23 August 2008

The Political Use of Dead Bodies

Will photographs of dead bodies - casualties - undermine or enhance domestic support for foreign war? This, of course, is a variation on a theme from Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others, one that she mishandles by insisting on discussing photographs as objects with certain capabilities rather than as instruments we use for various often contested purposes. It also is a current issue given the lengths the U.S. administration and military are going to prevent any depiction of dead American military personnel in Iraq or Afghanistan.

This recent essay at The Guardian rightly suggest that the answer to the opening question is 'it depends.' If there is existing or incipient support for the war, photographs of casualties may well provide a tool for efforts to bolster that support. If there is deep opposition or even doubt about the war, they may prove useful for campaigns aiming to subvert support for it. It will, surely, depend on how the photographs are used and by whom. (With apologies to Katherine Verdery.)

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