The Ironical Chronicle

"Every person and every social group is to a greater or lesser extent blind to many of the injustices of its time, because its own culture and education, supporting a particular way of life, represents embedded and distinctive features of this way of life as unavoidable features of human life in general," Stuart Hampshire, Innocence and Experience, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989.

May 10, 2004

Watching a Rape, Up Close


W first became aware of the direct evidence of depravity on the part of the military forces attempting to suppress the Iraqi resistance when I read a story which had appeared in an English newspaper several weeks ago. The story quoted an English woman who ran a one-hour photofinishing shop.

She said an English soldier, on leave from duty in Iraq, had dropped off some film for developing and printing. In the process of printing the negatives she saw, interspersed with the usual pictures that a tourist might take in a foreign land, images which shocked her. Her shock was so great that she called the police. The soldier was identified when he came to pick up his pictures and the police began an investigation.

Then CBS, who initially accommodated the Pentagon in suppressing the story, but whose scoop was about to be turned into last winter's snow by the New Yorker magazine, aired what they had on 60 Minutes. Almost simultaneously, the New Yorker posted the story by Seymour Hersh on its website to circumvent the inevitable delay in getting the story in print. Hersh's web-posted story came complete with the now infamous pictures.

Since first seeing these pictures, I have been struggling to integrate them into my perception of the world. Normally, this process of integration is nearly instantaneous as, for example, are the events described in the following excerpts taken from a Berlin newspaper published on February 19, 2004.

The [London] tabloid newspaper The Sun published [on February 18, 2004] an account of an ordinary soldier from Blair's occupation forces in southern Iraq in which he said that he and his comrades were unable to sleep at night because of the screams of the prisoners. "It was like a baby crying, except a thousand times louder and mixed with pain, rage, and torment," said the soldier describing his own experience. The Sun kept the name of its informant secret because British soldiers are not permitted to speak with the Press without permission.

After a night in which the screams were unusually loud, the soldier and some of his friends went to the cell block. There, crouched in a 9 by 9 foot cell, were 9 Iraqi prisoners with sacks over their heads in a so-called "stress position." That means they had to continuously hold their hands over their heads or to kneel on the floor with their heads against the wall. "They had to remain in this position until they could no longer stand it and they fell over," said the soldier. Then they were kicked or beaten by the guards to force them into another "stress position" which they again had to maintain until they began to groan. Being thus "prepared," they were individually taken away for interrogation. "Then they were really beaten. Some of the soldiers who just happened to be passing by kicked them in the stomach or hit them with their fists. It was a quick bang... bang... bang... punch... bang. The groaning, the whimpering and screams never stopped. And the prisoners begged, 'Please stop. Please stop.'" These assaults lasted all day and until late at night and they continued the next day.

As horrible as this description is, it's instantly integratable.

The images from the Abu Ghraib prison are not.

Piles of nude male prisoners, a prisoner with electrodes attached to his body standing on a box, a young woman soldier gleefully pointing to a nude prisoner's genitalia, all the prisoners with sacks over their heads: These images are different. They don't fit anywhere. Until yesterday.

In analogy with the directory structure on my computer, I have a thought category called Rape and I know what sorts of things get filed there. But the Abu Ghraib images don't fit the criteria. What I realized yesterday is that I needed a sub-category called Rape, Close Up.

This is the key to integrating the non-integratable.

An entire nation is being raped by a powerful brute. The media have been showing us the pictures from a zoomed out perspective that shows us both the rapist and his victim since March 19, 2003. On May 1, 2004, they zoomed in. And the shock is palpable because no one but a rapist has ever seen a rape this close up.

Let's develop the analogy.

Besides the rapist and his victim, there are bystanders who, prior to the crime, are an undifferentiated mass. The crime, by their reactions to it, differentiates them.

The rapist
He has an image of an American flag imprinted on the back of his leather jacket. Tattoos on his arms announce, "Death before Dishonor," and "Mom." The rear bumper of his pick-up truck has a sticker which says, "Support Your Local Police," and in its back window he has an image of the Confederate flag. Bragging, he prepared the crowd for the rape by saying, "It will do the b---- good. She needs a good f------. She'll thank me after its over."

The rapist's male friends
Members of the rapist's gang, they are identifiable as such by the imprint on their jackets. Expectantly awaiting their turn, they chant, over and over, "It will do the b---- good. She needs a good f------. She'll thank us when its over."

The rapist's other friends
Females, not members of the gang, whisper to each other, "She should never have worn that provocative dress. She was just asking for it. She deserves what she got."

A bartender in the neighborhood bar
Not one of the gang, but coveting its business, he says, "We must find a way to get this incident behind us!"

Not a friend of the rapist
"I wish there was something I could do to help her!"

A professional moralist
The moralist, overhearing the non-friend, says, "That's treason. Don't you see the American flag on his back?"

The village idiot.
"Notify the UN!"

Catherine Genovese, aged 19, raped and murdered in Queens, New York City, on March 13, 1964. 38 people who could have helped her failed to do so.

If this analogy sounds far fetched, I will cite an incident which suggests that it is not.

On March 13, 1964, a 19 year old woman named Catherine Genovese, living in the borough of Queens in New York City, was returning by car to her apartment from work at about 3:15 AM. She parked her car about 20 feet from the entrance to her apartment building.

As she walked that short distance she was accosted by a man. She attempted unsuccessfully to evade him and he stabbed her. Her screams were heard by neighbors, one of whom shouted at the assailant who then ran to his car and drove away.

He returned about 5 minutes later and, following his victim's trail of blood, found her in the hallway of her building. He then raped her, robbed her, and finally stabbed her to death.

The entire incident lasted about 30 minutes.

No one came to the victim's aid although 38 people were aware of what was happening.

A comment on the unidentified characters in the analogy:

  • The rapist is the United States of America.
  • The non-friend of the rapist is myself.
  • The moralist is a private person whose privacy I respect.
  • The village idiot is John Kerry.

In the Catherine Genovese tragedy I make the following correspondence:

  • Catherine Genovese is Iraq.
  • The initial non-fatal assault represents Gulf War I
  • The final assault represents Gulf War II
  • The 38 people who failed to help Catherine are the nations of the world minus the members of the so-called Operation Iraqi Freedom Coalition.
  • For the rapist, see above.