Sunday, November 7, 2010

In other words

Quite apart from the mystery of why Senator Lindsey Graham, like so many US politicians and pundits, is so intent on starting yet a third major war of conquest when they are still fighting the two that George Bush started, is the matter of his language. Yesterday, at an international "security" conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Graham declared:
"So my view of military force would be not to just neutralize their nuclear program, which are probably dispersed and hardened, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard," Graham told a panel.

"In other words, neuter that regime."
In other words? Really? So this is all about sexual potency and fertility? I can't help but recall Carol Cohn's classic article in Signs, published back in 1987, "Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals." Cohn spent two years talking to "defense intellectuals" talking about nuclear war and nuclear weapons.
Feminists have often suggested that an important aspect of the arms race is phallic worship, that "missile envy" is a significant motivating force in the nuclear build-up. I have always found this an uncomfortably reductionist explanation and hoped that my research at the Center would yield a more complex analysis. But still, I was curious about the extent to which I might find a sexual subtext in the defense professionals' discourse. I was not prepared for what I found.

What she found was that it was so much more pervasive and explicit than seemed seriously possible. Cohn ended up studying the language and trying to understand how it functions. As she notes,
"Listening to the discourse of nuclear experts reveals a series of culturally grounded and culturally acceptable mechanisms that serve this purpose and that make it possible to think about the unthinkable," to work in institutions that foster the proliferation of nuclear weapons, to plan mass incinerations of millions of human beings. Language that is abstract, sanitized, full of euphemisms; language that is sexy and fun to use; paradigms whose referent is weapons; imagery that domesticates and deflates the force of mass destruction; imagery that reverses sentient and nonsentient matter, that conflates birth and death, destruction and creation---all of these are part of what makes it possible to be radically removed from the reality of what one is talking about and from the realities one is creating through the discourse.
You can read the entire piece here.

That was 1987. This is 2010, and the arms race is long in the past. The US's "Defense" budget exceeds the combined military budgets of every other state in the world. And here in 2010 Graham is equating the possession (or in the case of Iran, the remote potential for achieving possession) of nuclear capacity with sexual potency and fertility. Does that mean that the states that possesses nuclear weapons are sexually potent and fertile (possesses the phallus?) and that those that don't are sexually impotent and unable to procreate? That's what Graham's langauge is suggesting. (Not to mention that he believes it ought to be the United States Government and the United States Government alone that decides who deserves to be potent. Israel, yes. Iran, no.)

Also in Graham's statement was the assertion that "his party would support military action against Iran that would destroy its ability to fight back while allowing its people to rise up." Yeah, right. Just as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we've seen how well those "military actions" have worked out.

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