Wendy Kozol

Professor of Comparative American Studies

Oberlin College

Distant Wars Visible:

The Ambivalence of Witnessing

Available from University of Minnesota Press   Amazon   Barnes and Noble 

Mapping the fraught space between empathy and spectacle in the witnessing of military conflict

In our wired world, visual images of military conflict and political strife are ubiquitous. Far less evident, far more elusive, is how we see such images, how witnessing military violence and suffering affects us. Distant Wars Visible brings a new perspective to such enduring questions about conflict photography and other forms of visual advocacy, whether in support of U. S. military objectives or in critique of the nation at war. At the book’s center is what Wendy Kozol calls an analytic of ambivalence—a critical approach to the tensions between spectacle and empathy provoked by gazing at military violence and suffering. Through this approach, Distant Wars Visible uses key concepts such as the politics of recoil, the notion of looking elsewhere, skeptical documents, and ethical spectatorship to analyze multiple visual cultural practices depicting war, on and off the battlefield, from the 1999 NATO bombings in Kosovo to the present.

Kozol’s analysis ranges across collections of family photographs, human rights photography, independent film
production, photojournalism, and other forms of war’s visual culture, as well as extensive visual evidence of the ways in which U.S. militarism operates to maintain geopolitical dominance—from Fallujah and Abu Ghraib to the most recent drone strikes in Pakistan.

Throughout, Kozol reveals how factors such as gender, race, and sexuality construct competing visualizations of identity in a range of media from graphic narrative and film to conflict photography and battlefield souvenirs—and how contingencies and contradictions in visual culture shape the politics and ethics of witnessing.