01 Nov

Tortured Memories and the Culture of War

Any democracy that makes war and state violence the organizing principle of society cannot survive for long, at least as a democratic entity.

Full Article

by: Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed

Sunday 01 November 2009

(Artwork: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t)

This article is drawn from Henry A. Giroux’s forthcoming book, “Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror” (Paradigm Publishers, 2010).

For the last decade, we have lived through a historical period in which the United States relinquished its tenuous claim to democracy. The frames through which democracy apprehends the lives of others as human beings worthy of respect, dignity and human rights were sacrificed to a mode of politics and culture that simply became an extension of war, both at home and abroad. At home the punishing state increasingly replaced the welfare state, however ill-conceived, as more and more individuals and groups were now treated as disposable populations, undeserving of those safety nets and basic protections that provide the conditions for living with a sense of security and dignity. Under such conditions, basic social supports were replaced by an increase in the production of prisons, the expansion of the criminal justice system into everyday life, and the further erosion of crucial civil liberties. Shared responsibilities gave way to shared fears and the only distinction that seems to resonate in the culture was between friends and patriots, on the one hand, and dissenters and enemies on the other. State violence not only became acceptable, it was normalized as the government spied on its citizens, suspended the right of habeas corpus, sanctioned police brutality against those who questioned state power, relied on the state-secrets privilege to hide its crimes, and increasingly reduced those public spheres that were designed to protect children to containment centers and warehouses that modeled themselves after prisons. Fear both altered the landscape of democratic rights and values and dehumanized a population increasingly willing to look the other way as large segments of the population were either dehumanized, incarcerated or simply treated as disposable. The dire consequences can be seen every day as the media report a stream of tragic stories about decent people losing their homes, more and more young people being incarcerated and increasing numbers of people living in their cars, on the streets or in tent cities. The New York Times offers up a front-page story about young people leaving their recession-ridden families in order to live on the street, often surviving by selling their bodies for money. Reports surface in the dominant media about unspeakable horrors being inflicted on children tortured in the “death chambers” of Iraq, Cuba and Afghanistan. And the American public barely blinks.

The Bush administration further eroded a culture inspired by democratic values, replacing it with a culture of war. During the last decade, the language and ghostly shadow of war became all-embracing, not only eroding the distinction between war and peace, but putting into play a public pedagogy in which every aspect of the culture was shaped by militarized knowledge, values and ideals. From video games and Hollywood films aided by the Department of Defense to the ongoing militarization of public and higher education, the notion of the common good was subordinated to a military metaphysics, war-like values and the dictates of the national security state. War was no longer the last resort of a state intent on defending its territory; it morphed into a new form of public pedagogy – a type of cultural war machine – designed to shape and lead the society. War became the foundation for a politics that employed military language, concepts and policing relations to address problems far beyond the familiar terrains of battle. In some cases, war was so aestheticized by the dominant media that it resembled an advertisement for a tourist industry. The upshot is that the meaning of war was rhetorically, visually and materially expanded to name, legitimate and wage battles against social problems involving drugs, poverty and our newfound enemy, Mexican immigrants………………………………………

War was now a commonplace feature of American domestic and foreign policy, engaged in a battle that had no definitive end and demanded the constant use of violence…………………………..

The war abroad entered a new phase with the release of photos of detainees being tortured at Abu Ghraib prison. War as organized violence was stripped of its noble aims and delusional goal of promoting democracy and revealed state violence at its most degrading and dehumanizing moment. State power had become an instrument of torture, ripping into the flesh of human beings, raping women and most abominably torturing children. Democracy had become a shell that not only defended the unthinkable, but inflicted the most horrible mutilations on both adults and children deemed to be the enemies of democracy…………………………………….

Justice is slipping away, once again, under the Obama administration, but it is not just the government’s job to keep it from “going dead,” it is also our job – as parents, citizens, individual, and educators – not merely as a matter of social obligation or moral responsibility, but as an act of politics, agency and possibility.

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