A Brutal Vision of Modern Warfare

Today Wikileaks, an exceptional organization dedicated to (according to Wikipedia) “submissions and leaks of sensitive governmental, corporate, organizational, or religious documents”, released a graphically violent video of an incident in Baghdad.

It shows gun camera footage from a US Air Force helicopter as it circles the city. As the video progresses, the Americans fire on a group of civilians, killing two Reuters reporters among them. Subsequently they fire on a minivan that arrives to collect the wounded, seriously injuring two children.

It’s grim, but it needs all the attention it can get. As the saying goes, sunshine is the best disinfectant:

Of course, the killing of innocents happens in every conflict. However, it’s this sort of footage that can sway public opinion back home.

There’s the political aspect of this video, but there’s also the clinical weirdness of it all. We first experienced this kind of displaced violence during the first Gulf War. We were treated to all of those ‘smart bomb’ videos on CNN (despite the fact that they were a small minority of all bombs dropped, and not that smart after all), but this video peels another layer off of that eerie remoteness. The casual conversation of the combatants, the shockingly clear footage of the carnage–it’s so much more like a video game than ever before.

In fact, the video creepily reminded me of a sequence in a video game I’d played recently:


UPDATE: I discovered two thoughtful responses to this video by military personnel.


  1. Thanks for posting this. Every step in spreading what war really looks like, rather than the flag-draped adornment that the news serves, is needed to remind people that war isn’t something you discuss while sipping coffee. It’s always, always about ending lives. It’s the failure of everything good in humanity.

  2. Wow. If this were simply a movie, I’d brush it off as entertainment. Knowing that it’s real and authentic, the footage is truly haunting. No one said war was pretty and I think we all knew this already, but seeing it is something different altogether.

  3. I watched the full 30+ minute footage without the added notes, and what I saw was weapons as the helicopters called them out.

    They said rifle, I saw a rifle, they said RPG, I saw an RPG.

    I watched the footage expecting to see some sort of clear undeniable shooting of civillians and the closest thing I saw to that was the hellfire missile hitting the building as a pedestrian walked by.

    I went into the comments of the reddit link and found out that the people with the “weapons” were the civillians.

    At the distance they were, and looking through their gun cams those people looked armed.

    Were they a threat? Yes, during the major combat operations of the war, apaches were shot down by small-arms fire from rifles, and an RPG is certainly a threat.

    The rules of engagement are flawed, these soldiers didn’t cowboy up and shoot civillians, they cowboy’d up and shot insurgents in their minds and they got the clearance to do so.

    The problem here is that their clearance was based on their positive identification of weapons and not ground force identification which would be more accurate; but in the same token when you are a mere couple vehicles in an entire city, you don’t just send troops into a potential ambush.

    That’s speculation on my part, we don’t know why they didn’t get ground forces in first to observe, when they were very clearly ok with having them come in after, but anyone who thinks this is terrible, look at the video and tell me you can positively tell those people aren’t carrying weapons.

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