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Nick Berg and Lynndie England


All-American Snuff


by Ken Mondschein



The war in Iraq is no longer about oil, or democracy, and freedom. It has become a reality TV contest: Who can make a better snuff film?

I haven't even seen the Not-so-Nearly Headless Nick Berg video, but I still have fucking nightmares about it. Held down and decapitated with a rusty Iraqi Boy Scout knife? Nobody deserves to die like that. And what did he do to deserve the Danny Pearl treatment? He was just another civilian in a war zone—albeit one who wasn't actually a mercenary—trying, in the best American way, to make a buck. Basically, he was a one-man Halliburton, but, unlike said corporation, which deserves to get it in the neck infinitely more, he didn't have armed guards assigned to him at taxpayer expense. And if you're Dick Cheney, how do you live with yourself knowing your stock options just caused someone's kid to become a Pez dispenser?

This community theater presentation was, of course, their artistic response to Lynndie England's American Salo. It is an outrage that this woman should do to poor Iraqi prisoners, in the course of performing her military duties, things that Fortune 500 CEOs pay their dominatrixes perfectly good money for. Thank goodness we remembered to classify the Iraqis as "niggers"—we couldn't be doing that to caucasoids, would we?

Worse, Private England's privates seem to have found their way into the public. It seems that in addition to recording their BDSM activities, Lynndie and her friends recorded some more vanilla-type sex, as well. Gee, torturing people, publicly humiliating them, having group sex, and preserving all of it for posterity—where could they have gotten these ideas? Hmmmmn. "Fear Factor"? "Survivor"? "The Swan"? Paris Hilton? It was like Abu Ghraib prison was run by TV executives. "Coming this fall. . . a new low in reality television. Eight contestants will be imprisoned in a third world country and arbitrarily tortured for cash and prizes. Who will crack—and who will win a million dollars and a chance to marry Lynndie England?"

Still, I feel we can't blame her and her cohorts too much. The step between ordinary guy and war criminal, as Christopher Browning showed, is pretty narrow. As a famous Stanford University psych experiment showed, if you take a normal bunch of college students and randomly assign them to be "prisoners" and "guards," pretty soon they'll start acting out the roles. And, though we don't admit it to ourselves, Americans have a pretty good taste for schadenfreude—we are, after all, a culture where divine retribution makes an appearance everywhere from Death Row to Hollywood blockbusters.

Just put yourself in Lynndie England's shoes: She's away from home, probably for the first time in her life, put by Uncle Sam smack dab in the middle of the frat party from hell. She has, probably for the first time in her life, a cute boyfriend. (Did she even get asked to her senior prom back in West Virginia?) All Lynndie wanted to do is to be accepted by her new friends, and the way to do that was to hold an Iraqi prisoner's leash. I think any sorority member has done worse during pledge week, and for much the same reason.

As for recording it—well, that's what happens when the culture of participation-through-media meets the war zone. In the '60s, people at home were horrified by the images of atrocities being broadcast from Vietnam; in Iraq, though, even private soldiers are free to make their own atrocity home movies. If you've been raised in a culture where the best sex is what you watch on videotape and where something is only real if it happens on TV, it's perfectly understandable to want to filter reality through a camera lens in order to authentically experience it.

The scariest thing, when you come down to it, isn't that Lynndie England is some sort of anomality—it's that she's one of us.


Note on Rene Gonzalez and the Infamous Pat Tillman Editorial. Sure, he was a stupid asshole who said some hurtful things. But, knowing how the American military has treated Puerto Rico (as a bombing range), I can understand why he's pissed. What I was shocked and appalled at this is how the editorial was treated by everyone from the university president to self-proclaimed upstanding Americans. The Massachusetts state legislature censured him, for crying out loud! I should add that he is being forced to drop out of his grad program in political science at UMass-Amherst (the campus group through which he gets his funding is refusing to renew it), and that even his fellow students are agreeing he should get the boot. Moreover, the school came down hard on the student paper itself for daring to publish his editorial. It's one thing to disagree with someone's opinion, and another to shoot the messenger. If that doesn't represent a crackdown on free speech on campus, I don't know what does. Shame on the UMass community for being too frightened to do so much as speak up against this.


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Posted May 16, 2004 12:30 AM




Certain things within your latest article disturb me. While I, along with you, was thoroughly disgusted with the Nick Berg video, it seems as if you have decided to turn this into some sort of attack at our administration. First and foremost, you must understand that our government did not put this man to death. Terrorists orchestrated his death because our government refused to bow to demands of a prisoner exchange, and rightly so. Moving on, with that same thought in mind: "And if you're Dick Cheney, how do you live with yourself knowing your stock options just caused someone's kid to become a Pez dispenser." Cheney is on a fixed salary from Halliburton. He gains no money whether Halliburton makes a billion dollars this year, or loses a billion. And all money generated by his stock goes straight to charity. He makes no money. Terrorists cut off this man's head, not Cheney. You need to remember this fact. "It is an outrage that this woman should do to poor Iraqi prisoners, in the course of performing her military duties... The scariest thing, when you come down to it, isn't that Lynndie England is some sort of anomality—it's that she's one of us." If by one of us, you mean that she was an American, then I would have to readily agree with you. However, if by 'one of us' you mean that we would all act the same in her situation, then you're sadly mistaken. Perhaps we know different Americans. But here, where I live, the Americans I know are not in support of what this woman did. I come from a military family, and I can tell you with the utmost pride that not only do the average Americans I come in contact with detest what was done in Abu Ghraib, but so do the military personel that I regularly converse with. My father was in the Navy, my mother was a Marine, and I myself am in the Navy. We have nothing but the utmost contempt for what was done to these prisoners. As do most that I know. That is the attitude with which we have generated. Contempt. Contempt for what England did and contempt for all those who are also responsible. What was done was deplorable and outright filthy, however it does not reflect what the rest of us are like. And in that respect, she is most certainly not 'one of us.' I do want to say that this is not an attack on your site or you, personally. I realize that we all have our varying opinions, however you should be aware that your armed forces do not condone or agree with anything that happened at the prison. There are bad apples everywhere, and the military is no exception. You should remember, however, that when a drop of water falls into a glass of milk, it is still a glass of milk.

Posted by: Eric K. at October 4, 2008 6:07 AM

Us? Make fun of the Bush Administration? And the fact that Cheney's company is involved in this at all is sufficiently bad, we think, to merit a Congressional investigation. As for the evil in all of us—read Browning, and remember when you teased some kid for being different in junior high school.

Posted by: Corporate Mofo at October 4, 2008 6:07 AM



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