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'War Porn' of U.S. Soldiers Posing With Afghan Bodies Must Be Shown to the Public

On Wednesday, an American soldier released 18 photos to the Los Angeles Times that showed American troops posing with body parts of insurgent victims in Afghanistan. President Obama said the incident was “reprehensible” and the Army has started a criminal investigation. Although the war in Afghanistan has largely been forgotten in recent years, these photos represent the latest “scandal” to emerge from that war. 

What really caught my eye about this story is the statement from the White House. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the publishing of these photos "could be used to incite violence against the U.S." Press Secretary Jay Carney, while criticizing the Times for publishing the photos, said he was “very disappointed.” The Times may have embarrassed the White House by publishing these photos, but the paper should be commended, not condemned, for what they did.

A similar reaction came when the Associated Press published Julie Jacobson’s photo of Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard as he was blown apart in Afghanistan. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked the AP to pull the photo (and to the AP’s credit, they didn’t). Many wanted Julian Assange’s head on a platter for the videos Wikileaks released showing Americans gunning down Iraqis in the street. Private Bradley Manning has been held in military prison for over a year and has been tortured for his role in helping Wikileaks expose the truth about war.

The Pentagon knows that if more Americans are shown the utter horror that war actually is, the less they will likely be to keep supporting it or calm in their opposition; they remember what happened here when the war in Vietnam came to TV screens every night. The media could end any of the six or seven wars tomorrow if they wanted to simply by showing actual footage of what happens after the bombs are dropped and the triggers pulled.

Stories like this may shock the average citizen, but war trophies are a casual reality of military life. While body parts like ears and fingers were considered prizes during Vietnam, today’s war trophies are what former Army Sergeant Matthis Chiroux calls “war porn.” Chiroux argues that there are much more videos and photos than we could possibly imagine, and that they must be published — by the media, by soldiers, whoever — so that Americans see the truth and a few soldiers don’t get scapegoated.

Do the soldiers deserve blame? Although we all are responsible for the actions we take, you can’t put young men into a foreign country, for tour after tour after tour, and have them not be scarred by the experience. Is it any wonder that for every U.S. soldier killed on the battlefield this year, 25 commit suicide?

The photos published in the LA Times are simply one more reason why the U.S. should get out of Afghanistan and out of the non-defensive war business in general. As the war continues, it will only be when, not if, another “war porn” report comes out. President Obama has discussed slight withdrawals and exit dates, but only in 2013 or 2014 after he would be re elected. 

In other words, Obama and his advisors are playing politics with the lives and safety of soldiers and civilians alike. The heroic soldier, who leaked the photos, and the LA Times for publishing them, are simply catching them in the act.

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