Iraq videos under fire

I would think it was political satire if it wasn’t so serious.

An article in today’s New York Times notes that “videos showing insurgent attacks against American troops in Iraq have steadily migrated in recent months to popular Internet video-sharing sites, including YouTube and Google Video.”

It goes on to note: “Their availability has also produced some backlash. In recent weeks, YouTube has removed dozens of the videos from its archives and suspended the accounts of some users who have posted them, a reaction, it said, to complaints from other users.”

There is an implication that at least some of the complaints have a political basis. That is, it is somehow “unpatriotic” to post these videos. More generally, it is certainly true that the Bush Administration has actively sought to prevent Americans from seeing this sort of footage.

As the Times article observes: “At a time when the Bush administration has restricted photographs of the coffins of military personnel returning to the United States and the Pentagon keeps close tabs on videotapes of combat operations taken by the news media, the videos give average Americans a level of access to combat scenes rarely available before, if ever.”

Help me out here. What exactly, in principle, is unpatriotic or immoral or whatever, about showing Americans an accurate portrayal of one aspect of what is going on in Iraq? Yes, it is true that we may disagree with the motives of some of the people making the postings, but that does not change the validity of the videos themselves.

Back in the days of the Vietnam War, scenes of combat were common on the networks’ evening news broadcasts. Historians have cited this as having had a significant effect in mobilizing the anti-war movement at the time. No doubt this is one of the reasons that the Bush administration doesn’t want such video available for the current Iraq war.

However, as many in the news media have claimed, the upcoming midterm elections will be, at least in part, a “referendum on the Iraq war.” If that is so, then shouldn’t the voters have the opportunity to be informed about what is actually taking place in Iraq? How can anyone defend the notion that seeing only the military’s Bush-approved sanitized version of events is giving voters the information they need to make an informed decision?

A spokesperson for YouTube defended the site’s removal of many of these videos, by claiming that they “display graphic depictions of violence…displayed with intent to shock or disgust…or with implied death.”

Let’s at least consider the possibility that what is taking place in Iraq is, in fact, shocking and disgusting. Certainly, there is “death;” that’s what war is about. To me, that argues for why such videos should be seen; not why they should be censored. Being shocked by the truth is one way that an electorate becomes informed.

One final note: The headline of the article in the print edition of the Times is “Now on YouTube: Iraq Videos of U.S. Troops Under Attack.” The headline on the Web site is “Anti-U.S. Attack Videos Spread on the Internet.” Huh? The Web site headline could easily be mis(?)-interpreted to imply that the videos themselves are anti-U.S. (i.e., unpatriotic) as opposed to meaning that the videos show U.S. troops under attack. I hope this was not deliberate.

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