The War Porn of Rolling Stone

by Joshua Foust on 3/29/2011 · 3 comments

I am decidedly unimpressed with Rolling Stone’s feature on the Army “kill team,” and explain why for PBS:

Images of dead foreigners never seem to faze U.S. news organizations. While Rolling Stone is merely the latest to publish photos of “dead brown people” to drive page views and newsstand sales, they are not the first. Just last week, The New York Times ran photos of dead Libyan soldiers sprawled out and rotting in the sun, for example. Al Jazeera routinely shows photos of corpses in the course of their coverage of rebellions, demonstrations and war.

However, it is extraordinarily rare to see a photo gallery of dead U.S. soldiers, even though more than 5,000 have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade. Two years ago, when the Associated Press ran a photograph of a dead Marine, no less than Defense Secretary Robert Gates lambasted the news organization, at length, for the insensitivity they showed in broadcasting images of the dead Marine’s body over the objections of his family (who, understandably, were hurt by seeing his dead body in the news). I doubt anyone consulted the families of these dead Afghans to see if publishing the images of their lifeless bodies being mutilated for sport by U.S. soldiers would pain them. (In a tiny concession to this idea, the German magazine Der Spiegel blurred the faces of the dead Afghans when it ran photos of this same “kill team.”)

Andrew Exum doesn’t think I’m being totally fair here, and sees value in what Rolling Stone published. Let me know if you agree, in the comments.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 3 comments }

RainBuffalo March 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm

It is porn. But it was porn when the soldiers where making the photos. This is what happens to a broken army. In a firefight when bullets are whizzing around, a true commander has trained, competent soldiers under control or he withdraws. This activity is pathological and systematic of a much larger societal sickness in the Corporate States of America. And this is not the first time. We busted the female general in Iraq. Maybe we should have busted the brains behind Guatanamo.

I am sorry. I am so pissed. I am slobbering. My arms are flapping. And Obama is a “chump ass punk” and I voted for the man. Still would given the choices. I will just go off dancing in circles like a Whirling Dervish until sanity returns. Spit. Spit. Spit.

CE March 29, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Broadcasting the brutal, horrifying imagery of war is a principled thing to do, and laudatory. But only publishing a one-sided account is misleading and dishonest. By not showing the horrors visited upon our own soldiers in the war, Rolling Stone is failing to show the true human cost of the conflict borne by all parties involved.

This criticism doesn’t hold for the simple fact that there is probably much less material depicting American casualties than Afghan casualties. Remember, the people with the cameras and the ‘access’ are mainly American military. After a soldier wastes a ‘hajji,’ he and the members of his squad have ample time to document the aftermath, and are usually the only ones with cameras and iphones in the vicinity. Of course they’re going to take pictures and act like dumbasses.

On the other hand, when a fellow brother gets killed, or gets his nuts, legs, arms, etc. blown off, do you think they’re going to take the time to create a special photographic souvenir to commemorate the occasion? That’s just not a moment that a marine would want to immortalize for posterity. So they probably wouldn’t take any pictures, and even if they did, they would be sure to protect the privacy of their brother (and his family), and keep those to themselves.

The only people who would maybe get off on taking pictures of American casualties are the Taliban; but the way they fight, it would be really hard to pull it off a photo-shoot before the American cavalry arrives to retrieve their fallen comrades.

Point is, I don’t think it’s necessarily a case of Rolling Stone being one-sided in their lust for ‘war porn.’ For me it’s more of a supply problem.

I while back I saw an Afghanistan combat piece from TF1, a French TV outfit. It definitely shows ‘the horrors visited upon our own soldiers in the war;’ And it’s definitely brutal.

And it made me ask myself: If Brian Williams, Katie Couric, and Diane Sawyer led their nightly newscasts with this piece—what would happen? What would the American people get out of it? Would it be considered propaganda? Or would it be seen as the reality on the ground? These are rhetorical questions, of course, since the clip has a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being shown on American broadcast television.

Adam March 30, 2011 at 3:11 pm

“President Karzai calls on US citizens to be aware of the oppressions US troops commit in Afghanistan.

“I want the American people to know that the US troops are oppressing our youths and elders before their kids and wives. If there is any conscience left in the West, it should be awakened,” President Karzai said.

“It is a tragic story and reading it hurts our feelings. This crime has been committed by those soldiers who are addicted with heroin and hashish,” he further said.

Based on information found during prosecution of the team, some US soldiers killed a 15-year-old boy in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province last year.

The kill soldiers would cut off parts of the bodies of civilians they killed for sport and they would keep and exchange them as war souvenirs.”-TOLO NEWS

I know President Karzai words are a reflection of Afghans thoughts…and I am sure we can can say from visiting political functions,forums, blogs in America that there are Americans who have the same mindset of hatred towards Afghans (and others) as these kill teams(we do not see any Americans publicly protesting against such terror). NO one can name ONE Afghan who has terrorized Americans in American, but I can name Americans who have terrorized Afghans in Afghanistan- Again, Afghanistan is not an “ARAB” country, nor did any Afghan take part in the tragic events of 911. Is an Afghan life worth less than an American life? Sadly the establishment has to create an image of certain people to justify murdering or encouraging a genocide against them(i.e Afghans, particularly the Pashtuns) instead of building an understanding and tolerance among people. We have been on this journey before, we repeat history by claiming Americans superior to another- sadly reality is racism, hatred, intolerance and greed remains the norm in America.

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”-
Mahatma Gandhi

(*set aside the fact US is taking its revenge against the wrong and innocent people)

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