IRAQ

Showtime in Iraq: harmless fun or simply tasteless?

The proliferation of camera cell phones has seen an increasing number of amateur videos emerging from Iraq. The favourite genre appears to be humour, which is spurring the production of hundreds of videos that would match ‘Pop Idol' standards. With hours to spare and nothing to do between often dangerous missions, US soldiers are choreographing, performing, and recording themselves dancing and singing, and then posting the videos on YouTube. We put together a collection of these videos, although dates and locations are unknown, and showed them to ex-soldiers and US Army officials to get their reactions.

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The proliferation of camera cell phones has seen an increasing number of amateur videos emerging from Iraq. The favourite genre appears to be humour, which is spurring the production of hundreds of videos that would match ‘Pop Idol' standards. With hours to spare and nothing to do between often dangerous missions, US soldiers are choreographing, performing, and recording themselves dancing and singing, and then posting the videos on YouTube. We put together a collection of these videos, although dates and locations are unknown, and showed them to ex-soldiers and US Army officials to get their reactions. Post your questions on their profile pages.

Remixed: Ice Ice Baby and Tonight is the Night

Ice Ice Baby, remix version

Posted 7 May 2007

Parody of a soft R&B video.

Posted 26 June 2007

“This is what is really going on in Iraq”

The title of this piece is meant as a joke, but it proves itself true in the second half. Like others, it's a compilation of dance routines. But two thirds of the way through, images of Iraqi prisoners are cut into the film. The apparent lack of differentiation is very disturbing.

Posted 16 May 2007

Commentary from Maj. Winfield S. Danielson III, press desk officer for Multinational Force Iraq in Baghdad

US Maj. Winfield Danielson says that blogs are not banned, but actually encouraged in the army. The Iraq division has its own YouTube account which claims to give ‘boots to the ground' reporting. Only disturbing/offensive material is edited out of videos. There aren't any ‘humorous' films on the site however. Link to site.

We follow a ‘security at the source' policy, which means that we let soldiers know the guidelines, and if they don't follow them, then the correct action is taken. Otherwise, they can do what they like. There are good things about these videos. They can act as stress relievers for the soldiers, and anything that lightens the mood is a good thing. Also, they show the human side of the army to people around the world. Soldiers showing a human side can also help us to get information from local people. But these positive aspects are faced with challenges too. You have to remember that anyone wearing a uniform is a representative of the army.

We have not banned blogging. We actually encourage blogs, websites, videos, etc. They help us tell our story. We only restrict blogs that are culturally insensitive, or that endorse a political party or inappropriate behaviour."

‘Playtime’: a video of Iraqi soldiers playing with Iraqi children. Commentary from ex-US Marine and Gulf War veteran 'James'

Posted 9 June 2007

You can see in this video that the kids are having fun and are not afraid of the soldiers. It’s ‘playtime’. As far as the local adults frowning on the activities, it depends on what side the adult is on- pro or anti USA. In general I believe it helps local relations. I do know that no matter what culture you’re from, when it comes to kids, they normally put a smile on your face.”

Abuse of power or breaking the ice? Commentary from Ernesto Haibi, U.S Army

Posted 14 November 2007

This video shows the fine line soldiers play between intimidating and having fun with locals. Ernesto says that humour doesn't always work, but it gets around most cultural differences.

I found the videos pretty funny. This is not something new. Soldiers always put on a show. You'll always have the old guys who find it ridiculous and demeaning, and say, ‘when I was in the army we didn't have time for that.' But they had alcohol! We don't!

However difficult a culture is, you always get around it with humour. We'd play tricks on each other. We'd give the Iraqis chewing tobacco and watch them turn all shades of green. They'd put salt in our tea. If everyone's willing to laugh at themselves, it makes everything easier. Stop trying to be so damn mysterious! Sometimes it doesn't go to plan though. Once, we were up to our necks in gum. So we decided to go and throw it at the local kids. We didn't realise how competitive they'd get. They were really fighting over the gum. It didn't go down well.

About putting stuff online, what the army don't like about this new wave of technology: there's no way to censor it. If it gets online it's not going anywhere. There's no secret ninja squad waiting to get rid of it. But I can understand why they want to censor comments. Our lives are made worse by people who tell lies.

Time without leave increased from 12 months to 15, so you're out there for a long time. You have to find something to do to stop you from going stir crazy. Each of these videos probably took around two weeks to make in total! If the army tried to censor videos there'd a huge backlash."

Even the locals can like them! Commentary from Rick Hinshaw, ex U.S Army senior officer

These videos are just getting more and more popular. But they're not safe. The army doesn't want low ranking staff to be the ones who decide what goes online. A few months ago they released a new policy on blogs. They're not outlawed, but they must be vetted through the chain of command. It's not pure censorship- it's a case of ‘everyone has free speech but you're not allowed to shout fire in a crowded theatre'. You can get people killed. Things have really been tightened up in the past two years.

I think these videos are completely harmless. Personally, I don't publish mine because they could fall into the wrong hands. People think it's only death and sadness in those places- that's not how it is. You have to joke to get by. We did have a lot of fun over there. There was also a lot of sadness.

Regarding the locals, if people in the Iraq and Afghanistan area see us having fun they might think ‘those damn Americans killed my uncle and now they're celebrating. I'm going to get a gun and join the militia. But if they've met you, then they might think ‘I like'em, they're fun'. The videos don't have the power to sway someone. But they can reinforce ideas."

Leave a message to Rick Hinshaw on his profile page.