Justice III

Documentary war photographs, says Susan Sontag among others, have the potential to stir the viewer to aspirations for peace as much as prurient and violent passions. The manipulation of images today makes cruelty and heroism part of the same source. Only the modern technological means of capturing images has changed, however, not the age-old passions. The virulence of passions is ancient. By stirring memory, whole peoples build up and are overtaken by their worse vices. Forgetfulness becomes treasonous to the desire for vengeance (usually falsely identified as justice). And the conditions of the present only serve to fuel the passion of vengeance. To recommend not forgetfulness but transcendence may seem frivolous and irrelevant to an oppressed people, as does an appeal to the oppressor for humanity and peace. It is our dependence on the here and now that dooms us. We are punished by our own cruelty, violence, passion — but we do not learn from them, instead wanting to engage them again and forever, like Laacoon.