Body and Soul has an insightful and disturbing post today about a piece in the Los Angeles Times (reg required), chronicling the phenomena of home-made war movies compiled by soldiers in Iraq and how they're playing back home. From the Times:
When Pfc. Chase McCollough went home on leave in November, he brought a movie made by fellow soldiers in Iraq. On his first night back at his parents' house in Texas, he showed the video to his fiancee, family and friends.
This is what they saw: a handful of American soldiers filmed through the green haze of night-vision goggles. Radio communication between two soldiers crackles in the background before it's drowned out by a heavy-metal soundtrack.
"Don't need your forgiveness," the song by the band Dope begins as images unfurl: armed soldiers posing in front of Bradley fighting vehicles, two women covered in black abayas walking along a dusty road, a blue-domed mosque, a poster of radical cleric Muqtada Sadr. Then, to the fast, hard beat of the music - "Die, don't need your resistance. Die, don't need your prayers" - charred, decapitated and bloody corpses fill the screen.
"It's like a trophy, something to keep," McCullough, 20, said back at his cramped living quarters at Camp Warhorse near Baqubah. "I was there. I did this."
As Body & Soul observes, the interesting part isn't that soldiers are desensitized to such horrors after having been through a tour of duty -- it's how the home audience responds. In B&S's words, "the families are shocked to see a piece of war that CNN forgot to show them:"
McCullough was surprised that his favorite video was disturbing to his loved ones back in Texas.
"You find out just how weird it is when you take it home," said McCullough, whose screensaver is far more benign, showing him on his wedding day.
Brandi McCullough, then his fiancee and now his wife, said she had walked in as he was showing the videos to friends who were "whooping and hollering."
The 18-year-old was shocked by images of "body parts missing, bombs going off and people getting shot."
"They're terrifying," she said by phone from Texas. "Chase never talked about anything over there, and I watch the news, but not all the time. I didn't realize there was that much" violence.
The Times story makes a point that this isn't an isolated phenomena:
"I have a lot of pictures of dead Iraqis - everybody does," said Spc. Jack Benson, 22, also stationed near Baqubah. He has collected five videos by other soldiers and is working on his own. ...
In another video, made by members of the Florida National Guard, soldiers are shown kicking a wounded prisoner in the face and making the arm of a corpse appear to wave.
And then there are are the hucksters eager to turn a buck:
Several websites sell footage from the war.
"Militants fight in the streets of Baghdad, looting, lawlessness," is how clips are advertised on efootage.com. A Las Vegas-based company, Gotfootage.com, offers $50 and $100 clips that include older footage of Saddam Hussein, Jessica Lynch, aerial bombardment and "sooooo many bombs." The site also advertises video showing an Iraqi fuel truck being destroyed by U.S. bombs during the invasion in March 2003.
Another website advertises, "GrouchyMedia.com is the place to find those pump-you-up-to-kill-the-bad-guys videos everyone has been talking about."
It's all part of the innevitable and destructive fallout of war, one of the "hidden costs" that military hawks and the media don't like to talk about, but which predictably and quietly wreaks havoc in countless communities across the country.
But it's the need to package and sell the experience -- and the fact that there's a willing market of debased armchair warriors willing to pay for it -- that tells the most about our war culture today.