In a review of Mark Danner’s latest book, Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War, Samuel Moyn questions the focus of Danner’s polemic: where Danner sees American war efforts around the world as a result of a “state of exception” generated in the early part of the War on Terror, Moyn contends instead that US military action is anything but exceptional—it is regulated, legalized, and controlled and therein lies the problem. “What if,” Moyn argues, “stigmatizing atrocity, making military sprawl less offensive to many even as it transcends all known chronological and territorial limits left the conflict harder to rein in? Indicting dirty war by itself [as Danner does in his book] does not reach the core of our spiral—indeed, doing so may help it continue to spin.” Continue reading
The following guest post is by James Perosi-Doughty, Université Bordeaux Montaigne: Culture et littératures des mondes anglophones (CLIMAS).
The year 2001 holds various degrees of significance depending on the context or the person asked. It was the official start of not only the 21st century, but also of a new millennium; a millennium that was to be the promise of hope and new beginnings. By all literary and cinematographic accounts, mankind was supposed to have flying cars and Space Odysseys. Of course, it was none of those things. If anything, the start of the new millennium made mankind, especially Americans aware of the limits of their beliefs, power, and more importantly, their security. Continue reading
Science fiction has long told stories about the difference between how people remember the past versus what actually happened. Sometimes, this involves time travel—as in the shock the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E experiences when meeting a flawed, human version of their warp drive hero Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact. The Babylon 5 episode “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars” asked one simple question: how would people in the Babylon 5 universe remember the heroes that we, the viewer, rooted for (at that point) over four seasons? The answer was: far from the way we’d want them remembered. Science fiction literature also has many examples of this too: Canticle for Leibowitz (of which “Deconstruction of Falling Stars is partially inspired by) explores a far-future world where a monastic society struggles to keep alive the scientific advances of a fading past. Star Wars is no different in this regard.
This Memorial Day, I find myself thinking about the strange non-peace in which we find ourselves. I thought of titling this post “Are We At War This Memorial Day?,” but on further reflection, the answer to that question seemed too obviously to be “yes.” Though the U.S. is scheduled to complete the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, for the moment, America’s longest war continues in that country, however little attention most Americans have been paying to it. The U.S. War in Afghanistan seems destined to end not with a bang but a whimper. I guess we can take some comfort that our decade-plus in Afghanistan will at least work out marginally less badly for our country than the Soviet Union’s decade in that country had worked out for it.
But even when that conflict finally comes to an end (at least for the United States, at least officially), we will still be at war. And it’s that larger, more difficult-to-define war that most concerns me today.
The Bush Administration called it the War on Terror or the Global War on Terrorism. Much justified criticism was aimed at these two terms. How does one fight a war against terrorism itself, let alone terror? Perhaps in reaction to that criticism, the Obama Administration has stopped calling it the War on Terror or the Global War on Terrorism, instead rechristening the conflict the Overseas Contingency Operations, a term that trades the incoherence of War on Terror for a kind of Orwellian bureaucratic coldness.
And while the term War on Terror tells us that the war is against an opponent that literally cannot be defeated, the term Overseas Contingency Operations tells us even less about the conflict, except that it is going on overseas (which, given the Snowden revelations, is strictly speaking not entirely true) and that it is contingent (on what it doesn’t say). Continue reading
September 11, 2001 began, for me, with vague news about a “plane accident” involving the World Trade Center. This is all my Chicago NPR station gave me before leaving for work. At that point it wasn’t about a large jet, commandeered by terrorists, being used as a bomb to destroy a major symbol of American prosperity and strength in the heart of its biggest city. It was just an unusual incident. Details were scarce.
Everything changed in about 30-40 minutes. After arriving at work the purported accident had transformed into a major catastrophe. There were only a few of us in the office, but our individual browsers were filled with images of horror and dread. One of my colleagues wheeled out a television, and we began to watch events unfold together. It reminded me of a January afternoon in my high school freshman English class. After the space shuttle Challenger disaster, our teacher, Ms. Thomas, had us watch the coverage and discuss the events. In 2001, it was my Loyola colleagues and I, with no guidance, feeling our way through another televised disaster in the sky. I was a part-time graduate assistant learning to advise students at Loyola’s adult education outpost, Mundelein College. Thankfully business was light that day. Continue reading
I’ve mentioned on the blog in an earlier post that in one of his radio addresses for the American Legion’s “Back to God” campaign, President Eisenhower told Americans that they needed to find God in their struggle against Communism. “There are no atheists in foxholes,” the president intoned, “in a time of test and trial, we instinctively turn to God for a new courage and peace of mind.” Of course it was unclear precisely what God would help Americans understand about the Cold War; though that was obviously not the point of Ike’s plea. In almost any time of war, governments engaged in the fighting have a need to flatten out the sides involved–the enemy is monolithic, but so are the people they ostensibly fight for.
In the Cold War, the process of flattening out those involved in the conflict entailed viewing all Americans in one large foxhole, all praying to one common (yet ambiguous) God. In our time of war, we are once again lumped into one large foxhole, but instead of flattening out distinctions through religion, this war seems to do it by digital design. Campaigns like the one Ike supported, used the existential threat of communism to rationalize the lumping and flattening. In our time, the existential threat of the “War on Terror” apparently rationalizes the lumping of us all as data and the flattening out of us into digital shadows. If fifty years ago, suspicious activity involved our religious practices (or lack there of), now no digital activity is beyond suspicion or monitoring. Continue reading
On May 23, 2013, American president, Barack Obama, delivered a signal speech on the American “War on Terror.” Recognizing the ambiguity that this war has always possessed, Obama admitted early on in his speech: “America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us. We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. Neither I nor any president can promise the total defeat of terror.” With that said, the president spent the next several minutes detailing threats posed to the nation and its people for over three decades in the context of the decline of the Cold war, the rise of new technology, and the general animosity particular groups/movements have toward the United States.
Much of the action the U.S. has taken during the period since 9/11 has fallen under an act passed by Congress on September 14, 2001 called the Authorization to Use Military Force. While not a formal declaration of war, the act clearly produced a culture of war, as Obama acknowledged: “I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine and ultimately repeal the AUMF’s mandate,” he said. “And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. It’s what our democracy demands.” Continue reading
Paul Croce teaches History and American Studies at Stetson University. An earlier version of this essay appeared in The Orlando Sentinel, September 11, 2012.
Led by that same president, the US took another path, fighting fire with fire, seeking revenge on Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda terrorists, and declaring an endless War on Terror, directed at hiding terrorists, and then expanded to warfare in two nations, Afghanistan and Iraq.