Our Disconnectedness From Wars and Violence

Yesterday, a video I saw made me realize how disconnected we as silly civilized westerners are from the violence that happens in war areas, even if we see it on the news every day. The clip I mean is simply titled “West Bank”, and it is part of the No Comment series by EuroNews. You can download those clips in Miro for example, here’s the channel page on the Miro guide.

In case you don’t know EuroNews’ No Comment: They are very short clips from various places in the world, but without any commentary. Pictures that speak such a powerful language that they don’t need to be narrated. In this West Bank clip, there is no real violence. A soldier shoots at something that is off-screen once. Two cars that look like they are used to transport prisoners drive up to each other, back to back, and a prisoner is switched from one car to the other through the rear hatch. Gunshots are heard, far off and then closer. We are watching a group of well-equipped soldiers sneak around the outside walls of a house. From their equipment, I’m guessing they are Israeli. That’s all you see in the clip.

But even if that’s all you see, that’s not all I felt. The clip is permeated by an atmosphere of violence. It’s as if war itself had grown a toweringly huge body and is now stalking through the neighborhood, turning the air thick, leaden and unbreathable, messing with soldiers’ nerves. Have a look at that clip, maybe you can see what I mean.

This is something I once felt quite some time back, during the genocide in Rwanda. Some news stations had dared to broadcast nearly unedited material from the area, and it was sickening. It’s also the same feeling I get when watching some of the more serious movies about World War II. We look at these movies today, thinking “How could anyone ever be so cruel? How could they do this to each other? What turns a man into that kind of monster?” and we shake our heads. We shake our heads disbelieving what we see, we chalk up the atrocities shown to the creativity of the director or the drama of the actors.

But reality has no director, real pain is not acted. It happens right now, today, all over the world. I am glad there are things such as No Comment, that turn this reality into a video clip. This puts a barrier between the viewer and the subject, a barrier that is similar to what Hollywood does for us when we watch those WW2 movies. It is very weird that it takes this barrier in order to make me truly feel the way I should feel whenever there is talk of wars and violence. Maybe it’s the immediacy of the videos that drive the point home. Maybe Hollywood has conditioned us to react emotionally on queue and in time with what we see on screen. I’m not saying that I have the brains to find out why this is so, but this little clip has shown me that there is something there in how human empathy works that is worth studying and exploring.

I’m just glad the clip wasn’t from Darfur.

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