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War Visible

News: What we don't want to see when we look at Iraq.

By Rebecca Solnit

July/August 2005 Issue

Penny Allen looked. On an airplane over the Atlantic, the Paris-based filmmaker 
and novelist met a soldier going home on leave, listened to his tales, and, 
at his insistence--I can't look at that! You have to look!--viewed the movie 
he played on his laptop of his daily routine 
in Iraq. The two kept in touch, and Allen compiled the images he sent her into a 
foto-roman with dialogue gleaned from their conversations, a cartoon rendering 
starker in its reality than anything allowed on the evening news. Her construction, 
"War Is Hell" (excerpted above), has since been exhibited in art galleries in the 
United States. Its very awkwardness--atrocity as comic strip--summons up the 
inadequacy of our equipment for coming to terms with what is being done in our 
names, with our money. Here are the frames of a comic strip: roadscape, armored 
carrier close-up, explosion, gore. The surprise that is entertaining in the 
comics-next frame: Kaboom!--is the foundation of fear in war. Here is a dreary 
landscape that would be boring for the young soldiers were it not punctuated by 
confrontations in which they may become or make corpses. In stark desert light, 
these images, and others being transmitted by our troops to our reluctant eyes, 
lay wide open a secret war, perhaps the secret of every war: its gruesomeness, 
its brutality.


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