Battleground Afghanistan and Eyewitness War are two new shows premiering on National Geographic Channel this July. Both reality dramas follow the firsthand experiences of soldiers on the front lines of combat, as they engage in battle and carry out a variety of missions for the American military. And although these shows have yet to begin, I’d like to pose some “guiding questions” for those who might end up watching them. more...
In a recent article, Brad Allenby and Carolyn Mattick argue that the ‘rule book’ of international warfare needs to be rewritten to include of the use of new technologies, in particular drones. Drones sit in an ambiguous legal space because they are unmanned aerial vehicles that are often used to fly in a restricted airspace. Compounding this problem is that the use of drones is largely undocumented as a matter of national secrecy. Nevertheless another layer of technology, social media, is now providing a battleground for visual accountability. On the one hand, I want to draw attention to the use of Instagram to highlight the use of social media to inform – and critique – the use of drones through layered representations of their targets. On the other, and competing with this critique, we must look at the use of drone target visuals released by governments to communicate the drones precision and safety. These examples are a way of demonstrating how social media produces a visual politics that can be used to highlight the use of these new military technologies. This contestation for visual accountability may be the social inroads to in fact see the target. The target I am alluding to here is not what the drones see but the frameworks that that legitimatize the actions of these drones.
It is only hours since President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, resulting in celebrations across the United States (in the streets, on Facebook and elsewhere). I want to point the Sociological Lens at this spontaneous and widespread cultural celebration not to argue that it is wrong or right to cheer for death, but to ask, in these first few hours, why. Beyond the obvious points surrounding Bin Laden’s involvement with the events on September 11th, 2001, I think he symbolized much more. Ultimately, what people are cheering about is the momentary return of the familiar black-and-white world of good and evil that we understand.
Gidden’s and others have discussed how our modern world is becoming increasignly unknowable and Bauman discusses ethics based on some universal good and evil as out of date. Gone are the days of World War II where we went to war against the “bad guys” and when you killed them you won. September 11th, 2001 sparked a “war on terror,” a war on an ideology rather than a country, that has been unending and unclear. It is also unclear for many why we went to Iraq -a conflict that has dragged on without clear objectivies and metrics for victory. About all the United States as a country could agree on is that Osama bin Laden is a bad guy and should be captured and/or killed, but even this dragged on for years with many wondering if we would ever capture him. This all creates a listless feeling of confusion about war and geopolitics that upsets Americans used to the Hollywood version: we know who is good and evil and the winner is clear.
This pent up confusion was cathartically relieved last night when the news broke. The world finally succumbed to the movie script where there is a bad guy and there is some clear result. However, this brief moment of clarity will pass and we will quickly move back into a world where geopolitics is confusing, winning and losing won’t be clear and neither will be just who we are fighting and why. After Bin Laden, who will be the new symbol to ground our naive presumption that the world, who is good and who is evil, is simple and knowable? more...
On Monday, Wikileaks, a website devoted to exposing the underbelly of the political and corporate world, revealed thousands of documents that, in a nutshell, depict the complications, perils and pitfalls of the war in Afghanistan. One piece of alarming information is that terrorist organizations in Afghanistan are clearly being supported by Pakistan. Another is solid evidence of the corruption of Hamid Karzai (though this has been suspected for quite some time). The force with which this story hit the news this week, the amount of coverage it has received and the combination of this story with recent exposés on the experience of war in Afghanistan and Iraq have created a situation in which increasing amounts of negative press about the war, whether in small leaks or larger bursts, are emerging. The dominant discourse or narratives about the Afghan war – hunting down a terrorist, bringing justice to terrorists in general, rooting out potential terrorist cells or the humanitarian notion that we’re providing a more stable government and safer society for Afghans – feel as though they are shifting. There is increasing discourse about a lost battle, a waste of precious American dollars and young lives, etc. Perhaps this shift is due to the number of soldiers dying, which makes it increasingly likely that you or someone you know or at the very least a distant acquaintance is fighting in the middle east. Perhaps it’s our disastrous economy and the potential double-dip recession looming that’s making it harder to justify spending billions to fight a war when about 1 in 10 of us are unemployed at home. It could be any combination of these and/or other factors, but I would like to suggest that the increased access to images, information and general visibility of this war will be a key factor in its demise.
Theories of cognitive dissonance suggest that when our behavior clashes with our cognition, an uncomfortable psychological state ensues. For instance, if I am a pacifist, but engage in a violent act, I will experience distress. As I watch the coverage of the war in Afghanistan since the Wikileaks report was released yesterday, I am lead to think about the role of cognitive dissonance in producing social change. No matter what you believe has happened in Afghanistan, the narrative of success and progress, whether in the realm of hunting down terrorists or establishing better government, is at odds with the information in the Wikileaks documents that depict chaos. Changes in attitudes about the Afghan war have been brewing for months. Will this new and increasingly prominent information about the problems of “winning” this battle create psychological tension for many Americans who previously supported the war?
For criminologists and sociologists, prison has for many decades provided a fertile environment for research. In recent decades, the focus has been on overcrowding, together with attempts to identify the composition of the prison population. As at 25 September 2009, Her Majesty’s Prisons contain some 84,382 incarcerated men and women.
On the same date the BBC reported that as many as 8,500 of these prisoners are former veterans of the British army, navy and air force. Moreover, this is not the whole picture as Napo, the Probation Office’s union, estimate that a further 12,000 plus ex-service personnel are being dealt with by the criminal justice system. For many of these men and women, their crimes relate to alcohol and drug abuse, as well as domestic violence. Although these crimes may not be unique to ex-service personnel, claims have been made by Napo that ‘[i]t’s the hidden kind of consequences of war.’ In essence, the very nature of their military career—be it post-traumatic stress disorder, or a lack of support upon leaving the services—can make the return to “civvy street” highly problematic.
Despite the government’s insistence that this particular concern is at the ‘forefront of the prime minister’s mind,’ it does raise some very interesting issues. The British media often appears to present issues in very black and white terms. Arguably the terms hero and villain are so diametrically opposed it is difficult to imagine how they will portray these particular individuals.
The Washington Post announced on Tuesday that between 2,000 and 4,000 military trainers would be required for the growth of the Afghan army in the coming years. This estimate comes from Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to the report, Mullen also suggested that additional troops would be needed in the short term to provide security while Afghan forces are being developed. This testimony was given before the Senate Armed Services Committee; a hearing that comes in the midst of heightened political debate and floundering support over US involvement in Afghanistan. President Obama has already ordered an additional 17,000 US combat troops and 4,000 trainers this year, which will bring the total number of American service members to 68,000 by the end of 2009. Mullen explained that executing the President’s strategy would require not only combat efforts but also the provision of security, government services, and rebuilding the economy. Mullen stated at the hearing, “You can’t do that from offshore and you can’t do that just by killing bad guys. You have to be there.” more...
To what extent, I have been thinking recently, can we feel, understand, and represent the suffering of other people? Is it reasonable to argue that the continuous exposure to images of the atrocity of the war – most notably children – has rendered those atrocities a media spectacle and “Us” a privileged passive audience? Would this prevalent opinion make any difference to the crude ‘reality’ of the conflicts? Or, on the other hand, if we maintain that “We” cannot ever understand those who experience(d) the drama of the war (as the latest Susan Sontag suggested), then, what kind of pacifism is possible?
To try to address some of these issues, I started being interested less in the grand ‘political questions’ and more in the everyday practice of the war, focusing on the daily bodily reactions or adaptations to it.