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Violence and art in the virtual age can embody war as a representation of pain, conflict, and innocence. War photography can also imply more than just combat and soldier’s sacrifice, but it is also a way to immortalize the brutality of war beyond the front lines. These types images can create powerful storylines and lasting impressions, and sometimes influence how the public understands war. Susan Sontag argues that, “a photograph that brings news of some unsuspected zone of misery cannot make a dent in public opinion unless there is an appropriate context of feeling and attitude” (Sontag, 1977). Objectively, these photographs bear witness to historical events and collective trauma of war itself, and can either diminish support or eternalize patriotism. Subjectively, the presence of trauma in artwork can two things: firstly, it showcases the impact of war on its victims and/or forces the acknowledgment of the incredible devastation of innocent civilian/victims, and secondly, it serves as a way to disrupt and change the viewers attention, empathies, repulsions, to one of anti-war sentiments, even temporarily.
Photographic censorship of the atomic bombs dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima by the United States from 1945-1950’s trivialized the destruction and suffering of the innocent victims at the bombed sites, and created a justification for America’s decision to drop the bombs. Photographs of the bombings printed in publications only provided aerial shots of bombed cities, and failed to show the affected victims, the desolate landscapes, or any other attestation to the catastrophic explosions. The distortion of facts, photographs, and articles served to contribute to anti-Japanese sentiment. Once censorship was lifted years later, other photographs and their captions revealed gruesome, abhorrent narratives of the bombing’s aftermaths. Hiroshima was the initial target of the first nuclear bombing on August 6th by the nuclear weapon entitled “Little Boy.” Around 30% of the population was killed by the blast (HISTORY). On August 9th, 1945, a second atomic bomb was detonated over the Japanese City of Nagasaki, named “Fat Man”; thousands of people were again killed outright.
Imperial army photographer Yosuke Yamahata documented Nagasaki the day after it was bombed. His photograph, Mother Nursing Child, seen below in Figure 1,  is one of the most iconic images following the Nagasaki bombing. A young mother is pictured breastfeeding her dying child while waiting for emergency treatment. The woman in the photographer was Tanaka Kio, and the nursing child was her 4-month old son who died less than two weeks later (“Yamahata yosuke,” n.d.) Both mother and child are clearly suffering from severe burns. A large burn covers the right side of Tanaka’s cheek. She looks down at her infant despairingly, comforting him with her breast. Her son is covered in head and arm burns. He lies barely clothed in his mother’s arms, clawing at her open robe as he suckles weakly. The baby appears half-dead and he can barely keep his eyes open. The absence of color makes it easier to focus on the subjects of the photograph by contrasting the burns with Tanaka and her son’s light skin, and her hopeless expression. Reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna and Child, in which Mary serenely gazes down at plumply, healthy baby Jesus, Mother Nursing Child is a stark comparison. In both portrait and photo, mother’s clutch their babies closely and intimately, but only one mother can protect her child from suffering while the other cannot.
Subjectively, there is a lost innocence when we look at this baby, knowing that his suffering was intentional, that is psychologically and emotionally tangible because this child is vulnerable and blameless, a pure victim. Figure 1. questions who the real enemy of war is: is it the young baby who succumbs to his war injuries, or is it an injured mother who tries to console her dying baby but cannot protect him? Killing and injuring noncombatants deliberately as part of collateral damage is heartbreaking; it was mass murder. Intended to destroy Japan’s war capabilities after unconditional surrender terms were rejected, this type of aggression has become unjustifiable. A Gallup poll conducted in 2015 “asked Americans whether, had the decision been left up to them, they would have ordered the bombs to be dropped, or tried some other way to force the Japanese to surrender. Half the respondents said they would have tried some other way, while 44% still backed using nuclear weapons”(Stokes, 2015). Over time, a decline in support for war was a result of seeing unintended casualties and slaughter. This proves that images like Figure 1 change public opinions to those of anti-war sentiments.
The disturbing image of a nine-year-old child running down a road in Vietnam away from a napalm strike captured and horrified the world, making for a very persuasive and opinion changing photograph. That girl is Kim Phuc, and she is the focal point of the photograph. She is stripped of her clothes with arms outstretched, and her face is contorted in pain. Other Southern Vietnamese children are seen running in front and behind Kim and the frontmost boy’s face is in pure agony. All the other children are clothed. The expression of the other girl is blurred since she is further from the foreground, however it is most likely quite similar while she tugs on a younger sibling. The bodily postures of Kim and the boy in the foreground are similar where their hands are stretched out, signifying pain from the burning sensation of the napalm. All the way in the back, a young boy wearing only a shirt turns around towards the remains of their village. Behind the children, army clad soldiers walk calmly and causally, and appear to be herding the children onward. The soldiers are emotionless and devoid of sympathy. And behind all this tragedy, a rolling dark smoke from the napalm drop envelops the background. Lastly, the lack of color emphasizes the absence of color, and draws attention to the bleakness of the lives of the war victims. The so called Napalm Girl, pictured below in Figure 2. was taken by photographer Nick Ut on June 8th, 1972, and released June 9th after much editorial debate over nudity. The photograph went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and is viewed as “a defining photographic icon.” 
This photograph of Kim Phuc not only divulges the agonies of war extensibly, but it also proves that the Vietnam War destroyed thousands of innocent civilian lives; it de-glorified the war because up until then, the violence was never seen. The main reason why this photograph so powerfully opened the eyes of most Americans was because it portrayed young children. Generally, children signify innocence and vulnerability. Perfectly put, author Nancy Miller writes ” fittingly, perhaps, the icon representing the Vietnam war is the picture of a victim and on the scale of vulnerability, what more poignant than a child, a wounded child, and a child who also happens to be a naked girl on a burning road? (Miller, 2004). Because there was no media censorship, photojournalist were able to report and present the public with more grisly, and graphic images. The intensively negative image of Figure 2 shifted American opinion by showing the truisms of war in both photographic articles, and broke the disillusionment of what was going ‘right’ with the war.
Kim’s unselfconscious nakedness is reminiscent of Renaissance pairings where unclothed, cherub children symbolized an ideal form of innocence and purity. In reality, Kim stripped her clothing off to save herself from the napalm burns. Therefore, she is stripped away of her safety, and childhood innocence due to the attack. Her communication of pain that is so central to the photograph that Kim projects it forward towards the viewer, and this is effect is amplified with the foremost young boy. By facing the lens, she is demanding eye contact and forcing implication from the viewer. The viewer is complicit with the loss of her civilian protection through a war without a purpose. Ut’s traumatic photograph highlighted that war does more harm than good, that realistically not only soldiers are killed/injured, and that war is a betrayal against humanity through the unfounded the loss and injury of innocent civilians. Both pitiful and terrifying, the children’s pain and innocence galvanized American public opinion against the conflict by allowing the viewer to experience compassion and sympathy for Kim.
More currently, social media has become fundamental in shaping how the Syrian civil war is perceived and portrayed. Social media is a necessary medium to spread information such as photos, videos, etc., about the uprising worldwide. Both the above photographs took time to be seen by the public, either because of censorship or having to wait for publication; it took time for the public to recognize and digest the horrors they had seen. Figure 3, “The Boy in the Ambulance” was widely shared the same day it was taken. On August 17th,  a video and snapshots of 5-year old boy Oman Daqneesh emerged and traumatized the world. Rescue workers pulled him out of the rubble in the rebel-held district of Qaterji, Aleppo in Syria, after surviving a Russian nighttime airstrike. He was one of five children injured that day. 
The bright orange color of the chair and first aid equipment is juxtaposed to Omran’s dusty and bloodied face. The color of the blood on the left side of his face is a dark brownish red. His facial expression is one of bewilderment to what is happening around him, and his motionless feet barely extend over the seat. His left eye appears to be shut, while his right eye gives a dead stare. There is no movement on his face. Given the fact that Omran has been through an extremely traumatic event, his lack of reaction signals to the viewer that he is in a state of shock. He is wearing what appears to be his pajamas given the time of the bombing: a t-shirt with a print on the front and a pair of blue short. Both his arms rest on his thighs. He just sits in the chair, and there is no crying or shouting, he sits in silence.
“The Boy in the Ambulance” was taken by Mahmoud Raslan. Omran’s parents and siblings, his older sister and brother, were all rescued, except the older brother Ali, survived. Today, a year after Omran’s rescue, the civil war in Aleppo is finally over and residents are struggling to overcome the complete destruction of their city.
Photographs like Figure 3 have become very ordinary. Time Magazine noted that “dramatic pictures and video footage from Syria of ash covered children and rescue workers removing bodies from rubble are now commonplace”(Katz, 2016). The seemingly endless parade of despair that occurs everyday in Syria was/is highly visible on social media. However, Omran’s image stands out because of his innocent stare and age. The fact that a young child has fallen victim to bombing while he slept in his bed is hard to accept. His composure in the midst of chaos tells the viewer that all his life, war is all he has ever known and what Omran has experienced cannot be conveyed through emotion or words. Viewers empathize with Figure 3 because we can personify our own children, nieces, nephews, etc., onto him, who could potentially go through such an experience. Personal identification leads to a more powerful emotional reaction. This photograph also evokes the question of whether his parents are alive or not, further forcing the viewer to question and empathize with Omran: Who will take care of him? Will he live? What will be done now? Personal identification leads to a more powerful emotional reaction, and focuses attention to casualties of the individual innocent victim; this allows the viewer to perceive tragedy. This photograph moved people to take interest and provide aid in a new way than before its publication. To American’s, Syria is not our problem, and is instead the fault of others. This way, we can blame others and justify our inaction. This apathy is disproven when we look at Omran. His image compels us to move from sentiment to action. This illustration of tragedy that Omran and the Syrian people are going through calls for the denunciations of global indifference to the Syrian crisis, and was used to express outrage against the war in Syria.
In conclusion, photographs of victims pain and suffering during war may give rise to contradictory responses: a call for help, a condemnation of war; or simply shocking awareness that horrible things happen. It is easy to forget that innocent civilians are often targeted, injured, and killed during these times. War forces people to reassess their opinions of it as these images are the only evidence we have of its devastation. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were treated as a continuation of acceptable warfare, leaving out the sickening consequences of radiation exposure. Reporting the humanizing aspects of the victims like, Tanaka Kio, uncovered the sad truth of civilians who hopelessly waited for aid as they stood in their demolished surroundings; they were the unintended targets. Firstly portrayed as necessary, the weapons of terror were eventually seen as extreme. Moreover, Ut’s portrayal of the Vietnam war gave people the opportunity to see the impact of a different type of weapon of terror: on noncombatant’s who are children. The ugliness of this photograph declined American public pro-war support significantly because the trauma inflicted on innocent victims who were not the enemy. Fast forwarding to 2016, and we still are seeing the tragedy of human cost, like in Figure 3. Omran was a five year old target. This image immediately told the full story of the attempted massacre in Aleppo, and motivated action for ending the six year conflict in Syria. Together, all these images portray a collective suffering that allows the viewer to realize the irreversible and inhumane way war destroys ordinary, innocent lives.

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