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Visual regimes and the politics of war experience: Rewriting war ‘from above’ in WikiLeaks’ ‘Collateral Murder’

  • Joanna Tidy (a1)
Abstract

War experiences are a material of political currency, invoked, appropriated, and ‘written’ in particular configurations to sustain, complicate, and contest narratives about war. This occurs through and within the same relations of power that are intrinsic to the conduct of war as war-experiencing subjects comprise a political vocabulary of selves and others that populate and operate within war’s wider social (re)production. To track these power relations and consider implications for how dominant accounts of war can be complicated and contested, the article is grounded in an analysis of the visual regimes at work in footage, photographs, and testimony relating to the shooting of a group of people by an American Apache helicopter in Baghdad, Iraq in 2007. The event was publicised on a dedicated website and dubbed ‘Collateral Murder’ by WikiLeaks in 2010. Analysis of the website reveals how visual modes and the experiences of war subjects accompany each other, revealing war in contrasting locations of sight and violence: the ‘view from above’, the ‘view from below’, and the view of the ‘on-the-ground’ soldier eyewitness. Taken together these discursively produce ‘Collateral Murder’ and contest the dominance of war known through the experience of those who wage it ‘from above’.

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Corresponding author
*Correspondence to: Dr Joanna Tidy, School of Sociology, Politics & International Studies (SPAIS), University of Bristol, 11 Priory Road, Bristol, BS8 1TU, UK. Author’s email: Joanna.tidy@bristol.ac.uk
References
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1 With thanks to the anonymous reviewer who helped me clarify my argument in these terms.

2 WikiLeaks, ‘Collateral Murder’, available at: {http://www.collateralmurder.com} accessed 6 April 2015. For the purposes of this analysis I have taken the various pages of this website as a single ‘text’, the various elements within which are analysed to demonstrate the production of the footage it represents as ‘collateral murder’.

3 Pugliese, J., ‘Asymmetries of terror: Visual regimes of racial profiling and the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in the context of the war in Iraq’, Borderlands, 5:1 (2006), p. 7 .

4 Hooper-Greenhill, E., Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 14 .

5 Spies-Butcher, B., Paton, J., and Cahill, D., Market Society: History, Theory, Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2012), pp. 224225 ; Brooke, H., The Revolution Will be Digitised: Dispatches from the Information War (London: Cornerstone Digital, 2011).

6 Brooke, The Revolution Will be Digitised, p. 91.

7 Assange is also quoted to this effect in R. Khatchadourian, ‘A reporter at large: No secrets, Julian Assange’s mission for total transparency’, The New Yorker (7 June 2010), available at: {http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/06/07/100607fa_fact_khatchadourian} accessed 6 April 2015.

8 WikiLeaks, ‘Collateral Murder’.

9 D. Matless, quoted in Adey, P., Whitehead, M., and Williams, A. J., ‘Introduction: Visual culture and verticality’, in P. Adey, M. Whitehead, and A. J. Williams (eds), From Above: War, Violence, and Verticality (London: Hurst, 2013), pp. 118 (p. 2).

10 Sylvester, C., ‘War experiences/war practices/war theory’, Millennium-Journal of International Studies, 40:3 (2012), pp. 483503 (p. 483).

11 Grondin, D., ‘The other spaces of war: War beyond the battlefield in the war on terror’, Geopolitics, 16:2 (2011), pp. 253279 (p. 257).

12 Hughes, R., ‘Through the looking blast: Geopolitics and visual culture’, Geography Compass, 1:5 (2007), pp. 976994 (p. 979).

13 Bal, M., ‘Visual essentialism and the object of visual culture’, Journal of Visual Culture, 2:1 (2003), pp. 532 (p. 9).

14 Derian, J. Der, Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network (2nd edn, New York and London: Routledge, 2009), p. 238 .

15 C. Sylvester, ‘War experiences/war practices/war theory’; Sylvester, C., ‘Experiencing war: a challenge for International Relations’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 26:4 (2013), pp. 669674 ; Parashar, S., ‘What wars and “war bodies” know about International Relations’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 26:4 (2013), pp. 615630 ; see also McSorley, K. (ed.), War and the Body: Militarisation, Practice and Experience (London: Routledge, 2012).

16 Barkawi, T. and Brighton, S., ‘Powers of war: Fighting, knowledge, and critique’, International Political Sociology, 5:2 (2011), pp. 126143 (p. 126); see also Brighton, S., ‘War/truth: Foucault, Heraclitus and the hoplite Homer’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 26:4 (2013), pp. 651668 .

17 Sylvester, ‘Experiencing war’, p. 670.

18 Parashar ‘What wars and “war bodies” know’, p. 618.

19 Sylvester, C. (ed.), Experiencing War (London: Routledge, 2010), p. 1 .

20 McSorley (ed.), War and the Body.

21 Dyvic, S. L., Gendering Counterinsurgency: Performativity and Embodiment in the Afghan ‘Theatre of War’ (London: Routledge, forthcoming).

22 Ryan, C., Bodies, Power and Resistance in the Middle East: Experiences of Subjectification in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (London: Routledge, 2016).

23 Parashar, ‘What wars and “war bodies” know’, p. 628.

24 Pin-Fat, V. and Stern, M., ‘The scripting of Private Jessica Lynch: Biopolitics, gender, and the “feminization” of the US Military’, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 30:1 (2005), pp. 2553 .

25 Åhäll, L., ‘Motherhood, myth and gendered agency in political violence’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 14:1 (2012a), pp. 103120 (p. 105); Åhäll, L., ‘The writing of heroines: Motherhood and female agency in political violence’, Security Dialogue, 43:4 (2012b), pp. 287303 (p. 290).

26 Hughes, ‘Through the looking blast’, p. 978.

27 Pugliese, ‘Asymmetries of terror’, p. 7.

28 Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture, p. 14.

29 Mirzeoff, N., ‘Introduction to part one’, in N. Mirzeoff (ed.), The Visual Culture Reader (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), pp. 5359 (p. 55).

30 Hughes, ‘Through the looking blast’, p. 985.

31 Adey, P., Whitehead, M., and Williams, A. J., ‘Introduction: Visual culture and verticality’, pp. 118 (p. 2).

32 Campbell, D. and Power, M., ‘The scopic regime of Africa’, Observant States: Geopolitics and Visual Culture (2010), pp. 167195 (p. 171).

33 Rose, G., Visual Methodologies: an Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials (London and Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2012), pp. 173185 ; D. Campbell and M. Power, ‘The scopic regime of Africa’, p. 170.

34 Howarth, D., Discourse (Buckingham: Open University Press, 2000), p. 8 ; Campbell and Power, ‘The scopic regime of Africa’, p. 170.

35 Rose, Visual Methodologies, p. 173.

36 Adey, P., Whitehead, M., and Williams, A. J., ‘Introduction: Air-target distance, reach and the politics of verticality’, Theory, Culture & Society, 28:7–8 (2011), pp. 173187 (p. 175).

37 Adey, Whitehead, and Williams, ‘Introduction: Visual culture and verticality’, pp. 1–2.

38 Adey, Whitehead, and Williams, ‘Introduction: Air-target distance’, p. 174.

39 Zehfuss, M., ‘Targeting: Precision and the production of ethics’, European Journal of International Relations, 17:3 (2011), pp. 543566 .

40 The Guardian, ‘Bradley Manning’s personal statement to court martial: Full text’, The Guardian (1 March 2013), available at: {http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/01/bradley-manning-wikileaks-statement-full-text}.

41 Roger, N., ‘Abu Ghraib abuse images: From perverse war trophies through Internet-based porn to artistic representations and beyond’, in N. Billias and L. Praeg (eds), Creating Destruction: Constructing Images of Violence and Genocide (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2011), p. 127 ; M. Glaser, ‘Porn site offers soldiers free access in exchange for photos of dead Iraqis’, USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review (9 September 2005), University of California School for Communication and Journalism.

42 I explore the politics of war as experience in this context elsewhere, see Tidy, J., ‘The gender politics of “ground truth” in the military dissent movement: the power and limits of authenticity claims regarding war’, International Political Sociology, 10:2 (2016), pp. xx ; also Anden-Popadopoulos, K., ‘Body horror on the Internet: US soldiers recording the war in Iraq and Afghanistan’, Media Culture Society, 31:6 (2009), pp. 921938 ; Kennedy, L., ‘Soldier photography: Visualising the war in Iraq’, Review of International Studies, 35:4 (2009), pp. 817833 ; Muller, B. J., Measor, J. H., ‘“Theatres of war”: Visual technologies and identities in the Iraq Wars’, Geopolitics, 16:2 (2011), pp. 389409 .

43 Matless, quoted in Adey, Whitehead, and Williams, ‘Introduction: Visual culture and verticality’, p. 2.

44 Gregory, D., ‘From a view to a kill drones and late modern war’, Theory, Culture & Society, 28:7–8 (2011), pp. 188215 .

45 R. Adams, ‘Wikileaks: Reaction to the Collateral Murder video’, The Guardian (8 April 2010), available at: {http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/richard-adams-blog/2010/apr/08/wikileaks-collateral-murder-video-iraq} accessed 7 April 2015.

46 Barrett, F. J., ‘The organizational construction of hegemonic masculinity: the case of the US Navy’, Gender, Work & Organization, 3:3 (1996), pp. 129142 .

47 It was not unusual for ‘insurgents’ to film operations, so even a camera might not be considered an unambiguously civilian signifier. See Brachman, J. M., ‘High-tech terror: Al-Qaeda’s use of new technology’, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, 30:2 (2006), pp. 149164 (p. 155); Farwell, J. P., ‘Jihadi video in the “war of ideas”’, Survival, 52:6 (2011), pp. 127150 .

48 Although see Fox News, ‘Military raises questions about leaked Iraq shooting video’, Fox News (7 April 2010), available at: {http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/04/07/military-raises-questions-credibility-leaked-iraq-shooting-video/} last accessed 7 April 2015.

49 Iraq Veterans Against the War, ‘Veteran of “Collateral Murder” company speaks out’, IVAW, available at: {http://www.ivaw.org/node/5919} accessed 7 April 2015.

50 K. Zetter, ‘U.S. soldier on 2007 Apache attack: What I saw’, Wired (20 April 2010), available at: {http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/04/2007-iraq-apache-attack-as-seen-from-the-ground/}, accessed 7 April 2015.

51 Ibid.

52 Courage to Resist, ‘Letter of reconciliation and responsibility to the Iraqi People’, Courage to Resist (2010), available at: {http://www.couragetoresist.org/news/838-letter-of-reconciliation-and-responsibility-to-the-iraqi-people.html} accessed 7 April 2015.

53 Tidy, ‘The gender politics of ground truth’.

54 World Socialist Website, ‘US soldier in WikiLeaks massacre video: “I relive this every day”’, WSW (2010), available at: {http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/apr2010/emcc-a28.shtml} accessed 7 April 2015.

55 Zetter, ‘U.S. soldier on 2007 Apache attack’.

56 Fox News, ‘Military raises questions about leaked Iraq shooting video’.

57 For example Zetter, ‘U.S. soldier on 2007 Apache attack’.

58 Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox [Blog], ‘Transcript of interview with Ethan McCord’ (2010), available at: {http://cindysheehanssoapbox.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/transcript-of-interview-with-ethan.html}, accessed 7 April 2015; Zetter, ‘U.S. soldier on 2007 Apache attack’.

59 Zetter, ‘U.S. soldier on 2007 Apache attack’.

60 Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox, ‘Transcript of interview with Ethan McCord’; see also Mark, D., ‘Soldiers in “Collateral Murder” video apologise’, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (29 April 2010), available at: {http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2010/s2886429.htm} accessed 7 April 2015.

61 Anden-Papadopoulos, ‘Body horror on the Internet’, p. 20.

62 Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox, ‘Transcript of interview with Ethan McCord’.

63 Fox News, ‘Military raises questions about leaked Iraq shooting video’.

64 Parashar, ‘What wars and “war bodies” know’, p. 618.

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