April 15, 2004

Mosul ---

by PG

In his post about how the "Internet in general has had an amazing impact on daily life," Jeremy avoids discussing weblogs and mainly regards himself as a consumer of content, instead of as a creator. Yet part of the cultural importance of the Internet is how easy it has made publishing. Blogs may be the most popular form of dissemination, but one also can contribute to massive group projects such as Wikipedia.

When I checked Wikipedia this morning for something to put up in the "Today in History" feature, I noticed the last "Events" entry for April 15.

2003 - The Mosul Massacre. American troops opened fire on anti-US protesters in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, killing at least ten unarmed Iraqis.

The term "massacre" for what happened a year ago in Mosul is by no means used universally. If you Google mosul massacre, the first results are from a Marxism list and other self-identified socialist publications and liberal blogs. Typing mosul massacre into CNN's self-search only pulls up an article about Chemical Ali, the massacre being the one he allegedly ordered in a 1988 chemical attack on Kurds. The Washington Post also did not report on the event as a massacre.

Progressive Review writer Sam Smith amalgamates coverage from international sources here, with himself the only person calling it a massacre. Yet "massacre" is the word used by Wikipedia as well as a similar free encyclopedia site.

In short, here is a conflict between sources that consider themselves unbiased and authoritative. Obviously "massacre" is inherently loaded with meaning, but that does not prevent such sources from using it. Everything from the action taken by Chinese troops against Tiananmen Square demonstrators to British troops' violence against Amritsar protestors to British troops' firing on a crowd of American colonists has been described as a massacre. The essential elements of a massacre appear to be the deaths of multiple civilians who are overwhelmed by a stronger military force.

I don't know if the Mosul incident will go down in U.S. history as a rare instance of our military's committing what we are willing to describe as a massacre. (The main ones we do admit are the mass killings of Native Americans at various times and the My Lai destruction in Vietnam.) The point is that the Internet opens us up to the possibility of all becoming revisionist historians.

If Wikepedia becomes the first encyclopedia to which the schoolchildren of 2053 turn, then they will believe that a massacre occurred in Mosul. Yet Wikepedia does not require us to show any credentials to add entries to it, or to make modifications. It democratizes the writing of history, while also democratizing access to that history.

Although the digital divide continues to exist in America and the rest of the world, even it is slowly growing smaller. Villages in the developing world that do not have American encyclopedias do have a computer with internet access. The Internet versions -- because clearly there will be more than one -- of history may become the most authoritative, or at least most popular and widely-known.

April 15, 2004 12:49 PM | TrackBack

Interesting. A historian / law professor of mine, whom I've tried to turn on to blogging, thought preserving blog records would be extremely valuable for historians of the future. In that sense, history needn't always be written by the winners any longer. As we record our impressions day by day, we give future historians a much more robust glimpse into our peculiar Zeitgeist, and into important facts trends in popular opinion (even if the blogosphere is unrepresentative--which it surely must be).

Posted by: Nick Morgan at April 15, 2004 07:14 PM

Dec 21st - Iraqi insurgents today kill 19 American soldiers. CNN wasted no time calling that a Mosul Massacre.

"The essential elements of a massacre appear to be the deaths of multiple civilians who are overwhelmed by a stronger military force"

An essential elements of current U.S. media seem to be telling Americans what they expect or want to hear.

Posted by: Modest Proposal at December 21, 2004 07:34 PM

If, throughout the world, the media reported every killing of a small group of relatively innocent and helpless people, as a "massacre", the word would soon lose any real meaning. Similar to the use of the word "victim" in the United States today.

The media seems to use "massacre" selectively whenever they wish to provide someone's bias with a cloak of fairness.

Posted by: norman_gibat at December 25, 2004 01:46 PM
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