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Warnography’s Visceral Allure

By Casey N. Cep, Crimson Staff Writer

Winston Churchill once quipped: “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Now, only a few wars later, digital photography has caught more than the truth with its pants down.

Facilitating the photographic striptease is nowthatsfuckedup.com (NTFU), a website where “Soldier Submitted Pictures of Iraq and Afghanistan” are nestled neatly between “Amateur Wife and Girlfriend Pics” and the “Voyeur, Public Nudity, and Found Archive.”

Using the website, soldiers stationed in the Middle East exchange their wartime pictures—a snapshot of their uniformed friends or a macabre still of war casualties—for free access to pornography. Converting their art into the currency of eroticism, these soldiers are fueling a new industry and creating a cult of warnography.

A moralist in his own mind, the site’s creator and administrator, Chris Wilson, congratulated himself in an article published last week by the Online Journalism Review (OJR). The OJR profiles Wilson as an interesting altruist; the report describes how, after its launch in 2004, the site became popular with American soldiers who then began “having trouble using their credit cards in Iraq to access the paid pornographic content on the site, so he [Wilson] offered them free access if they could show that they were actually soldiers.”

The proof was in the pictures. Soldiers began submitting photographic evidence ranging from shots of Middle Eastern road signs to mundane pictures of soldiers on duty to gruesome images of war casualties.

Already, more than 8,000 threads have been created within the soldier-submitted-content pages, but a single thread can contain multiple pictures and inspire hundreds of posts by members of the website.

Contributors classify their content as “general” or “gory” and then rate themselves: some “really need a hobby” while others are “just here to masturbate.” More crass than their sophomoric sexual classifications are the pornographic icons and advertisements that pervade the threads of “gory” material.

This juxtaposition is an uncomfortable reminder of the soldiers’ often-licentious motivations. The purity of truth and the degradation of sacrifice are melded as unflinching journalistic accuracy, brutal violence, and sexuality are used to achieve self-satisfaction.

It is disturbing to note that a photo-post branded “not for the squeamish” has been viewed 137,360 times and its 19 photographs of severed and mutilated bodies have solicited such comments as “sux to be them,” “wickked pics just wickked,” and “the U.S. chose the battlefield, not the battle…better there than here.”

Post by post, these strands stumble through ethics, politics, and culture. With moral reasoning and journalistic integrity suspended for the sake of sexual gratification, the boundary between lust and real life becomes infinitely unbridgeable—what swells beneath does not, at least according to the comments posted on the site, give rise to any activity above.

NTFU is not alone in its cyber-hosting of soldiers’ photographs and opinions on American foreign policy. Orgish.com provides another online cache of horrifying images, advertising itself as providing “a service to the world by showing something the regular news will not show”; another site, rotten.com provides even more webspace for an “archive of disturbing illustration.” The graphic content on rotten.com, of accidents, medicine, forensics, and suicides in addition to war, attracts about 15 million hits per day.

Another site, camerairaq.com is a project of Carleton College’s Cinema & Media Studies Departments that hosts news and commentary about “the War of Images in the Middle East.” These sites do not incentivize contributors; their content is posted and shared without the promise of pornography.

Unique to NTFU is the smut, which seems largely overshadowed by the warnography, despite the administrator’s efforts to improve the quality of both through submission rules. Pictures for the “wife and girlfriend pics” cannot be accepted from webcams, must be of females, must feature the said female either topless or fully nude, and cannot present public nudity outdoors.

Soldiers are commanded to add only “real pictures you or your buddies have taken while you have been deployed.” Nominally discouraging plagiarism, NTFU “does not want already published pictures that were taken by news people.” Avoiding more than the legality of copyright, NFTU pushes issues of decency—inciting soldiers to produce incendiary, warnographic pictures.

The presumed authenticity of these photographs was questioned last week by the Pentagon, whose independent investigation reached no conclusion about the involvement of American soldiers in the website. Despite the failure of Army inquiries to indict soldiers for their alleged conduct, Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker admonished soldiers about “internet safety” and cited another part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that prohibits the distribution of information threatening military security.

The dissemination of imagistic truth from America’s involvement in the Middle East has been a long time coming, and, while the government might use the pornographic content of NTFU as a distraction, one must be cognizant of perhaps a more realistic motive: corralling American soldiers and closing the eyes of the American public.

Threats of disciplinary action have not hindered the NTFU’s popularity. This weekend, a message was left for readers explaining a temporary loss of service—higher volumes of visitors forced the site to upgrade and repair their network.

The site administrator’s message also acknowledged the controversy surrounding the forum, justifying the “explicit, even gruesome, images of wartime violence.” He encouraged remembrance of World War II, when censorship dominated the press, reverence for the First Amendment, and recollection of a Time magazine caption: “Dead men have indeed died in vain if live men refuse to look at them.”

Although a disclaimer at the bottom of every NTFU page purports domicile in the Netherlands and immunity to prosecution through Dutch law, its opening banner laments “America isn’t easy…Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

The organ seems misidentified when the eyes and, in the case of NTFU, the lower extremities, not the lungs, of visitors are most affected. The grotesque becomes something like pathos, intriguing our sympathies and altering our perceptions—the images of this war, previously censored but now presented on sites like NTFU, will most certainly redefine our gaze. With or without pants, the truth is making its way around the world fringed with photography, pornography, or, in the age of digital communication, warnography.

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