Archive For: Desk

Can States Counter ISIS through Social Media?

Over the past decade the relationship between new media and asymmetric warfare has been a hot topic. For all the promise of citizen journalism and unmediated access, the same technological innovations that empower everyday people also provide new avenues for propaganda and radicalization in the hands of terrorist organisations. The significance of this issue has been thrown into stark relief by the enormous success of ISIS social media strategy, which has menaced enemies with images of extreme brutality and radicalised thousands through powerful narratives centred on the persecution of Muslims abroad, religious duty and the prospect of adventure.

In response, Western governments have sought to counter ISIS online presence with a range of strategies, including pressuring social media organisations like Twitter and Facebook to shut down ISIS affiliated accounts, and gathering intelligence by monitoring online activity. However, perhaps the most widely publicised strategy has focused on countering ISIS online through state run social media accounts that challenge ISIS narratives and, in doing so, undermine the radicalisation of Western citizens.  

Yet there are good reasons to be sceptical about this approach. In a recent article published in the Australian Journal of International Affairs I explore the shortcomings of two US State Department programs that attempt to counter extremist narratives: the now discontinued Counter-Misinformation Team (CMT), which was tasked with debunking propaganda and misinformation about America; and the Digital Outreach Team (DOT), a 50 strong unit that actively seeks to discredit ISIS online disseminators, undermining the image of ISIS as a vehicle for social justice, and challenging its claims about religious legitimacy and military success. The key problem for both programs is the recurring issue of credibility, when the authenticity of government information is undercut by the realities of foreign policy practice.

I show that this dynamic was implicit in the counterterrorism policy setting from which these programs emerged, where ideas were situated as a strategic capacity in a so-called War of Ideas. This set up a tension between the rhetoric of democracy and liberal idealism, advanced through US public diplomacy programs like the DOT, and the less savoury aspects of the War on Terror, including strategic deception, extraordinary rendition, extra-judicial detention, and ‘enhanced interrogation’, not to mention a military intervention in Iraq and less publically visible involvements in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, all justified through nebulous links to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This contradiction between rhetoric and practice invited the perception of hypocrisy, duplicity and propaganda, sentiments widely considered key sources of resentment towards the US in the Muslim world. My analysis demonstrates that this set the scene for extreme scepticism about CMT and DOT activities among online audiences.

One way to highlight this vulnerability is to show how the CMT’s own criteria for judging source reliability might easily invalidate the US government as a credible source of foreign policy information. For instance, were discerning Muslim audiences really in a position to take statements from the US government at face value? In making this determination, they would have to consider a laundry list of sanctioned illegality and official deception, including the US government’s direct or indirect involvement in covert regime change and other clandestine activities in Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Chile and Nicaragua, amongst others; or the US government’s involvement in the funding and support of covert torture centres in Iraq from 2003 to 2006; or the recent revelations from Edward Snowden about the activities of the US National Security Agency. Aside from covering up controversial policies, there is strong evidence that the US government has sought to deliberately propagandise both domestic and foreign audiences. Some relevant examples of covert influence include the Pentagon secretly paying retired generals to appear on television news and current affairs programs as ‘independent’ commentators, having provided them with synchronised talking points; and the Pentagon’s contract with the communications firm Lincoln Park to plant pro-US articles in Iraqi newspapers, while pretending they were written by ordinary Iraqis.

Likewise, this tension between rhetoric and practice has manifested in problematic credibility dynamics for the DOT. In an analysis of DOT activity following Barrack Obama’s Cairo Address in 2009, Khatib, Dutton, and Thelwall (2012) found that DOT posts generated extreme antagonism, which coalesced around cynicism about US foreign policy, and, in particular, its ulterior motives. These same issues are evident more recently in DOT activities aimed at undermining the standing of ISIS online disseminators. Organised around the hash-tag #thinkagainturnaway, the DOT has highlighted, for instance, that ISIS kills mainly Muslim people, is rejected by key Muslim scholars, and has presided over a ‘rape culture’, where women are forced into marriage or worse. However, the credibility of the DOT is undermined when the US government’s own record of foreign policy malpractice is evoked. Take, for instance, an exchange, recorded by Rita Katz (2014), were an ISIS user brought up the abhorrent physical and sexual degradation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison as a counter point to a DOT twitter posts about ISIS atrocities. Immediately, the credibility of the US government is called into question and its message weakened.

The shortcomings of the CMT and the DOT are highly relevant for Western governments considering similar online interventions in the context of ISIS radicalisation. A more promising approach that is now emerging in policy debates about online counter-radicalisation moves towards partnering with community groups, non-governmental organisations and private enterprise to facilitate counter narratives to ISIS messaging. The emphasis here is very much on developing capacities and competencies, rather than delivering content or strategic messaging. However, the key vulnerability of such programs will be the extent to which the involvement of government at any level taints the messenger. In the end, authenticity and connection are crucial in any counter-radicalisation policy, and programs that are centred on these values are more likely to be effective.


Uncovering School Militarism

Each year, the U.S. Army needs to enlist 100,000 new recruits to replenish its ranks. What is the primary source of Army applicants? The answer may surprise you: high school students and by extension, access to public high schools. As the Army’s official Recruiter Handbook states, “No other segment of the community network has as much impact on recruiting as schools.”

While doing research for our book, Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools, we discovered an interesting paradox: the most important element in the recruiting apparatus, military recruiters’ access to high schools, remains largely hidden to most Americans. State education commissioners, superintendents of some of the biggest school districts in the country, and other policy makers appear unaware of the military presence in local schools. Even a seasoned congressman, confronted about the issue ten years after he voted for the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, was surprised by the free reign the Pentagon has within educational space. He admitted to local activists he had no idea that the law required high schools receiving federal funding to give the military as much access to campuses and student information as other types of recruiters.

These gaps in public knowledge should not have surprised us. After all, scholars have long ignored the way military recruiters operate in schools. Two authors have gone as far as calling the issue a “black box,” intentionally obscured from public view. Cynthia Enloe, in an article published last year in the new journal Critical Military Studies, noted that

Militaries are a lot more fragile and contingent than elites will admit. Hiding that fragility – e.g. keeping secret all the calculating efforts that go into enlisting soldiers and keeping them in the ranks – helps to legitimate many militaries in the eyes of their citizens, and helps to make those militaries look more potent than they are in the eyes of both their allies and potential adversaries.

One of the most obvious signs of the U.S. military’s fragility is its reliance on recruiting teenagers. As the commander of Navy recruiting put it earlier this year, “We all know that the talent we seek does not just come knocking at our door.” Indeed, despite widespread advertising the military option simply isn’t that attractive to most people. Thus, the Navy commander added, the need for “hard work, knowing your market,” and for recruiters to spend “lots of time in schools.”

Research by educational anthropologist Brian Lagotte shows that school administrators, confused as to how to interpret the No Child Left Behind Act and pressured by overly aggressive recruiters, all too often give the military free rein on campus. The result, described in recruiter trade journals and documents we obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, is that American schools now have an alarming number of military recruiters on campus. But rather than spending all their time officially recruiting, many of them also coach sports, serve as substitute teachers, chaperone school dances, and engage in other activities normally reserved for trained educators. Some schools are visited more than 100 times a year by military recruiters. This direct, constant access to teenagers is essential to enlisting new recruits.

If the widespread presence of recruiters in schools has received little attention, even less is known about sustainable anti-militarization efforts in educational settings. Our new book shines a spotlight on the grassroots “counter-recruitment” movement: parents, students, military veterans, and average citizens who are uncovering, critiquing, and at times thwarting the military’s “invasion” of local schools.

In the absence of effective oversight in local schools, some counter-recruiters make a goal of closely monitoring the actions of military personnel. These activists are publicizing an issue the military would rather keep hidden. To take one example, an organizer in rural Oregon has made photographs and video recordings of questionable recruiter conduct at her son’s high school. She then used this documentation to generate extensive local media coverage of the issue and to lobby her school board for better policies governing recruitment activities on school grounds.

While not all “counter-recruiters” monitor military recruiters and record their activities, another aspect of counter-recruitment—by far the most commonplace—is to serve as “counter-presences and counter-visibilities” to the military in schools. Typically, this takes the form of a literature table, staffed by activists using brochures produced by peace groups like the War Resisters League. It may involve time in a classroom, when teachers allow counter-recruiters to lead discussions on military service by showing students videos which help them think critically about the enlistment process.

But it is difficult to serve as a consistent “counter-presence,” when the military has far more resources and can afford to be in schools on a regular basis. Counter-recruiters, almost all of whom are volunteers, have to juggle activism with their other commitments and usually can visit a given school only once a semester. Which is why a growing number are focused on pursuing policy change. In just the past year-and-a-half, activists—Iraq War veterans, teenagers, parents and Quakers—have successfully run campaigns to restrict military recruiter access to students (in Santa Barbara, California); and to regulate the use of military aptitude tests in schools (as happened with the passage of a state law in New Hampshire).

It is this legislative approach to counter-recruitment that seems to cause the most fear and trembling at the Pentagon. When the issue of school military recruitment is raised in the public arena, often as a precursor to policy changes that control what recruiters can and cannot do on school grounds, the military feels threatened. Thus in a series of reports over the past decade, military analysts have closely examined the counter-recruitment movement, judging it to be the “military recruiter’s greatest obstacle,” characterizing counter-recruiters themselves as “adversaries” and—in an interesting coinage—“civilian organizational inhibitors.”

All of which suggests that those challenging the militarization of educational space are having an outsize impact for a loosely connected movement of a few dozen groups of volunteers.

As counter-recruiters help to make the invisible visible, they contribute to our understanding of how the most important element of military recruitment works. They remind us, through their policy campaigns, school outreach, and via publications like Draft NOtices, that to cite Cynthia Enloe, “militaries are not automatically raised or sustained, not easily mobilized or deployed.” As our research shows, this means that militaries can be effectively challenged, particularly if activists target their weakest link.


The Changing Face of War Games: Allowing Victims to Speak?

A recent article in the Guardian Newspaper UK, ‘War games: POV switches from shooting to emotional impact’ raised interesting issues about whether or not the scope for videogames to offer alternative depictions centred on the human cost of war had moved forward a step with the release of the game This War of Mine.

The article contrasts the game with ‘mainstream’ military shooters such as Battlefield and Call of Duty, suggesting that This War of Mine offers an important space to reflect on the impact of war on civilians. This is not a space to debate the merits of this particular game – others have reviewed it with near universal acclaim elsewhere – rather, here I want to explore the importance of this game (alongside others) as an object which explicitly seeks to open up a space to reflect on what may be termed an ‘aesthetic of war’.

Both This War of Mine and the forthcoming game Sunset centre on representing war through the eyes of non-combatants. In this sense they give voice to those who are normally scripted out of military war videogames entirely. Furthermore, this voice takes on added impact as the player engages in navigating their (frequently harrowing) experience of war through gameplay. Such interactions are potentially extremely powerful, and it is here that these games offer an important capacity to open up affective experience and move us towards an aesthetic of war. But in doing so, these games become quite different to a conventional war videogame and are instead perhaps better thought of as a game about war/game within a war-based setting. Here rather than ‘doing war’ within a shooter-based gameplay dynamic where the player ‘embodies the soldier’, the player comes closer to embodying the victim who hitherto has been absent or silent within war-based military videogames. To this degree, such games are incredibly important and take games gradually towards the position occupied by film, which as Michael Shapiro has argued frequently offers a critical space to reflect on the efficacies of war by giving a voice to both a narrator, director and the victim themselves (see for example his books Cinematic Geopolitics and War Crimes, Atriocity and Justice. In the case of film, Shapiro emphasises that the viewer (or reader in terms of fiction) can gain some sense of the victim’s voice as they observe their struggles to navigate the warzone. In the case of games, of course, this potential becomes even greater as the player’s actions are integral to the very ‘success’ of the victim’s capacity to navigate this space. The potential for an empathetic encounter between the player and the victim of war is thus magnified.

These games are part of a growing (if hitherto minority trend) in which war games have started to think more critically about what war might mean for the soldier and to ask searching questions of the player and the implications of their engagement in virtual war. Four examples immediately spring to mind: September 12th and Unmanned – both of which were made by artists with the explicit intent of opening up critical space to reflect on the efficacies of a move towards drone warfare; Spec Ops: The Line – a critically-lauded commercial game which places the player in the role of a team of combat troops on the ground to show the traumatic effect of war on the individual soldier, and the Metal Gear Solid series which offer a more cerebral form of play, traditionally placing a focus on stealth that is in tune with the broadly anti-war message contained within the series as a whole.

The commercial and critical success of This War of Mine may thus mark a significant moment for the games industry and may be evidence of that industry’s growing maturity as it increasingly uses the power of the medium for critical artistic intent. The extent to which this proves to be a sustained pattern, however, is yet to be revealed.


Unmanned – reflecting on ethical choices

Spec Ops: The Line


Blood & Treasure Afghanistan: OUT, OUT, Damn Appendix!

— A Mostly Melodic Guide to Unanswered Afghanistan Questions —

Let’s All Sing: “We Don’t Need to Know What We Don’t Know We Don’t Know, No, No, No, No!”

Our Musical Response to Those Irksome Burning SIGAR Questions

It is the job of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction[SIGAR] to report on how the USA has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in that long-suffering land.

And mispent a bloody enormous chunk of US taxpayer change, we’ve learned.

This, remarkably, because the energetic Congressionally-appointed SIGAR commissar John Sopko and his staff have proved a genuine pain in the ass to the normally utterly unaccountable US Department of Defense, American military, various corrupt private contractors, ineffective UN Agencies… and their political masters.

Missing guns, missing millions; more, much more, SIGAR reveals in its quarterly reports and other investigations. The US military is suffering terrible embarrassments report after report after report. How to address such problems? The new answer is clear as mud: stonewalling. The American commander in Afghanistan has suddenly classified all sorts of information [see the first page of Appendix E above], claiming that operational security is at risk. Example: we can’t be told the number of Afghan Government troops because … ah, the Taliban might decide to start a war?

Even the NY Times thinks this ridiculous… and if the “Gray Lady” moans, we know it must be well and truly off-the-scale WTF egregious!

Ridicule is what this stupidity and denial of our right to know of our government’s actions deserves: here is one wonderful response in a series of GIFs from Hayes Brown at Buzzfeed.

Taking off from that, we can also craft a musical response. A bit of online cabaret, if you will… so please scroll down for musical selections that lyrically address SIGAR questions that the US military warns are above our need-to-know paygrade as mere citizens. Have a glass of wine. Or a beer. Sing along if you like!

We ponder: will SIGAR be kept schtum? Tossed into the ashtray of history? Leaks will come, one expects. But with Obama’s war on whistleblowers still in full cry, expect that every device and every platform of anyone even remotely associated with SIGAR are now being monitored. You know who you are. So do they.


Any other tuneful suggestions? Please offer some of your own in the comments….

SIGAR Question:  “Please provide … information on Afghan National Army (ANA) strength as of December 29, 2014”

                      Musical response:  Darkness Stirs and Wakes Imagination 

“Music of the Night”

— Phantom of the Opera

SIGAR Question: “Please provide details on DOD-funded ANA infrastructure projects, including the cumulative number of projects completed to date and their total cost.”

Musical response: Build it up with sticks and stones, sticks and stones… 

“London Bridge Is Falling Down”

SIGAR Question: “Please provide details on U.S. efforts to equip the ANA using U.S. funds as of December 29, 2014″

Musical response:  Go on take the money and run

“Take the Money and Run”

— Steve Miller Band

SIGAR Question: “Please identify each type of aircraft in the [Afghan Air Force] inventory, the number of each; and of that number, the number not usable. Are there any aircraft purchased but not yet fielded?”

Musical response: You’ll never Never NEVER reach the sky…  

“Sky Pilot”

— Eric Burdon and the Animals

SIGAR Question:  “Please provide the status of the [Afghan National Security Forces’] medical/health care system as of December 29, 2014”

Musical response:  Tell me what you see, I hear their cries, Just say if it’s too late for me… 

Doctor My Eyes”

— Jackson Browne

SIGAR Question: “Please provide details on U.S. efforts to equip the [Afghan National Police] using U.S. funds, as of December 29, 2014, including total number and cost of weapons and weapons-related equipment procured and fielded to date”

Musical response:  She’s not a girl who misses much I need a fix cause I’m going down..

“Happiness is a Warm Gun”

— Beatles

SIGAR Question: “Please provide details of DOD/NATO-funded contracts to provide literacy training to the ANSF, including the cost of the contract(s) and estimated cost(s) to complete”

Musical response:  Don’t know much about history…  

“What a Wonderful World It Would Be”

— Sam Cook

Any Musical Conclusions? Well…. YES!!! 

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right….  

“Stuck in the Middle with You”

— Stealers Wheel

SIGAR questions answered? No, and the burgeoning American Security Apparat is committed 24/7 to keep it that way.

Every single day, every word you say, I’ll be watching you…

“Every Breath You Take”

— The Police

The likelihood that this repressive foolishness will bring change?

Says WHO ???… Won’t what???  


And lest we forget… dedicated to the leaders who were asleep on their watch as we were attacked, failed to finish one war so they could launch a pointless other, and are unrepentant for condemning generations to conflict….

You’re a Lying, Cheating Bully, and your friends are lowlife too; You wake up every morning, just wondering who to screw…

“Lying Cheating Bully” *

— Rene Meijer and Friends

* Transparency Moment:

A note from the musical selection jury: the final number, “Lying, Cheating, Bully”, was written by me with my down-home dirty Dutch country-music brother Rene Meijer, and is featured on our award-winning album, Dashboard Jesus. The lyric at first read “and your friends are assholes, too”. We changed that to “lowlife” so the song could be on radio. But the original still plays in my mind.

Folks have more than a few times asked if the song was written about Dick & Dubya. No. It was inspired by a very real but much lesser local reprobate.

But as my from-somewhere-faraway great-grandpappy might have said, had I ever met him:

“If the boot fits, stick it in!”


Memorialization & Narrative: “Conflict-Time-Photography” at the Tate Modern

                        Memorialization & Narrative:                             “ConflictŸ-TimeŸ-Photography” at the Tate Modern, London

“If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Robert Capa’s oft-quoted maxim on conflict photography still shines as the diamond standard for most people shooting such images. Capa was certainly speaking to being physically very up close. His few surviving D-Day images, and his most famous [and contested] “Falling Soldier” photo of a Spanish Loyalist at the instant a bullet apparently felled him, testify to this.

So does most conflict photography that reaches wide audiences. It is typically of the “decisive moment”, often “viscerally visual”, intended to hit you in the guts and sometimes showing the same.

ConflictŸ-Time-ŸPhotography”, now on at the Tate Modern in London, offers a quite different approach. It is much more about how photographers can record memories of conflict—and craft narratives to embody them—than moments of violence themselves.

“From the seconds after a bomb is detonated to a former scene of battle years after a war has ended, this moving exhibition focuses on the passing of time,” the curators explain, its images “ordered according to how long after the event they were created from moments, days and weeks to decades later.”

Post the Decisive Moment

Nearly every image displayed distances us not only in time from acts of violence, but from its gory impact on living bodies. The first large photo is by Luc Delahaye: a broad and empty Afghan plain, smoke pluming at center just over a horizon of rising mountains. It is a powerful image. We know something has happened. Extreme violence has been visited on… an empty landscape, perhaps? Only in our imaginations may we conjure what such explosions would have done to people… were any there….

This separation from representation of the physical effects of violence on its victims and survivors runs through the exhibition. Even a copy of Ernst Friedrich’s 1924 stunning and deeply discomfiting collection, WAR against WAR! [discussed here, with attendant horrific photos] is opened to one of the volume’s more innocuous images.

There are a few exceptions. Another Delahaye photo shows skeletal remains of people executed during the Spanish Civil War. Yet even these are literally bare bones, the cleanest of the long dead. There are no references to uses elsewhere of such bones; impressively formal ossuaries memorialize war and genocides from France to Cambodia to Rwanda. In other post-conflict areas, informal local memorials have been raised, as in Uganda in 1987 [see photo].

Something Happened Here

The preponderance of this exhibition’s images—and there are more than just photos—are thus recollections of conflict and its impact. A set of photos and models by Indre Serpytyte of houses in Lithuania once used as KGB interrogation centers depicts buildings whose “resolutely ordinary” appearance, she says, challenge us to recall them as “containers of memory” of the evils performed within. Here, as with some striking photos of Hiroshima, photography seems a therapeutic tool to help address individual and collective trauma of horrors past.

But some photos fail to convey clear connection to conflict. Landscapes and cityscapes [such as Berlin], utterly absent human form, seem to indicate little more than “conflict once happened here”. Jo Ratcliffe’s images in Angola’s capital Luanda signify nothing related to that country’s long, brutal—and now in memory for many receding—liberation struggle and ensuing civil war. They are interesting photos, but to Angola’s past conflicts essentially irrelevant—streets and markets and a rubbish tip like many in any number of developing countries where once there was war. Guatemala City, Kampala, Manila, I have seen, offer comparable scenes. Similarly, Stephen Shore’s closely observed lives of holocaust survivors in Ukraine tell us little save that [quite happily] these particular people are still alive. Their existence as witnessed in these photos is likely very much like their neighbors, who might also have suffered terribly the vicissitudes of World War II and the Soviet era.

Sophie Ritselhueber’s roomful of grand color prints offer varied perspectives of the scars and detritus of war in the Kuwaiti desert and better evidence of the impact of conflict. Also evocative are large and recent black and white prints of immense German fortifications in Normandy now tipped by time and tide onto beaches they were meant to defend; concrete memories that are quite literally disappearing, melting into the sea. And even more compelling are the exhibition’s closing photos, a set of images of places in France where during World War I soldiers were executed for desertion or perceived cowardice. From a series “Shot at Dawn” by Chloe Dewe Mathews, these moodily—dare we admit hauntingly?—capture the same time of day when those men were killed.

Iconic Faces of Fighters

Only a few fighters are on view. Very early on, one human face is prominent: Don McCullin’s rightly lauded 1968 iteration of the “two-thousand-yard stare”. It was made during a lull in intense urban combat in Hue, Vietnam.

The exhibition’s accompanying caption says such images are not possible today because of the system of “embedding” correspondents in military units. But they certainly are, for example this or this by the late Tim Hetherington while he and Sebastian Junger were embedded with US forces in Afghanistan. This sort of image embodies embedding’s intent to encourage emotional identification. It creates conditions for highly sympathetic portrayals of forces with which reporters are embedded; see Hetherington’s and Junger’s very human depiction of American fighters in the book War and their documentary Restrepo. Embedding’s core problem is that it limits correspondents’ intimate interaction to fighters on only one side of the conflict. But embedded reporters, unless censored, can also produce far less flattering images of the forces they travel with, as the late Chris Hondros did in Iraq.

Another of the exhibition’s rare combatants is found in Susan Meiselas’s 1979 photo of a Sandinista fighter launching a firebomb. It demonstrates how an image can be appropriated to support a particular memory and narrative of a conflict: this used as emblematic of heroic resistance, appearing In Nicaragua as graffiti, on t-shirts, as posters supporting Sandinista politicos—and sometimes elsewhere as an iconic and now decontextualized image much like the omnipresent “Che-chic”.

Meiselas’s photos certainly were close, in time and space, to the fight. It is the sort of reportage needed for news, supplying information that people require to reckon the conduct, costs, and consequences of current conflicts. Offering the public at least the opportunity to witness the impact of conflict is an immensely important public service, especially to citizens of democracies in whose name blood is spilt and treasure spent—even if some commentators despair of even terribly graphic images’ efficacy in averting future conflicts.

Look Back in Trauma

Robert Capa, and later Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, produced remarkable images of people engaged in or affected by violent conflict. Each died while getting [sorrowfully, too] close to intense but ephemeral moments of combat. But again, it is not the intent of “ConflictŸ-Time-ŸPhotography” curators Simon Baker and Shoair Mavlian to show us this. The exhibition’s starting point is as the bang-bang of conflict photojournalism fades to echo. It opens with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, who said of the 23 years it took him to produce Slaughterhouse-Five, his novel about the 1945 firebombing of Dresden that he survived as a prisoner-of-war: “People are not supposed to look back.”

Yet we of course do. As Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim found, looking back on conflict can be deeply traumatizing—and this for journalists as much as anyone. And as an American Iraq combat veteran wrote in a new book on post-traumatic stress, “The war happened in collections of seconds, but the memories of it echoed forever.” The exhibition depicts this “forever”, processes through which a myriad of post-conflict photographers have sought to interpret past violence, reconstructing and recording memories, crafting new visual narratives and proximities of remembrance that shape our understanding of what, perhaps, happened. ###

Further reading:

A very useful slideshow and commentary from the Guardian.

Reviews from the Guardian, the FT, and Daily Telegraph.

Susan Sontag’s masterful 2002 essay “Looking At War”.


Addendum, 21 January 2015

The Archive of Modern Conflict

A side room to the exhibit reveals a quite separate and utterly different display by the privately-owned, London-based Archive of Modern Conflict [AMC]. One is greeted by series of 15-foot high photos of “warriors”, ranging from a very sepia 1920 Gold Coast [now Ghana] Horseman to a 1950 female member of the US Navy in fluoride bright dress whites. Inside is an ambitious—or perhaps just amiably ambiguous—mélange of photos and objects related to sundry conflicts. AMC says its exhibit “explores the psyche of conflict”. And like a psyche in conflict, it is all over the place. Eclectic is an understatement. Even eccentric, perhaps—and certainly, wonderfully, fascinating.

There is more than just a scent of the well-ordered anarchy of Oxford’s magnificent Pitt-Rivers Museum here. On the AMC books website, a few pages offered from the stand-alone catalogue of the AMC exhibition, A Guide for the Protection of the Public in Peacetimegive just a taste of its vast appetites. There are ephemera: a World War II flyer on how to use your “fat ration”; newspaper clippings; posters. There are interesting objects: a cabinet filled with 70-odd examples of horseshoes from the days of caissons and cavalry; a colorful New Guinea shield; a German stick hand grenade [presumably rendered  harmless, but guarded still by a sign imploring ‘Do Not Touch’!]. There are many photographs: early aerial reconnaissance photos of World War I trenches; a picture of Miss Naval Aviation 1957, Maureen O’Hara; an almost hidden Robert Capa showing US paratroops preparing to drop on Germany; facing each other across the room—perhaps suitably—portraits of Native American Lakota leaders Running Antelope and the less poetically-named Low Dog. Hugely, one wall is covered with a comic book poster of the Cuban Revolution. There is much, much more….

AMC proclaims it is presenting “the landscapes of war as viewed by those co-opted, blighted, disrupted, demented, excited, uplifted, corrupted, dumbfounded and unbalanced by its process.”

And overwhelmed, surely. I bet that would be about all of us. ###


BH/CH/ADHD: Boko v Charlie Battle for Global Media Attention


Boko v Charlie Battle for Global Media Attention


“One Dead in London, Ten in Paris, 1,000 in India.”

So goes the apocryphal rendition of traditional British News Values.*

It offers a good launching point to address why the terrible 07 January Charlie Hebdo [CH] murders received massively hyperactive global media attention, while horrific killings by Boko Haram [BH] in the northeastern Nigerian town of Baga in the days before suffered grave global media attention deficit. Several “proximites” and other factors driving media coverage help explain.

As in real estate, the first focus of media is nearly always location. Usually, physical proximity to a news event matters most of all. Paris is far closer to London than is Baga, and to New York by travel time. This is common fare, from the vaunted BBC to your hyper-local rag. Muggings in our own neighborhood are more troubling than murders across town. Floodwaters on your street are greater concern right now than global warming’s softly rising seas. And when the enemy appears on our doorstep, we are well and truly alarmed.

Other sorts of proximity are also powerful, both for audiences and for those who generate and disseminate news—mostly based and/or working for corporate-owned media outlets in the major metropoles. These include security, cultural norms, economic, religious/racial/ethnic, and professional proximities.

On all these drivers of media coverage, CH/Paris trumps BH/Baga. Here, a brief survey:

  • Security—The attack in Paris is one that might be replicated in any major city/ The assault on Baga was on the margins of a troubled country in the “faraway”.
  • Norms—Physical assault on media workers has become taboo inside western countries/ The Baga atrocities are part of a too-familiar pattern in Nigeria.
  • Economic—The economic costs of urban terrorism’s effects on commerce and tourism are similar across major metropoles/ The economic impact of the Baga horror in Europe is arguably nil.
  • Religious/Racial/Ethnic —Western audiences’ ethnic and religious identification with the CH victims is clear/ Identification with BH victims is only on a generalized human connection.
  • Media Professionals—The targets in the CH attacks were journalists; nearly every journalist anywhere feels such an attack viscerally/ Baga was just another [very terrible] story as BH perpetrated [another] remote massacre “somewhere in Africa”.

Inattentiveness and Hyperactivity

“Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),” Britain’s National Health Service informs us, “can be categorised into two sets of behavioural problems… Inattentiveness [and] hyperactivity and impulsiveness.”

And we do see these symptoms in the hyperactive CH/Paris coverage and BH/Baga attention deficit [evidenced in coverage measured in an excellent piece by Ethan Zuckerman here]. These are partially the result of the proximities described above. A few other factors can be quickly, if not thoroughly, noted here: access to the conflict, communications, narrative resonance, telegenics, and official agendas:

  • Access—Paris is easily and safely accessible to major world media/ BH has attacked journalists and Baga is a long and now dangerous journey even from Nigeria’s media capital, Lagos. And absent access, establishing facts and telling a human story is almost impossible. As the BBC noted: “It won’t be the first time we are not sure if 150, 300, 500 or even 2,000 people were killed in a massacre in Nigeria.”
  • Communications—Paris of course has excellent communications; witness the row of satellite trucks as tweeted by the BBC’s @ImeldaFlattery at the massive march on 11 January/ Baga is now nearly cut off, with even mobile communications severely disrupted.
  • Narrative Resonance—The CH/Paris story is one told with the narrative simplicity of a plain good/evil morality tale: Islamists murder Champions of Freedom of Expression, and the simple solidarity of “Je suis Charlie”/ BH/Baga is fraught with doubts about official competence and perhaps collusion in the killings. Even some of the scant coverage was only to reinforce the notion of a greater Islamist threat.
  • Telegenics—Video of the execution of policemen Ahmed Merabet was as enormously shocking as the “Je suis Charlie” march was  telegenic; both reinforced the dominant narrative/ Images from Baga were unavailable.
  • Official agendas—Global officialdom at the highest levels rallied to denounce the “unprecedented” CH/Paris murders [no matter how stained they might themselves be with journalists’ blood], responding to and reinforcing media hyperactivity/ The BH/Baga calamity garnered scant high level attention, remarkably even within Nigeria, seen merely as a [bloodier] continuation of a series of unfortunate events in that country.

Two other factors absent in this context can compel massive media coverage. One is celebrity involvement. Princess Di made us care a bit about landmines. George Clooney briefly branded burning Darfur onto the media agenda. The animal magnetism of elephants, dolphins and loyal hounds also command attention. Combining the two, as I wrote of Paris Hilton’s alleged engagement with drunken elephants, can brew a hyperactive media storm.

Ownership also matters deeply. Most news production is still driven by Western-owned media corporations that represent and report to audiences that feel their values and perhaps their lives are directly threatened by the CH/Paris attacks. Hyperactive—and occasionally hyper-sensational and impulsively Islamophobic coverage—was the rule. Fear, justified or not, sells.

A rough schema summarizing the effect of proximity and further factors above on BH/Baga and CH/Paris coverage is offered in the sidebar.

As Years Go By: On the Record… Not the Agenda

Yet there was reporting of Boko Haram and Baga to be found by any careful reader, albeit far, far less than that of Charlie Hebdo, for the several reasons laid out above. The terrible events from northeastern Nigeria were on the public record, but then and to date lacking intensive coverage required to raise them to the public agenda.

And a quick note on another proximity: chronological. Early next January, extensive and solemn reflection and prognostication will build as the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo murders nears; on 07 January 2016, it will again dominate global news.

One year on, the Baga massacre is unlikely to be recalled at all. Did we anywhere see mentioned previous outrages in the very same town, these allegedly by the Nigerian Army in April 2013? And where are the Chibok girls today, god or somebody please save them! The profound attention deficit of most Western media for a myriad of serious issues, and particulalry those not perceived of primary proximity to Western audiences and interests, will not soon abate. Baga—and Boko Haram, unless they are spectacularly incautious enough to attack on Western soil—are likely to remain, like most of Africa, in the exotic far faraway. ###

*Recounting his early training as a copy editor in his 2004 book, Grumpy Old Men: The Official Handbook, veteran British journalist Stewart Prebble recalled this newsroom formula: “One dead in Putney equals 10 dead in Paris equals 100 dead in Turkey equals 1,000 dead in India equals 10,000 dead in China.”  


Documentation and Donations: B’Tselem’s cameras

The cameras of Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem are renowned for bringing the abuses of Israeli occupation to light. As they say on their web site:

In 2007, B’Tselem launched its camera project, in which the organization distributes video cameras to Palestinians living in areas in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip where clashes between Israelis and Palestinians are common. The project is a form of “citizen journalism,” a phenomenon that has been growing around the world. By this means, B’Tselem seeks to aid Palestinians to bring the reality in which they live to the attention of the Israeli and international public, and to expose human rights violations and subsequently bring about improvement in the human rights situation there.

A recent academic paper by Pini Miretski and Sascha-Dominik Bachmann goes as far as to characterize B’Tselem’s camera project as “the Panopticon of international law” that “caused soldiers and their commanders to become aware of the possibility that they and their actions are being observed and documented.” Certainly, B’Tselem have a reputation for being effective in documenting rights abuses, which has in turn generated a negative reputation among those who accuse them of undermining Israel’s international reputation, serving the enemy, and even staging scenes. For sure, the persuasiveness of much of the video content posted by B’Tselem on social media can be ascribed to its rawness and that it’s shot by Palestinians, giving it an air of realism and authenticity. Indeed, its Facebook cover photo is of Palestinians holding the cameras marked, in Hebrew, Arabic and English with the name and logo of B’Tselem. In a recent series of videos, Palestinian camera operators give testament to the ongoing misery of Gazans whose homes were destroyed in last summer’s war for international and Israeli publics (Israeli journalists are barred from Gaza by their government). Many of the videos show not the exceptional violence of the occupation, but the violence of its routine, such as this arrest scene.

At the same time, there is a political economy of such citizen journalism and human rights activism, and as an NGO B’Tselem needs to justify its existence and to raise funds. As the US tax year came to a close, and with it the deadline for tax-deductible donations, B’Tselem produced a one-minute fund-raising video, Just Another Day, which avoids sensationalism by emphasizing the routine character of the oppressiveness of occupation, its normality. As the verbal commentary accompanying the video on Facebook says: “That “normal” is morally reprehensible. It is deadly, guaranteeing the very opposite of peace and justice.”  Yet the soft piano music playing over the combination of short clips doesn’t avoid the sentimentality of its genre – selling suffering and highlighting the hatred of those who cause suffering in order to prompt donations for the cause of documenting rights abuses.

In her essay “Shooting with Intent: Framing Conflict,” Alison Lebow points out that B’Tselem retain shared rights to the material recorded by Palestinians in the occupied territories, and their very capable team re-package footage for media outlets. Unlike other activist video I’ve blogged about previously, B’Tselem’s videos are always posted with an explanatory verbal framing and often with sub-titles in Hebrew and English. In this case, they’ve re-packaged material for their supporters, but as a PR exercise it loses some of the persuasiveness of the usual “raw” footage. Lebow worries that especially in the repackaging of such footage, the reputation of B’Tselem as an Israeli organization is foregrounded rather than the active resistance of the Palestinians in their use of the cameras, and along with it, the potential of the documentary footage to undermine the power structures of occupation. And perhaps one of B’Tselem’s other pictures featured on its website shows precisely that – a Palestinian whose face is hidden by a B’Tselem camera with only Hebrew writing on it.

Should B’Tselem have foregone the fund-raising video with cheesy music? There’s no easy answer to that. As Ruthie Ginsburg comments in her recent book (in Hebrew) And You will Serve as Eyes for Us, Israeli human rights groups that practice “civil oversight” by visually documenting the occupation (such as B’Tselem) constantly and consciously deal with a series of contradictions and dilemmas as they negotiate between the “here” of Israel and the “there” of the occupied Palestinian territories, between the “them” and the “us.” Similarly, B’Tselem faces the dilemma of needing funds to continue its work, so even if this one particular video could have been done more artfully, it still needed to be done.


Sony, The Interview and Hollywood Illusions of Creative Expression

The story of Sony and the hackers captured the year-end news cycle for over a month, unveiling a treasure trove of emails exposing stark flashes of the hidden underbelly of Hollywood, an industry normally aswirl in magic dust this time of year. But when the story turned from snarky digs, racism and inequity, to threats of violence against theaters, in the words of the White House press secretary, it became a “national security issue.”

US officials claimed that North Korea, angered by Seth Rogan’s film depicting the assassination of Kim Jung-un, was responsible for the cyber attacks against Sony, and amid threats of theater violence, enthusiasm for the film’s release evaporated as potential costs added up. When Sony announced it would cancel the Christmas Day release of The Interview, President Obama chastised Sony saying the company had “made a mistake,” and an earthquake of righteous indignation shook Hollywood. The NYT (12/19/14) reported that prominent members of the Hollywood community were fuming “about what they saw as failure by Sony to make a stand for artistic freedom.” According to Steve Carell is was “a sad day for creative expression,” and Michael Moore and Judd Apatow accused Sony of “caving to the hackers.” Rob Lowe also announced it was a sign that the terrorists have won. The cancellation brought calls from celebrities, directors, producers, and critics alike to ignore threats to consumer malls where screens predominate, and as David Carr (NYT 12/22/14) put it, “Play the Movie.”

And play it did. The day before Christmas Sony announced the film would be released in independent and art-house theaters, about 300 nationwide. Reported as an epic victory for freedom of expression, an NPR (ATC 12/24/14) interview with Josh Levin, the proprietor of one of the theaters showing the film, summed up the popular national narrative. Levin said, “It isn’t very often, frankly, in this country that such a high profile potential abridgment of people’s free expression is in the zeitgeist [that presents] an opportunity for us to all, as a country and as a people, stand up and say we will not tolerate people being bullied out of free expression.”

But so many issues cloud the simple media narrative celebrating freedom, creativity, and artistic expression it’s hard to know where to start.

On Christmas day filmmaker Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer 2008) took to Facebook and offered some perspective about bullying filmmakers:

Well, THE INTERVIEW will be screened. Everyone can go back to the routine now. And, here’s the simple truth: Seth Rogen’s “free speech” rights were never at risk. He’s starred in 67 films. His film got made and was bound to be released eventually. But…Women filmmakers (a measly 6% of directors), Latino filmmakers (a minuscule 2% of directors), Black filmmakers (a tiny 6% of directors) actually face real, constant, systemic threats to their ability to speak. Embedded in those numbers are countless filmmakers who don’t get a shot.

The Interview got it’s shot by blowing the head off No.1 US evil enemy Kim Jong Un, but it wasn’t Rogan’s creativity that came up with that plot twist. It came from the CIA. Though the Los Angeles Times reported that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg claimed it was their idea to have Kim Jong Un as the target, an email from Sony’s senior vice president Marisa Liston, published in The Daily Beast indicated that it came from Sony through the intelligence agency. “They mentioned that it was a sony executive that told them to not use a fictitious name, but to go with kim jon-un,” wrote Liston. “They mention that a former cia agent and someone who used to work for Hilary [sic] Clinton looked at the script.” Not content to interact only with the CIA, an email from Sony CEO Michael Lynton reveals that he checked with “someone very senior in State” who confidentially, gave him the go-ahead for the filmic representation of the assassination of a living head of state—the first in U.S. film history.

In addition, Sony had already censored the film by agreeing to alter certain scenes for international distribution, The Daily Beast (12/15/14) quoted emails from Nigel Clark, president of international marketing for Sony Pictures appeasing international distributors. “Have these revisions addressed any concerns you might have had regarding the over-the-top violence in the third act of the film?” Mexico, Sweden, Russia, Belgium, Brazil, and France, preferred the altered, “softer version” with Eric Brune, head of Sony Pictures in France, observing “the violent version is, I think a little bit too much for a comedy.”

Sony drafted a list of detailed talking points for their executives that attempted to hide its continual shaping of the film’s content: “This is a Columbia Pictures release and our parent company has little to no involvement in the creative direction taken.”

But Sony’s reliance on the CIA and the State Department, together with its penchant to alter film content to increase profits is nothing out of the ordinary. Blockbuster films made at major studios are required to pass the censors before they receive military support, which accounts for some of the most profitable films in Hollywood. The Pentagon and every branch of the Armed Services now help major studios shape, alter, influence and censor films for US audiences. Philip Strub is the long-time head of The DOD’s Entertainment Liaison Office, and a powerful player in the movie business. When making war films, blockbusters and superheroes tales, Hollywood needs military hardware to shoot; think jets, tanks, battleships and personnel. They have no hope of getting such government largess unless they first submit their scripts to Strub, who openly admits that, “sometimes they require script changes as a condition of providing support.” War films must depict military life as “realistically” as possible, or they must “inform the public” about U.S. military prowess, or assist in recruitment. Strub also explains the real goals of military/media collaborations, “any film that portrays the military as negative is not realistic to us.” In fact, “The Marine Corps’ film office in Los Angeles contains a floor-to-ceiling shelf of files on films that asked for assistance but were never made, “most too expensive to produce without military assistance.”

In addition to vetting scripts before supplying the hardware, Strub’s office carefully monitors the “creative” process once the film is in production. No on-set deviations from the content stipulations are allowed, a process that circumscribes independent improvisation or creative input that might emerge in the collaborative process that is film production.

With a budget of over four billion dollars, the DOD’s PR apparatus is well funded, highly organized, and extremely influential. The public pays for these productions in many ways, mostly by footing the bill for propaganda. “Strub has been uniformly admired in Hollywood and few pictures have deviated much from the ideological consensus he fostered—patriotism, a virtuous U.S. military, glorification of battlefield exploits and masculine heroism.”

The 2012 recruitment film Act of Valor represents a significant leap in the militarization of Hollywood. Originally an ad funded by the DOD, it was the first feature film to star active duty Navy SEALs. The film’s themes give new life to military PR dreams of heroism, evil enemies, and terrorists who torture American agents in a plot so implausible it should be a spoof. But the film’s aestheticization of war that celebrates Special Forces and the transformation of U.S. foreign policy is no laughing matter. As Jeremy Schill documents in Dirty Wars (2013), Special Forces terrorize civilians with night raids and clandestine killings. Act of Valor sanitizes those policies and is a filmic denial of the human, moral and political costs that glorify US endless wars.

In addition to reinforcing American war policies worldwide, many blockbusters are advertisements for high-tech weapons. With spectacular comic book and science fiction films, fantasy works as promotion. The DOD’s and Marvel Studios created Iron Man (2008), with sequences filmed at Edwards Air Force base, where director Jon Favreau had access to “the great C17s and the Raptors and all the stuff.” The result is a “blue-skies ballet” between Iron Man and the F22A Raptors, which combine forces to kill a group of Afghan terrorists modeled on Al-Qaeda. Air Force officials gloated that they came off looking like rock stars. And in Michael Bay’s blockbuster Transformers, (2007) every branch of the DOD teams up with American teenagers and some good alien robots (Autobots) to do battle with bad ones (Decepticons) and save the world. The film was shot White Sands Missile Base in New Mexico. Army liaison, Lt. Col. Gregory Bishop, boasted: “As far as I know, this is the biggest joint military operation movie ever made. Even Superman now shills for the Pentagon’s militainment factory. Man of Steel (2013) doubles as a fantastical advertisement for the F-35 jet, which flies its first and only mission over Smallville, Superman’s hometown. In reality, the DOD’s R&D on this jet is a farcical boondoggle; it was grounded due to technical difficulties, costing taxpayers $400 billion, and is projected to reach $1.5 trillion before it is done.

Don’t forget that is was Sony that also brought us Zero Dark Thirty, a film collaboration with the CIA. The torture report shared the news cycle with the Sony hacking story, and it should come as no surprise that CIA Director John Brennan, gave the same specious defense for torture woven into the plot of ZD30; that torture led to information “useful” to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.

The coverage of the cyber attacks against Sony should have prompted an examination of Hollywood’s collaboration with the national security state. Instead, a celebration of freedom of expression denied that the real story of censorship in Hollywood comes from the US Armed Forces.


The Transnational Choke Hold

The deaths of Palestinian Minister Ziad Abu Ein and Eric Garner are not related by analogy, but by interconnected, transnational forces of oppression. Ziad Abu Ein died today (12/10/14) while “demonstrating” along with the villagers of Turmsayya in the West Bank against the occupation of their land by the settler of the Adei Ad outpost.  When the villagers sought access to their land to plant olive trees, they were repelled by Israeli Occupation Forces using tear gas and physical force. As is typical of such encounters, at one point Abu Ein was remonstrating with the soldiers. Accounts differ about precisely what happened in the scuffle shortly after which he collapsed and died, whether he was hit by a rifle butt, as claimed by the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, or whether he more likely died of a heart attack, as Israeli military sources claimed. The scuffle was recorded on video by more than one news agency and photographed from different angles, capturing a moment in which an Israeli border policeman has his hand to Abu Ein’s throat. He was not choked to death as was Eric Garner by the NYPD, but he died in a confrontation with a violent power that obeys no just law.

The death of Abu Ein was not an extraordinary incident in the context of Israeli occupation. As the Facebook posting by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem points out, the combination of state support for settlements that are illegal even by Israeli law, military rule, and violent repression of all Palestinian protests leads all too often to unpunished killings of Palestinians.

I don’t offer here a critical analysis of the many connections between Israel’s control over the lives of the Palestinians who live under its military rule, as discriminated citizens under its civil rule, or as non-citizens under its dispossession, and the lives of Black Americans in the US. The lives and bodies of Black Americans and Palestinians under their respective regimes are made to matter for much less than those of others. For sure, both sets of circumstances involve racism, economic inequality, historical injustice, and subjection to illegitimate armed force. Such an analysis is not needed because the connection between Eric Garner’s killing, the “I can’t breathe campaign” and the resistance of Palestinians to occupation is already evident visually. The solidarity between Palestinians, the “I can’t breathe” campaign and Ferguson is evident in Hamde Abu Rahma’s photo essay “‘I can’t breathe’ FromPalestineToFerguson,” which was covered in the Addicting Info blog and reported on an alternative Israeli news outlet. Today, Abu Rahma’s Facebook page shows a photo of Abu Ein with an Israeli soldier’s hand on his throat. Eric Garner couldn’t breathe in the choke hold of the NYPD, Black Americans can’t live freely in the choke hold of racism, Abu Ein and Palestine can’t breathe under the choke hold of Israeli occupation.

Palestinian minister Ziad Abu Ein (L) scuffles with an Israeli border policeman near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 10, 2014.


Military Videogames – It is All a Matter of Perspective!

The recent release of Grand Theft Auto 5 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 has brought questions of perspective into sharp focus. What, in short, are the consequences of the move to play first person? Here I offer some thoughts on the question of violence and what the moves in GTA may mean for future depictions of war within military shooters.

Central to the reaction to GTA5, is the question of whether or not the move to a first-person perspective has a greater effect on the player in terms of how they respond to the in-game violence which they can perform? A column in Forbes entitled, ‘First Person Mode Makes ‘GTA 5’ More Horrible Than Ever’ is fairly typical of this media debate, suggesting that the move to first person does indeed make such violence more visceral and by implication has greater impacts for players (

Here I don’t wish to engage in the debates centred on the media effects of violence (see Robinson, 2012 for my take on the politics of this (, instead I want to reflect on how GTA5 may act as a precursor to more ‘realistic’ violence in future military shooters. GTA5 offers depictions of a ‘real city’, with urban citizenry walking around in their day to day lives, and the game offers the player the opportunity to attack them as they are texting, walking and chatting etc. In doing this, GTA5 exposes how sanitised (relatively at least) videogame depictions of war actually are.

Most players of war games will be familiar and highly experienced at playing first person – most military combat games such as the Battlefield, Call of Duty and now cancelled Medal of Honor series are framed from a first person perspective with the player occupying the boots of a soldier and engaged in killing waves of enemies with machine guns, hand grenades, remote guided weaponry and mechanised equipment. Yet what is striking is that most of these encounters are handled in a very different way to GTA5. First, civilians are seldom represented in the game, so preventing the possibility of civilian casualties. Second, Spec Ops: The Line aside, when they are represented the norm is for the game to present the player with a ‘fail state’ if they attack/injure civilians. Conflict and violence is only to be used on legitimate targets, namely those military combatants who threaten the player in his/her role as a serving military operative.

Such conflict is also invariably at distance – the player is actively discouraged from close up or hand to hand combat. Whilst military shooters frequently give the player the capacity to melee (and this is usually highly effective in that it neutralises the enemy in a single strike) it is normally only used as a last resort. Thus, reflecting back on the majority of war games having played GTA 5 reinforces the clinical, surgical and precise nature of war as depicted in military videogames. In fact, if videogame depictions of war were more like the brutal depictions in GTA5 then this would make such depictions arguably more ‘authentic’ and ‘realistic’. Yet the controversy over the game Six Days in Fallujah which Konami decided to withdraw from publishing in 2009 suggests that the industry (and perhaps even the players) are not ready for such depictions – may GTA5 (for good or ill) prove to be a first step in this direction?  (For more on Six Days in Fallujah: