Down the rabbit hole of the Israeli soldier
The digital age is altering our perception and experience of reality in profound ways yet to be studied. In 1996, professor Kevin Robins wrote his influential article about the virtual unconscious in the post photography age. In that article he warns us softly that we've done so much to achieve freedom and shift the control back to the individual that we might just be loosing the balance, reaching a degree of control on things that alters them and alters us back. Digital photography is already taken for granted, the image can be controlled to the pixel level, reconstructed, molded, you name it. It is such a high level of control that you can barely trust it to reflect reality anymore. Even Reuters or "60 minutes" fall for these things.
Robbins's main claim is that in a photo you can reveal more than the eye saw, but a digital image/simulation reveals your subconscious. Towards the end of the article he expresses an ethical concern: what happens to a soldier that doesn't get his hands dirty anymore? A soldier that presses a button and the whole of Baghdad disappears? A soldier who shoots from a war plane after years of training on video games and flight simulators? Does he have the sense of killing a person or is he so detached from the human face through technology mediation? Will humanity turn into a cold blooded high tech murder scene? Robbins speaks of it briefly, almost tip toes around it at the end of his article. He thinks soldiers might suffer now from new kinds of virtual post-traumas caused by the perception gap between the simulation and the real, and says some of the first gulf war soldiers already show some new symptoms of that sort.
You've made it through the intro, sorry if it was too academic, I had to present the issue. I want to talk about the subconscious of the Israeli soldier, in light of that. Around 15 years ago, during the first Intifada uprising, it was my generation's time in the army. They had to invent everything the army uses today. From there things took a turn and we became what we are today. Before that we were a bit innocent in our fighting, it was war as we knew it, with tanks in the desert. One of the concepts invented was at first top secret but today known to all: the elite units called "Shimshon" and "Duvdevan", people who learned perfect Arabic and disguised themselves as Gaza citizens, taking a great personal risk. Many of them killed terrorists from a short range under this cover.
Many of those fine young men, who found themselves in these new challenging army duties, although having weekly shrink meetings, couldn't really stand the psychological pressure. An intelligent young man convinces himself he protects his country this way but part of him just doesn't like him wondering around at nights and shooting people in the head, even if they're terrorists. I remember the first generation of "Shimshon". A large part of those men changed their attitudes towards human life; it became a cheap thing you can bet on. So they bet on their own lives. They used to play "Russian roulette" with their guns and some of them shot themselves. Some of their friends who lived to tell could never get back to normal life; some are in mental conditions till this very day. I have 3 friends who served in those times and their way to cope with it was to become spiritual/ pacifist in quite extreme ways.
During this second Lebanon war I kept thinking of the pilots of the war planes, Israel's best sons, hand picked. They rattle there up in the skies hitting their targets like in the flight simulator, like in the video games. And than they come back home, watch the news and see the pictures of the dead, civilians, sometimes children, who were caught in the fire. What happens in their virtual subconscious? How do they connect between their buttons and this frozen blooded body? Do they feel that horrible life draining feeling of "I took someone's life"? Is the virtuality of it making it easier or worse to bare?
Sorry fore those heavy questions, people, that's my way of dealing with the aftermath.