Susan Sontag, Ch. 1, 6, 8- Lauren Meyers

Chapter 1: Photographs of atrocities do not only vivify the condemnation of war but, when politics are involved, also inspire calls for revenge, feelings of heroism, etc. 

Sontag begins with a critique on Woolf’s idea that men and women have different views of war. She states that we should rather study the phenomenon that different artifacts lead people to draw different conclusions regarding war. Gruesome depictions in photographs can yes, lead to an abhorrence of war for viewers (as Woolf acknowledges), but also inspire thoughts of revenge or courage or an appraisal of heroic action within viewers. The destructiveness of war cannot be used as an argument against war unless one believes that violence is unjustifiable. We should remember that the photographer only captures what he/she wants to be seen. Sontag also reminds us that no amount of horror could be made vivid enough to make people stop war altogether.

Chapter 6: Our interest in images of suffering leads us to believe that we are innocent and compassionate, but this is not necessarily true.

People are drawn to sights of pain and mutilation. In viewing the misfortunes of others, we make ourselves more numb and indifferent to atrocities. Whenever we are in a position of safety, we are indifferent to the struggles of others. We are simply glad that we are not in their position. Our unwillingness to act on our supposed compassion for people in photographs is caused by our feelings of helplessness and fear. When we feel sympathy, we believe that we are innocent and not responsible for others’ agony. However, our privileges are linked to their suffering in more ways than we would like to acknowledge. 

Chapter 8: Rather than remembering every account of violence in human history, we should simply think, for it is difficult for us to commit atrocities when we are aware. 

We must be aware of the fact that humans all around the world cause suffering. To remain blind to this fact is to remain ignorant. Memory is important in that it connects us with the dead. However, we are able to make peace by forgetting, and a faulty memory can lead us to reconciliation. We do not have the capacity to remember every instance of evil. Rather, we should understand that humans everywhere do terrible things, and these photographs remind us of this fact. Due to improved means of communication, some may have the impression that there is more violence now than there once was, but this is probably an illusion. Since we have so many things to look at, it makes sense that we turn away when we see gruesome images, and we should not shame ourselves for doing this.

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