Friday, July 5, 2013

Blinding Biases

I recently read a book by Chris Hedges called 'What Every Person Should Know About War'. It is a matter-of-fact book written as an FAQ on war, from a modern day American perspective. No politics, just the facts. This is the kind of content found within it.
"What will happen if I step on a land mine? 
Anti-personnel land mines carry 30 to 300 grams of high explosives. A 30gram mine will blow your foot off, or damage your foot to the extent that it will have to be amputated. One in three cases will have head or eye injuries from penetrating fragments. A 150-gram mine will shred your legs to midthigh. Anti-personnel mines are designed to severely injure, not kill, because of the increased burden caring for injured personnel puts on a unit." 
 "Can I die if I am shot in the arm or leg? 
Yes. A high-velocity bullet will create ripples in your bloodstream throughout your body, like a stone thrown in a pool of water, and cause widespread damage. A thigh wound from a fragmenting bullet can sever arteries, causing you to bleed to death." 
 "What will my body look like after I die? 
Your face will lose its color a minute after your heartbeat stops. Your eyes will lose their shine after about five minutes. They will look as if they have a gray film over them. Your eye balls will flatten slightly. Your body will have the flaccid feel of a slab of meat."
The section  on dying and funerals I found particularly tear-jerking, and it spurred me to re-watch the HBO film 'Taking Chance'. This is a story about a US marine who died near the start of the Iraq war which focuses on the journey of his body back to his home town and the military escort who accompanied it. The film makes no comment on whether the Iraq war was just or unjust, but simply looks at the effect of the death of a soldier on family, friends and fellow servicemen/women.
However, I decided to look on IMDB to see what some of the negative reviews said (I do this from time to time). I came across these two that made me laugh:
Did you catch that? Apparently this film is, according to paebo, anti-war propaganda, and according to sethness, pro-war propaganda. It's amazing isn't it, the effect personal biases can have on the way someone views a film? Make no mistake, I'm vehemently anti-war, and so is Chris Hedges, which anyone who has read any of his other material would know ('War is a Force that gives us Meaning', for example), but I can't help but thinking that people like paebo would walk away from reading 'What Every Person Should Know About War' thinking that it was anti-war propaganda, because of the brutally realist descriptions about what war does to people (physically and psychologically). At the same time, people like sethness would naively say that because it is simply matter-of-fact writing, with no political condemnation that it is pro-war propaganda.

I personally thought that the film conveyed a similar kind of message to Hedges' book, one that simply looks at the way things are. It looks at the way citizens treat deceased soldiers, and it brought to mind one of the questions in Hedges' book that I had read less than two hours before starting to watch the film.
"If I serve in an unpopular war, will I be received angrily when I come home?
No, at least not by most people. Ninety-nine percent of veterans returning from Vietnam said they had a friendly reception from close friends and family, and 94 percent said they got a friendly reception from people their own age who had not served. Seventy-five percent of Vietnam-era veterans thought war protesters did not blame veterans for the war."
Rightly so. The deserving recipients of scorn for unjust wars of criminal aggression like the Indochina wars and the 2003-2011 Iraq War are people like Henry Kissinger, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the Military Industrial Complex (read: Capitalism). People need to know things like what Hedges wrote in this book, some of which is portrayed in the film (about respect for the dead, and burial etc.).

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