THE WAR ON TERROR IN POSTMODERN MEMORY: EXPLANATION, UNDERSTANDING, AND MYTH IN THE WAKE OF 9/11
Humphries, Paul Douglas
War, like all human endeavors, is at some point of consideration a cultural event; understanding it fully requires an appreciation of war's events, its cultural context, and the interaction between them. In all wars there is a simultaneous and reciprocal process by which culture and war inform each other. What this means for the War on Terror is that how the United States conducts counterterrorism is not merely an expression of policy, security, or other typical understanding of modern conflict, but also an expression of culture--the ways in which the war has been explained, understood, and mythologized. Traditional approaches in political science, international relations, and security studies can be supplemented and amplified by methods more familiar in philosophy, history, and cultural studies for a deeper insight into events and their meaning, specifically in the war's mythologization and the power of its narratives to help shape and be shaped by events.Explaining and understanding the war are central to the narratives we have created about counterterrorism. These narratives are the foundations for the War on Terror's myths--storyline accounts we articulate that impart meaning to events independent of their observable circumstances. Five key myths support our explanations and understandings of the war. They focus on who our enemies are and why they attack us, what sort of effort we must mount in our defense, what type of methods this effort will require, what effects this effort will have on us, and how and under what conditions this effort will end. Examining them shows how their explanations and understandings inform the War on Terror and its events, how perceptions of the war's conduct help reshape the narratives as they are told in popular culture, and how these reshaped narratives go on to continue informing the war. The inter-informative nature of narratives and events may be familiar to the literary or cultural historian examining the past, but is an atypical line of inquiry for the political scientist or security specialist examining the present--including conflict in general and US counterterrorism efforts specifically. In this way this procedure can be seen as introducing a new paradigm in the study of security issues and contemporary conflict.The evaluation proceeds first from the narratological and epistemological realities of the general association of myth and events and the specific interdependence of cultural narrative and war. It goes on to examine the War on Terror's five identified guiding myths and how each in their own ways inform and are informed by the war's developments. Included in the examination are such events as suicide bombing, the invasion of Iraq, torture, surveillance, and drones and such pop cultural expressions as movies, television, video games, and music. A useful examination of implications includes not only some keys ways in which to mitigate some of the worst effects of the inevitable influence of myth on rational cognition in specific understandings of security affairs and counterterrorism issues, but also how a few useful circumstances of this reality in human ideation and epistemology might be protected and sustained. In this way, the import of the overall inquiry can itself be explained, understood, and placed in the service of a deeper, more meaningful, and practically useful knowledge and appreciation.
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