Chapter 1 explains war as an unelimatable evil that results in a unified abhorrence.
Sontag’s first chapter of Regarding the Pain of Others begins by establishing that even though war is gendered as masculine, all moral humans have a unified hatred towards it. In taking photographs of war violence, the suffering of war is made more real to a large “we”, who are not simply those who care, but includes those who are unconcerned with war as well. Even arbitrary depictions of war, with limited information produce the same reaction, as war is generic and does not rely on identity or specific facts to produce a response of horror. To this, Sontag concludes that war is ever-present and even as we respond to photographs of war, we can only hope to ensure justice unto perpetrators, lessen the amount of death, and suggest alternatives to war when it arises in the future.
Chapter 6 explains the desire to look at suffering and violence as natural and fulfilling of human needs.
Sontag makes several points about the human desire to look at the grotesque. Repulsive images often allure us, yet this causes self-conflict as we feel morally wrong for having this desire. However, this want to look at suffering is natural. Sontag even explains how extreme suffering can be interpreted as a type of transfiguration. In answering how we should respond once we have seen a violent image, Sontag explains that indifference is a common reaction. Once the eye has gazed upon violence, if we ourselves feel safe or feel helpless to the cause, our reaction will be indifference, as the initial compassion fades without a following action. In fact, responding with sympathy is wrong, as this implies a privileged perspective towards the suffering.
Chapter 8 explains that because we are helpless, the act of watching and simply looking at suffering is an acceptable response.
This chapter begins by emphasizing the need to acknowledge that suffering exists. Even though photographs lack the ability to perfectly duplicate reality, suffering can be depicted in photos as reminders of future possibilities of violence and war. These photographs are an invitation to think about and question suffering, not simply to remember it in memory. Sontag brings up an interesting paradox in this chapter as well. She points out that it is the inability to act in response to suffering that makes us care, for this creates frustration and emphasizes the indecency of a situation. With this in mind, the passive act of watching and the nature of sight is not wrong or immoral.