I feel like I should have some kind of catchy title. Something that will add legitimacy to what I’m saying. Something that won’t make it sound like I’m just another guy who wants to be pro something or anti something else. Truth is, I’m none of those things. I’m not an activist, I’m not legitimate, and I’m not catchy. I’m just kinda freaked, ok?
Today I clicked on a link that one of my Facebook friends posted. I don’t know her too well. We’ve hung out a few times, I’ve been to her house, she’s been to mine. We’re cool and all. I’ve got closer friends, but she’s alright. Anyways, I click on this link. It’s something about war. Along with the link is this caption: “Next time you want to claim you’re ‘pro’ whatever war, remember that this is what your war really is.” I can learn a few things from this statement. One: I can tell what her opinions of war are. Two: I can gather that whatever I’m about to see is ugly. Three: whatever the link is, it’s going to be something that’s going to piss people off. And the reasons it will do so will vary widely.
I click it.
It’s actually not too bad at first. There’s not a horrible picture on the front of the page. Perhaps I’ve been to too many dark corners of the internet, but I half-expected to be bombarded with some gruesomely deformed image right off the bat. I wasn’t. It was two guys in combat fatigues sitting around, chilling out. One guy is gleefully holding up his gun. It looks like any number of photos I’ve seen of friends of mine after any given air soft gun battle, or maybe laser tag. The guns typically look cooler in those photos, but the message is basically the same: “We’re average folks and we have fun shooting stuff.” Not too many people I know intimately are in the military, but still in the back of my mind, there’s that visceral connection. That “sup, bro. Let’s go chill,” thing.
Smiling people make me feel comfortable.
So I start skimming the article. Not reading it. Just skimming. The military is not something I’m terribly interested in, and I’ve heard the stories before. I’d be lying—no, worse than lying, I’d be grandstanding, showing off—if I said that anything I could read would be new or shocking to me. I’m in my mid-twenties and somehow I’ve heard it all. Sure, I might not have seen certain specific horrible acts in detail, but after all the photos and stories to come out of places like Guantanamo Bay for literally years upon years, should anything shock me?
Here’s the truth: Americans will beat, torture, starve, and humiliate other human beings. Our enemies are not a unique people in this regard.
It’s not news. In fact, it’s bordering on trite. Pretending I’m shocked by it is disingenuous. Do I hate this fact? Of course. Does it disgust me when I see it? As much as, if not more, than any other disgusting thing. Am I shocked? No. No I’m not. I’m a practical guy. If I know what the truth is, I don’t dick around pretending like it’s something it isn’t. America has a lot of good qualities about it. There’s an awful lot of people here I like and relate to. Some people here will cut off another man’s finger and use it as a trophy, given the opportunity and blessings of his peers. These are facts. They’re not surprises anymore.
So I clicked on the images. There were 18 of them. The first was a big black warning with white text in a serif font. Serif fonts are harder to read on a screen. It informed me that the images that followed are “EXTREMELY GRAPHIC AND DISTURBING”. I hesitated for only a second. There was a time when I would’ve been bothered by seeing mutilated or tortured human bodies. Movies have taken care of that. Thanks Quentin Tarantino and Zack Snyder! I clicked next.
The next thing I saw was a human body face down on the ground, with a puddle of congealed red goo beside him.
He looked young.
My eyes wouldn’t look directly at his face at first. Or, more specifically, at the area I expected his face to be. As I said, he was face down, and the picture doesn’t really show the extent of the damage. “The extent of the damage” is a phrase I probably picked up from watching House. Feels doctor-y anyways. Shoot, today’s Tuesday, is there a new episode? I clicked next.
Now I can see his face. It’s brutal. Not the worst I’ve seen. It’s pretty bad. He’s bleeding a lot. He’s clearly not alive as they’re taking photos. His family, wherever they are, may not have heard that he had died when this picture was taken. They may not be alive. I wonder if he had a girlfriend. Do people in Afghanistan have girlfriends? I’m a little rusty on regional romantic societal structures. And I also know I frequently get it wrong. I don’t want to be ignorant about these things, but it’s also a little outside the realm of necessary information for me. I click next.
There’s a picture of a soldier smiling as he holds the dead boy’s head up off the ground.
He doesn’t seem all that bloody in this picture. Maybe he’s been a bit cleaned up. Maybe the blood has just dried. Whatever the case, he doesn’t look too terribly bad. Aside from being dead. But if you told me that a kid who looked like this was just in a four-wheeling accident, would be in the hospital for a few weeks, but would eventually make a full recovery, I’d believe you. He’s dead. His blood is on the sand.
It’s about this point that my ctrl-tab reflex kicks in. I rarely stay on one tab for too long. I’ve got TweetDeck open. One girl is talking about her hair. She says she might go blonde. I almost make a joke, but I can’t come up with a good one. There’s three new links from the Huffington Post. I need to unfollow them, they just constantly spam my feed. A new tweet from Kaley Cuoco. She’s in the Big Bang Theory. I thought following her would be more interesting, but she mostly just talks about dogs and girly stuff.
Back to the article. I click next.
I go through the rest of the photos. There’s a lot that are more gruesome than the first ones I saw. One of a person who’s torso was so badly damaged by, apparently, a rocket, that it’s hardly distinguishable from a pile of seaweed and fabric. There’s a few generic photos with various captions explaining other atrocities not depicted.
One of the last photos is of a severed human head, sitting atop some rocks. Someone off camera in combat fatigues appears to be hitting it with a large stick (or at least pretending to). He’s wearing combat fatigues. Combat fatigues like the ones in the first photo. The one at the beginning of the article. The one that made me think of air soft and laser tag.
I don’t know what to think.
It’s fucked up to look at this. It’s even more fucked up that seeing it almost seems normal. It’s horrifying. It’s disgusting. You can actually see bits of human flesh falling off the head. I tab over to Facebook, the same place I found this link, and see photos of my smiling friends. Someone made a joke about redheads not being able to tan. Haha! Back to the photo. How can someone do this? What sick kind of joy does one get from beating a dead man’s head with a stick? Where’s his family? Is anyone looking for the man who’s head is sitting on these rocks? Will they ever know what happened? Are they alive?
Shouldn’t I be throwing up right now? This is sick. It’s disgusting. Distraction. I need a distraction. What’s going on Engadget? Maybe there’s some new story I can make fun of. I like doing that, and I’ve been slacking off since last week. I’m not gonna go anywhere as a writer unless I write something. His head looked almost cartoonish. It didn’t seem real. I know it is. But it didn’t look like a head. It looked deflated. Oh god.
Back to Twitter. I’ve tweeted about it by this point. “So. I’ve seen a severed human head being bludgeoned by U.S. soldiers today. Thanks internet.” That’s what I said. Like it’s the internet’s fault. But that’s the joke, right? There has to be a joke. Otherwise, I’m just a guy sitting in an office looking at photos of a human head sitting on a rock, getting beaten by soldiers, then checking Facebook and Twitter.
I don’t know how to handle it. I want to get outraged. There’s no one to yell at. I don’t know this guy. I don’t know his superiors. I don’t know their superiors. I don’t know anyone in any branch of the military that could do anything. It’s not exactly military protocol to do stuff like this, so there’s no change in policy I can advocate for. The story is out, and I’m sure someone with more influence than me is going to call for these people to be punished, provided there’s enough backlash. As an internet guy, I’ve done my part to ensure that happens by passing the story along. What else is there to do?
I’ve had my stint with being a rage-fueled, anti-establishment internet protester. It made me hateful. I suppose I could join up with my friends who protest stuff. They’re good people. In fact, the girl who linked me to this in the first place is one of them. She’s a great person. Our mutual friends are great people. If there were anything I could do as a guy without a real voice that matters on the world stage, they could tell me what to do. But I don’t have the energy for it. I don’t have the passion for politics. And that’s how it always ends up. Endless politics. Some people have the energy for that. I support them fully. I have one friend in particular that simply can’t stop doing stuff for the causes she believes in. I help her when she needs me. But I’m not her. So what do I do?
Distractions. More distractions. Pretend every day that the world’s not going to shit. Help the people I can help and ignore the ones I can’t. I can send money to Japan or Haiti or any other number of relief efforts. I can’t change governments. I can talk to a buddy who needs relationship advice, or a friend who needs comfort. I can’t eradicate the lonely and dissatisfied mindset that gives a place to sites like AshleyMadison. I can’t fix despair. Or anger. Or depression. I can barely manage these things in my own life.
I shared the link on Twitter. I have 139 followers. I’m guessing a large number of them are spambots. Two people replied to the article. Many others continued discussing other things. I don’t blame you guys. I don’t want to see this either. That’s not true. I wanted to see it. I clicked it, didn’t I? I’m not a slave to my curiosity. Years of being on the internet taught me the self-discipline I need to not click on something if I suspect it’s going to be something I don’t want to see. I chose to see this. I just don’t want it to exist.
And I’m helpless to stop it.
I shouldn’t say things like that. Not here in the U.S., where everything is possible. Where unbelievable dreams come true. Heck, I’ve seen the impossible happen. I’ve heard of untold thousands of people coming together to provide for the hungry, to take care of the sick. To bring hope to people who have none. I’ve seen the weak come together and find they are strong. I’ve seen the most irreconcilable differences be put aside in favor of pursuing something greater than the pain of loss. I know it can be done. I know that we’re capable of amazing things.
I want it to be enough. I want it to be better. I don’t want to live in a world where this kind of brutality is accepted. I don’t want to live in a world where it’s even considered. I want it to be shocking. It’s not. It’s horrible. It’s atrocious. But it’s not shocking. It’s not even mildly surprising. It’s mundane. It’s all too common.
A smarter person would end this with something you can do. I’m not that guy. I’m a guy who makes jokes about gadgets and movies online. I don’t matter to most of the people on the planet. Maybe I matter to you. I’m not even sure who you are. I’m not sure anyone’s still reading.
I just don’t want stuff like this to happen.