In this century, Memorial Day, a civic holiday, has gained an almost religious tinge. That last Monday in May is meant, of course, to honor the dead of this country's wars and has a history that goes back to the period after the Civil War when, thanks to the bloodshed of that conflict, America's first national cemeteries were created. A century and a half later, the president regularly goes to Arlington National Cemetery and places a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Donald Trump did so, maskless in the midst of a pandemic nightmare, in 2020 and Joe Biden did so in 2021, the day after the anniversary of his son Beau's death. (Beau served a year as a National Guardsman in war-torn Iraq.)
Addressing "our fallen heroes" and their families, who "live forever in our hearts forever proud, forever honorable, forever American," President Biden hailed the American war dead as "the sentinels of liberty, defenders of the downtrodden, liberators of nations." He then added, "And still today, Americans stand watch around the world, often at their great personal peril" They did not only die at Gettysburg or in Flanders Field or on the beaches of Normandy, but in the mountains of Afghanistan, the deserts of Iraq in the last 20 years." Later, he offered another quite explicit list of where those "fallen heroes" actually fell: "The Americans of Lexington and Concord, of New Orleans, Gettysburg, the Argonne, Iwo Jima and Normandy, Korea and Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq."
But when you think about it, the all-American conflicts that followed World War II's D-Day (Normandy) haven't exactly been the tales of liberty, heroism, and glory that Biden hailed. Instead, they've been interventions from hell that, Vietnam aside, the American people largely neither supported nor protested, but paid remarkably little attention to.
Almost all of them were, in one fashion or another, failed wars that left startling numbers of innocent civilians dead, squandered trillions of taxpayer dollars needed at home, unsettled significant parts of the planet, and in this century helped spread terror outfits across the Greater Middle East and Africa. In short, they were wars that, in terms of democracy, liberty, and justice, were horrors of the first order and nothing faintly to be proud of.
Today, TomDispatch regular, historian, and war correspondent Nick Turse, author of a riveting account of one of those American wars from hell, Kill Anything That Moves, considers a subject we don't often think about the way such wars and other conflicts around the world are now producing what he all too accurately calls "war porn" in our overly electronic moment. As I read his piece, I couldn't help thinking that, given a Pentagon budget that never goes anything but up and wars that never go anything but down, Memorial Day (like those endless flyovers of sports events by the U.S. Air Force) has, in my lifetime, become a kind of war porn all its own. Tom
A Wide World of War Porn
How I Accidentally Amassed an Encyclopedia of Atrocities
By Nick Turse
Recently, I wanted to show my wife a picture, so I opened the photos app on my phone and promptly panicked when I saw what was there.
It's not what you think.
A lot of people are worried about what's lurking on their smartphones. Compromising photos. Illicit text messages. Embarrassing contacts. Porn.
What I noticed was a video in the photo stream between a picture of a document I sent to an editor and a shot of my dog a clip of a man in Burkina Faso having his lower arm chopped off.
The still image of that act is bad enough. The video is far worse. The victim lies on the ground, pleading, screaming as another man, swinging a machete, forces him to place his right arm on a wooden bench. The attacker is trying to make the amputation easier, allowing him to make a cleaner cut. But "easier" is a relative term. The assailant hacks away, again and again and again, taking time to taunt his victim. You watch it happen. Slowly. You see the anguish on the face of the man whose arm is bleeding but mostly intact, then hanging at an odd angle, then barely attached. The video runs one minute and 18 seconds. It seems longer. Far longer. You hear the tortured screams. You watch the final swing, then see the victim kicking his legs back and forth, writhing in agony on the ground.
I shudder to think how many similar videos and images lurk on my phone saved in the photos, in the files, sitting in text chains from sources, colleagues, fixers, contacts. There's the man lying in a street in the Democratic Republic of Congo as an assailant with a machete attempts to cut off his leg below the knee. I still remember the exact sound of his cries even years after first viewing it. There's the video of the captured Kurdish fighters. I recall how the second woman to be killed just before she's shot in the head watches the execution of her comrade. She doesn't plead or cry or even flinch. Not once.
There's the bound man shot at point blank range and kicked, still alive, into a ditch. There are the women and children forced to march to their execution. "You are going to die," says the Cameroonian soldier, who refers to one of the women as "BH," a reference to the terrorist group, Boko Haram. He steers her off the road and a young girl follows. Another soldier does the same to a second woman who has a toddler strapped to her back. The soldiers force the women to kneel. One of those men directs the girl to stand next to her mother. He then pulls the girl's shirt over her head, blindfolding her. Gunshots follow.
Binging on War Porn
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