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Photographing War

Flashbacks de Jour

by JAMES T. PHILLIPS

Once, during previous wars in distant lands, professional photographers were the foolhardy folks who faced danger on battlefields (and in the shadowy world of guerilla warfare), shooting pictures under extremely adverse conditions, adding the vivid reality of photographs, film, and videotape to newspaper articles and television reports. Robert Capa and Larry Burrows were the best of that rare breed of photo-journalists. They were journalism’s boots on the ground, always eager to move closer to the action, shooting with cameras instead of guns, sending off dramatic images of American wars to American audiences. "If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough."(1)

Times have changed. Technological advancements in photography has certainly made it easier to shoot pictures during combat actions (and covert operations), yet ideological advances in religious warfare have made it just as easy to kill foreign’ correspondents who dare stray too far from Green Zones and hotel lobbies. Unless they are embedded with American troops, most journalists in Iraq avoid the mean streets of cities and towns, and the meaner straits of the desert. The ranks of frontline photo-journalists in Iraq are now filled with native-born, Arabic-speaking men, women, and children. Many of these brave new journalists work for major media, some of them post on web sites and blogs, and a few others don’t have a clue they are taking pictures.

Today, in Iraq, a small child pressing buttons on a cell phone is able to produce images of war that can be sent around the world faster than photo-journalists of a bygone era could lever another frame of film through their cameras. Thousands of children are snapping photographs in Iraq, documenting the ugly scenes of a never-ending war of terror. For many of these children, the images are filmed or digitalized; for others, less fortunate, the images are mental, and are being stored away, waiting for the day when the children will experience–like many Vietnam veterans did after their war in Southeast Asia–memorized madness. Flashbacks. Every day.

Many Iraqi children will incur true mental illness when horrific pictures, stuck on auto-replay, begin flitting through their minds, forcing them to relive long tours of duty as innocent victims of war. Dr Naaman Sarhan Ali of Baghdad’s Ibn Rushd Psychiatric Hospital "hasseen a hike in acute stress reactions, which include anxiety, poor sleep, nightmares and headaches. Most of these symptoms disappear within a few months, but if they persist they can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, PTSD may surface 10 to 20 years after the traumatic incident, particularly in children."(2)

The Iraq War will not end when the United States is finally forced to withdraw. Children–survivors of the carnage being inflicted upon them in the current multi-cultural, multi-religious clash–will grow up to become undiagnosed time bombs. Explosions of rage, followed by exploding bombs planted in dusty streets, or wrapped around waists, will continue to plague Iraqis. "These children will come to believe in the principles of force and violence," says Iraqi sociologist Hassan Ali. "There’s no question that society as a whole is going to feel the effects in the future".(3)

The current government of Iraq is already feeling the effect that decades of war has had on people living on the frontline. There are human time bombs–adults and children, Sunni and Shiite–going off in Iraq every day. "Some children have been recruited by insurgents to fight in Iraq [and] most child insurgents harbor reasons for revenge."(4) These children are getting an early start avenging their dead, and their targets are Americans in uniform, Americans contractors wearing civilian garb, Iraqis employed by Americans, and Iraqis who share a prophet, but differ on doctrine.

The rise and fall of Saddam Hussein, aided and abetted by the United States, engulfed the Iraqi people in wars against Iran, Kuwait, the World, George W. Bush, and themselves. Tragically, the Iraq Wars will continue after the Americans leave, regardless of whatever iron-fisted entity rules Iraq. Saddam’s Baathist Iraq failed. Bush’s democratic Iraq is failing, and a future Islamic Iraq will not be able to quench the thirst of corporations for oil, madmen for blood, photo-journalists for pictures, or children for vengeance.

Flashbacks de jour are a legacy of the Iraq Wars (1980-2006). In 2007, there will be an upsurge in memorized madness when a new generation of traumatized children begin staring out of dull eyes, watching their own private Iraq, closer to the action in Iraq than were Robert Capa and Larry Burrows in Indochina. "There is always this urge to go have a look and see what is happening, to my left, to my right, further forward. I can’t resist it."(5)

The children of Iraq can’t avoid it.

JAMES T. PHILLIPS is a freelance reporter who has covered wars in Iraq, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Kosovo. He can be contacted at jamestphillips@yahoo.com)


Notes:

(1) Robert Capa. Capa (1913-1954) and Larry Burrows (1926-1971) were killed in action. They died on battlefields in Indochina. Both men were shooting pictures for Life Magazine. Capa was blown up in the year of France’s defeat, and Burrows was shot down in the year that America began its retreat.

(2) Amal Hamdan, reporting for Al-Jazeera, March, 2004.

(3) Christian Caryl, reporting for Newsweek, January 2007.

(4) IRIN, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, November 2000.

(5) Larry Burrows, quoted by Susan Moeller in Shooting War (Basic Books, 1989).