The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, August 27, 2005

They die in vain: Lincoln, Bush, and perversion

They die in vain: Lincoln, Bush, and perversion

Many of us remember the opening of the Gettysburg address, 'four score and seven years ago,' (it's how I learned how many years are in a score). But, unless one is a history buff or has a mind free of celebrity media trash, one has likely forgotten the rest of the speech. Here's a portion:

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain --

In Tarrying with the Negative, [the philosopher Slavoj] Zizek reads the Gettysburg in the context of an explication of the loop of perversion. In so doing, he sets out the difference between self-legitimation and perversion.
In his comments on Lincoln's address, Zizek writes:

by dedicating ourselves to the task of successfully bringing to an end the work of those who sacrificed their lives, we will make sure that their sacrifice was not in vain, that they will continue to live in our memory; in this way, we will effectively commemorate them; if we do not accomplish this task of ours, they will be forgotten, they will have died in vain. So, by dedicating the place to their memory, what we actually do is dedicate, legitimize ourselves as the continuators of their work--we legitimize our own role. This gesture of self-legitimization through the other is ideology in its purest: the dead are our redeemers, and by dedicating ourselves to continuing their work we redeem the redeemers.

The question today is whether this structure of redeeming the redeemers, of self-legitimization, is exactly what we see in Bush's stance toward Iraq. Must the war be continued to insure that the soldiers' sacrifice was not in vain? The answer is no--there is a difference between the ideological circle of legitimization and perversion. What, then, is the difference?

In brief, the perverse sacrifice involves destruction for the sake of being able to redeem, to justify, to carry on. One destroys in order to have the opportunity to prove one's mettle. The destruction demonstrates our courage, our willingness to keep going, to carry out the task, no matter what. It would be like beginning a civil war so that we can have the experience of sacrificing ourselves for the good of the union.

And, so to Iraq: we have a war started for the sake of proving our willingness to go to war, our willingness to go to the end. We have an effort to create terrorists or an enemy in order to fight and kill them. Americans should not be deceived. The soldiers in Iraq have died in vain. They did not die for a cause and their deaths cannot be redeemed through continued war. In fact, that would be the most perverse response of all: a sacrifice of more people for the sake of redeeming those whose lives were lost unjustifiably. We would be using them to redeem us, when in fact what needs to be redeemed is meaningless, pointless killing. And is this not the very structure of Bush's rhetoric and of that of the military families who support him? That they cannot bear, cannot confront the abyss of meaningless death and so choose perversion?


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