A paper I presented at the 2018 JSSS Conference…
Emergence in the Aftermath
In the Western world, the primitive image of one-on-one violence and war-making, embodied in the mythical image of Ares, has given way to war making as Apollonian: conducted from a distance bereft of the ensuing gore and crushing psychological effects of the battlefield. Hillman (2007) said “Mars [Ares] moves in close, hand-to hand, Mars propior and propinquus. Bellona is a fury, the blood, the blood-dimmed tide, the red fog of intense immediacy. No distance,” (p. 134). As Grossman (1995) has noted, this is no accident, as the closer the proximity of the enemy to be killed, the less likely one can overcome Judeo-Christian law “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13, The New Jerusalem Bible). If Ares is represented by the no distance blade, then Apollo’s silver bow points towards distance: the place of artillery, missiles and bombs.
The United States military knows it is easier to seduce the public, soldier, sailor or Marine with Apollo rather than Ares: the close gore of death is kept at a distance, the impact on real, individual human beings safely hidden away behind the missile flying out of a launch tube with landing co-ordinates substituted for the image of its human impact. Thus, the militaries of the world switch to more and more indirect fire, more missiles, drones and artillery. These weapons allow belligerents to increase not only physical space, but psychic space: “the consistent aim of projectiles is to distance the shooter and an experience of the underworld,” (Slater, 2009, p. 35).
This aversion to the emergence of what war really entails—killing, maiming, blood, and destruction—is an aversion to the actual images of war. Keeping in mind Jung’s words “the more vivid an image is, the stronger are the inhibitions emerging from it against everything not associated with it: the attention will therefore be all the less prone to be divided” (Jung, 1971/para. 472), this paper seeks to explore the emergence of these war images in the combatant’s psyche and what it means to him or her in the context of the cultural expression or repression of those war images. This paper is an attempt to show that the facsimile war images that governments promote stand in contravention to the images of combat in individual warrior psyches.
Government has learned from its past mistakes surrounding war images. During World War I, for instance, there was an outpouring of poetry, both propaganda poetry extolling the virtue of dying for Queen and country versus poetry from war combatants describing the horror of combat on the front. Wilfred Owen’s (1920/1998) ironic poem Dulce et Decorum Est (It is sweet and glorious) captures this brilliantly:
Dim, through misty panes and thick green light,
As under a sea I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.
Which stands against the Imperialist poet Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem Vitai Lampada (The torch relay):
THERE’S a breathless hush in the Close to-night –
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”
The sand of the desert is sodden red,
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;
The Gatling’s jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of schoolboy rallies the ranks,
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”
This is the word that year by year
While in her place the School is set
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind –
“Play up! play up! and play the game!” (1897)
These two poems show the government’s facsimile image of war juxtaposed against the reality at the front. Newbolt was charged with shaping the British public’s perception and support of the war working in the British war propaganda department. Owen was a conscientious objector convalescing after service on the front who was convinced to go back to the front. He was killed there one week before the armistice was signed. These competing images are echoed through the recent history of the US governments wars in the 20th and 21st centuries.
World War II was and continues to be considered a just war. America’s help in saving Britain and France from a German speaking future is lauded to this day. Propaganda “news reels” were churned out by the government showing the glorious progress in both the European and Pacific theaters. What they did not show were the tens of thousands of dead American and allied bodies littering the battlefields. The image of enemy dead was likewise disappeared down the memory hole. It is not well known that at one point early in the war, more American soldiers were returning as psychiatric casualties than new soldiers shipped off to combat (Grossman & Siddle, 2010). This points to competing images: the facsimile image that the US government advanced and the silent suffering of hundreds of thousands of war veterans. US World War II veterans have been notoriously quiet about what they saw and experienced in their war, but the number of psychiatric casualties speaks volumes to an alternative image of the war in the minds of actual combatants.
In the past the Korean war was noted rarely in the collective consciousness of Americans, except by those who fought there: it is known as the “Forgotten War.” Most Americans are startled at North Korea’s bellicosity towards America. Most Americans do not know that America dropped more bomb tonnage on what is now called North Korea than during the entire Pacific theater of World War II: to wit, approximately 635,000 tons on N. Korea versus 503,000 in the Pacific campaign. North Korea to this day lies like a black hole between South Korea, Russia and China. Every building and piece of infrastructure was utterly destroyed by Air Force General Curtis Lemay’s campaign. Compare this to the image of North Korea in the average American’s mind. The image of American combatants also does not match the American culture’s image of Korea.
Always, there were those who fell,
never to arise,
and to this day,
I still can see the shock in startled eyes.
These vivid pictures locked inside,
although they do not show,
never seem to leave my thoughts,
no matter where I go (Chase, n.d.).
The Vietnam war was when the actual images of the war pushed through the sanitized government version. Who can forget the image of Thich Quang Duc and his self-immolation on a Saigon street? (Browne, 1963) Or of Phan Thi Kim Phuc running naked down a road after sustaining burns to her back from a South Vietnamese napalm attack? (Ut, 1972) Finally, there was the daily body count briefings by American generals in Saigon. Though they purported to show how successful the Americans were at defeating the North Vietnamese in reality they seemed to mock the ineptitude of the American generals of that war. The pictures of body bags coming home also contributed to anti-war groundswell in America. Of all the wars in American history, there have probably been more feature length films made about Vietnam than any other. There is Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Hamburger Hill, Born on the 4th of July, Good Morning Vietnam, Full Metal Jacket and Hearts and Minds. These are a just a few in a long list of brutally honest films about this war. These culturally emergent images arose in concordance with how the combatants viewed their own experience.
School children walk by
Some keep on walking
Some adults stare too
Over their nose
Out of the stomach
The penis in the air
It won’t matter then to me but now
I don’t want in death to be a
Public obscenity like this (Casey, 1972)
These shared collective images helped to bring about the end of the Vietnam war. It also seared into the collective American consciousness the true brutality of war. If the Vietnam war seared into the American psyche the brutality of war, it also seared into it the image of the Vietnam era veteran as perhaps a little unbalanced: PTSD entered the lexicon along with flashbacks and other sequela of war. These stood alongside the images of veterans scorned as baby killers or worse. The VFW turned its back on Vietnam veterans which led to them forming the Vietnam Veterans of America. Thus, not only was the war itself reviled as brutal and nasty, but the soldiers who fought it were held in the same light even though the vast majority had been conscripted. The government again learned its lessons about the power of the image and as I show next have applied them to the ongoing series of through the present day.
Leaving aside Panama and Grenada, not because they are unimportant but rather they were over so quickly that it is hard to assess their impact on America’s collective image of them. They may have somewhat ameliorated the military’s image of being inept: a common image of the military during the Vietnam war as well as the humiliation of the army’s attempted rescue of the hostages from Iran. Only 16 years after the fall of Saigon, the first large scale “television war” broke out in the Middle East, namely the first Gulf War. Applying the lessons of the Vietnam fiasco, the government only allowed embedded reporters, no free roaming press to take shocking images to show the folks back home. Footage was provided solely by military briefers that sanitized and showcased the prowess of the military. The virtues of the Apollonic weapons were extolled: smart bombs, precision targeting, Patriot anti-missile batteries, etc. From this rose a new image of the US Military. No longer inept but rather all-powerful. Victory in a bombing campaign and a three day ground war. Air power was the catchword. The soldiers returning hailed as heroes. I myself was the subject of a photo on the pages of the Miami Herald in a puff piece about my unit. Thus a new image of the warrior as a virtuous shining knight was born in the American psyche. The Gulf War extirpated the Vietnam experience from the collective’s psyche and became the model for how war was to be framed going forward.
To this day, our ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria follow this model. Returning service members are still hailed as heroes even as they held aside from the especially loud protest of the Iraq war. Thus, when I returned from that war, there was a new campaign afoot: “thank-you for your service.” This is a bit discombobulating: on one hand the war is bad, but yet there is praise for those fighting in it. The cognitive dissonance is massive, driven perhaps by the Baby Boomer’s collective guilt on how they treated returning Vietnam vets. Yet, this projection of hero is contraindicated by the psychological effects of these wars. A title of an Iraq veteran poem is proffered: Here Bullet (Turner, 2005).
Our drones are still shooting Hellfire missiles all over the world. The government and military prefers these Apollonic weapons. Barack Obama framed these types of strikes not as war but kinetic military action (2011). The advantages are clear: there are no images of American service members body bags to be suppressed. There are no journalists on the ground to document the action and aftermath. Instead, the bombed wedding or funeral processions in the Middle East are safely off the televisions and front page.
However, these images are locked into the drone officers heads and it is beginning to take its psychological toll. The New York Times recently chronicled these effects in their article The Wounds of the Drone Warrior (Press, 2018). In it we see that far from being antiseptic, this type of warfare takes a toll. It begs the question: is one an honorable warrior if he does not offer his opponent combat? Or is she simply a murderer?
It would appear that we are back at a crossroads where the facsimile image of war and its aftermath has dominated the American psyche for 20 years. However, the emergence of the truth about the horrific effects of drone strikes not only on their operators but the innocents caught at the end of a Hellfire or Tomahawk may become dominant again. As Sherman (1879) said “I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”
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Casey, M. (1972). On death. In L. Rottman and J. Barry (Eds.). Winning hearts & minds: War poems by Vietnam veterans in. New York, New York: First Casualty Press/McGraw-Hill.
Chase, D. A. (n.d.). Unwanted memories. Retrieved from http://www.koreanwar-educator.org/topics/poets/p_chase.htm
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Hillman, J. (2007) War, arms, rams, Mars. Uniform edition of the writings of James Hillman volume 6.1. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, Inc.
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Obama, B. (2011, 03 23). White house: Libya fight not war its kinetic military action. Retrieved from http://nation.foxnews.com/libya-war/2011/03/23/white-house-fight-not-war-its-kinetic-military-action#
Owen, W. (1998). Dulce et decorum est. In D. Roberts (Ed.), Out in the dark: Poetry of the first world war. (pp. 160-161). Bishops Close, Hurst, West Sussex, UK: Saxon Books. (Original work published 1920).
Ut, N. (1972). Phan Thi Kim Phuc. Retrieved from http://time.com/4485344/napalm-girl-war-photo-facebook/
Sherman, W. T. (1879). Commencement address. Orchard Lake Village, Michigan: Michigan Military Academy.
Slater, G. (2009). A mythology of bullets. Spring, 23-36.
Turner, B. (2005). Here bullet. Retrieved from http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/14245/auto/0/0/Brian-Turner/HERE-BULLET