"Pictures, or it didn't happen." It's become a standard riposte on social media when someone posts a story about something funny or fantastic that happened to them. These days, we want visuals. In a world where everyone's got an opinion and a forum to post it, words have become devalued. It takes pictures to spur people to action.
A year ago, polls showed that the American people had no appetite for a fight in the Middle East. Speeches were made in support of getting engaged. Atrocities were happening every day, but most Americans wanted no part of the conflict. Then, last month, ISIS posted graphic videos of two American journalists being beheaded, and the tide of public opinion quickly turned. Polls showed a large majority of the public was now willing to go after the Islamists. President Obama proposed a military operation; Congress, which opposes everything this president does, from his economic policy to his breakfast cereal, managed to get behind him, at least in principle.
If ISIS had merely issued a press release stating they'd killed two American journalists, would we have launched yet another military foray into the incredibly complex Pandora's box that is today's Middle East? I doubt it. The selling of such a move would have been infinitely more difficult. Video, or this war doesn't happen.
And consider the now-infamous Memphis Kroger "teen mob" video. Two employees — one white, one black — heroically tried to help an assaulted customer, and both were beaten for their efforts. But, because of proximity, the video captured only the beating of the white employee. Several national right-wing websites showed the video under a headline reading, "Black Mob Beats White Teen" or a variation thereof. If that video had shown the black teens beating the brave black employee who attempted to help, would it have made as much of a splash nationally? Would all those crying "hate crime" and posting vile racist epithets on local websites have been as outraged at that video? I seriously doubt it. Video, or the "hate crime" didn't happen.
When we see something, we tend to believe it. But even a video — something we see with our own eyes — can be misleading or used for ill purposes, as in the clear and purposeful evil demonstrated in the Islamist videos.
Those videos have now engendered the desired effect. We will engage. We will reenter the confusing morass of Middle East conflicts to try to avenge the heartless murders that have been seen on screens around the globe. The world has gotten a fresh visual of evil and is enraged by it, and the world — much of it, anyway — is responding. Many will die, including some who shouldn't have to. Such is the horror of combat.
The hope is, in this case, that what we've seen will lead to what they'll get. But as previous ill-fated adventures in the Middle East should have taught us by now, we need to keep our eyes — and our minds — open.
In the 14 years I've been the Flyer editor, I've gotten lots of hate mail. It mostly used to come in envelopes filled with pages of scrawled handwriting. I read them and put them in the wastebasket, chalking it up as a natural by-product of writing for a liberal paper in the conservative South. Lately, the angry folks have switched to email, and it comes in waves ...