Kandida Purnell

k.purnell@abdn.ac.uk

Kandida Purnell is a Teaching Fellow in Politics and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen, former Researcher on the Carnegie funded ‘War Commemoration, Military Culture, and Identity Politics in Scotland’ project, and holds a PhD in International Relations. Kandida’s research foregrounds bodies, body politics, and bodies politic as a means to underline the significance and implications of the particular embodiments of actors in the international system. Kandida’s also investigates and theorises the role of affect/emotion and feelings in politics and international relations. Having published and written on the 2013-2015 Guantánamo Bay hunger strike and the visual body politics of suffering and dead American soldiers since 9/11 (forthcoming), Kandida’s broad empirical foci are contemporary (post-9/11) American and British politics and international relations and the Global War on Terror (GWoT). Follow Kandida on Twitter: @kandidapurnell

The Politics of Grief and the Forever War: Who Speaks for the Fallen?

Dead American soldiers became the objects of highly visible and ongoing contest this week – over the ways and means of grieving America’s fallen.  In fact, the events discussed in this short post mark only the latest phase and an escalation in tensions between dominant and challenging bodies over the (in)visibility of suffering and dead American soldiers that have featured throughout the Global War on Terror (GWoT). Such tensions demonstrate not only the competing logics and agendas leading to the blacking out of American repatriations via the 2003 Dover Ban (a DoD Directive prohibiting the publication and broadcast of images and videos capturing any part of the repatriation process) but the value of soldier grief claims and speaking for the dead within contemporary American politics and international relations.

This latest round of contest began on Monday, when President Trump  responded to criticism over the Administration’s two week wait to make contact with the families of four soldiers killed in action (KIA) in Niger by claiming that predecessors “didn’t make calls” at all. It then came to light that, in an eventual condolence call to  Myeshia Johnson made just moments before the above photograph was taken,  Trump explained the deceased Sgt. La David Johnson  “knew what he signed up for.” Accused of insensitivity by Sgt. Johnson’s Mother,  for widowed Myeshia the worst of it was however that “he [Trump] didn’t even know his [Sgt. Johnson’s] name.” To Myeshia and the ones who knew him in life, Sgt. Johnson was a uniquely grievable human being – the ‘Wheelie King‘ from South Florida, who married his high-school sweetheart.  However, draped in the flag and conflated into the fallen, such characteristics – those comprising what Jenny Edkins describes as “personhood” – go unseen and uncounted by bodies reliant upon the continuation of conflict for their geo-political, financial, and ontological security.  Such bodies (government and military in kind) “don’t do body counts” and regard American soldiers on mass as a “most precious resource” with which to fuel the GWoT.

Captured at Dover Air Force Base (AFB) as pregnant Myeshia wept over the flag-draped coffin carrying her dead husband’s body, the above, touching and moving image is one of a kind hotly contested throughout the GWoT. Indeed, in March 2003 (on the eve of Iraq’s invasion), the Bush Administration extended and enforced the Dover Ban which was originally issued in 1991 (during the Gulf War). However, as the GWoT went on (and I have discussed here and forthcoming) public contests over the (in)visibility of the KIA and the right to publicly count and account for the human cost of America’s ‘forever’ (and everywhere) war rose in the forms of challenges including a protest march against the Ban by Military Families Speak Out, works of art exaggerating the lack of dead American soldiers  from the American visual landscape, and the publication of banned images by bodies including The Seattle Times and Associated Press ahead of the ban’s partial revoke in 2009 by then Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

As civilians with close military ties and bonds American military – Gold Star – families comprise a vital yet liminal part of the body politic and are subject to intense pressures from dominant bodies. For example, military families provide vital support to serving soldiers and veterans alike while their sensitivities are invoked by government and military bodies as justification for various (in)actions and policies. Military families are as such are elevated to a pivotal position: “the top one percent” according to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly – himself a Gold Star father – this week. Khizir Khan demonstrated this well with his  protest speech against Trump on American patriotism and values at the DNC last year. Crucially, all this goes on while military families are exposed to the excessive violence of war via their soldier kin, and of course, when soldiers are injured and KIA it is military families who see and feel (let alone count) the human cost of war and as such become part of the toll themselves.  However, as the events discussed here illustrate, when made visible military families may use their pivotal position to (re)define American values and move other, dominant bodies (as well as the public) towards counting and accounting for the human cost of even a forever war.

Why Americans Never Forget to Remember 9/11

As you know, the footage appeared live, as bodies began falling from the flaming and smoke-filled North Tower, as US Airlines Flight 175 was flown into the frame and South Tower at 0903, and as the South and North Towers collapsed at 0959 and 1028 respectively. You know this, because you were watching. You can remember it. Indeed, with Jean Baudrillard referring to ‘the unforgettable incandescence of the images,’ they would be forever burned into the retina of America’s public eye. However, as a visual spectacle consumed in common by the population of bodies comprising the American body politic, 9/11 was also extremely traumatising and it is due to this that 9/11’s memory is particularly vital.

To be traumatised is to be disrupted or damaged, and in disrupting  and damaging American bodies and things, 9/11 not only shocked markets and led to the declaration of a state of emergency, it turned 2,996 people into dust and profoundly affected those comprising the body politic (the American viewing public) who consumed the disturbing news, images, and footage together, in real time. As such, the common experience of trauma produced a ‘felt community’ and began working on 9/11, to move, stick, and bind the population of bodies comprising the American body politic together (hence Sara Ahmed’s comment that ‘the images are repeated, and the repetition seems binding’). However, the communal consumption of 9/11  was not limited to the day itself. Quite the opposite, the American consumption – of the traumatic footage of the flaming and smoking Towers, suicidal jumpers, and buildings’ collapse became habitual and ritual, as the footage and story were repeated again and again, and again. In this way, Americans were (re)traumatised every few minutes for the first few days, every few hours for months afterwards, then every six months and annually. 

Monday was 9/11’s 16th anniversary, meaning no-one under the age of 18 will really be able to remember their experience of the day itself. But they don’t have to. As I was flitting between tasks, by just being on Twitter I was reminded to re-view, re-count, re-read – re-member (the opposite of dis-member) – September 11th 2001, minute by minute. I was reminded by @Sept11Memorial to remember the moments Flight 11 struck the North Tower, Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville,  Flight 175 struck the South Tower, Flight 77 struck the Pentagon, the moment the South Tower fell, and then the moment the North Tower fell. In addition, @DHSGov (Homeland Security) reminded me to remember the first responders who perished in the Towers and, as the day drew to a close, @NYPDNews reminded me that silence was required for the remembrance of their fallen heroes, not to mention the civilian victims so highly valorized and commemorated throughout the day.

To return to the title of this post, Americans never forget to remember 9/11 because, in the declaration that ‘none of us will ever forget,’ President Bush not only willed Americans to perpetually ‘encircle the trauma’ but engendered a politics wherein  American being in itself became dependant upon remembering 9/11. The ones who will never forget 9/11 will be American and the ones who forget will not. Remembering or forgetting 9/11 therefore becomes not only a mechanism for setting bodies apart from and/or against one another but an ontological security issue for the American body politic to which the periodic (re)traumatisation of the parts comprising it is so vital.

Monday Morning Linkage

As one of the new Ducks, I’m linking to bits and pieces catching my eye/getting me thinking for the first time this morning. Enjoy!

Academia

Handy guidance on ‘how to get rid of your fake academic self’ supplied by David Berliner.

APSA

I wasn’t at APSA but John Yoo put in a controversial appearance along with the iconic orange jumpsuit and a barrage of protesters. See APSA members’ letter against the appearance and APSA’s response (and let’s never forget the Torture Memos).

.. & the award for the best #APSA2017 tweet goes to @mia_iris_costa!

Cuba-US Relations

New kind of attack alert: this time it’s sonic and 19 US Diplomats ‘suffered mild brain injuries and permanent hearing loss.’

Fake News: Mayanmar 

Aid donors withdraw as distressing images from other conflicts and disasters are used to intensify violence against Rohingyas in Rakhine state. (via Jessica Auchter)

High Heels, Heroes, and Hurricane Harvey

We’ve seen the pictures but this from  is by far the most thought provoking analysis I’ve read. Seriously considering using it as a teaching material/discussion article during post-structuralism week (students: you have been warned).

‘…instead of being a supporting presence in the president’s trip to survey flood damage, Melania became the star and the trip morphed into a simulacrum, a kind of Vogue shoot “simulating” a president’s trip. In other words, the realness of everyone and everything else (including hurricane victims) faded and the evacuated blankness of the commercial overtook the scene.’

In other Harvey news, this image went viral – working to reproduce, reinforce, and for some ‘prove’ so called truths about gender. Even Save the Children – renowned for their commitment to gender equality – appropriated the image for the purpose of promoting their Harvey fundraising efforts. Such are the power and value of gender normativity.

Hot off the press 

What’s the point of International Relations? Good question/title Synne Dyvik, Jan Selby, and Rorden Wilkison!

‘Merica

Is T. Swift a product and embodiment of Trump-era politics? Mark Harris thinks so, and I’m inclined to agree. After all, as Paul Kirby argues in Sept 2017’s International Studies Review , ‘politics is found in cultural artefacts.’

Oops I almost forgot to mention, DPRK have carried out the sixth test of what is claimed to have been a thermonuclear device  (although,according to David Walsh, it might actually just (!) have been a boosted-fission weapon). Measuring 6.3 in magnitude and with tremors felt as far away as Vladivostok, the device tested was of the variety capable of being mounted on to an ICBM, had an expected yield of 100 kilotons (9.8 times bigger than the one tested last year/4-5 times bigger than Fat Man), and I’m going to have to stop now and link to the ever relevant Carol Cohn.

Have a great day!

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