Tuesday, June 17, 2014

This empire of suffering | Mary L. Dudziak // OUPblog

"'I fear they do not know us,' Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the class of 1,031 cadets. 'I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.'"

Admiral Mike Mullen in 2011 speaking at West Point of the isolation of Americans from the burdens faced by our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and families. - gwc

This empire of suffering | OUPblog: 
by Mary L. Dudziak //Emory School of Law
"On 6 June 2014 at Normandy, President Barack Obama spoke movingly of the day that “blood soaked the water, bombs broke the sky,” and “entire companies’ worth of men fell in minutes.” The 70th anniversary of D-Day was a moment to remember the heroes and commemorate the fallen. The nation’s claim “written in the blood on these beaches” was to liberty, equality, freedom, and human dignity. Honoring both the veterans of D-Day and a new generation of soldiers, Obama emphasized: “people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.” Death is seen as the price of liberty in war. But war deaths are more than a trade-off or a price, shaping soldiers, communities, and the state itself. Drew Gilpin Faust wrote that during the Civil War the “work of death” was the nation’s “most fundamental and enduring undertaking.” Proximity to the dead, dying and injured transformed the United States, creating “a veritable ‘republic of suffering’ in the words [of] Frederick Law Olmsted.”"

If war and suffering played a role in constituting American identity during the Civil War, it has moved to the margins of American life in the 21st century. War losses are a defining experience for the families and communities of those deployed. Much effort is placed on minimizing even that direct experience with war deaths through the use of high-tech warfare, like drones piloted far from the battlefield.

Over time, the United States has exported its suffering, enabling the nation to kill with less risk of American casualties. Whatever the benefits of these developments, it is worth reflecting upon the opposite of Faust’s conception of Civil War culture: how American identity is constituted through isolation from the work of war death, through an export of suffering. With a protected “homeland” and exported violence, perhaps what was once a republic has become instead, in war, an empire of suffering.

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