whole world and obviously these types of videos do nothing to improve the image of the US military in the Arab world, and seems to portray, to quote an Italian official after the shooting death of their agent last week, “a bunch of hopped up kids running around shooting anything and everything.” In all fairness on the p2p networks you can also run across some pretty disturbing videos shot by the insurgents.

  2. Rise Against Says:

    And about the only good thing that comes out of these videos is that people can download them and judge for themselves. They can see first hand the horrors of wa; from the troops, the insurgents, and of course the inoccent people of Iraq’s perspective. No media filters, no propaganda, no ‘agenda driven bias’, just a cruel, gruesome look at what is exactly happening over there.

  3. J.A.Y.S.O.N. Says:

    I’m going to have to take issue with this as the new normal as opposed to the old normal. Just because lets say in 1991, Gulf War One, there really wasn’t internet file sharing, or tons of tiny, portable cameras. It just seems to be a predictable use of a technology that wasn’t really available previously. It might have occured then, had it been something available.

    The fact is that the urge to document can sometimes present itself without any really logical motivation. I’ve experienced this in my own life a few times and questioned why I was documenting some tragic event much later afterward.

    I’ve seen some pretty horrific photos taken by the soldiers on all sides of the WWII conflict and have to question the statement that documenting the events during wartime by the combantants is anything abnormal or aberrant.

    Those of us not in a conflict always have the luxury of overanalyzing which is what I think calling this the new normal is.

    Then again, I haven’t seen any of this shit.

  4. jbc Says:

    Well, I realize I didn’t make it very clear, but the “new normality” I was thinking of was the way these young men and women are being hardened to brutality and violence, to the point where they view it as amusing home-video material. I’m not saying the same process hasn’t occurred in previous wars; it’s a necessary part of what waging war is all about. The presence of lots of camcorders and digital editing and the net for distribution just makes it more visible.

    Gulf War I’s ground phase lasted, what, 100 hours? Gulf War II’s ground phase is at 17,500 hours and counting, with no end, or even a clear strategy for achieving an end, in sight. The longer it goes on the greater the damage, in terms of the dehumanizing process to which its participants are subjected.

    That’s what I was trying to talk about in the original post.

  5. Patriot Says:

    I think cameras shouldn’t belong in war zones as a general policy – on the grounds that war is largely psychological. A camera puts the winning side (ie the side that manages to kill more of the other side’s soldiers) at a disadvantage because it spread adverse psychological/emotional sentiments among it’s people that are illogical.

    If a murderer tries to kill your daughter, and is caught and executed, would you show her a video of the execution?

    War is hell. That’s why the world needs the USA.

  6. Rise Against Says:

    But wasn’t this latest war, a destructive, horrific war, a war of choice rather than necessity on the part of US leadership? America was not being attacked, or threatened by Iraq. War is hell, which is why the world used to need the US. But that was when its leaders shared the same values as the rest of the free world. Sadly though, that has changed.

    To quote one of my favorite lines from Kerry during the debates, “You go to war becasue you have to, not because you want to.” I found that line very powerful coming from a Veteran.

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