In my first year as a war studies student I did a topic in one of my history modules on total war. The basic notion of total war is that it does not discriminate between combatant and civilian as all are engaged in its prosecution. To this end all weapons and devices of belligerents are to be used ruthlessly destroy their enemy. This is hideous and brutal, images of nuclear bombs and chemical weapons are conjured.
To see the effects that these can have of man is terrifying. All this has been desensitised and diluted by a media that presents these horrors in a more sterile manner. Total war scares people; the public do not want their homes to be bombed or to cause genocide. Without the prefix ‘total’, war is still a highly emotive word that for millennia has forebode slaughter, pain and anguish. For politicians today war is another one of those words they avoid. Instead we are fed more palatable phases such as military action or counter-insurgency. This is Orwellian speak, another is ‘collateral damage’, it’s something you can put on an insurance claim form and wouldn’t sound out of place. What it really means is that innocent civilians have been killed!
Occasionally something so abhorrent makes its way into the public domain as to remind one of the true brutalities of war. One recent example saw American troops prosecuted for urinating on dead Afghans. This is just one incident lost amongst all the other atrocities carried out throughout the centuries, so why do we act surprised when it happens? During the first crusade knights reported that when they captured Jerusalem they massacred to such an extent that at times they were wading knee deep in blood, they returned home heroes. You may say times have changed, the repulsion to centuries of killing has moderated war or that fear of mutual destruction has limited their scope and scale. But this just means people are not being killed or mutilated in the numbers they could be. There are tragedies that occur every day, when a car bomb goes off in Iraq or some idiots decide to urinate on a pile of bodies it is only when we see the images that there is an outcry. Hearing or reading what has happened tempers our judgement; it is when we see things that we tend to react. When a picture is spread across the internet action is taken, the authorities say the same old “this is untypical of our soldiers” … “it is not our values” etc. Eventually everything moves on and we soon forget. We don’t ask what would have happened if a picture had not been revealed or what happens when cameras are not about.
This is a reminder that wars do exist. It shouldn’t be ignored, tucked away and forgotten. Where has the news surrounding Afghanistan disappeared to? Why does it tend not to be reported as much? Because it is unpopular, so we don’t hear about it. We tend to only hear what others want us to. When we see something authorities don’t want us to know it is swiftly swept under the carpet. We shouldn’t be surprised by horrors, they happen.