July 2, 2008

Aftermath of a Bombing

Earlier this year I visited the Iraqi city of Karmah (also spelled Garma), a small city wedged between Fallujah and Baghdad. It was winter, and a time of jubilation and rebirth after the local defeat of the ferocious murder and intimidation campaign waged by Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Zoriah Miller, an excellent professional photographer I met last summer in Baghdad, is there now. And he witnessed the immediate aftermath of a horrific suicide bombing just a few days ago. Safety and security in Iraq are, as ever, relative and tentative concepts.

I’m glad Zoriah is okay. Others, however, are not. I know from speaking to him that he was badly shaken up by what he saw and managed to photograph in the few fleeting minutes he was allowed on the scene.

I don’t know why, exactly, I’m bringing this to your attention. Partly it is because Zoriah is a better photographer than I. His pictures in general are worth seeing. (He makes his living strictly by selling photographs, while I’ve made a mere pittance at that task myself.) It is also, I suppose, because the city of Karmah is somewhat important to me personally. I witnessed the re-opening of the market there right after the suicide- and car-bombers were mostly, but not completely, beaten back.

There’s another reason, too, one I can’t even articulate to myself. I think it’s important, at least once in a while, to look at the gruesome handiwork of a suicide bomber. There is no political message in this. Zoriah, I know, has different opinions than I do about Iraq and what should be done about it even though we have seen and experienced some of the same places and people. I do not mean to propagandize or persuade by showing this to you. Make of it what you will. But look, if you can stand it, at what these killers do. This is now part of our world.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 2, 2008 1:07 AM
Comments

When I see such devastating mass savagery I get further convinced that we, in the West, must learn to comfortably grasp nuclear technology in general and nuclear weapons in particular.

When technology is made available, so raw and powerful as to render possible the instantaneous mass obliteration of people's lives with the push of a button, there will always be someone to reach out for it. Primitive savages whose mindset is far too regressive, spiteful, and barbaric to be even conducive to the kind of society advanced enough to produce the knowledge leading to such technology, will be the first ones to lust for the power of such destruction.

No one can halt the spread of knowledge, nor should we, but there are certain aspects of nature which once we are advanced enough to discover, we must immediately show ourselves mature enough to handle.

Primitive backward savages will always be intellectual parasites of the civilized world, and will try to use our own advances to kill us. They do it at a legal level, subverting our freedoms to censor and intimidate us. And they also do it by blowing people up through the applications of a science they could have never conceived of.

We must fully and unapologetically use our might, military, intellectual, and other, to put these murderous barbarians in their place!

Those images of death are making me sick and very angry, but it is a reality check we cannot afford to skip.

Posted by: medaura Author Profile Page at July 2, 2008 2:35 PM

I think it’s important, at least once in a while, to look at the gruesome handiwork of a suicide bomber.

Could I mention that this is exactly the intent of suicide bombings?

They are gruesomely dramatic, and the intent is to create fear and revulsion disproportionate to the actual crime. One cheap act of terror is magnified by modern media so that it influences hundreds of millions.

I'll pass on looking at the photographs. Perhaps because I'll remain somewhat mentally cleaner, but also because I have no interest in rewarding that behavior. If no one took notice, it wouldn't be such a popular tactic.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at July 2, 2008 2:46 PM

DPU,

It's true that the tactic would be less "popular," as you say, if no one took notice. But at the same time it seems wrong somehow to never take notice. (Not that I'm saying I think you should look at the pictures. If you don't want to, by all means, don't.)

I'll also add that suicide bombing is a lot less popular among Iraqis than it used to be, assuming it ever was popular. Constantly exposing civilians to random indiscriminate violence is a poor way to win friends and influence people.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at July 2, 2008 3:12 PM

Double-plus-ungood, your point is certainly not without merit. On the other hand, if we cannot admit that these people are committing horrors, we will never be motivated to STOP them from doing so. I cannot see that as a satisfactory situation, though you are of course free to differ.

Posted by: Warhorse Author Profile Page at July 2, 2008 3:24 PM

Michael says it better than I could ...

Posted by: Warhorse Author Profile Page at July 2, 2008 3:26 PM

On the other hand, if we cannot admit that these people are committing horrors, we will never be motivated to STOP them from doing so.

This seems based on the assumption that one needs to actually view the carnage of a suicide bombing or execution video in order to know that it is wrong and want to stop it.

Not so.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at July 2, 2008 3:55 PM

Google "Eisenhower" "Ohrdruf".

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at July 2, 2008 6:46 PM

I have no regrets taking those pictures to heart. You don't want to reward that kind of behavior with undue attention, or course, but seeing "X people were killed in a suicide bombing" on a news report and actually seeing its aftermath are totally different. It's certainly a good way to remind yourself that these are REAL people and many of them only made the mistake of being at the wrong place and the wrong time - they were innocent.

In the same way that war reporters were able to take to disprove the notion of war as "glamorous", I don't see these pictures doing anything besides disprove that suicide bombing is a "just" means to accomplish something.

Posted by: SeiginoRaikou Author Profile Page at July 3, 2008 7:10 AM

I'm not sure that I agree with DPU:

"They are gruesomely dramatic, and the intent is to create fear and revulsion disproportionate to the actual crime" and;
"This seems based on the assumption that one needs to actually view the carnage of a suicide bombing or execution video in order to know that it is wrong and want to stop it.

Not so."

There's a reason for the victim population to see the results that the terrs don't want. The terrs want fear and revulsion, true, but what they don't want is anger. Especially the white hot righteous anger that such pictures can engender.

I've asked myself repeatedly why the MSM refused to show the pictures of people jumping from the WTC. The best reason I can come up with is that they didn't want Americans to feel anger towards the terrs because the MSM bought into the meme that we brought it on ourselves.

I think that it is much easier to play the touchy feely games when the gore is out of sight. Do we want to play multi-culti relativism / legalistic games? Or, do we want to obliterate the savage barbarians that do this?

Posted by: AlanC Author Profile Page at July 3, 2008 11:13 AM

The best reason I can come up with is that they didn't want Americans to feel anger towards the terrs because the MSM bought into the meme that we brought it on ourselves.

Or a less paranoid interpretation would be that they did it out of respect for those who jumped, or that they didn't want to broadcast emotionally upsetting scense. I know that if one of my loved ones died that way, I wouldn't want the internet gawking over it.

Several years back, a serial killer in Canada videoed his victims being tortured. These videos were used as evidence, then destroyed later by the courts. Should they have been broadcast and put on the internet to stoke the white hot righteous anger of the citizenry?

Lastly, keep in mind that the US media shows very little in the way of gruesome images of the victims of US military attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those are not hard to find, but I avoid those images too.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at July 3, 2008 12:05 PM

"I've asked myself repeatedly why the MSM refused to show the pictures of people jumping from the WTC."

AlanC, I don't own a television, so I can't say what they were showing, but I can tell you that several of the major weekly news magazines had photos of people falling in their coverage of the attacks, and I've certainly seen video of same on the web.

Posted by: Warhorse Author Profile Page at July 3, 2008 4:20 PM

In terrorist/guerilla warfare the antagonists’ objective is to promote the killing of innocent people as a weapon against its enemies.

That means not only targeting innocent civilians, but also encouraging collateral damage.

In modern warfare "friendly fire" is a difficult problem as it is. When using indirect fire such as mortars, and artillery and other means in which weapons are fired remotely at an enemy spotted by a forward observer, it is quite easy to unintentionally target your own troops.

Air strikes are conducted at such long distances that it is quite easy to make such mistakes as well.

Even on the ground, infantry can mistake their own soldiers as the enemy when there is the slightest communications breakdown. Especially, in instances where different countries have allied troops working together and paramilitaries are also used.

Since it is impossible in modern warfare to protect your own troops from accidental targeting, it is especially difficult to wage urban combat without accidentally targeting civilians.

So when an enemy does not wear uniforms and operates among the civilian population, terrorists and guerillas are eager to cultivate the misconception that their enemies intentionally target civilians. Typically most civilian populations are ignorant of the workings of modern warfare and are uncritical of such accusations... Even when such terrorists intentionally target civilians as this post indicates. Such terrorism actually helps to get this Orwellian message across.

There lies the rub. Despite the fact that some Iraqis have come to realize this fact and have discovered how Al Qaeda’s tactics are to blame for such scenarios, many Westerners not only believe our enemy’s propaganda, but they actually encourage it. Look at “antiwar” groups like IraqBodyCount.org who uncritically advocate the message in which enemy propagandists are trying to get across.

On their website they describe themselves:

“Iraq Body Count is an ongoing human security project which maintains and updates the world’s largest public database of violent civilian deaths during and since the 2003 invasion. The count encompasses non-combatants killed by military or paramilitary action and the breakdown in civil security following the invasion.”

So for what purpose do they compile these statistics?

“Iraq Body Count calls for the immediate establishment of an independent international tribunal to establish the circumstances of as many civilian deaths as possible, and to determine an appropriate and just level of compensation for the victims of US/UK aggression and negligence.”

There is no mention of the guilt of the terrorists who are behind the majority of these killings. So their website exists solely to blame the Coalition for the deaths of “noncombatants” (a false term because they also include Iraqi security forces and Awakening members in the statistics and very likely have inadvertently included insurgents who do not wear uniforms as well).

The website has few condemnations of terrorists. As a force of habit IBC condemnations of terrorism are usually (if not always) balanced with condemnations of the Coalition. On the other hand, condemnations of the Coalition are not habitually balanced with condemnations of terrorism, indicating a serious bias.

So how does the IBC view our enemies? In a rare instance in which they talk about them in any detail, they are actually favorable…

“Moqtada al-Sadr and his supporters can be said to be hostile to all the above: the US forces and political actors, the US-friendly Iraqi government… in short, hostile to those who are trying to rule his country on the strength of their guns. Those who will do anything to be in charge of the course of his country. Those who are reckless and calculating enough to have civilians killed to further their own power and control.

The US is also a hostile force, even more so than the Mehdi army.”

http://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/beyond/week-in-iraq/62

Yet the first acts of violence committed by the Sadrists were against their fellow Shia. Attacking Shia clerics and their mosques. They have conducted many large-scale attacks against their Shia rivals, the Badr Organization. Not to mention their use of torture rooms, sectarian murder, kidnapping, extortion and other criminal activity… all of which victimizes civilians. Lastly, it should be pointed out that the Sadrists are opposed to reconciliation and have been the most vocal opponents of the de-Baathification legislation that the Iraqi government has recently passed.

So when DPU says, “One cheap act of terror is magnified by modern media so that it influences hundreds of millions”, I agree. What I suggest is that when pictures like the ones linked in this post are published, the authors should keep in mind the reasons that such attacks are committed.

Sorry for the length of this comment, but it is the only way to accurately transmit my thoughts on this matter.

Posted by: Freedom Now Author Profile Page at July 3, 2008 4:38 PM

"This seems based on the assumption that one needs to actually view the carnage of a suicide bombing or execution video in order to know that it is wrong and want to stop it.

Not so."

No, actually it's based on the recognition that reading or hearing about something has nowhere near as much impact as actually seeing it. One of the great unexpected benefits of the television age has been that we can see that people in far-off lands are actually people, just like us, and not just some vast, faceless 'other' we can conveniently ignore. And quite often, that makes all the difference between 'they should do something about that' and 'I should do something about that. If you don't need the extra help to get to the latter state, good for you, I salute you, but please recognize that not everyone is so blessed.

Posted by: Warhorse Author Profile Page at July 3, 2008 4:50 PM

"or that they didn't want to broadcast emotionally upsetting scense."

Given their willingness to broadcast scenes of Palestinians dancing in the streets and passing out candy in celebration, I think we can discount that particular defense ... :-(

Posted by: Warhorse Author Profile Page at July 3, 2008 4:58 PM

Given their willingness to broadcast scenes of Palestinians dancing in the streets and passing out candy in celebration, I think we can discount that particular defense

You think that's in the same league?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at July 4, 2008 12:37 PM

Under the circumstances pertaining at the time, yeah, I do.

Posted by: Warhorse Author Profile Page at July 4, 2008 4:11 PM

Those pictures don't do anything for me, except remind me the futility of war. If that is what human bodies look like when a bomb goes off, I don't think I'd want to see the bodies of the humans our bombs have killed. How many bombs have we dropped on Iraq to this point? How many sorties have our planes gone on?

I am still utterly disappointed that so many Americans still think that you can defeat an ideology that feeds on war with the very thing they feed on! How dumb can some people get! You cannot defeat these guys with military might. That's what they thrive on! The way to win against such ideologies is to undercut the support such groups get from the population you are otherwise killing. In Iraq, we lucked out as the Sunnis got tired of Al-Qaeda's graphic violence and turned on them. Otherwise, more and more people would still end up like those lucky dead. (Lucky because that's the eventual path for an Iraqi these days with the United States 1)opening up Iraq to terror, and 2)criminally unable to protect life.

Posted by: The Good Democrat Author Profile Page at July 7, 2008 4:50 AM

Those pictures don't do anything for me, except remind me the futility of war

Terrorist militias and the wars terrorists create are fairly futile.

In the book "Bagdad without a Map", written during the late '80's, the author describes the Iran/Iraq war and the horrific fields of dead bodies that resulted from that conflict. He also describes the mess that Beirut was in at that point in time. In the recent history of the Middle East, I'd guess that things are now comparatively sedate.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at July 7, 2008 9:35 AM

Interestingly enough, the US military has tried to prevent publication of some of these photo. Zoriah has refused to comply, and has apparently been sent out of Iraq. Details here.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at July 7, 2008 11:14 AM
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