Many Wars: The Difficulty of Home
As America enters the twenty first century the scene is being set for a paradoxical and simultaneous normalization and spectacularization of war. Instead of war being an exceptional state for America (which has been at war for roughly one quarter of its existence), war is becoming the normal state of affairs for the USA, which is currently still engaged in its longest ever war, in Afghanistan. The militarization of American society proceeds apace, with continued centrality of the military-industrial complex and the prioritization of “defense” among the country’s political goals. Yet, the nature of America’s 21st century wars fought by volunteer, professional armed forces means that the domestic public experiences war only at a distance, so that war seems abstract or to have disappeared, and that it can be fought without sacrifice by the vast majority.
War in the 21st century is very different to the “total war” of the 20th century. An obvious example of the literal disappearance of the sacrifice of war was the Bush administration’s ban on the photographing of the coffins of dead US service people being returned home. However, a key aspect of the normalization of war in the 21st century is that it is made visible and legitimated through popular, commercial, mediated culture.
War occupies the contemporary public sphere in form of films, video games, military emblems in daily photojournalism (boots), military brands of vehicles (Hummer, Jeep), camouflage clothes worn as fashion, advertisements in which corporations brand themselves with their contribution to America’s military power (such as Boeing). War is also made visible to the public through highly managed access by journalists to the conflict arena.
Presented by the interdisciplinary research forum on images and public culture, this series asks: What is the significance of this simultaneous in/visibility of war? Does it constitute a new form of the militarization of society that operates almost imperceptibly in visual, public culture? How do its spectacles serve to hide the costs of war at the very time that it displays representations of war? What space does it leave for critical dissent of war?