"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, 2004A MINORITY OF ONE
Watching a Rape, Up CloseBy OTTO
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.
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's male
The rapist's other friends
A bartender in the neighborhood
Not a friend of the rapist
A professional moralist
The village idiot.
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:
In the Catherine Genovese tragedy I make the following correspondence: