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01 January, 2013

HBO's Eye-Opening "Witness" Documentary Series Shines a Light on Just How Pampered We Are As Americans

Recently, HBO ran a four-part series of documentaries called "Witness" that delved into life in war-torn conflict regions, including (sometimes graphic) pictures and video.  Each episode follows a different photojournalist as they interact with the people in these places, and there are lessons here for all of us to learn.

Watching the things these people have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, one cannot help but to wonder how each of us (our society having coddled us so) will adjust as things become more and more unhinged and strife becomes more and more a part of everyday life.

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Part 1: Highlights the near-TEOTWAWKI atmosphere of crime, violence, and corruption that pervades Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  I discussed it previously here.

Suggested reading: "Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields" (Kindle edition)


Part 2: Follows a photojournalist who was injured (two of his colleagues were killed) in a mortar shelling in Libya during the revolution there in April 2011.  He talks about how the rebels weren't trained soldiers, but rather just regular people and how the conflict split the country ideologically between supporters of the rebellion and those who remained loyal to Gaddafi's regime.  Both sides are accusing each other of having committed war crimes, and whole populations -- of especially dark-skinned peoples -- have been displaced and are not being allowed to return to their homes, because they are considered not to be true Libyans.  They live in refugee camps.


Suggested reading: "Libya: Murder in Benghazi and the Fall of Gaddafi" by Luke Harding and Martin Chulov


Part 3: Follows French photojournalist Veronique de Viguerie in South Sudan with a militia made-up of simple farmers as they fight the forces of Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), who have spent years terrorizing the area where the borders of the Republic of Uganda, the Republic of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic meet.  In their wake, they have left thousands of murders, abductions, and mutilations.

This mad genius, Joseph Kony has his LRA march into villages and round everyone up, abducting the children to make them his soldiers.  If anyone gives them any trouble, they force one of the abducted kids to kill them, thereby creating a situation where the victims become the victimizers.  They force the children to either kill or be killed, and, subsequently, they stay loyal to Kony because they feel that they can never go home after the atrocities they've committed under his orders.  With others, the LRA simply murders their entire family, so that they have nowhere else to go.  Some do eventually escape, sometimes after years in the bush, returning home -- hostile, hollow-eyed, and having long ago lost count of how many people they'd been forced to murder and rape.  Young girls, on the other hand, are victimized by being taken as "Bush Wives," which are basically nothing more than sex slaves.

The military does little to protect the people; they conduct manhunt-type operations in the bush to try to ferret-out LRA forces, but there is little or no defending of the villages by the army.  Now, though, locals farmers and villagers have taken-up arms to defend themselves, and it is with them that the photojournalist imbeds herself.

Perhaps the most terrible thing about it all is that it is all for nothing.  Joseph Kony and his thugs are no longer any kind of military threat to the government, but he will never surrender because he knows that his years of committing atrocities will result in a trip to The Hague to be tried for war crimes.  And, because of this, it just goes on and on with him and his forces hiding in the bush, hounded by various army units, and terrorizing the general population.

Suggested reading: "Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and Joseph Kony: American Efforts to Counter the LRA in Central Africa, Uganda, Central African Republic (CAR), Congo, and South Sudan"

Suggested viewing: "The Children's War" (DVD)


Part 4: Again, in this final episode, we follow Eros Hoagland (from episode 1) as he ventures into the favelas (slums or urban shanty-towns) of Rio de Janeiro to document the war there between the police forces and numerous gangs that have basically ruled the favelas as their own separate State and stronghold for years.  The authorities are taking a hard line now in the wake of the announcements of both the World Cup Finals and the Olympics coming to Rio in the next few years (2014 and 2016, respectively).

They are attempting to oust an entrenched criminal element from among throngs of at-risk civilians, and two of the gangs have joined forces to fight back.  It is a particularly dangerous place for a photojournalist; the criminals don't like being filmed and are not above shooting reporters, and the authorities are sometimes less than fastidious about protecting them -- the images they're capturing are not the picture Rio wants the world to see with the Cup and the Olympics just around the corner.

Corruption is everywhere.  Homicide rates are kept artificially low, while missing persons numbers have exploded.  A member of the military police, appearing on film only with his face completely covered, admitted that the authorities are taking justice into their own hands and murdering people.  They then dump the bodies out in the country, in rivers, and in the ocean, and sometimes, he says, they burn them.  No body = no homicide investigation.



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