Monday, February 27, 2012
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Monday, February 20, 2012
Let me begin this post by saying how difficult it is to judge the actions of the soldiers involved. Not to make a judgment on anyone’s character and including myself in the mix, I truly do believe that each of us is susceptible (though we may have different levels of susceptibility) to commit the same actions that each of the soldiers implicated did. We are all exposed to the same hyper-“masculine” ideals rampant in U.S. society, so it would only make sense that we are all capable of committing such actions.
Puar and Phillips both comment on this hyper-“masculine” ideal prevalent in the U.S. These hyper-“masculine” ideals very roughly and briefly include a need to be “strong”, violent, in power, etc. I believe this is a climate that engulfs all of the U.S. despite Bush claiming that “their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people” (Puar 14). It is precisely this nature that created the atmosphere for the torture, especially the type of torture.
Puar talks about this hyper-“masculinity” in regards to homophobia. It is a well-known fact that there is a lot of homophobia in the military. I believe this is partly to do with the stereotypes we have about gay men as being effeminate (which not all gay men are) contradicting with the “fact” that “real” men are “masculine.” As Puar details, this also touches upon the fact that femininity is viewed down upon in American society. Women in the military, such as England, are thereby more inclined to act masculine (sometimes even surpassing men’s actions) in an attempt to fit in with their male counterparts. Just to illustrate the reality of this situation for women, I know that when I was in an all-male, hyper-“masculine” organization, I began to feel this sort of pressure. Between talking derogatorily about women and boasting their own perceived image of masculinity, it was an exhausting situation to be in. I ended up leaving the organization because I did not want to try to fit into their standards; however, if I had not left, the way I carried myself would have had to change drastically in order for me to be able to survive in the organization. I image this pressure for women to be all the higher in the military. In that way, England’s actions are logical (not synonymous with excusable) in that type of hyper-“masculine” setting.
Moving past that tangent about women and femininity in the U.S., sex between men is still viewed as particularly taboo/disgusting. (Sex between women, on the other hand, is disgustingly viewed as “sexy” and it is particularly “masculine” to watch two women have sex.) For men to take on a “feminine role” of having sex with other men is degrading. That, in concurrence with how queerness is perceived in the Muslim world, is why American soldiers focused so heavily on sexual acts between men as forms of torture. If there were not a climate of homophobia and anti-femininity in the U.S., the thought of “gay sex” (do not like this phrase, but it is what the article kept using) would not have crossed the soldiers’ minds as a possible mechanism of torture. I think it would still not have crossed their minds regardless of whether or not homophobia were a problem for Muslims. The reason I believe this is because the “sexual acts simulated are all specifically and only gay acts” (Puar 33). Even though American soldiers raped women detainees, they did not force women upon other women or men upon other women. They only forced men upon other men. This means that the American soldiers themselves thought there was something particularly degrading or exceptional about forcing men upon other men.
Phillips also describes a hyper-“masculine” environment, but in a different light. He talks more about violence and the need to feel physical domination (as opposed to the mental domination/humiliation that Puar refers to). One quote that particularly stood at to me was when Keller spoke about his first experience with torture (Phillips 59). He said that it was “uneventful”, anticlimactic in a sense. This type of boredom then fostered the environment that allowed for increasingly torturous and violent tortures to occur. (I will stop here so as to not make this post too long.)
Phillips and Puar both note the importance and influence of this ideal of hyper-“masculinity” in the military and American society in general.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Before the gloves come off and the rage at confronting each of our personal complicity in this simple fact of American society, let me expand on my question. I do not doubt that the majority of our classmates believe that torture is wrong. But we are all living in a country where we benefit indirectly, and directly, from torture. We get oil for our cars, we get to feel safe knowing our army is out there fighting the terrorists, we get to buy our cheap consumer goods, we get to be happy. So whether or not we say we are okay with torture, our actions show that we are, actually, okay with it.
Phillips gave us some clues as to how this issue is being glossed over. He carefully lays out the idea, not in the main subject of his chapters, but along the way, that our government is legitimating torture. Moreover, who's really playing the terror card? 9/11 has lasting effects, but our government went out of their way to label Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and North Korea as members of an "Axis of Evil" (Phillips, 50). This terminology is a throwback to World War II, playing on historical fears from previous wars. The torture memos read for last class provide the paper trail of government officials laying the foundation for the legitimization of dehumanization. This use of semantics to sidestep actual ethical problems is also addressed when Nowlan and Benson made the distinction between "interrogation" and "tactical questioning," (Phillips, 60). The government plays on the public's fears, our fears, that we aren't safe, that another 9/11 could happen if we don't fight this war. Even better, were it not for the photos from Abu Ghraib, we wouldn't have see the effects of the war at all. In not directly addressing topics, the government sings us a sweet lullaby, encouraging up to look the other way, or if we do look, to not look to closely. We, the public, were, and are, afraid of terrorists attacking our homes. Phillips writes, "It turned out that senior government officials and low-ranking troops at Guantanamo had much in common. Everyone feared terrorist threats," (85). But our government took that fear and used it to sign off on torture, and assuming one guilty before proven innocent. That is what most goes against the US's honorable nature. The entire military hierarchy is in on torture, not just a few out of control, low-level foot soldiers.
In addition, our government is making this behavior legally acceptable. How can we show we're not okay with it? In an ideal sense, maybe we could try getting involved in the politics, or at least voting for people who will take a stand against it. I usually like Obama, but his stance on Gitmo is unfortunate in that it continues the legacy of torture in a place that does not legally exist, on people who do not qualify as human. Phillips takes all of Chapter 4 to demonstrate that torture is not even an effective means of getting information from someone. So why does the military continue to do this?
Puar provided evidence, explaining "torture is neither antithetical nor external to the project of liberation; rather, it is part and parcel of the necessary machinery of the civilizing mission," (Puar, 15). This makes something like the Holocaust argument we discussed in class on Thursday, in addition to my CORE Modernity course. Normalized and sanctioned torture is not an aberration of modernity, but just the flip side of the coin. The symptoms of modernity include the high-handed goals of industrialization and progress, and with them come efficient means of dehumanizing people. Puar's summary of the Orientalist effect on torture in Abu Ghraib, notes "[The] eroticization of enemy targets . . . triggers the objectiﬁcation process," (Puar, 18). He then refers to Lynndie England's role in this as showing what can happen with gender equality. It's extra poignant because, the same way torture comes with modernity, can't women's growing power provide the opportunity for the abuse of that power?
I don't have a clever segue, but here's the other thought that comes to mind when reading about the US fighting our noble wars abroad: Do we want to fight a real war on terror? Why don't we start with dismantling the KKK? They may not have hijacked a plane, but they are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans. Would bringing the war home make us realize what actually goes into a war? instead of playing into the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality?
Also, on a related note, I was in CORE Middle East for my Communities and Identities course, and we watched a film called "Shocking and Awful" which further detailed bombings like Fallujah. If you feel ambitious, here's a link: http://www.archive.org/details/ddtvshock1 It's sickening and saddening, and it's hard to keep seeing ourselves as the good guys in this equation.
Monday, February 13, 2012
I'll start with that radio podcast because it stood out to me because you were able to listen to it, hear it coming out of other people instead of reading it yourself. It was very eye opening to say the least. the first part was a segment of a movie entitled "will they know me back home?". It was about three soldiers coming back from war and the small segment that was played was talking about whether going home would be the same. The older man said they were nervous out of the service, that honestly hit me pretty hard. I then began to think, I can't even begin to comprehend the adjustment that these men and women make to fight in a war, but then later to come back home; if they are lucky enough. How do you turn that switch on and off? That question came up at perfect timing because then the radio show started to give actual account of people that went to war and what it was like to make those traditions from normal life to war and vice-versa. The letters from husband to wife were difficult to hear, you could hear in the letter their connection drifting apart. In war the see stress as an injury and will dismiss you but as a medical case. It's rough to hear these soldiers tell their stories and say that they had suicidal thoughts. What I took from this podcast was what does a war really do to a person? It changes you inside how?
Moving on to the Phillips' book chapter ones starts off bringing up some really wonderful questions. What does the uniform of a soldier mean? Why is their first priority to change clothing? We heard the same thing in the second half of the podcast. First thing these soldiers did when getting off the plane was change into normal civilian clothes. Why? Does not being seen as a soldier change what and who they are viewed as? Does it make them feel more at home? It goes on with this very heart touched story about this man named Adam Gray. He was an energetic full of life kid who went to war that way but came back a totally different man. That's where the question arises for me if you go to war are you being tortured yourself? In this book it mentions the post-traumatic stress disorders and how they are on a steady incline. Is fighting a war an automatic torture for both sides?
In my opinion trying to answer some of these question, one can never honestly know what it feels like to experience these things. I look at a soldier and I think wow that person is risking their lives to fight for our countries freedom. One thing I never really thought of, is the only way you can realize a person is in the service is by their clothing. Maybe that's the reason they want to get rid of their clothing as soon as they can, to be able to blend in without drawing attention. I have nothing for respect for them, but I never really have had to think about what it is that they are risking. Phillips almost go as so far as to say that it's not just that individuals life that is at stake, but all the people who are close the them and love them; parents, spouses, children, friends.
I think that the four assignments we had this week – the three readings and radio show – interact in very interesting ways. Due to our class discussion and focus on photography, gazes and framing in the past couple of weeks, it is impossible not to approach the topic of torture without our established “viewing” framework in mind.
Though none of the texts lay this out explicitly except maybe the Sontag article, torture is a form of objectification and the creation/performance of symbolism (as photography inevitably is as well) beyond the mere means to an end. Sontag went in depth into comparisons that highlight this fact, for example the thematic crossover between torture images and pornography. Although the example both she and Brody use, Abu Grahib, was captured on film, I think it is important to understand the symbolism and humiliation that would have been present even without a camera there to snap the picture.
I would take issue with one of the claims Sontag makes in her article in particular: she suggests that whereas photographs used to be collected as “trophies” to be stored, now they are “less objects to be saved than messages to be disseminated, circulated.” I think that though she may be right about the difference in the impact of photographs, that “in our digital hall of mirrors, the pictures aren’t going to go away,” these images were still taken as trophies. And it is the very fact that such actions were considered by soldiers on the ground to be trophy-worthy that suggests the structural realities of the military (discussed in Phillips) that would lead soldiers to conduct and defend such practices.
Phillips’ argument leads us to understand that our lens of analysis is too narrow when attempting to understand the experiences and actions of American soldiers on the ground. He even mentions Abu Grahib in his introduction, saying that we hone in on this isolated incident and on the level of the individual soldier without adequately scrutinizing the system. This tendency, literally and figuratively, takes the government structure and the military higher-ups out of the chain of blame – it takes them out of our frame of analysis, shielding them as the eye of the camera and the public turns us elsewhere. Brody argues a similar claim, saying that “true accountability requires that those at higher levels who approved or tolerated crimes against detainees also be brought to justice.”
I think that our tendency to focus on the individual rather than the system is not one that emerged with photography, just as the collection of obscene trophies did not stop or start due to advancements in photography and the idea of justice in war cannot end with a “war on terror.” These ideas are all longer-standing, more permanent, but are molded in the present day based on the media we have access to. Perhaps this does nothing concrete to further my claim, but I found it fascinating how drawn inI was to the first chapter of Phillips and to “This American Life.” I found them interesting because they were the stories of individuals, they were relatable but distant from my being. Structures, systems and hierarchies, on the other hand, work largely invisibly but affect us all daily. This is a harder place to look, where the lens never falls. I’m just wondering, is there a way to get at this bigger picture through a lens pointed at the individual?
Sunday, February 12, 2012