Michael Vlahos
Rites of Spring
The Father to the Son—the young men of the nation—the pure and innocent youth—allow the nation to transcend through their stainless sacrifice, which is the force that vanquishes evil, just as their blood replenishes the nation’s sacred soil, mingling perhaps with that of the fallen leader: The immortal community of “honored dead.” It is the collective life force, unleashed and united in war that represents the divine incarnation of the nation. The nation became divine in its strength of unity, in its matchless purity, in the oneness of its love. The nation can only achieve this divine incarnation through the concentrated, focused sacrifice and renewal of its energy—its force—in battle. This is transcendence dreamed of and longed for by every citizen. Moreover, it is only through the corporeal agency of our bodies that such a collective rapture of spirit can be achieved—hence the passage in blood, and the ascent in death. This is a primitive recipe for transcendence. It does not rely on, nor require, victory as defined by, say, Clausewitz. Victory is in the valor, the unity of struggle, and the sacrifice. The battle itself becomes transcendence through the shared death-and-new-life experience of the nation.
Kelly Denton-Borhaug
Review of War and the
American Difference
The sacrificial war narrative—profoundly embedded in American culture, historical memory and national consciousness—shapes us in a subterranean fashion. We internalize certain metaphors—that shape the way we value, make decisions, and generally go about living our lives—but tend not to be conscious of these metaphors. The sacrificial metaphor at the heart of citizenship, inextricably tied to war, has incredible power, more so because most citizens are unconscious of its active impact. Citizens are blithely unaware of the contradiction between their assumptions regarding “separation of church and state”—and the deeply religious sacrificial war-culture that profoundly shapes their understandings of citizenship. Legal theorist Paul W. Kahn: “Our identity is affirmed by way of those who sacrificed themselves for the conception and maintenance of the nation. Through ongoing sacrifice (with war as the apotheosis), citizens are linked to ‘the organic body that is the mystical corpus of the state’.” This national narrative—alive in commemorative national rhetoric and ritual, but subconscious in terms of its functional reality—has enormous power. While Hauerwas asserts that Americans have no common narrative, I argue that this is the story we must investigate if we are to understand the morally compelling nature of war for people of the United States.
Alexander Chirila
Creating the
Idealized Nemesis
The idealized nemesis can take many forms, from the barbarous hordes storming the gate to the cunning opponent scheming across a global chessboard. Perhaps the most insidious of these nemeses is the enemy within. Characterized as a “fifth column,” viral infection, or spreading cancer, the enemy within generates a range of psychological reactions on the national scale, including an inward-focused aggression fixated on “rooting out” the enemy by emphasizing, aggrandizing, and mythologizing a standard of health linked to collective self-identity. The enemy, in turn, is a negative composite of oppositional, undesirable, and grotesque qualities that are uniquely configured to infiltrate, contaminate, and potentially transform the national body. The Great World Wars were grotesque, more so than any conflict that had come before. From trenches and mustard gas, to the Holocaust and atom bomb, two generations had seen the world drastically change. The continuity of history had been shaken, the rules of engagement rewritten…and yet, like background instruments that maintain rhythm despite changes in melody, certain narratives played through the global upheaval: the fear of the outsider, the bitter dream of conquest, the rise of empires over battlefields.
Michael Geyer
The Nazi-Soviet War
as a System of Violence
What we see in the Nazi-Soviet war is a liberation of violence and, thus, a savage dynamic of cruelty—that even soldiers, observing themselves, noted with a great deal of astonishment. The long and the short of it is that National Socialism never contemplated peace with and for its enemies, certainly not for Bolsheviks or Jews, but neither for Russians or Poles. The National Socialist regime pursued their subjection or extermination, quite literally radicalizing, returning to the roots, of war as life-and-death struggle. The alternative of extermination or self-destruction was there all along as a fatal world picture, but it became the key to the German war plan. This is why we think of the Holocaust as an integral part of the war the Third Reich fought, and why we think it must not be artificially separated from the eradication of the social institutions of Stalinism and the spoliation of the Soviet Union or, for that matter, of destruction of the social fabric of Polish society. Holocaust and destructive war were not identical, but they fall into the same spectrum of radical violence.
Myra Mendible
The need to avoid being “soft” played a role in LBJ’s war-policies. In Johnson’s script, one must act aggressively or face humiliation. “If you let a bully come into your front yard, the next day he will be up on your porch, and the day after he will rape your wife in your own bed”. In March of 1965, John McNaughton, Robert McNamara’s top aide, summarized the Johnson administration’s reasons for intervening in Vietnam. His report shows that the dread of humiliation shaped Johnson’s decision-making more than the desire to spread democracy, or even fear of communism. The reasons for escalating the war were prioritized as follows: 70% to avoid a humiliating blow to our reputation, 20% to keep this area from China, and 10% to bring the people of South Vietnam a better, freer way of life. After Johnson’s massive bombing campaign failed to subdue North Vietnam, McNaughton made the administration’s primary objective clear: “The situation in Vietnam is deteriorating. The important aim is to avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat.” Fredrik Logevall argued that “What [Johnson] really feared was the personal humiliation that he believed would come with his failure in Vietnam. He saw the war as a test of his own manliness.”
Murray Schwartz
Review of A Century
of Genocide
The torturer desires absolute sovereignty over the body of his victim. Torture was not simply enabled by, but was at the very core of Nazi ideology.  Weitz sees its centrality: “Torture rarely involves the eliciting of substantive information; it is about “deconstructing” and destroying the individual prisoner and, by extension, the groups he or she represents.” Torture is “world-destroying,” as Elaine Scarry says. It is individuality that must be eliminated in the genocidal process, the individuality of perpetrators as well as victims. Although the rituals enforcing mass compliance that Weitz studies help account for the passive and active participation of people in dominating groups, and although motivations may include greed, envy, fear and ignorance as well as willing engagement in violence, it is the abandonment of self-reflective thought that lies at the heart of “the banality of evil.” The perpetrator of violence seeks relief from the burden of human identity, which requires the capacity to tolerate the tension between self and other and to live with the uncertainties of interpersonal and group relationships. As Helga Schneider writes of her aged mother, who had embraced Nazism and had become a prison guard in Auschwitz, “She had transferred sovereignty over her feelings to the Fuhrer, and she continued to defend the fact.”