A couple of days ago, I called it "the Instagram War." I was referring to the ways in which supporters Israel, on one side, and of Hamas, on the other, were using Instagram to express anger and grief and to attack the enemy, during the most recent fighting. (You can read that post, here.)
For the first time both sides in a war have employed social media extensively as a weapon, and the phenomenon left a lot of people scrambling to make sense of it all. (Michael Shaw, writing on the Bag News Notes blog, was one of the first take notice.)
Last Tuesday, the Tablet published a fascinating article on the Israeli Defense Force's [IDF] social media operations -- Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. The IDF, it says, has embraced social media as a way of eliminating "old media" middlemen and communicating directly with pro-Israel activists. The paper quotes an Israeli press officer, who sings the praises of social media
I started following the IDF on Instagram as I was writing my piece on the Instagram War. Today, the posting above showed up on my timeline and I couldn't help be think about the tension between the sabbath greeting, "Shabbat Shalom," and the image of the soldier and the machine gun.
One reading of this posting (and the most reasonable one, I think) is to see it as deeply contradictory. Shalom can be a greeting as casual as "hello" and "good-bye," but above all it means "peace." An image of a machine-gunner can only mean peace within a logic of dark Orwellian irony. That is, it means war.
Of course, some would argue that without war there cannot be peace. That's certainly the message of the Unites States Army's tweet and photo below.
I'm no pacifist. It took a war to free my ancestors from slavery, and I'm grateful to the men who sacrificed their lives for the cause of the Union. Not all wars are so easy to applaud. (And I imagine that very few are applauded by those who are caught up in them). My father, a career Army officer, served in World War 2, a war that most people would say was necessary to eliminate the horrors of Nazism. His service makes me proud. But I thank God that he had retired by the time America became mired in Vietnam, a war that no one can easily defend.
The problem with propaganda photos like the ones in this post is not that they encourage us to identify with wars and the soldiers who fight them. It's that they encourage us to forget that war can never be anything better than a necessary evil and that sometimes it's not necessary at all.