WAR | SPACE
WAR | SPACE brings attention to the enduring but not inevitable nature of war and imagines a world without (para)military violence. It offers critical perspectives that eschew narratives of geopolitical grand strategy in favour of a people-centric view of war. By ‘people’ we mean not only the political and military architects of (para)military violence, but crucially also those civilians, soldiers, and fighters who are caught in the mighty cross-hairs of war.
In a famous 1985 essay, the American essayist and professor of English and American Literature and Language Elaine Scarry wrote: “the main purpose and outcome of war is injuring”. She points out that this fact is so obvious that it is often forgotten altogether. She continues:
“one can read many pages of an historic or strategic account of a particular military campaign, or listen to many installments in a newscast narrative of events in a contemporary war, without encountering the acknowledgment that the purpose of the event described is to alter (to burn, to blast, to shell, to cut) human tissue, as well as to alter the surface, shape, and deep entirety of the objects that human beings recognize as extensions of themselves.”
Scarry’s words ring truer than ever 30 years on. The genres to which she refers are still replete with pages and reels devoted to what might best be described as Clean War. Clean War is full of euphemism and offers a bloodless, glossy account of war in which ‘we’ defeat the barbarians with law, ethics and an overflowing vocabulary of legitimisation on our side. In Clean War only the bad guys die; actually, they are simply taken out, liquidated, targeted, replaced or disposed. They are not mourned, for there is no life that has been lost; nobody – and no body – to mourn, to speak with Judith Butler. In his famous essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell described a version of Clean War as “the defence of the indefensible”. He wrote:
“[P]olitical language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.”
And so it is with precise, clean, surgical, just, legal, necessary, and proportional war today. So much so that we must constantly remind ourselves, pace Scarry, that first and foremost, war is injury.
WAR | SPACE pays special attention to those who injure, those who are injured, and those who care for the fractured, fragile and injured bodies and souls who remain. It also pays special attention to the ideas, institutions and processes that cause, constrain, and remedy war’s many painful injuries.
Craig adds that he’s also looking for ‘collaborators and authors to expand this project to include cutting edge critical thinking about war, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.
If you are interested in joining this project or would like to contribute in any way please email: craig . jones at ncl. ac . uk.
Victims of (para)military violence, academics, journalists, activists and interested citizens are encouraged to get in touch.