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Displaying the dead
Melanie Giles

and author John Berger ( 1980 : 38) contemplates the risk posed by ‘photographs of agony’: that in viewing pain, we may be arrested or seized by the image but return to our lives feeling ‘hopelessly inadequate’. His real concern is the lack of historical context and specificity: that such images become ‘depoliticised … evidence of the human condition. It accuses nobody and everybody’ (Berger 1980 : 40). These ideas were developed by Susan Sontag ( 2003 ), who attacks those images that fail to identify the victim where they are clearly known, or reduce mass violence

in Bog bodies
Antonius C. G. M. Robben

Thousands of people died in Rotterdam during the Second World War in more than 300 German and Allied bombardments. Civil defence measures had been taken before the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940 and these efforts were intensified during the country’s occupation as Allied bombers attacked Rotterdam’s port, factories, dry docks and oil terminals. Residential neighbourhoods were also hit through imprecise targeting and by misfired flak grenades. Inadequate air raid shelters and people’s reluctance to enter them caused many casualties. The condition of the corpses and their post-mortem treatment was thus co-constituted by the relationship between the victims and their material circumstances. This article concludes that an understanding of the treatment of the dead after war, genocide and mass violence must pay systematic attention to the materiality of death because the condition, collection and handling of human remains is affected by the material means that impacted on the victims.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal