Notes From the Margins…

The British Army’s War Porn

  • September 25, 2011
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There is a rather nauseating story in today’s  Independent on Sunday about British soldiers gathering to watch ‘war snuff movies’ at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan for ‘morale boosting’ sessions. These ‘Kill TV nights’ consisted of video clips showing people being killed by Apache helicopters, and were accompanied by a commentary from Warrant Officer Andy Farmer.

According to the Independent:

In one clip an Afghan woman is targeted after a radio dialogue between pilots refers to her as a “snake with tits”. Another clip from a recent “Kill TV” night shows the cross-hair of an Apache helicopter taking aim at an insurgent. WOII Farmer gives a running commentary: “OK, so he’s walking along… then thinks… I’m gonna go off and get my 70 vessel [sic] virgins ’cause daylight’s coming quite quick.” As the missile hits the target and kills the person, he says “Goodnight princess”, adding “this is where you see he’s actually had the clothes ripped off him by the blast”.

Uplifting stuff.  This isn’t the first time that ‘war porn’ has made an appearance in the course of the ‘9/11 wars’ in Afghanistan and Iraq.  An American porn website once offered US soldiers  free access  in exchange for posting gruesome mobile phone clips of Iraqis shot at roadblocks etc.  It was this  fondness for trophy clips and photo-souvenirs that caught out the grinning morons standing by pyramids of naked bodies during  their ‘enhanced interrogations’ at Abu Ghraib prison.

Lyndie England, Charles Graner et al thought that what they were doing was fun and they clearly expected those to whom they sent these images to react in the same way. Whoever filmed the infamous  clip of military contractors in Iraq randomly opening fire on passing cars to a soundtrack of Elvis Presley’s ‘Mystery Train’ shared the same expectations.   British soldiers also took trophy photos and video clips from Iraq, including one clip of soldiers beating up Iraqi prisoners accompanied by a commentator who can be heard taking a disturbing relish  in every kick and punch.

The history of colonial wars and military occupations is filled with episodes of the brutalisation of the occupying army on one hand, whether in colonial Algeria, Vietnam or the West Bank, and the reduction of  the ‘native’ enemy to a killable object of violence and casual atrocity on the other    But the idea that ‘snuff’ footage can have a morale-boosting effect points is something I haven’t heard before.    Warrant Officer Farmer has no apologies for the practice, telling a Channel 4 Documentary which begins tonight:

“People look at it and say you know… young lads are laughing at the enemy being killed,” he says. “Well, I don’t know if the Taliban do something similar but I’m sure they rejoice when they kill one of us.”

No doubt they do.  But that doesn’t  entitle the army to transform the act of killing into a pleasurable form of entertainment to cheer up its soldiers.   Armies that need this kind of ‘morale boosting’ are clearly losing the plot.   Coming after the Baha Moussa inquiry and another incident in which British soldiers are alleged to have carried out a ‘sickening sex assault’ on a 14-year-old Iraqi boy, ‘Kill night’  is further evidence of the corrupting impact of futile and immoral wars on those who fight them.

And it does make you wonder about the kind of people who Michael Gove would like to place in the nation’s classrooms to act as role models to the nation’s youth.

2 Comments

  1. Richard Lawrence

    26th Sep 2011 - 3:31 pm

    Get your facts straight. The ‘snake tits’ incident was Americans 4 years AGO and had nothing to do with the content of this program. Kill TV is shown to demonstrate that we are hitting back as well as getting hit. Watch the actual documentary, it actually shows an ingrate Taliban who has been aggressive while getting treatment after being blown up while planting roadside bombs. He gets nursed back to health by OUR BOYS! Compare that to what they’d do to our lads given the chance.

    Plus after carrying back maimed and dead soldiers for month upon month, maybe just maybe seeing a few Taliban blown up on ‘Kill TV’ is not so terrible. Personally I don’t agree with you or the idea of Kill TV. Our soldiers have a job to do and they are chomping at the bit to do it thoroughly. To try and desensitise them is to give them too little credit for their professionalism and desire to do the right thing.

    Not all soldiers are sadistic sh1ts. In fact the majority aren’t. Why try to besmirch the others by selectively quoting from an article, the original of which I’ve seen, and while I don’t agree with it either, it is by no means as inaccurate as yours.

    • Matt

      26th Sep 2011 - 4:40 pm

      OK. First of all. You’re right. In the Independent’s report, the ‘snake tits’ incident does refer to the US Army attack in 2007 on Wikileaks. I stand corrected on that one – too quick on the draw. However, I don’t see that the other quotes that the Independent mentions from Kill Night. ie. the ‘virgins’ and ‘the princess’ exactly changes the substance of what I’m saying. I stand by my argument, which is that events like Kill Night represent a kind of ‘war porn’ and are part of a pattern of brutalisation and dehumanisation (which applies to both the British and US armies) – a pattern which is always a risk in any way, but which is particularly likely in neo-colonial wars and occupations such as Afghanistan/Iraq.

      Secondly, I’m not surprised that British soldiers would hate the Taliban – I don’t exactly expect them to like the people who are trying to kill and maim them, and sometimes succeeding. But armies have fought wars and killed people before without relishing killing and transforming the experience into ‘morale-boosting’ entertainment.

      I’m not saying that ‘all soldiers are sadistic shits’ – but some clearly are, and wars like these can easily make them more so. And such soldiers are too often swept under the carpet by the Army as a whole, by the politicians that send them, and by the public that refuses to face up to the consequences of these wars ie. that soldiers don’t just ‘give their lives for their country’, they also kill, and sometimes behave like thugs.

      And when that happens, it should be exposed and condemned – on an institutional not just an individual basis – and not ignored just because idiots like Michael Gove believe that the military represents some higher category of humanity per se.

      And as for ‘Our soldiers have a job to do and they are chomping at the bit to do it thoroughly’ – that’s an argument that covers a multitude of sins, and I certainly don’t see that it places the army on some kind of moral high ground.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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