The Concept of Victimization in the Books “Noonday” and “War Porn”

A common theme evident in nearly all pieces of literature that focus on the notion of war and the effects of warfare on civilians and combatants is the idea of victimization. Though all wars are unique in their victimization of both soldiers and noncombatants, there are commonalities with victims of all wars. Two examples of recent literature that highlight the concept of victimization in warfare are “War Porn” and “Noonday.” Both novels focus on the effects of war from the perspective of both those involved in the combat and the civilians who experience the consequences of war. Both novels share a connection in their portrayal of the costs of warfare on those who participate and the idea that all combat serves to turn individuals into victims.

“Noonday” is a 2015 novel written by Pat Barker. The third in a series of books set over the course of World War One, “Noonday” is set in Great Britain in 1940 during the Battle of London. The novel follows the experiences of Elinor Brooke, an ambulance driver who works beside her friend Kit Neville, and her husband Paul, an air-raid warden. Originally students at the Slade School of Fine Art in the years immediately preceding World War One, Elinor, Kit, and Paul soon find themselves caught up in another war, this time at home. As the fighting and destruction steadily increase, the constant specter of death makes all three of them reach out for quick relief. “Noonday also explores the emotional impact of war as fought on the home front and how warfare affects the relationship dynamic that exists between different people.

One way in which warfare victimizes both the combatants and civilians is because it reduces personal desires and results in increased complacency. Because of the unpredictable nature of warfare, people become accustomed to the violence and destruction that stems from it and often are forced to put their personal desires on hold. Pat Barker explores the idea through her description of Elinor and all the people in her household coming to accept the “searchlights over the church at night, blacked-out houses, the never-ending pop-pop of guns in the marshes.” Barker also compares the sound of gunfire to “almost like a child’s toy.” Through such lines, Barker is essentially saying that people eventually become desensitized as warfare continues to engulf their way of life. Additionally, the idea of war placing life on hold is further explored when Elinor is described as looking at the “brown lawn, the wilting shrubs, and flowers; everything seemed to be suspended.” Such lines allude to the idea that war creates inertia that prevents people from moving forward and that uncertainty at times results in decay. Barker also describes the effects of war on previously-existing family routines. For example, she describes the war and the subsequent uncertainty about the future as breaking down all the “normal routines” that Elinor and her family previously followed.

Another way in which war victimizes individuals is through its displacement of people. An example of war disrupting family life shown in “Noonday” is through the character of Kenny. At the start of the war, Kenny was evacuated from the city of London and was brought in by Elinor and her family. Kenny is characterized as a relatively shy and quiet boy. Additionally, Kenny is portrayed as longing for his mother and loitering at the end of the driveway hoping that she would come to retrieve him. Through her portrayal of Kenny as quiet and longing to return to his family, Barker is alluding to the fact that war leads to isolation and the feeling of emptiness. The fact that war also impacts family dynamics is also shown in “Noonday” when Paul seeks to bring Kenny back home to London to be reunited with his mother. When Paul and Kenny find the location of Kenny’s mother, she is portrayed to be in a state of shock and ignores Kenny initially. She then lashes out at Paul, asking him why he brought Kenny back and that she “cannot have him” because “there is nothing left.” Such actions on the part of Kenny’s mother show that the war shattered the old family structure that she attempted to provide for her son.

The idea of war victimizing individuals through its destructive nature and its dehumanizing of civilians is also explored in “Noonday.” For example, Paul alludes to the notion of war dehumanizing civilians when he is putting away the toy soldiers that Kenny brought along when he went back to London to be with his family. When putting the toy soldiers away, Paul makes the conclusion that warfare turns civilians into playthings by devaluing them. An example of the destructive nature of war as shown in “Noonday” is through Pat Barker’s portrayal of the City of London after being bombed by the Germans. For example, the streets of London are described as “reduced to charred and smoldering ruins in which at any moment you felt a fire could break through” and as having “bodies lying on the sides of the road, lifeless, sodden heaps of rags.” Such imagery illustrates the fact that the nature of total warfare is highly destructive and does not make a distinction between both civilian and military targets. An additional example of the effects of war on civilians occurs when Barker mentions that the shelter that Kenny was staying at was hit during a bombing run and that he and his family were among the civilians who were killed.

The fact that war victimizes people at a personal level is also explored in “Noonday” through the character of Alex, who is Elinor’s nephew. When coming home from the hospital after being wounded in battle to visit his dying grandmother, Alex is described as feeling very tense and anxious to move on. Such lines illustrate the fact that warfare negatively affects individuals by increasing tensions within them and making them have a sense of unease about what might happen to them. Additionally, when discussing Elinor returning home from her shift as an ambulance driver, Pat Barker states that warfare often has the effect of aging people at an increased rate. The main ways in which war ages people and increases their overall level of stress is through its unpredictable nature and the constant feeling of continually being under siege from an outside invading force. The idea of warfare resulting in people questioning their will to live is also shown in “Noonday.” For example, Paul is described as having “more or less made up his mind he was going to die” due to the escalation of the bombing raids during the Fall of 1940 and that such acceptance freed him from any “fear or moral scruple.”

“War Porn” is a 2016 novel written by Roy Scranton and is set during the early years of the Iraq War. The book itself consists of three distinct, yet interconnected storylines. The first plotline is narrated by an American soldier, Specialist Wilson, and describes Wilson’s service during the war’s early years and his experiences in US-occupied Iraq. The next focuses on the experiences of Qasim al-Zabadi, an Iraqi math professor who is split between remaining in Baghdad or fleeing to the countryside to be with his family. The third plotline cuts back to Utah, where a Columbus Day barbecue in 2004 is overshadowed by the appearance of an Iraq War veteran named Aaron. Linking the three storylines are interludes where Scranton channels a voice declaiming the amalgamated collection of the delusions and anxieties that underwrote the Iraq War in both American and Iraqi culture. “War Porn” explores the overall effects of the Iraq War from both the perspective of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Additionally, Scranton explores the idea of victimization in warfare through several examples throughout the text.

One of the key areas of victimization, as presented in “War Porn”, is the notion that war desensitizes combatants. The idea of warfare desensitizing its combatants is examined through the portrayal of Aaron during the earlier chapters. For example, Aaron is shown as being relatively reluctant to talk about his experiences in Iraq and states that the fact that he had to kill people was “not a bad deal, either” and that it was “easier than working for it.” Aaron also states that he is not ashamed of his time in Iraq and that he had to follow the contract that he signed regarding his military service. The idea of desensitization is shown through the portrayal of Specialist Wilson and his fellow during the initial occupation of Iraq by the US military. For example, Scranton mentions Sargent Chandler, one of Wilsons fellow soldiers, as asking his commanding officer, Lieutenant Krauss if he could shoot one of the Iraqi children who got in the way of the convoy that he and Wilson were traveling in. Additionally, Jason Carruthers, another one of Wilson’s fellow soldiers mentions to his drill sergeant that the main reason he enlisted into the military was to “jump out of planes and kill people.”

Another example of victimization Roy Scranton focuses on in “War Porn” is the idea of war stealing other people’s dignity and the dehumanization of civilians. An example of this concept is when Aaron shows Matt and the other party-goers a series of pictures that he took during his time as a guard at an internment camp in Iraq. The pictures reveal that many of the Americans stationed at the internment camp mistreated the Iraqi insurgents that they captured. For example, several of the pictures show US forces dehumanizing the Iraqi prisoners by assaulting them, forcing them into uncomfortable and cramped cells, and torturing several to the point of death. Moreover, Aaron states that such actions are often committed out of pure boredom. The fact that Aaron is showing Matt and the other party-goers the pictures that he took at the internment camp indicate that he is violating the dignity of others by showing graphic pictures of prisoners being held by the US occupational forces in Iraq.

An additional example of victimization shown in “War Porn” is the idea of governments using up other people and countries to accomplish specific goals. An example of this theme occurs when Specialist Wilson describes how his unit captured scorpions and used to fight against other scorpions and various insects they found. The soldiers had the scorpions fight against other insects until death and named each of the winning scorpions Saddam. This example serves as a metaphor regarding the past support countries such as the US and Israel gave to Saddam Hussein during the war against Iran during the 1980s and then later turning against him when he invaded Kuwait in 1990.

In conclusion, the idea of victimization is often a common theme in numerous war novels. The examples of victimization are often unique and are based on the context of the war that is being portrayed in the novel itself. Both “Noonday” and “War Porn” explore the idea of victimization in the cases of World War Two and the Iraq War. The primary areas of victimization shown in “Noonday” include the ideas of warfare creating uncertainty, displacing individuals, dehumanizing civilians, and the notion of war victimizing people at an individual level. On the other hand, “War Porn” explores the concept of victimization through its portrayal of the desensitizing effects of war on those who serve in the military, the idea of war as stealing other people’s dignity, and the idea of governments taking advantage of either individual countries or people to achieve certain goals. Despite the differences in their portrayals of victimization, both “Noonday” and “War Porn” focus on the effects of war in both individuals and combatants and highlight the overall destructive nature of warfare.

the author

Matt is a graduate of Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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