The Beatles and their World


HIST 2114H Issues in European History: The Beatles and their World

It has almost half a century since four young, working-class boys from Liverpool swept onto the international scene and captured the imagination of a generation. The Beatles’ rise to the top of the charts is significant not only because of the lasting cultural and commercial legacy of the group and its members, but also because the rise and fall of the Beatles allows us to examine the profound social and cultural transformations wrought by the cultural revolution of the sixties. This course will introduce students to the history and cultural legacy of the Beatles, including their music, films, and subsequent post-Beatles work. It will be interdisciplinary: a mixture of history, literature, biography, and musicology. In addition to weekly readings, short papers, and discussions, students will take part in individual and group research and presentations.

Contact Information:

Dr. Robert Stephens
328 Wallace Hall
Phone: 231-6770

Office Hours: by appointment

 Course Meetings:

Monday 5:00-8:00PM, 132 Hillcrest

 Course Evaluation:

1. Leading group discussion twice, 20%
2. Midterm project proposal, 5%
3. Midterm project, 15%
4. Midterm presentation, 10%
5. Final project proposal 5%
6. Final project, 15%
7. Final presentation, 10%
8. Attendance and Participation, 20%

Attendance will be taken and the grade will be based on the number of absences, each absence counting 25% of your grade. Therefore, one unexcused absence will reduce your attendance and participation to 75% automatically; two will result in a starting grade of 50%; four unexcused absences will result in an automatic Failing grade for the entire course. In class, active participation is required. That means taking part in the discussions and talking in every class. You will be given a grade based on your overall participation

Some Policy Matters:
1. Completion of all assignments is required, even if you are taking the course pass-fail.
2. Late exams will be given only with an official, documented excuse.
3. Please make sure your cell phones are turned off when you enter class.

Special Needs:

If you need adaptations or accommodations because of a disability (learning disability, attention deficit disorder, psychological, physical, etc.), if you have emergency medical information to share with me, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible.

Honor Code:

Virginia Tech has a stringent honor code. The honor pledge states: “I have neither given nor received unauthorized assistance on this assignment.” If you are not familiar with the honor code system, I strongly encourage you to do so immediately; by attending this university you tacitly agree to be governed by this set of rules. The honor code is available at the following URL:

Any infractions will be reported to the Honor System Review Board and could lead to a failing grade in the course, community service, probation, or even expulsion from the university.


The following books are required reading and are available at the bookstore:

The Beatles, The Beatles Anthology (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002). ISBN 0811836363.

June Skinner Sawyers, Read the Beatles (New York: Penguin, 2006). ISBN: 0143037323.


Music for the course is on reserve at Newman Library.

 Midterm and final projects:

This is an honors colloquium. Therefore you will be given free reign to decide on the format and content of your midterm and final projects. There are no set guidelines. You may work individually or in small groups that have shared interests.

These projects should be original and innovative. They should also highlight what you have learned about the subject outside of class. The projects will be graded holistically and in comparison to the work of the other students. Credit will be given for originality, commitment and time investment, and the quality of the final product. I suggest you play to your strengths, and feel free to consult me about your ideas ahead of the proposal submission.

The proposal should be approximately 500-words and include a discussion of the proposed format, content, and intellectual rationale for the project. You should hand in a hard copy to the instructor on the due date.

The project you turn in will be determined in consultation with me. You should hand in a hard copy on the due date. If the format of your project is not conducive to posting, you should consult with me ahead of time.

During two class conferences, you will present your project to the class.

These projects should be intellectually stimulating and fun. Don’t choose a project that will fail to engage you as you prepare. Feel free to let you imagination roam.

Leading class discussion:

This colloquium is organized around group discussion. Each week you will have three hours to discuss the things you have read and heard during the previous week. Everyone must actively participate, and your course participation grade will be based in large part on your in-class participation.

Each week two to three members of the class will be responsible for leading class discussion on the readings and music. We will pass around a sign-up sheet during the first week of class.

Discussion leaders must generate a list of at least ten questions that will guide discussion for the week. These must be posted to Scholar on Sunday so that class members will have two days to prepare for the discussion. Each group should turn in a hard copy of the discussion questions at the beginning of the class period.


Week 1, Aug. 25:

WiththebeatlescoverWeek 2, Sept. 1: Early Beatles
1. Anthology, pp. 6-78
2. Read the Beatles, xv-38

Week 3, Sept. 8: 1963

1. Anthology, pp. 79-110
2. Read the Beatles, pp. 39-47
Listening: Please Please Me and With the Beatles
Writing: midterm project proposal.

Week 4, Sept. 15: 1964
1. Anthology, pp. 111-161.
2. Reading the Beatles, 48-76.
Listening: A Hard Day’s Night and Beatles for Sale.

album-The-Beatles-RevolverWeek 5, Sept. 22: 1965-1966
1. Anthology, 163-237.
2. Reading the Beatles, 77-91.
Listening: Help!, Rubber Soul, and Revolver.

Week 6, Sept. 29: Midterm presentations 1

Week 7, Oct. 6: Midterm presentations 2

Week 8, Oct. 13: 1967
1. Anthology, 238-278.
2. Reading the Beatles, 92-135.
Listening: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour.

Beatles_-_Abbey_RoadWeek 10, Oct. 20: 1968
1. Anthology, 279-312.
2. Reading the Beatles, 142-157.
Listening: The White Album
Writing: proposal for final project.

Week 11, Oct. 27: 1969-1970
1. Anthology, 313-357.
2. Reading the Beatles, 157-166.
Listening: Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road, and Let it Be.

Week 12, Nov. 3: Lennon
1. The Rolling Stone Interview
Part I:
Part II:
Listening: Working Class Hero

Band on the runWeek 13, Nov. 10: Research and Writing Day

Week 14, Nov. 17: McCartney, Harrison, and Starr
1. Reading the Beatles, 237-336.
Listening: McCartney, All the Best!; Harrison, All things must pass; Starr, Photograph

Week 15, November 24: Final presentations 1
Week 16, December 8: Final presentations 2


war is over




Against Relevance

A Short Article for the August 25, 2013 edition of the HRCulean, the weekly newsletter of the VT Honors Residential College.

If you listen the media these days, higher education is in a crisis; I mean full on melt down mode.  College is too expensive; it’s too easy; it’s too hard; and… what students learn isn’t… “relevant.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this.  I’m sure you’ve thought about this.  I am pretty sure, at least at times, you actually believe this.

As you enter the school year, I’d like you to take a few moments to think about this.  What does it mean to have relevance?  What is actually relevant to you and to your life?  When it comes to the media, politicians, and pundits, “relevance” is pretty simple: either your courses help you in your future job, or they don’t.  Job skills are relevant; Shakespeare isn’t.  Your courses either help grease the wheels of commerce (relevant) or they don’t (irrelevant).  I’m sure you have had some of these thoughts yourselves.  “Why do I have to take this course?”  “How is this relevant to my life?”  “Why doesn’t my professor make this relevant?”

I want to make an argument against relevance.  Instead of asking the question, “Why is this relevant to me?” Perhaps you should ask it in the negative: “Why isn’t this relevant to me?”  The world is an infinitely complicated place.  And even if you think that drought in the Sudan has little relevance to your life, you’d be wrong.  The connections are there.  We are part of a whole.  The things that happen to others, the desires and goals of others, the actions that we all take, affect the rest of the world.

So I challenge you.  Next time you think to yourself, “how is this relevant?,” I want you to pause and actually consider the question.  Instead of having to justify curiosity and attention, make the effort to discover how the matter at hand is relevant. What are the connections that bind that topic to you? Why does it matter?  And the next time that someone tries to reduce your education to a set of job skills, please explain to them why there are many things entirely unrelated to your future profession that are worthy of examining, that the world is a laudable object of your search for relevance.

Syllabus: Europe Since 1945


Enormous changes have taken place in Europe since the end of the Second World War.  This course will cover the period from the end of hostilities to the fall of communism and beyond.  The course is divided into four sections.  The first part will cover the end of the war and the period of reconstruction and the early cold war.  The two middle sections of the course will focus on the tremendous changes experienced in Europe during the fifties and sixties.  The final portion will cover the period between the sixties and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Dr. Robert Stephens
1317A Ambler Johnston Hall
Phone: 231-5326

Office Hours: Monday 1:30-3:30, or by appointment

Course Evaluation: onsyllabus

Four Exams: 72%
Writing assignments: 15%
Professionalism: 13%


Format: The exams will include two sections: 1) an out-of-class essay and 2) an in-class objective exam (i.e. multiple choice, matching, true/false, etc.).  The essay questions will be posted one week in advance of the exam. Students must bring their printed essay to class on the day of the objective portion of the exam.

Grading: The essays will be graded for content and style. Each essay must contain: a clear and convincing thesis, specific evidence from the readings and other course content, a conclusion, and proper Chicago Manual of Style footnotes ( Grammar and spelling count!

Writing Assignments:

Throughout the semester, there will be both in-class and out-of-class writing assignments.  These assignments will vary based on the particular set of skills we are working on at the time.  You will only be allowed to make up these assignments with an acceptable documented excuse.


This is not merely an attendance grade.  This grade will gauge your approach to the course: your preparedness, your comportment in class, your participation in discussions, and your enthusiasm.  Since this course is partly discussion-based, it will behoove you to attend every class.  Repeated absences will seriously diminish your final grade.  But I want to see much more than just attendance. I want to see you grapple with the issues; I want to see you think out loud; I want you to form your own opinions and articulate them.  I want you to treat this course as a professional-in-training, which is what you already are.

Some Policy Matters:  

1. Completion of all assignments is required, even if you are taking the course pass-fail.
2. Late exams will be given only with an official, documented excuse.
3. Please make sure your cell phones are turned off when you enter class.
4. Laptops may not be used during film screenings or discussions.  During the screenings, the lights disturb other students, and during the discussions I want you focused on talking not typing.

Special Needs:

If you need adaptations or accommodations because of a disability (learning disability, attention deficit disorder, psychological, physical, etc.), if you have emergency medical information to share with me, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible.

Honor Code:

Virginia Tech has a stringent honor code. The honor pledge states: “I have neither given nor received unauthorized assistance on this assignment.” If you are not familiar with the honor code system, I strongly encourage you to do so immediately; by attending this university you tacitly agree to be governed by this set of rules. The honor code is available at the following URL:

Any infractions will be reported to the Honor System Review Board and could lead to a failing grade in the course, community service, probation, or even expulsion from the university.


The following books are required reading and are available at the bookstore:

1. Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2005).  ISBN: 0143037757

2. Henri Alleg, The Question (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 2006).  ISBN: 0803259603

3. Ian Buruma, Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance (New York: Penguin, 2006).  ISBN: 9780143112365


In addition to the three required texts, you will be required to read a number of scholarly articles and chapters from books.  The articles will be available in Adobe Acrobat PDF format in Scholar.

Many of the articles for this course are also available from various electronic vendors to which the University Library subscribes. In the cases in which it was possible, I have included a stable URL link to the article. These links will only work if the sites recognize you as an authorized VT user. You can accomplish this in one of two ways: 1) you can use a computer connected to a campus network (ethernet or wireless), or if you are not on campus, 2) you can sign on to the library’s off campus ezproxy, using you pid and password. Most of these articles are large files. In particular, the JSTOR articles are too large to download over a 56k modem connection. If you have problems accessing the readings through the stable URL links, please use Scholar.

Elizabeth Heineman, “The Economic Miracle in the Bedroom: Big Business and Sexual Consumption in Reconstruction West Germany” The Journal of Modern History 78, no.4 (2006): 846-877.

Jeremi Suri, “The Promise and Failure of ‘Developed Socialism’: The Soviet ‘Thaw’ and the Crucible of the Prague Spring, 1964-1972” Contemporary European History 15 (2006): 133-158.

Belinda Davis, “Activism from Starbuck to Starbucks, or Terror: What’s in a Name?” Radical History Review, 85 (2003): 37-57.


The URL for scholar is:

You should be able to sign on with your pid.  If you have problems logging on, please contact technical support at 4help


Week 1: August 27-29
Introduction: Readings:
Thursday: Judt, 1-41

Week 2: Sept. 3-5
Tuesday: Judt, 63-99
Thursday: Documents: “Beveridge Report Summary,” and Aneurin Bevan, “In Place of Fear: A Free Health Service” (Available on Scholar)

Week 3: September 10-12
Tuesday: Judt, 129-164
Thursday: Film: 7 Up

Week 4: September 17-19
Tuesday: Judt, 197-237
Thursday: Exam

Week 5: September 24-26
Tuesday: Judt, 241-277
Thursday: German Historical Institute Documents, “The Shadow of the Wall”

Week 6: October 1-3
Tuesday: Judt, 278-323
Thursday: Discussion of Alleg, The Question, xiii-102

Week 7: October 8-10
Tuesday: Judt, 324-359
Thursday: Film: 21 Up

Week 8: October 15-17
Tuesday: Elizabeth Heineman, “The Economic Miracle in the Bedroom: Big Business and Sexual Consumption in Reconstruction West Germany” The Journal of Modern History 78, no.4 (2006): 846-877.

Thursday: Exam

Week 9: October 22-24
Tuesday: Judt, 390-421
Thursday: Arthur Marwick, “Youth, Consumption, and Politics in the Age of Radical Change,” in Between Marx and Coca Cola: Youth Cultures in Changing European Societies (New York: Berghan Books, 2006), 39-58. (Available on Scholar)

Week 10: October 29-31
Tuesday: Judt, 422-452
Thursday: The Digital History Reader, 1968 Module.

Week 11: November 5-7

Tuesday: Jeremi Suri, “The Promise and Failure of ‘Developed Socialism’: The Soviet ‘Thaw’ and the Crucible of the Prague Spring, 1964-1972” Contemporary European History 15 (2006): 133-158.
Thursday:  Film: 56 Up

Week 12: November 12-14
Tuesday: Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch, excerpts. (Available on Scholar)

Thursday: Exam

Week 13: November 19-21
Tuesday: Judt, 453-503
Thursday: Belinda Davis, “Activism from Starbuck to Starbucks, or Terror: What’s in a Name?” Radical History Review, 85 (2003): 37-57.

Week 14: November 26-28
Thanksgiving Holiday
Begin Reading Buruma, Murder in Amsterdam, for discussion on December 3.

Week 15: December 3-5
Tuesday: Judt, 535-558, 586-633
Thursday: Discussion of Buruma, Murder in Amsterdam

Week 16: December 10
Tuesday: Optional Final

Final Exam: During regularly scheduled final exam period


The Last Blog to End Them All

This week we watched the eye opening film about how the Abu Ghraib prison is like. American Military Police harassed the prisoners and made them do down right terrible things. However, no one would have ever heard about these events, if some of the people involved in the crimes had not taken pictures of the prisoners and what they were doing to them. Although the atrocities at the prison were made very clear, I think the most important part of Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure, is how the events in the Abu Ghraib prison is an example of political violence because of the photographs, which surfaced.

My problem with the film is that it definitely put the American military in a bad light. Although I do not defend the actions of the accused in the film, I also do not think their wrongdoings should represent the entire United States military. From what I have learned from my friends and family, military police are not liked by the other parts of the branches of the military and are not given barely any respect. However, this distrust, or lack of respect is not attained unnecessarily. The majority of the military police are taken straight out of high school, and put right into their position. They severely lack the training that the rest of the military receives.

Although there should be no excuses made for the military police featured in Standard Operating Procedure, the did not have the training to be in the situation they were in. Honestly there is no way we could expect a high school student to be able to be mature enough to handle high security detainees in a foreign military prison.

Standard Operating Procedure – Sameea Baig

This documentary was difficult for me to watch. I was mostly angered throughout the entire movie. I was bothered by many of the things that had occurred in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. What bothered me the most was that this was supposed to be an “interrogation prison” where the government and military kept prisoners in order to question them but all that had happened there was torture and humiliation. It just really made me angry and upset. I didn’t understand how no one ever did anything about the issue and why the government had young and immature people working in such a serious and stressful environment. All the people that were involved in the picture taking and torture seemed uneducated and irresponsible. You would think that they would have well-trained individuals working in a place like Abu Ghraib. It made disappointed in not only our military but also our government. The ill treatment of prisoners and the capturing of innocent children seemed like things that we as Americans speak out against, yet we’re the ones involved in a scandal like this. I feel as though if these pictures had never come out, nothing would have been done to deal with the issues at the prison. Everything would have probably continued to occur, without any consequences for the people involved. Even after the scandal broke out, no one at the higher levels of the military of government were questioned or reprimanded.



Over all, I think Errol Morris made a good documentary but I think he could have done some things differently. One thing that I did not like was the reenactment scenes. i believe that they took away from the “documentary” concept of the film and made the movie less “truthful”. Another thing I did not like was that Morris didn’t really have his feels or opinions shown through the film. He probably wanted to keep the film focused on the pictures and frame in which the pictures were taken but I think he should have dove in deeper into the issue. I appreciated the fact that he looked at things objectively but I would have liked to have seen a stronger argument made through the film. The end of the film left me with many questions and I left with an unresolved feeling. I thought that many of the interviews didn’t answer the questions I had and that the answers that were given were untruthful. The movie just felt incomplete to me.

Standard Operating Procedure

When we first started watching this film, I found it very coincidental that I had just watched “Zero Dark Thirty” for the first time only a few days before. That film only gives a glimpse into what it was like to be inside a detainee prison camp and to witness the methods used to obtain information. But also what it does do is attempt to show the interrogators actually obtaining useful information as well as not always playing the bad guy. In S.O.P., we did not get to see any of that, not just because it was a talking heads documentary, but because what happened at Abu Ghraib was proven to not have achieved anything by way of finding and taking down terror cells. Instead what this film does is allow these people to try to explain what happened. The question is, are they telling the truth?

In this documentary, the most important piece of evidence are the photographs we are shown. The man with wires standing on a box, the human pyramid, etc. And the bulk of the film consists of straight on interviews with members of the Military Police, asking them to comment and explain what is happening in or what led up to the photo being taken. There is continually explanations for everything, including a love triangle. But what we really see is that a majority of these men and women were barely out of high school and were put in charge of guarding one of the most dangerous prisons in the middle of a war zone. While I do not condone their actions, there is a mentality that comes with being in the military, you do what you are told, no questions asked. This does not explain away why the MPs like Sabrina went searching for the dead body of the ghost detainee to take his picture, which is now infamous because of her thumbs up pose.

I don’t want to say I enjoyed this film, because that seems like the wrong word, but I thought it was very good and pieced together nicely. I did not care for some of the interviewees, especially Sabrina, whom I felt was lying through her teeth the entire way through her testimony.

Just a little something extra, since watching the film I have begun to notice just how often people use a “thumbs up” pose in photos, and I can only help but think of that picture now.

Still Wondering About S.O.P.

Errol Morris’s documentary film Standard Operating Procedure (200Smilie: 8) explores the usage and meaning of the photographs taken at Abu Ghraib depicting prisoner abuse and torture. The film does a good job of by not pontificating from an outside perspective, instead allowing the MP’s in the pictures to “hang themselves with their own rope” when questioned about their motives and actions at Abu Ghraib. Despite leaving the film feeling like I had more questions than answers, as well as an overall anger about the entire situation, our discussion in class has stuck with me even more in two ways.

The first was the discussion that soldiers/MP’s should be personally able to disobey orders that are “unethical.” While I agree that the forms of torture, embarrassment, and etcetera were inhumane and terrible, I still somewhat sympathize with the MP’s. Morris does a good job of allowing these clearly undereducated individuals to talk themselves into a hole, but, much like the theme of the movie, we cannot imagine the entire scenario that they were living in. We are unaware of the crimes committed by the prisoners, some of whose offenses may warrant punishment. We see the base being shelled by gunfire a few times in the film, but it isn’t really discussed what that constant feeling of being attacked could do to a young person’s psyche. The majority of the class was up-in-arms about none of them stepping up and reporting it, or choosing not to participate, and that “following orders” isn’t an excuse. While, as I said, the acts in of Abu Ghraib are despicable, I also sympathize with these individuals because they are present in a culture that pounds into your head that you must submit to authority 100% or you are likely to lose your job, be punished, and whatnot. I also don’t think this culture in the military should change because if it becomes okay to just pick and choose what orders to follow, the military will no longer have any effect on the battlefield. Finally, I can’t personally judge the photo examiner who explained certain things were “out of line” and others were “S.O.P.” because I am not the expert on such issues and, clearly, actual thought has gone into what we can and can’t do to prisoners. The fact that we are sitting in a peaceful classroom and considering these things absurd and have no idea about these things just sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe I was just overly sensitive this past Thursday, or maybe under-sensitive, but it just seemed like it wasn’t any of our place to question it. Then again, I am also probably wrong.

My second reaction was just that I was shocked at how the military (or CIA or whomever) allowed these acts to get out in that they let such young, inexperienced, immature, and obviously untrustworthy MP’s be in charge and carry out such acts. I won’t sit here and pretend these things don’t happen in times of war, but it’s not something that usually reaches the light of day. For example, when Zero Dark Thirty portrayed scenes of torture, many in the government were upset because it became clear that someone with inside knowledge helped create these scenes. I just wonder if the culture has changed to the point where the authority of the military is being undermined from within with these examples of leaked photos, video, and aspects of operations that just haven’t and wouldn’t have happened in the past. Again, I don’t agree with the actions of Abu Ghraib or necessarily the torture policies we have, but I see why the desire for national security can lead us to these places. I will say, however, I’d be much more comfortable with an “out of sight, out of mind” policy on these things than having them leaked. I know that is probably and unpopular opinion, but I can see the argument from both sides.

Standard Operating Procedure

Of all the movies that we have watched in class so far, I feel like this one bothered me more than any of the others. Hearing real people recount their actions and their rolls in torturing individuals without the slightest ounce of remorse really stuck with me. Also, it is hard for me to feel okay about the fact that my country, the land of freedom, takes part in such barbaric acts. I can’t claim that I have been completely ignorant of our less than honorable behaviors, especially with all the controversy over Guantanamo Bay, but seeing the misery on the faces of the prisoners was really heartbreaking and made it feel more real.

Despite how much this movie bothered me, I found the cinematography behind it wonderful. I think that it did a wonderful job of evoking emotion through nostalgia. I feel like photographs are a wonderful medium to evoke nostalgia. They’re something that are familiar and that can cross generational boarders. Just by introducing this familiar medium to the viewers, I think that Morris made us feel like we could better relate to the people in the photographs, such as the awkward girl who doesn’t know what to do with her hands.

I also couldn’t overlook the usefulness of the music. While I would never have thought of inserting Danny Elfman into a conversation about the S.O.P of the military, I think that his music fit perfectly. Again, I see his music as something familiar and well known. It almost automatically evokes certain emotions of sadness or fear because of the dark films he has become so well known for. This music, with it’s eerie, ghostlike tones combined with the nostalgic feelings from the pictures, sets the whole mood of the film and makes you feel immediately saddened by what is going on.

All this being said, I really did appreciate the movie, but I feel like our country should re-evaluate what their standard operating procedure is. I can understand feeling the need to be stern and cold toward the prisoners while interrogating them. However, I cannot be okay with them being humiliated, roughed up, or psychologically harassed before being interrogated. I can’t see the logic behind sexual harassment being criminal and psychological, such as the man on a box with wires attached to his fingers under threat of electrocution, being S.O.P. As one of the “greatest” nations on Earth, we should be committed to rising the standards of how we treat our prisoners and to upholding a standard of humanity that is currently being overlooked.


I found this week’s film, Standard Operating Procedure, to be very compelling, and probably my favorite (if you can even use that term here) of the political violent films we saw.  After watching the interview with Errol Morris, I thought it interesting that he wanted to investigate the nature of photos and their verisimilitude.  From this perspective, the film tells two stories: one of torture and one of the power of photography.

In class we’ve discussed the morality of torture, but I’m not even sure how to express my standing on the subject.  In the film, I was angry when certain activities were labeled “Torture” versus “Standard Operating Procedure.”  The investigator claimed that it’s not torture “per se” if discomfort is used to obtain information.  I’m really not sure how being forced to strip naked and wear women’s underwear on one’s head is going to get a confession.  It’s not the pain of torture that bothers me, but rather the inhumane treatment of the prisoners.  They are not just interrogated, but humiliated in sexual and inappropriate ways.  The guards defended their actions by saying: “We degrade them, but don’t hit them, so that’s good…” Is it, is it really?


In addition, it disgusted me how none of the perpetrators admitted they were wrong or took responsibility for their actions; it was one big blame game.  When a prisoner was forced to stand on a box with fake electrical wires, they said, “It would’ve been meaner if actual electricity…it was just words.”  This statement is so insensitive and biased.  Personally, I can’t imagine going through such physical duress and then falling off a box, holding my breath and waiting for my eminent death, and then it never coming.  It’s like when someone is shot with a blank- the fear and emotional damage is just as real as the bullet is imaginary.

Moriss said he was intrigued by the idea that everyone sees a photo and thinks their version of the truth is what happened and they need to look no further.  His whole film argues against this apathy, and he urges his audiences to look at a photo’s context as well as content.


Many of my peers hated the reenactments and felt they took away from the film, but I quite enjoyed them.  Because a film itself is a reenactment, there is no difference between these false recreations of the truth and the interviews with people who were there.  Moriss argues that reality is reenacted in our skulls, so reenactments on the screen are no different than what is in our mind.  In effect, reenactments are more authentic reflections of the truth than the truth itself as all truth is relative.  These recreations of events further explore the power of photography and its decontextualization.

I enjoyed this film for its further exploration into an event we quickly assume we understand.  Though some argue the film gives the guards too much time to talk and defend themselves, I think this was Moriss’ goal, to allow them to explain the pictures from the photographers’ point of view.  As a result, their own mouths confirm their conviction, but the audience is left to gather their own truth.

Standard Operating Procedure

Standard Operating Procedure (2008) is directed by Errol Morris. This documentary focused on the events that occurred at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq after the initial invasion of Iraq. This was an incredibly powerful movie and really horrified me. This was defiantly the most disturbing film that we have watched in class. The film’s central focus revolves around the prisoner abuse of detainees by the American military. It is really interesting because pictures are the key to the story. We see U.S. military personnel doing terrible things to the prisoners and then we get a chance to hear from the military men and women that did the crimes. This movie also made me incredibly sad because I have a lot of friends that serve in the military and seeing these soldiers disgrace themselves like that was really tough. Just because these shameful people did horrible things doesn’t mean that the military is like that, I just hope people realize that!

We discussed in class about the film really being more about photography than actually about the events that occurred at the prison. The story is told through these photographs with interviews to give backup detail. These pictures that surfaced really did not have context to them, they were just a snapshot of one event in time which ended up ruining the lives of servicemen and women. Linda Williams brings up a great point about the framing of pictures. In 2006 after the US military killed Al-Zarqawi there was a huge press conference with a giant picture of him dead, a glorious display of an American victory. In 2003, at Abu Ghraib there was a picture taken of a dead prisoner who had died during torture. This one picture did so much damage to America and the war in Iraq. We really went from being the good guys to evil doers in many people’s eyes.

I also found it really interesting at the end of the film they gave a text note that said no one over the rank of staff sergeant got in trouble for the prisoner abuse. I find that ridiculous  these soldiers were obviously getting their orders from somewhere or someone of a higher rank must have known what was going on. Although these people were caught in the act through leaked photos, I feel there should be their superiors that get reprimanded as well. If it wasn’t for all their prodding to try and get these soldiers to do whatever it took to get information to find Saddam then maybe this shameful thing wouldn’t of happened. I mean it was just plain dumb that the soldiers would even take pictures of what they did!

All in all I thought it was a pretty good movie. Definetly something you should check out if you are interested in photography and the power of a picture!

Here is a clip from the movie

Standard Operating Procedure