Dark side of life in black and white

19th September 2003 at 01:00

Regarding the Pain of Others
By Susan Sontag
Hamish Hamilton pound;12.99

Many of the horrors of the 20th century are well known to us all: the impassive sadness of the inmates of German concentration camps at the end of the Second World War, the terror of napalmed children in Vietnam, and the pain of the victims of the Biafra famine. But what about the Japanese action in China in 1937 (80,000 raped, 400,000 massacred)? Or the occupation of Berlin by Soviet troops in 1945 (130,000 rapes, 10,000 suicides)?

Modern historical memory is selective, and responds neither to facts nor to ideology. As Susan Sontag points out in her marvellous new book, it's the photographs that count. Photographs are special because, however much artistry goes into them, there is a large element of chance.

Read more in this week's TES Friday magazine

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