War Isn’t a Fun Parade
Mouse wielding warriors are baying for war, but social media also makes its effects very real.
In January 2016, the organisation Reporters Without Borders put up a one minute video clip that starts off with a romanticised montage of military parades from around the world – men and women in spanking uniforms stomping away even as warplanes and tanks rumble past and missiles are put on display as proud possessions. It all looks like one big fun party as political leaders and army generals look puffed with pride while presiding over a show of power and strength.
But then ten words flicker on the screen – “Without independent reporters, war would just be a nice show.” It is followed by disturbing images of the ugly side of war – a father and his young son sitting, hunched and defeated, by the grave of a loved one; the shattered face of a young black boy barely held together amid the scars and stitches which makes you wonder what he will grow up to be; skeletons in a mass grave; bodies of men and women dumped in the back of a truck like animal carcasses… The remains of war do not make for pretty pictures. And no one knows this better than war photographers, some of whom have been elevated to the status of pacifists because their images have shown war shorn of its romanticism and contributed substantially to anti-war movements.
American writer and intellectual Susan Sontag paid rich tributes to war photographers in her well-known essays, ‘On photography’ when she wrote, “Photographs like the one that made the front page of most newspapers in the world in 1972 – a naked South Vietnamese child just sprayed with American napalm, running down the highway toward the camera, her arms open, screaming with pain – probably did more to increase the public revulsion against the war than a hundred hours of televised barbarities.”
It is not surprising, therefore, that #SayNoToWar started trending on Twitter within hours of videos of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman being attacked by a mob in Pakistan appearing on social media. The hashtag trended even as cries of a full-scale war got shriller. Soon, widows of some of our martyred security personnel spoke out against war, perhaps because they experienced its mindlessness first-hand.
The impact and influence of the videos that Pakistanis put out of Wing Commander Abhinandan should not be undervalued in encouraging the voices of sanity to not remain silent amid the social media war cry for full-on war between two nuclear powers. This is especially true when you consider that we Indians have been fed a staple of army parades every year on January 26. We have almost never seen a war at close quarters because images from the battlefield have never been shared with us. We have almost never been confronted with images of what today’s high-impact war machines can do to the human body.
Those sceptics, who doubt the power of a gruesome or painful image in influencing public opinion should recall two names – Alan Kurdi and Omron Daqneesh. The two names may not immediately ring a bell, but Alan was
the three-year-old Kurdish boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015 and whose body washed ashore in Turkey. The photograph of his body slumped on the beach face down, made international headlines and led to a global effort (however briefly) of helping Syrian refugees fleeing the war in their country.
One year later Omran, another Syrian boy from Aleppo, made international headlines after his house was bombed by Russian jets. He was filmed dazed and bloodied, sitting at the back of an ambulance, stoically wiping the blood off his face. He became the symbol of the plight of ordinary people in war.
In 2017, Omran reappeared on Syrian TV channels looking happier and healthier and his family giving statements supporting the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria. The very fact that the Syrian government had to use a five-year-old boy for propaganda is an indication of what damage his image in the ambulance had caused the mighty Syrian government.
India, like many other countries, has not allowed journalists to accompany soldiers to the war front, as a result of which the narrative is strictly controlled. The only real battle that was telecast live into people’s drawing rooms was the Kargil conflict. But even there, the messaging was in the hands of the government. Google ‘Kargil war’ and most images that will appear on your screens will be that of Indian soldiers hosting the tricolour on mountaintops and Bofors booming in the valleys.
But governments will find it increasingly difficult to control the narrative of war in the future. A big challenge will be the omnipresence of high definition cameras – a large percentage of civilians have one in their pocket and they will not hesitate to aim it at the most violent acts and immediately upload it on the internet. The acts of war will be out there for everyone to see in their rawest form before spin doctors can shape them.
Besides, given the quality of cameras, images of action are no longer blurred and in black and white where one can barely make out the outline of fighting men. Today’s images are sharp and in colour, allowing the viewer to study in depth the wound of a soldier whose face has been blown up by shrapnel if he chooses to. Blood is no longer a black trickle, trailing behind a dead body in a flat two-dimensional photograph. It is dark red. It is hair raising. It is very real.
Courtesy: Times of India (National)
- Bay (verb): Meaning: (of a group of people) shout loudly, typically to demand something. (शोर मचाना ,माांग करना)
Synonyms: Yell, Shriek, Clamour, Scream, Urge
Antonyms: Be Quite
Example: The referee’s decision left the crowd baying for blood.
- Shatter (Verb): Meaning: upset (someone) greatly; break or cause to break suddenly and violently into pieces. (तबाह करना, चकनाचूर करना)
Synonyms: Traumatize, Devastate, Demolish, Dilapidate
Antonyms: Mend, Restore, Fabricate
Example: What he said made her shatter.
- Elevate (Verb): Meaning: raise to a more important or impressive level; raise or lift (something) to a higher position. (ऊपर उठाना, उन्नत करना)
Synonyms: Sublimate, Hoist, Ennoble, Glorify
Antonyms: Demote, Degrade, Depress
Example: They want to elevate the status of teachers.
- Revulsion (Noun): Meaning: a sense of disgust and loathing; (घृणा)
Synonyms: Repugnance, Nausea, Odium, Abomination
Antonyms: Fondness, Fascination, Propensity
Example: Most people viewed the bombings with revulsion.
- Shrill (Adjective): Meaning: (of a voice or sound) high-pitched and piercing; (कणणवेधी, तेज़)
Synonyms: Strident, Acute, Piping, Skirl, Screech
Antonyms: Dulcet, Melodious, Euphonious
Example: As Sophie became angry her voice got shriller.
- Gruesome (Adjective): Meaning: causing repulsion or horror; grisly. (भीषण, भयानक)
Synonyms: Horrid, Ghastly, Repellent, Dire, Macabre
Antonyms: Delectable, Soothing, Enticing, Alluring
Example: After the slaughter, the battlefield was a gruesome sight.
- Slump (Verb): Meaning: sit, lean, or fall heavily and limply (गगर पड़ना)
Synonyms: Slouch, Tumble, Sag
Example: She slumped on his shoulder and burst into tears.
- Plight (Noun): Meaning: a dangerous, difficult, or otherwise unfortunate situation. (दुदणशा)
Synonyms: Predicament, Fix, Extremity, Dilemma, Dire Straits, Quandary
Antonyms: Boon, Miracle
Example: The plight of starving people is too awful to think about.
- Sanity (Noun): Meaning: the ability to think and behave in a normal and rational manner; sound mental health. (गथिरबुगिता, अक़्लमांदी)
Synonyms: Rationality, Prudence, Discretion, Sapience
Antonyms: Lunacy, Dementia, Insanity, Gowk
Example: He pleads for sanity in a lunatic world.
- Barbarity (Noun): Meaning: extreme cruelty or brutality. (क्रूरता, बबणरता)
Synonyms: Savagery, Atrocity, Ferocity, Flagitiousness
Antonyms: Benignity, Clemency, Leniency, Compassion
Example: Rebellions were put down with appalling barbarity.