In Chapter 1, Sontag discloses some of Woolf’s opinions on how “we” can prevent war and its inner workings. She talks about how “men make war” – war is a male killing machine, something that women do not share the same drive for or sentiments about. She also discusses how at this point no one feels that war can be abolished. This is mainly because those with the power to have a say and do something about it tend to be willfully ignorant. So over time, we have come to try and shock people into understanding through photography, cinematography, news headlines and more. Although good-willed people will have the same responses to these photos, the descriptions of them can make all the difference in how they resonate with people. Also, people are going to take the photo to align with their morals and beliefs and support the pre-existing notions they have. We fail to understand the absurdity and pain of war because we fail to imagine and empathize with the true pain and impacts inflicted on others.
In spite of how much we display and describe it, war is a male-driven machine that negates the impacts of actions through willful ignorance and a narrowed view of what the evidence of war portrays.
In Chapter 6, Sontag opens up about some of the horrors of human nature that we like to shove down and not address. We often deny that we have a desire to see cruel, detestable, and gruesome things. It goes beyond curiosity. If we truly didn’t want to see painful and tragic things, we wouldn’t look in the first place. It goes beyond “curiosity”. Our sense of reason – no don’t look at that. you know its wrong and horrific – is overwhelmed by our unworthy desire – I want to see just how much pain they are in and visualize it. We do it for different reasons. Sometimes it is to steel yourself against weakness, to make yourself number, or to simply acknowledge that this kind of suffering exists in the world. Also, Sontag talks about how as long as people feel safe, they will be indifferent to the pain of others because they have the option to disengage from it. This tends to be a product of their helplessness or fear. If they don’t feel like they can do anything or fear this becoming a reality they have to experience, then they would simply rather not see it. But to justify this doing nothing, people try to sympathize with those in pain. They try to put their daily pains and agonies into that same context. And those who do feel compassion to do something, often let that feeling wither because there is no direct course of action. Sympathy is a dangerous game to play because it is bold to assume that you can understand a type of pain you have never been in. It disregards the reality that your privilege and their pain do not exist on the same playing field but definitely have a relationship with one another.
People have an unspoken desire to see visualize the pain of others, though they do not possess the long term desire to act and fix it, for it means sacrificing their comfort and livelihood for the life of someone they can only imagine.
In Chapter 8, Sontag sheds light on the idea that after some point in time with the constant influx of media – and frankly reality itself – people can no longer be shocked by the pain human beings cause one another. To be willfully ignorant or institute some kind of amnesia is not something people have the right to. Not only are they disillusioned, but they are part of the greater issue that often prevents us from dealing with the atrocities of war. We need to remember the pain we see and the impacts it is having on people. We can no longer choose blissful unawareness. Although, over time collective long-term history can change the nature of remembering and make it a bit faulty and gloss over some of the details that made it so gruesome in the first place. Sontag also discusses how suffering needs to have some kind of audience to be recognized and validated. The issue arises when the audience doesn’t want to participate and watch and would rather complain about being required to watch than dealing with the actual issue of pain at hand. “If we can do something about what the images show, we might not care so much about the issue.” People will argue that nobody has the right to experience and visualize the suffering of others at a distance, but Sontag says there is nothing wrong with standing back and thinking about what you see. Whether you see it in person or captured in a photograph, you are still seeing it. Your sight can be turned on and off at will and requires you to be a bystander in both situations. Sontag finishes by saying “Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time.”
At some point people cannot be disillusioned and ignorant of the pain of others, nor can they simply dismiss its existence and ignore the issue by complaining about the means and ethics of its presentation.