The following is in response to Dr. Lori E. Amy’s book “The Wars We Inherit: Military Life, Gender Violence, And Memory.”
Dr. Amy, an associate professor at Georgia Southern University and respected friend, uses her own life as an example of how the violence of war and gender discrimination can be cured by “re-membering,” bearing witness, and mourning. While reading her book, I felt as if I had taken my seat back in her classroom in the Newton building on GSU’s campus when I took her course “Writing the Body” last spring.
Lori’s life—some parts glorious, some inglorious—is one meted out by the violence she endured from her father, Frank, who’s military career sent him into wars in Korea and Vietnam. It was nearly banal for Amy at the age of five to hide under he covers at night, listening to the sounds of someone in her family—her mother, one of her whole or half-siblings—being beaten by Frank (Amy 2010, 67). In this case, Lori was petrified by fear, a fear of violence written into her body as a paralysis, and thus unable to bear witness to the violence. Like the inactive, not-oppressed bystanders in Germany during the Holocaust, she knew but did not really understand and therefore “overlook[ed] at once…[her]…own responsibility…as witness” (Felman 1992, 208); she was complicit. Shoshana Felman, influential in raising issues connected with Holocaust testimony and what—in her joint work with Dori Laub—is called the crisis of witnessing, says that those that misunderstand or hide what they see are unable to take that information and “translate itself [the information] spontaneously and simultaneously into meaning” (212).
What Felman proposes and Dr. Amy advocates is a community of seeing: a space into which “we can bring into consciousness what is unconscious in us”—like what was really going on when five-year-old Lori was hiding under the covers, holding her breath—to analyze and make sense or events as a community (Amy 2010, 67). The failure of bystanders to bear witness of the unnecessary and irrational violence during the Holocaust is in many ways synonymous with the violence of drone attacks and targeted killings performed by the US in foreign countries in the illegal “war on terrorism.” It is the very nature of this form of violence that does not allow a community of seeing and begs the question: is this the goal of the media-attack on these countries by sycophantic news anchors to take the American people and place them onto a platform where they are unable to reach a community of seeing, unable argue the ethics of this war? Unless we become conscious of the violence we are creating, unless we bear witness and develop a community of seeing, we’re doomed to be “locked into violences we cannot escape” (69).
Dr. Amy reminds us about the psychiatrist Vamik D. Volkan and what he said about the way emotions work, how they are driven by what he calls “good and bad feeling states.” According to Volkan, emotions are built off of a good/bad system from when we are infants. The “good feeling state” is a state of emotion that we fall into when we are happy and the “bad feeling state” is just the opposite. In a rudimentary perspective, a child experiences good feeling states when a parent brings food, warmth, and safety whereas the child experiences a bad feeling state when a parent neglects to feed, provide warmth and safety—the parent being the “object” in which the child places these feelings. Not learning that it is possible to hold good and bad feeling states in the same person leads to a creation of the “other” that we dump all of our bad feeling states.
After 9/11 the US began the war on terrorism in retaliation to the attacks on the world trade center and the pentagon and though that was perpetrated by a single group, Americans have dumped their bad feeling states, those that came when the safety our nation as a whole was threatened, on the entire Middle Eastern region and not the single group that is actually to blame. “The language that brings the emotion of the body into the conscious awareness of the mind can help us interpret our feelings and understand how they work” (63) but the truth is there is an extreme lack of language to identify and explain the unconscious bodily processes, the corporeal functions of our working mind. Coincidentally, a lot of the war-parlance used by politicians when deciding whether or not targeted killings by drone attacks are ethical is not formally agreed upon, for example the definition of “targeted killings.” Kremnitzer has his definition, Kober his own, Alston (Alston 2011, 9-11).