People Want the Truth
“If there’s going to be a war the whole nation should stand by it and the rich should fight alongside the poor. If we believe something is worth fighting for we should all fight together. If the rich were fighting alongside the poor we’d be choosing a lot fewer situations to fight in. If politicians’ sons and daughters were on the battlefields along with everybody else then those politicians are going to make the decision to go to war a lot more dire a situation than they have in the past. The problem is that war has just been an incredible way of making money. War benefits those who start them and has few negative effects for them. This needs to change.”
Introduction by Adria Leeper-Sullivan
Interview by Theo Constantinou
All Photographs by Zoriah Miller
Zoriah Miller is a photojournalist who began with an interest in documenting disasters. After seeing the raw emotion and conflict of interests involved with people hurting other people, communities against communities, he found himself drawn to images of war. In war there are only victims, and Zoriah’s artwork strips away the glorification of battle by showing pure, uncensored pain. Witnessing emotion, and physical evidence is one of the few ways that humans accept reality. Zoriah draws the line between Hollywood’s boastful love of violence, and existing struggles. Here are the words of a sensitive, but realistic man who has been highly educated in the behavior of humanity. Sent away from Iraq for photographing dead U.S. Marines, Zoriah was accused of aiding the enemy by showing them the success of their attacks. It is incredibly honorable that Zoriah does his utmost to destroy censorship at the risk of losing his life, access to stories, and damaging his reputation so people can understand the horror of war. When looking at his images one may feel sick, or sad, privileged, embarrassed, lucky, or something indescribable and that is the power of seeing the truth.
Disclaimer: The content of these images document graphic, violent, and sensitive subject matter.
On February 26, 1962. in the midst of the Vietnam war, JFK said, “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” Seems to me after your experience with the US Government that our nation is pretty damn afraid of its people, was JFK’s statement true or false and do you think no matter what governments and individuals will always try and suppress the truth that is not fit to their liking?
I think that there will always be people that want to suppress the truth because there will always be people that the truth hurts. I think that’s the easiest way of summarizing it. There will always be people that will benefit from depressing information coming out. I think interestingly enough now, the problem is less sinister on the outside … the motivations are less sinister on the outside, but on the inside they’re probably even more sinister because they’re motivated by money. I get asked a lot of questions about ethics and where in the media are stories being censored? People always think, especially with stories of war, that they’re often censored by government. I think that’s not much the case anymore because they’re always censored by the publications that just don’t want to show something that’s going to lose them readership. They think that graphic images are going to lose them readership. I think we have a lot of really damaging things to freedom of press, freedom of speech, freedom of information and unfortunately I think a lot of those just come from the fact that publications are run by corporate dollars, and corporate entities and they want to make products that sell. I think it’s extremely dangerous when people don’t have proper information, it’s extremely dangerous when we have a general public that’s not educated properly enough to understand the importance of having that information. Which I think is another point that we’re getting to.
I think the education system in this country keeps going down, and down, and down and more and more we are being pushed to just have nothing but entertainment so what we crave is fake information. I think the consumers in a way have learned to want really heavy-duty graphic, exciting, high energy, high violence entertainment, but when that kind of information is put in the form of reality we instantly shut down, it’s too much for us to handle. We can take the fake side but we can’t take the real side and that disconnect is really dangerous for a society in general.
There are always going to be motivations. There are going to be motivations for the government to suppress information, there obviously was during the Bush administration. Luckily for them they didn’t have to do a lot of work to suppress information because the magazines didn’t want to publish stuff that was depressing and the whole war was depressing. So, a lot of work was done for them by the corporate media, but when that wasn’t, in my case for example when I published the aftermath of a suicide bombing, then that was kind of their point to step in with embedded policy and things they kind of made up to cover their backs on the rare case it hurts their mission, or hurts their appearance.
I think it’s important to state that I think that for the most part it’s people that are very high up that makes those decisions. Generally the soldiers on the ground, the vast majority of them supported my decision. I think the vast majority of normal people want the truth, I think it’s generally the people that are quite high up in power are the ones that try to suppress it in almost any circumstance whether there be conflict or media or whatever it is.
One of my favorite screen-writers and also black listed writer at the time, Dalton Trumbo, wrote a book called Johnny Got His Gun. There is a quote that I’d like you to reflect on.
“Did anybody ever come back from the dead any single one of the millions who got killed did any one of them ever come back and say by god I’m glad I’m dead because death is always better than dishonor? Did they say I’m glad I died to make the world safe for democracy? Did they say I like death better than losing liberty? Did any of them ever say it’s good to think I got my guts blown out for the honor of my country? Did any of them ever say look at me I’m dead but I died for decency and that’s better than being alive? Did any of them ever say here I am and I’ve been rotting for two years in a foreign grave but it’s wonderful to die for your native land? Did any of them say hurray I died for womanhood and I’m happy see how I sing even though my mouth choked with worms?”
I know that it’s a bit much, but you’ve seen enough death to potentially answer Dalton’s question. Do you think that anybody who died in the warzone over the last hundred years would have answered yes to that question?
It’s a really brilliant quote. I’ve read studies that even say that most people that have attempted suicide and not actually died have talked about the realization as they were falling, or as they were bleeding, or whatever it was there was this huge regret and they wanted to come back and they didn’t want to go through with it. I think the human being has an incredible instinct to fight for survival. I think the problem is that in war we’ve basically been taught by the powers that be that we’re not likely to have death as the outcome when we go to war. Movies, again we come back to entertainment and we’re influenced by the entertainment experience as society, and think about how many movies we’ve watched as a kid where somebody is beaten for 20 minutes straight, and falls off the side of a building, gets shot a couple times, and by the end of the movie they’ve got some dirt on their face, a couple bandanas tied around their bullet wounds, they’re kissing the girl and heading off into the sunset. I think unfortunately because of the way our society is set up and the way our military is set up, and the fact that we don’t have a draft, which is a huge mistake. If there’s going to be a war the whole nation should stand by it and the rich should fight alongside the poor. If we believe something is worth fighting for we should all fight together. If the rich were fighting alongside the poor we’d be choosing a lot fewer situations to fight in. If politicians’ sons and daughters were on the battlefields along with everybody else then those politicians are going to make the decision to go to war a lot more dire a situation than they have in the past. The problem is that war has just been an incredible way of making money. War benefits those who start them and has few negative effects for them. This needs to change. That’s the first thing you see in Iraq, is all the money that goes into it and just the amount of business that is generated and the hundreds, of thousands, of millions of dollars that go into the war machine and it’s a shame that that’s what people have to die for. Most of the time now it’s not about honor or all of the things that were mentioned in the quote. It all boils down to dollars and I think that’s why we’re experiencing these things called PTSD and things like that. It’s not like the soldiers who do come back come back and think wow I really fought for something that I believe in and I saw horrible things, and I did this and that. At least if it was something in the end it suddenly meant something. Let’s say WWII for example, I would guess that most of the soldiers that came back at least would have some comfort in some of the things that may have happened by the end of that situation. What comfort do people have now?
It’s crazy. You’ve got soldiers dying. You’ve got journalists dying. It’s a shame. I never had any desire to be a war photographer, I was always very interested in disasters. That’s why I started photographing, I’d photograph all kinds of different disasters and worked in disaster management before I did photography. When I first went into my first conflict zone it looked almost exactly like a disaster zone, it looked like any earthquake zone, or aftermath of a tsunami, but the state of mind of the people living in it was so different. You have a disaster and everyone bans together and takes care of each other, and there’s this incredible spirit: What we’ve experienced is as old as the earth we live on, it’s mother nature, now we must be strong and together we will build our society up again.
That’s so different than when you find a community that’s been destroyed by another community. It’s such a different thing mentally and that mental difference makes all the difference. War is just not in any way pleasant, or good, or beneficial to any society. I don’t believe that human beings are in the position at this point in our development where we can be free from war, but I think that we can be much more discerning on what we choose to believe. It’s definitely not necessary in most of the situations in which it occurs in this day and age.
Have you experienced any PTSD since you’ve been back? Since these situations?
That’s a hard question to answer definitively, but I would say yeah, I’m sure. I always found that if I went from one to the next, to the next, to the next, and was constantly going from one situation to the next I was pretty much okay. The hard part is when you try to re-integrate into normal society, normal civilization. That’s when you really start seeing this divide between that world and this world. And I don’t know how much of it I could say could be attributed to conflict versus just photographing the abject poverty for instance. I think that’s one thing I experience more than things related to conflict, is just being in New York with friends and going out and spending $15 or $20 on a meal and knowing that would offend the family I just photographed the week before for a month. That I think can be difficult to process.
The conflict does stick in one’s head too, of course. I’ve heard of colleagues though that have had PTSD to the point that they can’t function. I wouldn’t say that I have experienced it that strongly, yet. Hopefully I don’t. Even subtly it’s not pleasant.