Pornographic Scholarship and the War on Terror

At the 1991 annual convention of the American Popular Cultural Association, an event best described as “the Gong Show of American Academia,” I presented a paper on the air war in Vietnam. On the panel before ours, a professor from a women’s studies program at an Ivy League university discussed her work on pornographic movies and the Vietnam War. She showed scenes in which porno actors in GI garb ravish a bound female Viet Cong, savagely cutting off her unique, “black leather” VC pajamas. According to the professor, the scene captured the depravity of American soldiers, reflected the corruption of the Nixon administration, and depicted the end result of capitalist-imperialism. Karl Marx and Gloria Steinem vindicated with each grunt and moan! Presumably based on scholarship attendant to watching historical footage from sources like her academic pornography the professor concluded, “The conduct of American GIs in Vietnam matched that of the SS in Europe during the Second World War.”

The story line was predictable whether the characters had been attired in outlaw garb and schoolmarm dress, or dressed as cavemen with their captive cave girl. The pornographic scholarship was about prurient sadomasochism and any stretch to American foreign policy or legitimate military tactics was as silly as the movie.

When our panel convened, the moderator, a journalist who covered the Vietnam War, began by denouncing “comments of a previous presenter concerning supposed similarities between the SS and American soldiers in Vietnam.”  I chimed in, “It is incumbent upon historians to pursue the truth.”  The audience response astounded me. “What truth? Do you mean our white, male, militarist truth?”  The academic left denies the existence of objective, definitive truth. For them truth is a matter of perspective derived from race, gender, class and sexual-orientation.

Keep that in mind as we reflect on the disgusting antics and probably prosecutable actions of a handful of out-of-control Army Reservist military police at Abu Ghraib Prison. Imagine that the pictures and videos from Abu Ghraib were turned into a porno flick titled, “Baghdad Boyz and Gyrlz.” Would it accurately reflect the service and sacrifice of our soldiers in Iraq?  Would accuracy matter to people who think a film like the professor’s pornography is a historical source?  No, the radical left will use whatever it can to lambaste the Bush Administration, its foreign policy, the Pentagon or the war in Iraq.

By contrast, the stark horror of the Internet decapitation of Nick Berg reminds us of the awful reality of the War on Terror. The horror of its reality should blow “Baghdad Bad Boyz and Gyrlz” off the air. If those memories of the tumbling Twin Towers and the deaths of 3,000 innocent people on September 11, 2001 seems somewhat distant now, with a little time on the Internet you can get powerful images of the evil of that day. As you watch Nick Berg die, try to imagine the horror and pain he felt when the knife pierced his throat then sliced through his esophagus and larynx. Try to visualize the blackness that closed out his life when the knife finally severed Nick Berg’s spinal cord. It’s five seconds that will stay with you for a long, long time.

Let’s see what we have in terms of relative truth and morality. On the one hand, we have the image of a naked guy handcuffed to a bunk bed with panties over his head. On the other, we have a bound young man with his head being severed. There is a distinct difference in the two events. It’s the difference between facile, sick silliness of the professor’s pornography and the horror of the slaughter of Jews the Nazis filmed during the Holocaust. Abu Ghraib is indicative of perversely poor behavior, the murder of Nick Berg of unfathomable evil.

It’s time to put an end to the disgusting pictures from Abu Ghraib. This is a problem the Army is addressing. Meanwhile, we are at war with an evil enemy who aims to destroy us. Our soldiers fighting the War on Terror in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world deserve our support. The Army Chief of Staff, General Peter J. Shoomaker, put the troops on notice with these words, “Integrity is non-negotiable. Everyone has leadership responsibilities when it comes to the legal, moral and ethical. Discipline is doing what’s right when no one is watching.”

Pornography’s sick silliness reflects neither the beauty of love nor the horror of war. The deaths of nearly 4,000 Americans, the vast majority of them civilians like Nick Berg, who have died in the War on Terror can attest to its deadly seriousness. Showing any more filth from Abu Ghraib is a disservice to those who have died as well as those who serve.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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