Ramirez, Jessica, Newsweek
Byline: Jessica Ramirez
Videos depicting the gruesome deaths of enemy soldiers--and civilians--have taken the Internet by storm.
The video isn't quite clear. Three Iraqis stand in a field, unaware that a U.S. Apache helicopter is eyeing them from afar. Two of the men are handling what looks like a weapon, but there's no time to check. The Apache pilot gets an order: hit them. The 30mm bullets go clack-clack-clack. "Got [one]," says the pilot. "Good, hit the other one," says a voice on the radio. Clack-clack-clack. No. 2 goes down. The third man tries to hide behind a truck as bullets slam into the vehicle. After a few seconds a figure crawls into the open. "He's wounded," says the pilot. "Hit him [again]," says the voice. Clack-clack-clack. When the dust settles, the third man is dead.
Some 7,000 miles away, Nate J. sat in front of his computer, mesmerized by these images. It was 2006, and Nate, who owns a decal company, got his first taste of what soldiers and scholars call war porn. Although he's never been a soldier, Nate loves all things military. But this was better than anything he'd seen on the Military Channel. "I was just like 'Wow,' " he recalls. " 'I have to find more.' "
That was easy enough. Although the recently released footage of U.S. Apache helicopters gunning down two Reuters journalists appalled many, similar war videos are plentiful on Web sites like GotWarPorn.com and YouTube. Nate, who asked NEWSWEEK not to use his last name because he's received death threats, has uploaded more than 800 to his own channel on LiveLeak.com and other sites.
When the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts broke out, the military officially released some of the raw combat footage now on the Internet to build a stronger bond between the home front and the battlefield. Soldiers also took their own videos or pulled them from cameras on military systems like Predator drones. But almost as soon as these images became available, civilians and soldiers alike started splicing the clips together, often adding soundtracks and spreading them across the Web. Today there are thousands of war-porn videos, and they've been viewed millions of times. Like sexual porn, they come in degrees of violence, ranging from soft-core montages of rocket-propelled grenades blowing up buildings to snuff-film-like shots of an insurgent taking a bullet to the head. And even as the U.S. begins its march toward the end of two long conflicts, these compilations continue to attract viewers. With a videogame sensibility, they fetishize--and warp--the most brutal parts of these high-tech wars.
Historically, combat images have been captured and disseminated by a handful of professionals, such as the photographers Mathew Brady during the Civil War and Robert Capa during World War II. Now the immediacy of the Internet, coupled with the spread of cheap video technology, allows anyone to document war as they see it. "There's a new order," says James Der Derian, a professor at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies. "Unlike the photograph, the moving image creates a feeling that it more accurately depicts what it is representing, whether it does or not."
Academics date the origins of war porn to the scandalous images from Abu Ghraib Prison, in which Iraqi prisoners were stacked on top of each other to form naked pyramids, forced to simulate sexual acts, or otherwise abused. …