‘Regarding the Pain of Others is an article describing a different point of view about war as that proposed by Virginia Woolf. It begins by stating Virginia’s response to a question about war. Previously in the early years, an educated man had asked about how people could prevent war. Virginia’s book, ‘The Three Guineas’, is considered a response to this question. According to Virginia, the lawyer and others, constituting ‘we’, have their differences. These are based on education, experiences, and gender. The ‘we’ however, have a common thing they refer to, which could provide a solution to the lawyer’s question. This is photography of the war victims. Virginia explains that both the lawyer and her, have a common view about war; it is barbaric, an abomination, and disgusting. A photo of unrecognizable bodies of people, which are also referred to as pigs, is used to show the barbaric nature of war. From Virginia’s point of view, this could be used to prevent war (Sontag).
Sontag is of a different opinion. She presents a strong point about the pictures. She describes a specific case where a soldier is caught by the enemies. The enemies drug the wounded soldier along a rocky road and end up killing him after putting him through that pain. The scene is similar to Virginia’s description of the purpose of such photography, except that such a scene would not direct people from war. It would set off another war. From Sontag’s point of view, soldiers affiliated with the humiliated soldier, family members, friends, and even the nation would want to fight back. Such photos are always accompanied by a description of who was killed, how, and why. In Virginia’s case, the photos do not name the victims (Sontag).
This essay support’s the author’s idea that photography, which shows people’s pain, cannot end the war. People may be affected differently depending on their perceptions about war. Some may even be happy about the outcome, depending on what led to such barbaric actions. One main problem with Virginia’s argument is the lack of incorporation in thought, of the complexity of issues that surround the occurrence of war.
First, it is important to recognize and understand that there are different reasons for starting a war, and depending on a common feeling that war is barbaric cannot make people stop it. Take the example of the conflict in Iraq. The US felt they had a responsibility to engage in that war because of previous experiences that the world has gone through. The war in Iraq is justified by the actions of Hitler, who became a killer dictator. Saddam Hussein could be another leader of that kind. Though there are other factors involved, the main argument was that this was a preventive war because it was aimed at saving lives (Lehrer). Saddam Hussein’s response to such a move was insensitivity that led to so many deaths. To Saddam’s people, the deaths may be blamed on the US government, and retaliatory attacks may be in progress. This is another sign of the cause of wars. To the US government, the war was just. Photos of dead children, women, men, and destroyed property may not sway the government to think that it is wrong to wage war against Iraq. Most people will consider it barbaric, but they will find a justification to go on with the war. Another example is the one given by the author; the case of a soldier being dragged down a rocky road. Citizens of that soldier would be driven by anger to revenge (Sontag).
One of the most respected rights in the world is the freedom of worship and religious belief. Within each religion, there are extremists who would interpret their beliefs to mean war for solving some of their problems. There are those who however believe that religious principles can help resolve conflicts (Sontag). If one’s religious beliefs advocate such barbaric acts and assume that the dead people deserve the death they went through, then just a photo showing their death will not end the war. It will be a justification of a mission accomplished. It also means that not all people will consider such deaths barbaric.
Another factor that may affect the initiation, and progress of the war is politics. Unicef indicates that political leaders are the cause of war everywhere because of their self-centeredness and insatiability. They are always greedy for resources and power that they do not consider the people when making decisions. If politicians were to consider the effects of war on a nation’s people, then they would be moved by the disgusting photos as assumed by Virginia. Political leaders, however, may have different reasons for justifying the war in order to get resources (Unicef 16).
George explains that the frequency of occurrence of war depends on intergroup culture; that there are cultures that do not support the war. This is an argument from anthropologists and primatologists who have studied people relations and have come to the conclusion that waging war is a cultural and not a biological trait. If waging war forms part of a community’s culture, presenting such photos will only be proof of alignment to the cultural beliefs (George 165).
It is also not possible to convince people to end the war by presenting people’s pain because the issues surrounding a specific war may already be too many, enormous, and already committed. Too many may refer to a series of attacks and retaliatory attacks against each other. Take the example of the war between Israel and Palestinians. Both sides have gone through a series of attacks, and each nation may be committed to be persuaded to end the war just by the sight of dead children, women, and men. The extent of the war is also too immense. The two nations attack each other using powerful weapons, and stricter rules are made by the day (Sontag; Krishnamurti 354).
There is also the issue of differences in race, color, ethnicity, economic status, and tribal origin. When people are treated differently based on the above classifications, chances of war occurring are high. It is because people like to be treated equally, but because there is inequality in various sectors, and people treat others meanly, this can lead to war (Unicef 16). Take the example of African Americans and the white population in America. Because African Americans are a minority and have a history of oppression, any negative treatment against them may push them to start a war. Using a photograph showing the effects of war may persuade a few but may not convince parties who believe that war would be a justified way to end the rivalry.
Those who support Virginia’s proposal for ending the war argue that the war is an invention just like slavery. It is an ordinary part of human culture that can be eliminated by preaching unacceptability (Lehrer). Promoting unacceptability worldwide could be a sure way to end the war. This is especially strengthened by the belief that war is a reflection of what is within an individual. If people are guided through a different culture that bans war and considers it inhuman; not necessary in life to solve conflicts, they may be, war can end. Virginia’s proposal however means that promoting unacceptability is showing people the effects of war. As explained earlier, war has complex issues accompanying its existence and progress. A warlike that between the Israelis and Palestinians cannot end by showing both sides the effect of the war. They already know the effects, but the war still goes on (Lehrer). Presenting the pain from these pictures could also cultivate bigger warring parties on behalf of the state.
The main point against Virginia’s idea of ending the war is the opposite message that the same pictures could communicate to the people. There is, however, other supportive information against the use of war photos, as a means to persuade people to end the war. People’s religious beliefs play a role in the cause of wars. One cannot persuade others to go against their religious beliefs for the sake of peace if the person believes that peace can only be achieved through war. There could be religious beliefs that condemn corruption, and the punishment for that can be death. By killing one person, the family members, friends, and community may be offended, and the war begins from here. The point is, emotion is not the only way to persuade people to end the war, and persuasion is not the only means through which war can end
George, Susan. Whose Crisis, Whose Future. Malden, MA: Polity, 2010. Print.
Krishnamurti, Jiddu. The first and last freedom. Ojai, California: Rajpal & Sons, 2013. Print.
Lehrer, Brian. “Could We End War, All War?” The Guardian. 25 June. 2012. Web. 20 October 2014.
Sontag, Susan. “Regarding the Pain of Others”. The New York Times. 23 March. 2003. Web. 20 October 2014.
Unicef. Will you listen? Young voices from conflict zones. UNICEF. 2007. Print.