Videos of Afghan war tread fine line between voyeurism and therapy

 
Video footage of American troops fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan has garnered widespread attention online, highlighting a growing interest in raw, first-hand accounts from the 11 year-old conflict. While there are some who watch out of curiosity, others are veterans for whom the videos may serve as a means to cope with the trauma of war.
 
In one such video, a soldier identified as Ted Daniels and his combat unit come under heavy fire while patrolling the top of a hill in Afghanistan. Rifle in hand, Daniels calls out that he’s going to advance before he is hit four times and shouts at his squad to retreat [according to the comment posted under the video, Daniels was protected by his body armour]. Posted on September 26, the video has since been viewed over 21 million times.
 
Soldier Ted Daniels is hit four times by enemy fire during combat in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province. Video posted on YouTube by Funker 530.
 
The video, like dozens others similar to it, was posted on the YouTube channel Funker530, which is run by a veteran who declined to be interviewed. However, according to Funker530’s YouTube channel, the videos are a part of the “Military Minds” project, a platform initiated by a former Canadian soldier that allows veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to share their experiences. For many, one of the hardest parts of coming home is the impression that they can’t talk about what they’ve been through with loved ones. In a way, the videos serve as a means for veterans to initiate dialogue and exchange common experiences, helping to chip away at possible feelings of isolation and loneliness.
 
There are two different types of videos from the Afghan conflict. The first is footage captured by cameras the military has fixed to the helmets of individual soldiers. Highly classified, these videos allow for combat analysis and cannot be shown publicly. The second type is footage recorded by soldiers on the ground using their own mini cameras. These images are, in theory, not illegal. FRANCE 24 contacted the US Department of Veteran Affairs which, at the time of writing, had not responded to questions regarding the legality of broadcasting these images.
 
A US troop in combat in Afghanistan in 2011. Video posted on youTube by Funker530.
Contributors

"There are some things that, had I been able to film them, I would have considered sharing them online"

Kayla Williams served in the US army for five years. She has written a book about her experiences entitled, "Love my rifle more than you". 
 
I was in the Army from 2000-2005, during which time I took part of the initial invasion of Iraq in March 2003 as part of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and was in theatre [fighting] for about a year. I didn’t film any of my experiences on the ground, because then video cameras weren't as small, sturdy and cheap as they are today. Looking back, there are some things that, had I been able to film them, I would have considered sharing in this type of format.
 
One way of treating PTSD is something called prolonged exposure therapy [a form of therapy that helps decrease distress linked to trauma by approaching related thoughts, feelings and situations that an individual has been avoiding because of the reaction they evoke]. I can see how videos like [the ones posted on Funker530’s YouTube channel] could conceivably be used as a part of treatment, but in my opinion, it is something that is best attempted with the assistance of a trained mental health professional. Some people can find things that remind them of the trauma they experienced, or act as a "trigger".
 
It is definitely legal to bring cameras, but it is illegal to take photos of certain things (enemy prisoners of war and enemy dead, if I remember correctly). The military, however, now faces a new challenge when it comes to operational security because troops have the ability to post images online and tag their location. By doing so, there is certainly information that could potentially be released that shouldn’t.
 
"Seeing something filmed live can certainly give a more honest, real window into a situation than hearing a journalist describe it later"
 
Any footage related to war is going to have a different impact on its viewers. When I was getting ready to deploy, a clip titled ‘Taliban Bodies’ was passed around and watched a lot. I remember feeling terribly conflicted - on one hand, watching it made me feel pumped up, patriotic, ready to go, excited and proud ... on the other, it sickened and disgusted me. We need our troops to be able to kill in battle. Then we need them to come home and be "civilised". I imagine that jarring disconnect has been present since the dawn of warfare. But modern technology now allows civilians to witness it.
 
It's normal for troops to want to share what they went through with others who have been through it, and to give civilians an “unfiltered” view of things to the extent that they choose to watch. But filters can be good. Seeing something filmed live can certainly give a more honest, real window into a situation than hearing a journalist describe it later. But journalists can also provide important context that those at the sharp end of the spear may lack. But it's also very important to remember that despite their raw form, these videos are a filter in themselves – that of a troop on the ground, who has his or her own point of view and must choose what to film and then what to post.

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