Tag Archives: solider posing with corpse

Hand On My Shoulder, I See Dead People: GIs in Afghanistan Posing with Corpses

20 Apr

“As objects of contemplation, images of the atrocious can answer to several different needs. To steel oneself against weakness. To make oneself more numb. To acknowledge the existence of the incorrigible. ”
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

PLAYING WITH DOLLS. Los Angeles – 4/19/2012

I’ll never forget seeing the stacking. The pyramid of people. Man on man, all aces, the sadist’s cards, and we all fall down.

All told, Abu Ghraib is old news.

Then again, what news is new when it comes to war. Variations on a theme.

Some people do the dying, some people do the killing, and some are stuck in between. Stuck in a stack. Stack of parts: of people and their remains, of photos and the roles we play.

Yesterday I read in The New York Times that the LA Times published some photos of GI’s in Afghanistan. The GI’s? They been posing for photos with dead people. And the US officials? They be asking the LA Times not to publish the photographs. So give them a hand for publishing the photos. Yeah, give the LA Times a hand – dead hand on the shoulder. Give them a pat on the back with a dead hand. Give it to them, since they gave it to us.

Oh and the soldiers? Come on man, they just messing around with their newfound dead dolls. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in the house. Afghanistan. 82nd Airborne’s Fourth Brigade Combat Team from Fort Bragg, N.C. Can’t anyone lighten up around here? Jesus. We’re just playing around.


War has it’s own version of the carnivalesque. All fool’s day. Puppet playing. Here, the actors become directors, the pawns become kings. And here is the snapshot of trauma: A solider looks to the side smiling. In the background is a dead man. Someone ‘s put the dead man’s hand on this soldier’s shoulder. And someone took a photograph.

It’s a pinched smile. Yeah, something’s pinched a nerve.

We’ll take a photo and we’ll post it on FB! We were here. See, this is when we were at war and I stayed alive and my friend, I killed him. But it’s all good, he’s got his hand on my shoulder. Yeah, he’s got my back. Get it?!

That’s not exactly what happened. These guys are paratroopers. They were told to find the remains and get fingerprints of an insurgent suicide bomber. They totally found their Disneyland destination in the middle of hell. And hell, they decided to grab a photo with Mickey, or whatever his fucking name was.

A souvenir of sorts.

The evidence of living, and yes of dying. In a temporal space; interiors. To me, this photograph maps the topography of spirit gone wrong. Spirit done gone. Spirit is dead, man. Nothing’s here but a machine.

The lens: both witness and buffer. This is real, I am here, I am not here, I am here-not-here. And everyone in the room is saying: this is so fucked up, actually, this is hilarious. Dude, get your camera, yeah and grab his arm. War is so fucking Godforsaken, it’s funny. Are you to tell me that anything is holy here, because, look, I don’t feel a thing.

Yes, Sontag: to steel, to make numb. Yes, to essentially mock the system of war and it’s outcome – that being, Death. Yeah, do it like that. Now hold still!

I look at the photograph, I notice the soldier’s smile lines. Smile lines – probably got them back in the day, before all this, being over here, before reality changed. When I look at the photograph, it reminds me of South Park. Something about Kenny. How shamelessness is how you get a reality TV show and millions in the bank. How everything is up for grabs, yeah like a dead man’s hand.

When I look at the photo, the first phrase that came to my mind was: I see Dead People. Wherever that came from, it came. Came from one lexicon or another, but I never even watched that movie in the first place. I go to YouTube to just watch the clip from The Sixth Sense, going over the lines.

Cole Sear: I see dead people.
Malcolm Crowe: In your dreams?
[Cole shakes his head no]
Malcolm Crowe: While you’re awake?
[Cole nods]
Malcolm Crowe: Dead people like, in graves? In coffins?
Cole Sear: Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead.
Malcolm Crowe: How often do you see them?
Cole Sear: All the time. They’re everywhere.

Trauma, it’s an altered reality, where all the players, paratroopers and suicide bombers have death in common, in different stages, yes in the theatre of war. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead. The dead man’s dead, he doesn’t know shit. But he might be better off than everyone out of the bunch. Living dead can be the worst.

Sontag writes, “Photographs objectify: they turn an event or a person into something that can be possessed. And photographs are a species of alchemy, for all that they are proved as a transparent account of reality.” This photograph is an overlay, it’s an expression. At face value, it’s an expression of ownership, soldiers dominate the dead and in turn the war, by making light of it. In the dollhouse, bringing light to the dark. To own that shit. The art directed moment – hand on a back- an attempt to express supremacy over circumstances. It’s clear that movement towards dominance is always rooted in fear. We’re all wrecked. Whatev.

War requires shut down, it’s trauma. The spolier is that Bruce Willis has been dead all along. Just a ghost.

The whole thing is real-not-real. Spirit is long gone. We’re past a Memento mori drive-by: “Remember your mortality” “Remember you must die” “Remember you will die.” Death to all, done deal.

And I’d say that everyone’s a victim, and no one’s a victim. This depends on our make up. How we metabolize and respond to events. We make choices to join in- spectator, actor, author. What preceded the photograph? What happened after? Count the cospectators, count the ghouls.

Yes this act is morally wrong, indecent, has trumped the rules of war. Yes. But that is not the first thing I see.

The thing I see in total is a document of trauma. I see a failed attempt at dead soldier and his dead soldier pals using a dead man like a doll for comfort. I see some guys with a camera working to transmute what they all got, the fucking pain of it all. The war churned the pot. The debasement of each soldier’s spirit is intact. A death mashup of varying degrees.

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