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War photos like 'tourist pics'

Gory photos of American soldiers posing with bodies of suspected Taliban insurgents resemble 'tourist photos' and represent the changing nature of war and violence, according to a leading sociologist.

Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing director Professor Kevin McDonald said rather than the work of a few "bad eggs", the photos represented significant changes in how violence and war are experienced.

"These images are aimed at friends and family, framed within a culture of souvenirs," Professor McDonald said. "As at Abu Ghraib, they involve stereotypical poses that tourists adopt at markets or in front of monuments. They capture the increasing personalisation of war, and the blurring of public duty and private pleasure."

The rise of modern armies emphasised uniforms, obedience, rationality, and the depersonalisation of violence, he said, but in a reversal of that the violence of war was now increasingly personalised.

He said this blurring of public duty and private pleasure explained the entry of stereotypical tourist practices into war zones and practices of killing.

"They alert us to a new model of war, where violence is less and less contained, but spills out into everyday life," he said.

Meanwhile it also showed the spilling over of civilian behaviour into military ranks, he said.

"These images also offer us insight into the decline of the culture of ranks, and a process that amount to the demilitarisation of armed forces today," he said.

The same process lay behind the images from Abu Ghraib, or the hundreds of images posted to websites such as Gore by US troops, where images of mutilated and dead bodies gave access to pornography.  

These still widely circulate today; with searches such as 'Cooked Iraqi' leading to a smiling group of American troops gathered around the incinerated corpse of an Iraqi soldier.

Professor McDonald said it was a further transformation of the racist dehumanisation seen during the Pacific during WWII, where body parts of Japanese soldiers took the form of souvenirs.

Kevin McDonald is author of Our Violent World by Palgrave press.

Available for interview:

Professor Kevin McDonald, Director

Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing, Victoria University

Media contact:

Michael Quin, Research Writer

Public Affairs Unit, Victoria University

(03) 9919 9491; 0431 815 409; media@vu.edu.au

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