Sontag Chapter 1

For the first Chapter Sontag opens with Virginia Woolfe’s argument with a male lawyer about how the idea of war generally comes from men. She argues how men sometimes desire war or find it a necessity where as women are generally disgusted and appalled by the idea. She then pulls out war photographs for a comparing exercise to see how different people, or more specifically men and women would react to the different photos.Throughout her argument, Sontag points out how Woolfe strongly feels that war has a gender and that it is male.

The most interesting aspect that Sontag gets into in this chapter is the whole idea behind war photography. “Woolfe professes to believe that the shock of such pictures cannot fail to unite people of good will.”pg 6. But then it is also pointed out that since most of the photographs are disturbing and frightening, they will more often than not tend to be ignored because they are upsetting to most people. For Woolfe, to not acknowledge the reality and cause of these photos would be the reaction of a moral monster. But she also argues that we aren’t monsters, our failure is not holding the reality of these pictures in our minds strongly enough. Her point is overshadowed by the fact that most people see war as generic and the victims are of the anonymous, which makes war more impersonal to people who don’t experience it for themselves. Sontag also points out that the pictures can be used for ulterior motives such as propaganda against the enemy, a kind of “look what they did now lets make them pay for this” kind of effect. The strongest point that Sontag makes in her argument is that photographs of war can generate mixed responses. But they shouldn’t also distract you from what is not being shown.


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