Chapter 1: Images of war cause a reaction that is dependent upon preconceived notions of the specific conflict.
Sontag begins her book by introducing Virginia Woolf’s idea that the images of war cause a repulsion from violent conflict. In Woolf’s essay directed towards a lawyer, she argues that men are naturally more prone to resolving differences with war, proving this by displaying an array of images of the effects of war. Sontag refutes this point, saying that the pictures can actually strengthen the beckoning of revenge if the viewer sees the pictures as actions of the enemy. Even if the images display damage caused by one’s own side, Sontag argues that the images won’t have any impact in diffusing the militant perspective as they will be rejected or contorted into an argument for retaliation.
Chapter 6: The feelings of sympathy caused by viewing images of war only distance us further from the conflict, justifying inaction with knowledge of the conflict.
Sontag opens this chapter by depicting a natural human curiosity directed at understanding or seeing the suffering of others. She argues that this desire is more deeply rooted in an unconscious drive to have feelings of sympathy for the sufferers. If sympathy is achieved, then it is just for us to do nothing because we feel morally accomplished in having sympathy for the sufferers.
Chapter 8: The dissemination of photos depicting atrocities is a good thing because it reminds us of the innate evil in humans and teaches us how to avoid it.
There is a fine balance to be struck in the frequency at which we view photos of violence. On the one hand, viewing the violence allows us to understand the evil inherent in human nature, allowing us a window into the pain and suffering that occurs out of our direct sight. On the other hand, constant viewing can lead to a skewed, depressing perception of the atrocities. Sontag challenges us to be critical in our viewing and understanding of the photos.