Heart ache. Worry. Disgust. Fury. Bewilderment. Pity. Frustration.
These are only some of the words I can use to describe my reaction to all the horrid mess going on in and around Kobani, Syria. Note that I say “all” the horrid mess. That is intentional so as to include the knock-on messes, on the streets of European cities and within Turkey.
It is one thing to acknowledge that “war is hell” for those in uniform. It is an altogether different thing to acknowledge and see that hell coming to the innocent, those who are “caught up” in the mess, to use the phraseology of the news media, a phrase which somehow seems to create distance between us, the witnesses, and them, the victims.
But, there really is no distance. YouTube and Twitter have blown that distance away.
Yesterday, as the bombs fell on Kobani, I watched a Twitter account from a witness on a hill outside the city, describing each explosion and providing pictures. It was “real time” horror.
YouTube has shown spontaneous gun battles from the streets of Turkish cities between civilians caught up in the emotional turmoil to the extent of being willing to shoot and kill other civilians with whom they disagree.
I do not choose to emphasize some of the more horrific images that are available on the internet.
Informed comment on the ideology of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh or on the internal politics or statesmanship of Turkey is beyond me. The policies of the USA, current and leading up to this point over the past several years, are both baffling and also beyond my ability to excuse.
But, prompted by the YouTube videos and Twitter account strings, one oddly discordant and self-contradictory thought does occur to me..
There is an element of ours becoming a “selfie culture.” Our ever-present cell phone cameras allow us to capture any and every moment of our lives and post them. This very act of posting on the internet is itself a powerful force, an alluring, if utterly deceiving, siren call to fame. It was Andy Warhol, I think, who intoned in the mid-1960’s that “everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” Nowadays the time for fame has been compressed. You may get noticed for fifteen seconds, if you are lucky! But, I can keep taking selfies, keep posting to Twitter and YouTube. My life can be a movie. I can be a star. A celebrity. Famous.
So, there’s a demonstration outside. A political protest. Quick, grab my camera … my ever-ready and oh-so-excellent-GoPro … and my gun and …… Lights! Camera! Action! Guess what? I am Dirty Harry. Punk, you just made my day, and I got it all on video.
But, however much the allure, the deception is even more powerful. There simply is so much stuff out there. Such a constant flow. The competition for attention is enormous.
How is a really successful video described. “It has gone viral.” That’s right. Viral! Since when have viruses ever been a good thing?
And yet ….. (I told you my thought was discordant and self-contradictory) …
Much of the stuff we are getting from Twitter and YouTube out of Syria and elsewhere right now will not be found anywhere else. For whatever reason it is the freelance journalist or Dirty Harry wannabes who are bringing the world these images. And that informing of the globe has got to be a good thing.
I have on my desk a book. It comes from the pre-Twitter/YouTube/computer/internet age. It was published in 1936. It’s entitled The Yellow Spot with the following subtitle: The Extermination of the Jews in Germany, the first complete documentary study. It has pages of pictures and charts, first hand eye-witness accounts, and dire warnings of what lies ahead.
It was sent to public officials across Europe and the then free world. Pleading for help.
I bought my copy in the late 1960’s in a Glasgow second-hand bookstore. I found it fallen down behind a row of dust-laden books of Old Testament theology. Inside was a letter to “Councillor Greenhill” of the Glasgow City Council. It was his copy. The book was a paperback and I could easily tell …. it had never been opened.
The message of The Yellow Spot, delivered in 1936, had not gone viral.