Humanities Core in perspective
by Erika Higbee
by Nicholas Reiner
Theater of war
by Susan Jarratt
by Grant Quackenbush
Attachments to war
by Jennifer Terry
by Rodrigo Lazo
with Carol Burke and Cecile Whiting
Lives at war
by Judy Tzu-Chun Wu
Dean’s message From the historical aspects of wars, to the ethics of conflict and violence, and to the representation of war in art and film, the humanities allow us to deepen our understanding of one of the most complex and devastating aspects of humanity itself. The UCI School of Humanities is uniquely poised to address the difficult but urgent questions the phenomenon of war raises for all of us. But the study of war is not relegated only to textbooks and analysis. We have faculty who have embedded in war camps as journalists; who’ve captured oral histories on survivors of the Vietnam War; and who study how technology changes the landscape of war—and its victims. This magazine focuses on war because it allows us to highlight our faculty and students’ scholarship as well as our Humanities Core course, a year-long integrated freshman course that enrolls over a thousand students each year. Not shying away from the tough questions, but rather embracing them, Humanities Core has taken war as its theme for the past three years. Students have been taught to evaluate the ways in which war has been represented, rationalized, propagandized, memorialized, evaluated, and understood over time. Because Humanities Core brings together faculty from various departments to teach, students are able to make connections and discoveries between disciplines that they might not have considered otherwise. The result is an awakening. I witnessed this first-hand recently when I had the pleasure of lecturing for the course. I give my heartfelt thanks to Carol Burke, professor of English, who led Humanities Core for the past three years. During this time, Humanities Core has dramatically expanded in both size and scope while still consistently receiving among the highest student evaluations for any course on campus. The innovative Friday forums, special lectures, conferences, film screenings, and theatrical performances have all combined to make Humanities Core under Carol’s leadership not only a course of instruction but also a powerful intellectual force among a widening group of constituents, on and even off-campus. I welcome Rodrigo Lazo, professor of English, who is our incoming director of Humanities Core, which will now take “Empire and its ruins” as its theme for the next three-year cycle. In the pages that follow, you will read original poetry from two MFA students, get a glimpse into the biomedical ethics of war, read a retrospective from a current freshman enrolled in Humanities Core, learn about current debates on the use of torture, and much more. Much of this is difficult but necessary reading. I hope you will experience an awakening, too, as well as a broader understanding of how the UCI School of Humanities is addressing issues of crucial importance and stating once again the unending relevance of humanities scholarship in these times. Yours,
Georges Van Den Abbeele Dean, School of Humanities UCI School of Humanities | Spring 2016
Humanities Core in perspective By Erika Higbee, first-year English major
I am ten-years-old, sitting in front of my television screen, and waiting for the morning news to end and the cartoons to begin. It is early and calm—I am filled with the comfort of breakfast cereal and a lazy Sunday. Music from the ABC7 channel, a familiar tune by now, cued the screen to transition to a woman with hands folded and legs crossed. The woman, with eyewitness news on the war, looked directly into the screen and began to speak. I listened halfheartedly; my eyes fluttered with their sleepy daze: Terror, troops, freedom, threat—these were unfamiliar words that pounded at my ears, over and over again. I stared at the American soldiers marching across the screen. The buildings were in ruins—the rubble piled on the floor—and the camera paused on a soldier leaning against the half-torn wall. He stared. The woman
spoke over him, never mentioning his name.
interrupts my thought, now completely gone.
There is fire with black clouds of smoke, women hugging their children with dirt-covered faces, and moving military tanks covered with dried mud. Something uncomfortable struck me then—the television screen wasn’t just an animation. It was real, even if the real seemed unreal—the soldier who stared into the screen was a real pair of eyes, somewhere in a fiery, dusty place.
War, in the way I knew it best, was a series of dusty faces and unknown identities. Whatever world they were in, it seemed too far from here.
For a short moment, I can see into war. The television screen heightens its reality with bright crystal highdefinition. I see more than what meets my eye: I can imagine the soldiers now, running away from dust storms, and the families in houses with nowhere to run. I am wondering, now, why this all is the way it is—but the screen transitions into commercial and
Eight years later, I sit in the orientation chair, listening to UCI School of Humanities representatives tell us about a yearlong course we’d take as newly-admitted freshmen. War, they say. It didn’t settle very well—the lingering unfamiliarity with that word returning and resurfacing once more. But my time spent with war would soon culminate with vision after vision, realization after realization, inching me toward the closest notion I will ever have of understanding. I am standing in the midst of the mighty Greek solder Achilles and
the competing Hector of Troy in the world of the Iliad, constructing my first new vision of war. In a legend so rooted and ancient, we question the most fundamental aspect of our human existence—free will. Agency, they say, is “the capacity to act in ways that matter—insofar as they act autonomously, without the determining of outside forces such as gods, force, or fate.” Do we, too, have gods who deflect our arrows and steer us into our fate? And who imposes on us, the way the goddesses come to rescue the fate of the Greeks and throw
Professor Georges Van Den Abbeele introduces us to Walzer’s Just and Unjust War, where war is judged by two different things: one’s right to engage in war to begin with, and what is considered the right conduct in war; and Machiavelli’s The Prince, where war is justified by what it takes for a virtuous ruler to keep his power, as long as he maintains the correct amount of fear or love of his people. I am now entering a part of Humanities Core that, instead of depicting the realm of war, directly
world. The knowledge that is taught to us throughout our lives, the pointof-view that seems most normal, and the perception that is instilled within us since birth, must always be put into question. We must always consider how our every action participates in something larger than ourselves—and how a soldier, in response to his or her duty to his or her world, participates in war and teaches us about our own worldly circumstances. The circle of war does not nearly enclose upon me. This is where war
“War is full of contradictions, indiscernible boundaries, layers of walls, unsettling truths— what is at the core of war is that there is something in its very essence that can hardly be rationalized.” the Trojans into black death? I feel the vision of war expanding, spiraling, circling, intersecting, these questions that I sought in myself are flashing at me, now grabbing at my attention. My visions gain perspective: the different views of “war from above,” seen with god-like Achilles can influence large masses of men with his every command, versus “war from below,” seen when a confused civilian named Simpliccius is instead concerned with problems of class, wealth, and human nature. Then, I hold the eyes of a philosopher; to a prince or a ruler, war is a matter of keeping power over the state. I question whether the emergence of the state has induced the emergence of concepts such as war and power.
concerns my involvement in the process. Here, I am staring at a painting, Near Andersonville, of a woman standing in the doorway. She is half in the dark, half in the light— could it be a transition into freedom, or a limitation of hers from attaining that very freedom? How much does a platform’s meaning—whether it be in media, through paintings, or within texts—reflect my very own perceptions and sentiments, rather than what is actually meant and is actually true? How much of what I perceive is directly representative of the truth? A screening of the “Manchurian Candidate,” paired with Edward Said’s Orientalism, is enough to raise a startling sense of self-awareness. It may be my most satisfying realization, my most complete vision of this entire journey—to realize how, as an individual, I am situated within my
remains the most puzzling. War is full of contradictions, indiscernible boundaries, layers of walls, unsettling truths—what is at the core of war is that there is something in its very essence that can hardly be rationalized. I know that, during small and timely moments, we can meet its weary eye and almost see into it. Studying war in Humanities Core is but a culmination of these glimpses that seem most like the truth, but these realizations are only a few of the many that allude to a greater knowing and understanding. Each pair of eyes will stare into a part of war and realize something new about our situation as human beings—and question why war is one of the most fundamental aspects of our functioning world.
UCI School of Humanities | Spring 2016
War Blizzard By Nicholas Reiner
My grandfather asks me what I think of all that snow on the East Coast. We’re watching football, my grandma’s made beans and enchiladas. It’s a great big storm they got over there, he says. Sure seems crazy, I say, but I suppose they’re used to it. The television’s a tetherball pole, our comments on the game— the quarterback, the defensive coordinator, the money being raked in— is the faded yellow ball pelted back and forth around the pole. I ask, What’s the worst snow you’ve ever been in? because I might know the answer. Oh, Europe. During the war. France? I reach. No, it was Belgium, the snow was up to here, he leans over in his red plush chair, his right hand drawing a line just above his knees.
It was hard to walk and it was so cold. That winter, they normally slept in foxholes but if they occupied a village soldiers would take turns sleeping in the houses. Others kept watch in case the Germans came back up the roads. It was the first time he’d ever been to the snow. You went to the snow when you guys were kids, isn’t that right? he asks. I nod my head, looking at him, imagining the way smoke curls away from a gun barrel— more corporeal when the air temperature’s below freezing. Nicholas Reiner is a second-year poet in the MFA Program in Writing at UC Irvine, where he teaches poetry and composition. He received a B.A. in English from Stanford University and his work has appeared in Orange Coast Review, Basketball Prospectus, and ESPN Insider.
UCI School of Humanities | Spring 2016
Theater of war By Susan Jarratt, professor of comparative literature and interim chair of the Department of Classics
Greek tragedy offers contemporary audiences valuable insights on the experience of war. In Sophocles’ “Ajax,” the most powerful soldier in the Greek fighting force is suffering for several reasons: his heroic efforts as a soldier have not been sufficiently recognized, the leaders of the war effort haven’t “played fair” in coordinating battle plans, and he is grieving from the loss of a beloved comrade. All these wrongs come together and weigh on his mind and spirit. The outcome is Ajax’s decision to commit suicide. It is very easy to see links between the experience of an ancient warrior and today’s soldiers. For this reason, I am excited to work with the Department of Classics and several other campus units to welcome Theater of War to UCI. Bringing the performance of “Ajax” to bear on the current stresses experienced by war veterans, Theater of War highlights the connections between ancient and contemporary war. Created by Bryan Doerries, an alumnus of UCI with an MFA in directing from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Theater of War began in 2008-9 with a multi-million-dollar grant from the Pentagon. Since then, Doerries has directed hundreds of performances in the US and abroad, at medical schools across the country, for professional organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, and on many college campuses. The format of this presentation brings veterans, currently serving soldiers, and spouses of soldiers and veterans, along with mental health professionals, on stage to react to the ancient Greek text. The dialogue that ensues among actors, director, veterans, soldiers, and audience will produce a new understanding of war and its effects coming out of the thoughts and experiences of local people. My hope is that the audience (1) is reminded that the US is still at war and has been for over a decade, and (2) that we can gain through ancient literature a fresh understanding of the consequences of war. I hope that faculty across campus will see Classics and Comparative Literature as interdisciplinary resources for thinking about how to teach in the current era when war is a continuing reality.
This innovative performance demonstrates the potential of the crossdisciplinary field of Medical Humanities. The School of Humanities in collaboration with the Medical School has recently received funding for a broad-based initiative in this field and is supporting this event. Other support comes from the Humanities Core Course, the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, and Illuminations. My current research is set in the period of the Roman Empire—more than a millennium after the era represented in Greek tragedies about the Trojan War. The Romans defeated the Greek city states and brought them, like many other Mediterranean cultures, under imperial rule. Though their empire was referred to as a pax Romana – a Roman peace – because it brought stability, Rome was almost constantly at war on the vast borders of their empire. Greek writings in this period—called “post classical”—reveal how colonial subjects are still able to assert their cultural identity and “speak back” to oppressive rule. In periods of empire, violence is a constant, even though it is not always staged formally as war. I organize my classes so as to enable students to confront and understand violence. Teaching students to recognize and analyze texts of war—visual and well as verbal—is an imperative of our times. Whose suffering is represented? What cannot be shown—either through censorship or behind-the-scenes decisions? When does an image capture world-wide attention—“go viral,” as we say—and to what effect? These are some of the questions we try to answer in my Word and Image class. As in the Theater of War project, I make connections between ancient Greek attitudes and practices and those of the present day to help illuminate this persistent human problem. I hope you will join us on Tuesday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. in HIB 100 for Theater of War. To learn more about Theater of War, please click here.
UCI School of Humanities | Spring 2016
PostBy Grant Quackenbush Aaron Sterk, a marine (1989 – 2014)
That rabbit made no brute decision that it would go to feed a dozen crows when it shot across the street stripped of reason and got struck by what it couldn’t know was not a beast but my Jeep its bullet-sized brain shouted to run from. In the human world this is called suicide, when instinct, seized by panic, blows out the bright flame of its head. As for scared rabbits it’s just called goddammit, which is what I muttered when I heard the thud that made me brake, and saw it: stained hair and staring eyes the black birds then began to flock to, pecking at torn skin as though sewing back together pain.
Grant Quackenbush is a poet in the MFA program in creative writing. Besides writing, he skateboards. He is from San Diego.
UCI School of Humanities | Spring 2016
Attachments to war By Jennifer Terry, associate professor of gender & sexuality studies
My father was a soldier in the U.S. Army. He died of brain cancer in a V.A. hospital on Memorial Day in 1977 at the age of 49. In 1944, in order to enlist, at 17 he told a recruiter that he was 18 years old. It was a way out of a rough childhood of poverty and neglect. He was trained in the Signal Corps and served in World War Two and the Korean War. After he and my mother married and had my two older brothers and me, he was deployed to Vietnam for two tours of duty, one in 1964-65 and the other in 1970-71. He assumed the duties of supply sergeant and helicopter gunner. He sustained serious head injuries during each tour, first by grenade shrapnel in a nighttime attack that killed eight American soldiers and wounded over 100 more and the second by a group of GIs who attacked him on his way back to his barracks, “leaving him for dead,” as my mother put it. There might have been drugs involved in this second incident. The story was told to us in a cryptic fashion. When my father was away, I prayed each night at bedtime to someone called “God” for two things: first that my father would not be killed so that he could return home to us and second that, when he returned, he would stop drinking so that the fits of rage would end. By twelve, I had learned from witnessing the terrible toll that war took on my father that among those Americans who most abhor war are the ones who return home from fighting them. Next in line: their loved ones. I also learned that many of the leaders who declare war avoid
actually putting their own bodies on the line. In time, I came to see my childlike and provincial realizations as woefully myopic. In learning the history of U.S. imperialism, I recognized that I was implicated in war as a citizen of a superpower that was responsible for using armed conflict to seize control of resources and exert its influence all over the world. For many years, I considered the question of whether it is possible for Americans to meaningfully and materially oppose war when its entanglements are so diffuse and deeply rooted in the very fabric of life in this country. My personal history as it relates to this central question motivated me to write my forthcoming book. I started the research for it in the first decade of the twenty-first century, spurred by the two massive war mobilizations undertaken first in 2002 in Afghanistan and then in 2003 in Iraq by the administration of President George W. Bush with the support of a majority of members of the U.S. Congress. In Attachments to War: Violence and the Production of Biomedical Knowledge in Twenty-First-Century America, I focus on the period bracketed by these officially declared wars but also note that the tactics, logics, and tools of domestic policing are increasingly attached to military operations and that war, in this sense, is now neverending and pervasive. Attachments to War examines the realm of biomedicine as it entangles Americans in war.
The medical industry and the U.S. military have a long and storied relationship. From small pox blankets to titanium limbs, their connection is enduring. As Michel Foucault noted, the genius of medicine was to make itself look apolitical, which made it all the more political. Attachments to War is an iteration of some of the specific and sometimes horrible ways that military medicine continues to naturalize these spheres as separate while serving political/military interests. I argue that this relationship is constitutive of the culture of the â€œGlobal War on Terror.â€? Thus a key method of the book involves recognizing what is hiding in plain sight. I chose to focus in depth on three main areas of biomedical research: diagnosis and treatment of polytrauma, prosthetics design, and infectious pathogens. I zero in on developments that occurred between 2002 and 2014, the years during which the United States was officially engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. My particular focus in this book is on biomedical practices and technoscientific innovations that are concerned with wounded or sick bodies and that produce complex connections to war. These linkages are contingent, sometimes expressed in registers of salvation through promissory gestures that speculate about the future and, in strange ways, honor war as a necessary condition for human advancement. But the promises of advancement are selective, sorted by unequal relations in an economy
of life. Some lives are valued more than others. Some stand to benefit more from the biomedical warprofiteering that is unleashed by the variously mobilized sentiments of fear, dread, sadness, and hope. Some are left to die. No actor in the biomedicine-war nexus is categorically lionized nor demonized in this book. Instead I frame the book as an inquiry into the dynamic field of discourses, practices, and institutions that entangle people differently, depending on a variety of factors and their location in relation to the interwoven social technologies of profession, nationality, socioeconomic class, race, and gender. In this dynamic field, notions of potency derive from the injuries caused by evolving types of weapons and strategies of force, drawing vitality, morbidity, and mortality into close contact. This is an existential reality, experienced in different ways, and an aporia that I seek to understand. If it succeeds in its aim, Attachments to War will provide ideas to further our understanding of how war and biomedicine are bound together and for loosening these binds to make way for ethical futures. Written by Jennifer Terry, associate professor of gender and sexuality studies, and excerpted from Attachments to War: Violence and the Production of Biomedical Knowledge in Twenty-first-century America (Duke, 2017).
UCI School of Humanities | Spring 2016
Torturetainment, again By Rodrigo Lazo, associate professor of English
In March 2016, presidential candidates began throwing shade at one another over campaign positions related to the use of torture by the United States as part of the ongoing war against terrorism. In a particularly crude exchange, Donald Trump compared his rival Ted Cruz to a part of the female anatomy for not supporting “waterboarding,” the euphemism for an interrogation technique that brings someone to the edge of drowning. Once again, torture was at the top of the news cycle. For students in Humanities Core, this presidential battle royal showed how topical the course can be. As part of the three-year Core cycle focused on “War,” students spent part of the winter quarter studying how torture had appeared in fiction, film, political memos, and public debates in recent decades. The presidential election
provided a contemporary backdrop to the syllabus. But it wasn’t only politics giving the Core students material to consider.
the phrase “This is torture” becomes part of a joke. This nexus of torture and entertainment is what I call torturetainment.
For years, filmmakers have introduced torture scenes into a variety of productions. Since the Abu Ghraib revelations of 2004, when it became apparent that the United States was using torture in various war efforts, films have commonly incorporated torture into their plots. In addition to shows such as “24” or certain horror films in which torture is at the center of the action, torture scenes have made their way into many genres.
Torturetainment often emerges in scenes involving interrogation, and it is used to drive movie plots, most commonly by placing a protagonist in danger. Torturetainment is sometimes deployed to create horror or repulsion but also sometimes comments on social or political conditions. More than anything, torturetainment is about making visible a practice that was once considered so heinous that its use was unacknowledged or even hidden.
What I call “the requisite torture scene” comes up in everything from “Star Wars: Episode VII,” in which Kylo Ren has a chair that he uses for his special talents, to “Minions,” in which
Let’s look at a recent example. Concurrent with my lectures in Humanities Core and the presidential campaign, Hollywood released the movie “Deadpool,” based on a comical
antihero who gains his super-powers after being tortured. Deadpool, whose name invokes the use of water to bring on death, is lured into the lab of a sadist and goes through a torture process that can be compared to waterboarding. Waterboarding involves placing someone in a horizontal position, covering that person’s face with a towel and then pouring water over the mouth and nose until the person approaches asphyxiation. Deadpool was placed in a bedchamber that regulates oxygen, effectively
Candidates can invoke torture to claim a tough position on terrorism. “We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding,” Donald Trump told a raucous debate audience on March 3. What is tougher than waterboarding? Well, that would be left up to the imagination of someone conceiving painful scenarios. But why does Trump need to call for something tougher? It may be an effect of the euphemisms used in the name of torture.
assignments, students wrote about torture and torturetainment. Political attitudes about torture continue to change along with films. In 2001, immediately following the attack on the World Trade Center, thenVice President Dick Cheney talked about needing to combat “terror” by turning to the “dark side,” a Star Wars metaphor. At that point, torture was considered an “unconventional method,” not something carried out with the overt support of the
“One of the effects of this type of representation is that it can desensitize viewers.” creating an asphyxiation machine. This high-tech form of waterboarding is what causes a mutation that gives Deadpool incredible strength and speed, which he then uses as a superhero. One of the effects of this type of representation is that it can desensitize viewers. People who watch these scenes will not necessarily become supporters of torture, but they may see it as a practice that is acceptable in certain scenarios. In other words, torturetainment is a part of the background in debates over policy and the use of torture by the United States in war. It is a long way from a movie screen to government policy, but the last decade has seen a blurring of the boundaries between entertainment and political discussions on torture. Considering that aspects of the presidential campaign have been compared to reality television shows, torture has contributed to political entertainment.
Rather than call it for what it is, people in government and the military often resort to terms such as “special interrogation techniques” rather than use the direct word: torture. “Waterboarding” sounds very close to something you do at a water park, a combination of water sliding and boogie boarding. Trump wants something tougher! Students in Core considered these debates in relation to ethical questions, and they read articles by Alan Dershowitz and Elaine Scarry over the use of “torture warrants.” In lectures, they were introduced to recent historical events leading to the US adoption of torture as part of a covert CIA program. The students read fiction by J.M. Coatzee and Alicia Partnoy dealing with the effects of torture on people. They also watched the film “The Official Story” (1985), which is about human rights violations in Argentina during the military government from 1976 to 1983. In their personal blogs, one of the writing
government. But in the last ten years torture has gone from something unacknowledged or hidden to an act that is made visible, in part through various media platforms. If at one point in history torture was something carried by rogue operators and dictators, it now has become a common part of the arsenal invoked by US politicians when they discuss war. We have reached a point at which torturetainment, even on the campaign trail, makes the rack a natural part of the world in which we live. In some cases, people have returned to the tired debates about the efficacy of torture in interrogation. In others, we are watching a superhero who laughs as his story tells us that surviving torture may be the ultimate mark of strength. Rodrigo Lazo is an associate professor of English and comparative literature. He will be director of Humanities Core from 2016-19. The topic for the next cycle is “Empire and Its Ruins.”
UCI School of Humanities | Spring 2016
Documenting war with Carol Burke and Cecile Whiting
This fall, Carol Burke, professor of English, and Cecile Whiting, Chancellor’s Professor of art history, will lead “Documenting War,” a year-long seminar and related events that will explore the genres, rhetoric, and real effects of wartime documentation and postwar reflection, as carried out by journalists, soldiers, civilians, and artists in verbal, visual and mixed media forms. Below, Burke and Whiting give us insight into their research and what they hope to accomplish this fall. Cecile, you’ve been researching the ways in which artists in the 1950s and early 1960s recalled World War Two some ten to fifteen years after its conclusion, just at a moment when the United States embarked on another foreign war in Vietnam. Why did you gravitate to this project and what has been surprising or most meaningful to you thus far about your findings? In pursuing research on Pop artists active in NYC and LA during the 1960s, I was struck by the number of references these artists made to World War Two, the Cold War, and fears of nuclear bombs. Further, I discovered a host of artists, both young and old, who referenced these topics during the 1950s, a period when artists were supposedly quiescent, more concerned with personal expression than world politics. It turns out that despite the fact that World War
Two has over the years earned the reputation as the last “good war,” when Americans enthusiastically rallied around a common cause and claimed the higher moral ground to defeat a patently evil enemy, many American artists in the post-war period expressed doubts about the conflict and grappled with the catastrophic consequences of the American government’s decision to carpet bomb many German cities such as Dresden, and to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Until the mid-1960s when many turned their attention to the Vietnam war, American artists responded in visual terms both to the responsibility they felt for the death, destruction, and suffering caused by bombings in World War Two and to their worry about the threat of nuclear catastrophe in the future. Carol, you have embedded with combat units and observed members of military in garrison. How has this impacted your research and research interests? No detail of military life—even as minor as a haircut, the pitch of a sailor’s white cap, or the chants sung out in basic training—is without significance, whether its meaning is imposed from above or smuggled into the barracks or onto the parade ground by the grunts and common sailors. Like any occupational folk group, members of the military distinguish themselves
not only by the jobs they do but by the rituals they share, the anecdotes they exchange, even the slang that lards their everyday conversation. For the past twenty-five years I have documented a military culture as it has slowly adjusted to women and now openly gay and transgender fellow soldiers, sailors, Marines, and officers. In December 2008 and January 2009, I embedded with a combat unit in Iraq, hitching a ride onto every convoy going “outside the wire” that would take me along. In 2010-11, I took a leave from my teaching post at UCI to embed with two combat units in Afghanistan. It was on that extended deployment that I saw how the U.S. Army conducts a war of counterinsurgency. Only by spending time with deployed soldiers can one see how they go about their daily lives “down range.” In all of my work on military culture, I tend to consider the details of soldiers lives that are not often reported: the good luck charms they take to war with them, the sealed letters they leave on a bureau or in a desk drawer with the message scrawled on the front, “To be opened in the event of my death,” and the sexual activity on today’s forward operating bases.
UCI School of Humanities | Spring 2016
Cecile, what is the focus of your research on the aftermath of war? I take as my subject the various artists who adopted oblique visual languages not only to refer to the wounded body, the devastated landscape, and the obliterated city, but also to cope with the increased role of the still camera, eye-witness testimony, and historical artifacts in claiming to truthfully document and commemorate the realities of World War Two. Having written my first book, Antifascism in American Art, on the ways in which American artists responded to the threat of fascism, I find myself now returning, some 25 years later to the topic of World War Two but from a retrospective vantage in order to examine how artists commemorated the war and
â€œJournalists read the work of scholars, and scholars read the accounts of journalists; but they rarely have the opportunity to discuss with each other how they document war.â€? at the same time questioned the ability of the image to document the destructive effects of war-time bombings. Carol, why are conversations between journalists, military personnel and academics important? Journalists read the work of scholars, and scholars read the
accounts of journalists; but they rarely have the opportunity to discuss with each other how they document war. We think that this discussion could be made even more interesting by enlarging it to include those public affairs officers and Department of Defense historians tasked with writing the internal daily press releases and the unit histories of a conflict.
Carol, you are currently working on the ways in which acute visual technology like night vision and surveillance balloons hoisted above remote bases affect our views of combat. Would you give us some insight into what you’re finding? My last book, Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight, has a chapter on fighting the digital war. As part of my research for that chapter, I interviewed several scientists and engineers designing technology for future wars. On the one hand, this is technology like the drone intended to conduct surveillance and drop bombs without risk to the pilots who fly them. On the other hand, it’s technology like the exoskeleton that can allow the ground soldier to carry a 200-pound pack, a rifle that can see around the sides of buildings, and a chip, implanted in the infantry soldier, that continually
reports every soldier’s vital signs back to headquarters. I was struck not only by how indebted to science fiction literature and film these inventions were but how they demanded a radical rethinking of the ordinary grunt as a Twenty First Century cyborg.
In the fall, Burke and Whiting will co-teach a class called “U.S. Art and War” for undergraduates and Burke will teach a workshop for advanced journalism majors on writing about war and other crises. In the winter, they will lead a graduate seminar on the Vietnam War.
By spending time with troops deployed in the Iraq and Afghan wars, I have seen first hand the impressive high-tech equipment they bring with them to fight enemies armed with Kalasnikov rifles and improvised explosives. It is important to be mindful of the ways in which our war technology frames how we understand the war we are fighting and how it can blind us to the thinking of those we oppose.
To learn more about Documenting War, visit the Humanities Commons website here.
UCI School of Humanities | Spring 2016
Lives at war by Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, professor of Asian American studies
As I reflect on my past book projects, all of them connect to war in some way. My first book, Dr. Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity (University of California Press, 2005), was a biography of the first American-born Chinese female physician. Chung was born in Santa Barbara in 1889, just seven years after the U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. This was the first national piece of legislation to prevent a particular nationality and class group from entry into the country. In addition to banning Chinese laborers, the legislation denied all Chinese people the right to naturalization. In other words, Chinese people became perpetual foreigners. Despite this hostile racial context, Chung eventually graduated from the USC medical school in 1916. She was the only Chinese American woman in a class of overwhelmingly white, male students. Chung wanted to bring
western medicine and Christianity to China, but her applications for serving as a medical missionary were denied. She eventually established a medical practice in San Francisco Chinatown instead. During the Sino-Japanese War and World War II, Chung became a celebrity, symbolizing U.S.-China unity. She never married or had biological children, but Chung adopted over one thousand American military personnel, entertainers, and politicians. Some of her sons included former president Ronald Reagan, renowned conductor Andrew Kostelanetz, and vaudeville singer Sophie Tucker. A comic was even published about Mom Chung and her Fair-Haired Bastard children during the war. My book examined Chungâ€™s life to explore the changing racial, gender, and sexual norms of U.S. society from the late 19th through the mid-20th century and analyzed how an individual navigated these social hierarchies. I was particularly intrigued
by how Chung adopted a racialized female identity during wartime, in some ways serving as an â€œoriental mammy,â€? even as she transcended social barriers and expectations. These tensions of being transgressive while performing traditional roles helped me make sense of the social contradictions of wartime America. For a short digital narrative about Mom Chung, please click here. My second book, Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam War (Cornell University Press, 2013), centered on the U.S. War in Viet Nam. It is now the second longest war in U.S. history and arguably its most controversial. During the war, the U.S. dropped three times the amount of bombs that were used during all of World War II on Viet Nam, a relatively small country.
Furthermore, twice as many bombs were used on South Viet Nam, the ally of the United States, in order to save the country from North Viet Nam, the National Liberation Front based in the South, and communism. The bombs included conventional as well as chemical weapons that have left a dangerous ecological and genetic impact on the plants and people in Viet Nam. Children, even those several generations removed from the war, are still being born with birth
because “all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact . . . will never know most of their fellow-members . . . yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” Given the geographical and cultural distance between the U.S. and Viet Nam, I examined the political journeys of American antiwar activists to Asia, Europe, and Canada, and explored how these personal contacts and conversations across national borders fostered a
well beyond the borders of North and South Viet Nam. During the mid-tolate 1970s and 1980s, approximately 650,000 Vietnamese, 150,000 Laotians and a similar number of Cambodians, as well as 90,000 Hmong and 30,000 Amerasians (children of mixed race ancestry most commonly of American GI fathers and Southeast Asian mothers) arrived in the U.S. Their collective relocation process is being documented by the UCI Southeast Asian Archives. This collection
“I hope that our collective explorations will remind all of us of the complex legacies of war and the resilience and creativity of those who survive and find ways to thrive.” defects as a result of their parents’ or grandparents’ exposure to Agent Orange and other defoliants. And, unexploded bombs continue to be embedded in the landscape of current day Viet Nam. Just over 58,000 Americans lost their lives in this war, but the death count runs to several million for Vietnamese combatants and civilians on both sides of the war. In Radicals on the Road, I asked why some Americans became outspoken critics of their nation’s policy. Especially in times of war, when the country’s political and social institutions seek to inculcate patriotism, why do some individuals choose to question their expected roles? I focused in particular on travel, on face-to-face interactions between Americans and Vietnamese in various parts of the world, in North Viet Nam, in Paris, and in Canada. Benedict Anderson argues that the nation is an “imagined community”
commitment to internationalism. I focused on individuals and groups who have tended to be understudied, in particular people of color and women. I also wanted to emphasize the diversity of political ideologies that existed among those who critiqued U.S. policy. Now that I live in Orange County, home to the largest Vietnamese American community in the country, I am learning more about the refugee experiences of those who fled Socialist Viet Nam in the aftermath of the war and what that war has meant to them. These individuals struggled to rebuild their lives and to create new communities like Little Saigon in nearby Westminster, the capital of Vietnamese America.
includes a wealth of primary materials from around the world that records Southeast Asian refugee migration and community formation. In addition, the Vietnamese American Oral History Project has been training UCI students to help record the rich history of Vietnamese Americans. I also am teaching courses on the Viet Nam War, and the students in my class this quarter will be using the interview and archival materials to create short documentaries about the war and its legacies. I hope that our collective explorations will remind all of us of the complex legacies of war and the resilience and creativity of those who survive and find ways to thrive.
UCI is a premiere institution to study the relocation of Southeast Asians, 10 million of whom became refugees as a result of the war that expanded UCI School of Humanities | Spring 2016
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