I was very moved by Nicholson Baker’s essay, “Why I’m a Pacifist: the Dangerous Myth of the Good War,” in the current issue of Harper’s (available online to subscribers only). I’d read Baker’s article before Bin Laden was killed, and when I heard that he was dead Monday morning, my first response was sadness. All these people, dead, because of him, because of us. There’s nothing to celebrate. I’m still figuring out my feelings on violence and war. I don’t call or consider myself a pacifist – I haven’t yet thought enough, or deeply enough, about it. But I definitely can’t stop thinking about it now.
The two photos above are from an important (great just doesn’t seem like the right word) article in the New York Times, Face That Screamed War’s Pain Looks Back, 6 Hard Years Later.
The image of Samar, then 5 years old, screaming and splattered in blood after American soldiers opened fire on her family’s car in the northern town of Tal Afar in January 2005, illuminated the horror of civilian casualties and has been one of the few images from this conflict to rise to the pantheon of classic war photography…The photograph of Samar is frozen in history, but her life moved on, across a trajectory that is emblematic of what so many Iraqis have endured. In a country whose health care system has almost no ability to treat the psychological aspects of trauma, thousands of Iraqis are left alone with their torment.
As many people know, Chris Hondros, who took the original photo of Samar, was recently killed while covering the conflict in Libya, as was his colleague Tim Hetherington. Much has been said by Susan Sontag and others about the role of photography in war. I think war photography is a more noble pursuit than war itself. It would be wonderful not to need brave and talented photojournalists such as Hondros and Hetherington at all, but since we do, I’m grateful that they and their peers risk their lives to report on, and remind us of, what happens when we pursue violence or go to war “assured of the rightness of our cause and confident of the victories to come.”
(As much as I like to be reminded of what’s happening “over there,” and as interesting as I found the NYT article, looking at Samar look at that photo of herself feels intrusive and wrong, Maybe some things are better left undocumented, though any rules I make about that would be totally arbitrary. Is looking at that photo somehow more of an intrusion than looking at a photo of her covered in her parents’ blood? )