Tuesday, November 6, 2012

the "wounded"

While processing this week's reading, I am reminded of an organization called the Wounded Warrior Project. (http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org) This organization, who's tagline reads "the greatest casualty is being forgotten," identifies it's vision as being "to foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history." Through direct economic, physical, and emotional support, the project seeks "to honor and empower wounded warriors."

A couple of interesting points arise here. Firstly, the assertion that this project will "foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history" implies that the nation has previously failed to do such a thing. It calls upon a feeling of shame, suggesting that the nation has failed to live up to the ideal of fostering well-adjusted wounded service members. Secondly, the project itself seems to fetishize the wound, through the constant repetition of "wounded" ("Wounded Warrior Project", "generation of wounded service members", "empower wounded warriors'). There is a clear sense that the wound must be acknowledged and held on to, that to forget the wound would be "the greatest casualty."

This prompts a more general observation that the very existence of something like the Wounded Warrior Project shows how a nation places its wounds, both mental and physical, upon a body of individual bodies (to borrow Ahmed's language.) The United States military exists as a group of individuals organized and deployed as a system of defense. It is a collective of individual bodies designated to protect the larger collective of individual bodies that make up the nation. These levels of representation create an intimate vertical relationship that, on the surface, appears horizontal. There is a sense that service members are "fellow," but the very nature of the system may suggest otherwise.

Given this complex relationship, how can we generally understand the military? Might the military be a means by which the nation manages emotion, specifically hate and fear? Following the attacks on 9/11 there was an increasing sense of fear and horror at the possibility of unforeseen acts of terror. As we saw in the ABC news footage of the exchange between Peter Jennings and Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, there was an immediate reaction to the 9/11 attacks of wanting to take action against someone or something. The act of "going to war" was mentioned here, and indeed the United States did send its military to war - a "war on terror." 

What does it mean for America to "go to war?" The phrase implies movement from "here" to "war," identifying war as a spatially and temporally bound locality. It is not America as the physical nation that is traversing space and time; rather, it is the United States military, a collective of individuals designated to stand in for the collective of individuals and systems that identify as "American." In the case of the war on terror, it was a way of reacting to the attacks of 9/11, of fighting the idea of "terror" and promoting the "American" ideas of freedom and democracy.

In this way, does the military function as a way to manage fear, and perhaps to actually repress fear? Ahmed talks about the act of repressing fear, stating that "the affect itself is not repressed: rather what is repressed is the idea to which the affect was attached. The affect of fear is sustained, or is even intensified, through the displacement between objects." (66) Thus, perhaps by placing the United States military between the United States and the object which is feared, the nation lives with the affect of its fear without having to deal with the fear itself. Or, could it be that through the act of sending its representatives, the military, the nation is actually facing the fear? And does it matter if an individual American does not actually know any service members? That is, what difference does it make that I personally know someone who has been deployed, versus friends of mine who do not know service members? How does such emotional distance at a micro level create distance at a macro level?

If, as Ahmed states, emotions are not "psychological dispositions," but rather "investments in social norms," how can we understand the emotions that something like the Wounded Warrior Project calls upon? (56) How do these emotions of shame that the project evokes function to build community? Where does the individual wound become collective? How does the insistence upon remembering the wound function? More generally, what does it mean to insist that the nation not forget an other's wounds, especially if that "other" is known only in its anonymity?

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